Family time: Stay-at-home order creates new normal

Brad Klins gets ready to throw a football as his wife Denisha and son Grayson sit on the grass at Brecknock Park on Thursday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — There are harsh realities connected to the coronavirus, such as the first few Delaware deaths attributed to COVID-19 and the fact many businesses have had to close, raising huge economic question marks for the future.

However, lost somewhere under all the layers of frightening news and scary scenarios lies the fact that many Delaware families are taking this time to pull together, enjoying what had become rare family dinners together, watching movies from the comfort of their living rooms and taking walks while talking about what’s taking place in their world.

It’s certainly not an extended vacation. It’s just the way many families are adjusting to what is seen as a different — and unusual — time.

“It’s like Christmas at my house,” Natalie Andrews said. “There are no decorations, but so far I’m loving having my kids at home … of course, they are really adults.”

This “different time” was born after the coronavirus crisis and accompanying stay-at-home until May 15 order was sent down by Gov. John Carney became unusual realities of 2020.

Delaware schools are closed until at least May 15, many parents are working from home — or have been laid off due to their businesses closing — and that has changed the daily routine and dynamic among families throughout the state.

Many homes have become extremely close quarters, not allowing much elbow room with many more hours than usual spent interacting with family members.

Many people said it hasn’t been a bad thing. However, there are still at least six weeks remaining in the stay-at-home situation.

Enjoying a change of scenery

That was why several Kent County families took advantage of a 60-degree afternoon on Thursday and got outside and enjoyed Brecknock Park in Camden, all while keeping social distancing in mind and not gathering in groups of more than 10. It was a brief opportunity to change their situation.

“It’s awesome,” said Randy Hopkins, who was tossing a football and flinging a Frisbee with his son and two daughters. “We were cooped up in the house and we were like, ‘Hey, it’s nice weather, we’re going to get out there and get some exercise.’

“This is different because I’m working at home for the majority of the week. We just got back into the swing of (the kids) being online and doing schoolwork, but it’s working all right so far. We’re having a blast, watching movies, doing puzzles, it’s like an early spring break for us.”

Jessica Hopkins, right, kicks a soccer ball as Kal-El Klins and Natalie Lengrand give chase at Brecknock Park on Thursday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Hunter Lengrand, his stepson, said this is a “different time” from what he has experienced in his lifetime.

“I’m happy about it because school is a major stressor and it feels nice to be off,” said Hunter, a sophomore at Caesar Rodney High School. “I’m not really doing much at home, I’m enjoying my free time and hanging out with my family — it feels amazing.

“I research random stuff and call my friends and relatives. We spend family time together, have dinner together and watch TV, movie time and stuff. It’s just a different time. It feels like we’re a lot closer together than ‘social distancing.’”

His sister, Natalie Lengrand, an eighth-grader at Fifer Middle School, had a different take.

“It’s fun, but very boring,” she said. “We’re doing good. It’s nice to be close with the family, but it’s just very boring. We can’t go anywhere and can’t do anything — and that stinks.”

Adjusting to a new normal

Not everybody is able to adjust quite as easily as the Hopkins family, according to Tara Surowiec, who is working from home and watching her two children while husband Paul, a nurse, continues to work outside of the house.

Mrs. Surowiec said daughter Alexa, 10, and son Greyson, 7, have been “adjusting to the new normal since the coronavirus pandemic hit.”

“I work from home and am trying my best to make sure my children are not going to fall back with regards to schoolwork, along with helping them through all of this change,” said Mrs. Surowiec, a Hempworx Team Leader. “Both my children are on the autism spectrum, which just adds to the challenge of making sure their needs are met. The change in routine is difficult for them.

Mason Robeson (left) works on schoolwork along with R.J. Collins as the watchful eyes of grandmom Rebecca Manahan Martin supervised them this week. Submitted photo

“It has also been quite the challenge to manage my work schedule around their needs. To be honest, I feel like I’m working all day long and (also being a mom) all day long. Not easy, but I do have to say that we have received an abundance of support from teachers, outreach organizations such as Embrace, and many others who have made this just a bit easier.”

Mrs. Surowiec added that it is just a change in life’s circumstances that her family will adjust to and eventually will get over.

“This is obviously not what we would choose, but we are thankful that my husband is still working, and I do have my job which enables me to work from anywhere, including home,” she said. “We will get through this and having a community that cares about each other and supports one another will make all the difference.”

Greyson Surowiec, 7, gets some studying done on an electronic device from the comfort of home during the coronavirus outbreak. Submitted photo

One of the things many parents mention when they talk about having to work from home through the coronavirus is the flexibility it allows them that they didn’t have before.

Brandi Miller is a paralegal for the Dover law firm Barros, McNamara, Malkiewicz and Taylor, PA. She is now working from home and watching her two children every day.

“It is both easier and more difficult to work from home. I am in a comfortable place,” Ms. Miller said. “I can adjust my schedule if I need to. I have control of my own thermostat. On the other hand, I don’t have access to some programs that I need, and I now make a weekly trip to the post office. It is both quieter and more noisy at home. Instead of a phone ringing and office chatter I have kids yelling and family members FaceTiming.

“This is by far the most challenging part of working from home. There is a lot of arguing between the two of them. We live with my mother and that helps, but she is also working. We have the kids doing schoolwork in the morning and then after lunch it’s whatever they can do to stay busy. They go outside, play online, watch TV. We have all played some games at night and we have shows we watch together other nights. Some days are easier than others.”

Throwback to a different era

While most parents agree that spending time together and taking walks and playing games together is a bit of a throwback to the years before cellphones, video games, and other technological advancements such as 4K Smart TVS, they do enjoy having the option of not having to watch after their kids 24 hours a day.

“I have one child and, thankfully, while I am working, he also has school assignments to do,” Jen Maloney said. “We take a lunch break together and a walk. He also participates in Kaizen live stream karate classes while I’m getting my work done.”

Alexa Surowiec, 10, works on her artwork at home during the shelter-in-place order for the coronavirus. Submitted photo

Besides parents, there is another group that has been forced to come to the rescue during the coronavirus pandemic — grandparents.
Rebecca Manahan Martin has taken the time to watch her grandkids often. She wouldn’t miss it for the world.

“We are working at their parents’ (house),” she said. “My son is an EMT and my daughter-in-law works in a medical office. So, the grandmas take turns. It’s been working out great. We have a schedule, but loads of fun, too.”

When it comes down to it, families don’t really have a choice right now — either adapt or suffer the consequences.

That’s exactly how Ms. Miller sees it.

“It’s not difficult to concentrate on my job because of the pandemic,” she said. “I work in the legal field and so I spend a lot of time helping clients navigate their own uncertainty during this time. I need to be more focused now so that I can support my attorney and the clients.

“I am still just as busy as before the pandemic, maybe even more so. I have the ability to concentrate on my job because I don’t need to worry if I still have one.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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