Family life in the pandemic: a tale of 5 families

BY GLORIA HAMMER 

While stay-home orders have made life challenging for all of us, parents have had to juggle their own work and stresses while helping their children navigate online school. Five families share what life is like as we stay safe, stay home and wait till the scientists get a handle on the pandemic.
I asked the parents to briefly describe how they are coping and how their lives have changed. Here, in their own words, are their thoughts on life in today’s world.


Emily Glasgow, director of early learner programs, Portland Public Schools. Craig Dorfman, senior strategist, Mandate Media. Children: Mica Dorfman, grade 6; Asa Dorfman, grade 4, Laurelhurst K-8.
Long walks. Countless craft projects. Nighttime foursquare. Screen time battles. New garden. Virtual birthdays. Family series (right now, enjoying “The Middle”). Endless cycles of video chats, on every platform imaginable. Pretty much exactly what you would expect from a family of four with two working parents and two home-schooled children. The highs? Privileged to be healthy and holding two stable incomes through this pandemic; although Mica and Asa might be remiss to admit it, we are actually enjoying quality family time. The lows? Kids miss friends, extracurricular activities and (yes) even their classrooms. While their teachers are doing an amazing job tackling the new reality of remote teaching, it’s not the same as in-person school. Our strategy? Be realistic with our expectations, remember our privilege, help others when we can, and give ourselves and one another grace in this “new normal.” 


Ryan Levenick, real estate investor, property manager. Jordana Levenick, small business owner, student, BB Camp board president. Children: Sadie, 11; Henry, 8, Portland Jewish Academy.
We are navigating new norms, rhythms and remaining grateful for health and many creature comforts. The kids have new jobs including watering plants, cooking, sweeping, and wiping down switches and knobs! Kids are finding creative ways to connect with friends, including virtual sleepovers and ding dong deliveries from a safe distance. We are grateful for the school structure offered through PJA. Juggling work, volunteer commitments, house management, school work, dog maintenance, the list goes on – makes for an interesting balancing act. Every nook and cranny in our house is being used. Our kitchen is in action 24/7, the garage a workout room, bedroom closets are reading nooks or meditation corners, the office doubles as a 5th grade classroom, the attic houses the 3rd grade class set up. We are optimistic summer camp will open and be the highlight of 2020.


Jenn Topliff, founder, Roons. Brad Topliff, director of innovation, TIBCO Software. Children: Doc, 2; Grace, 12; Hazel, 10; A Renaissance School.
Brad works from home on Zoom and conference calls from morning until night. As the kids’ IT director, he’s interrupted 17 times/hour with Zoom questions, internet issues and computer problems. He devised a system where the kids waved a green/yellow/red flag corresponding to the intensity of their question. That worked for a couple days. But the kids lost the flags and started finding items in the correct color. Hazel waved a can of artichoke hearts at Brad (green!) and then it was all over! My commercial kitchen is still operating (baking Roons and shipping them across the country); my head baker goes to the kitchen from 4 to 11 am. Then I go in to pack all orders. But the fear, anxiety and stress follow me to the kitchen. Thankfully Brad is good in a crisis and has been carrying the bulk of the weight. Riding the Peloton bike, wine, sitting in the backyard, seeing the two girls with their 2-year-old brother.

Alex Millkey, forensic psychologist, Northwest Forensic Institute. Sara Morton, PJA science teacher. Children: Hannah, 12; Asher, 8; Portland Jewish Academy.
Sara is a teacher at Portland Jewish Academy, she teaches classes in the afternoon. I have a more flexible schedule. I schedule my clients' evaluations in the morning, when Sara can be available for the children; then I take over in the afternoon. Our worlds have collided; work and home have become entangled. Although the entanglement of our lives was unexpected and introduced complexity, it has allowed us to spend more time together and catch up (distantly) with friends. Life is both more and less complicated now. Hannah, 12, says, “staying home is helping us, I don’t know why people are freaking out. I miss talking to and seeing everyone.” Asher, 8, says, “I like being with my family but don’t like not being with my friends. When this is over, we will be in history. I’m pretty sure.” 

Rabbi Rachel Joseph, Congregation Beth Israel. Dr. Sara Spettel Northwest Urology. Children: Priscilla, West Sylvan Middle School; Bennet, Chapman Elementary; Max Joseph, Metro Learning Center.
We married on Sunday, March 15. It’s easy for us to remember the date, we started “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” with three kids in three schools and five different schedules. Rabbi Joseph says, “Sara is a urologist in one of those situations where she’s not working as much, although necessary as anyone who has passed a kidney stone knows they aren’t elective.” Dr. Sara says, “As a rabbi, her job has gotten infinitely harder; her work is bringing people together. She is leading Shabbat services and programming from our basement." One of the gifts is how our ex-partners and co-parents have been supportive and coordinated schedules for our kids. We are lucky. This is hard. We are able to continue schooling, work and even get the occasional binge TV watching in. Can’t wait for this to be over. 

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