Flash Tales

Within These Four Walls: Our family space full of synchronous love, learning, and work

By Timara McCollum . . .

My name is Timara McCollum and I live in Eastern Tennessee, in the Southeastern part of the United States. Today is Tuesday, July 21, 2020 and schools are starting to open in surrounding counties. The school district for our county is scheduled to open August 17th, 2020.

Every parent soon learns the life lesson that things do not always go according to plan. COVID-19 has emphasized that truth. This viral pandemic that alters the very cells within us is also restructuring how American families choose to send their kids back to school. As a response to the pandemic, many American schools are providing families with options to send their children back to school in-person or to enroll in virtual learning. There are families for which this never was an option.

This a glimpse into my living room, a family space that I am learning to share with my littles. I am a mother to two beautiful children; a four-year old daughter and 2-month old son. I share the living room with them as a workspace while I enter my second year in the Educational Psychology and Counseling Department at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, pursuing a doctorate in Evaluation, Statistics, and Measurement.

This is a photograph of my living room and a shared workspace taken on a Tuesday.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are significant because these are the days my four-year-old daughter is home from her primary Mother’s Day Out (MDO) Program. Tuesdays and Thursdays are not significant from my newborn’s perspective as all the days of the week, as well as any sense of measured time, roll together for him.

This is a photograph of my living room and a shared workspace taken on Tuesday, July 21, 2020.

The day before, our daughter’s second MDO program that we have registered her in, calls to see if we still plan to enroll her during the school year on Mondays and Wednesdays. Where we live in Eastern TN, full-time preschool is anywhere between $1000 -$2000 a month for one child. To find weekly childcare, my husband and I chose to enroll our daughter in two MDO programs. I tell them we have just been accepted into the school district’s voluntary preschool program and we are taken off the second MDO’s enrollment list.

That night, a local news channel shares a letter circulating amongst our school district’s teachers that has gone viral, pleading to the superintendent for an extension to delay the opening of schools amid the increasing case count of COVID-19 in eastern TN. Meanwhile, I watch online as parents scramble to connect with other families to join as co-ops around the county to supplement their children’s virtual instruction. The parents are looking to exchange ballet classes for French lessons and provide socialization for their children. A local gym across the street from my neighborhood offers space for these co-ops to meet and will allow students to use their facilities for recess. The parents share ideas to deliver school supplies to their zoned school in recognition that some families that send their children to school in-person may not be able to provide the requested materials on classroom supply lists.

This is a photograph of my living room and a shared workspace taken on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, after lunchtime, between answering emails and nursing my son.

The day before, I received a letter from our zoned school where my daughter is signed up to attend voluntary preschool beginning in August. This letter outlined the school’s plans for in-person and virtual instruction. Of importance to me in this letter…my daughter will begin staggered days for preschool on August 20th and August 27th. In other words, one month of no childcare, and two weeks-worth of doctoral course work before she begins her preschool routine. Or, more than a months-worth of doctoral course work before she begins preschool if it is pushed back until after Labor Day, as requested in the Viral Teacher Letter.

This is a photograph of my living room and a shared workspace taken on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, at approximately 2:17 pm Eastern Standard Time.

I am waiting to hear back from a potential Graduate Research Assistantship position that I interviewed for yesterday. My husband has just texted me how much money we have left in checking account until Friday. I need to be able to help contribute to our family’s finances. While I am in school, we continue to accrue loan debt as part of my financial aid package. I work to put the finishing touches on a logic model for a free-lance needs assessment and itemize my deliverables on an invoice for services rendered. I send the invoice to my colleague’s email along with a text message to see how she and her husband’s recovery is progressing after testing positive for COVID-19 three weeks ago.

This is a photograph of my living room and shared workspace taken on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, and it is now almost two hours later. I have written five paragraphs, changed 7 diapers, unloaded the dishwasher, filled the dishwasher back up again, and prepared a snack for my daughter.

Three weeks ago, from today, I was about to receive a phone call from my work colleague that her husband had tested positive for COVID-19. Only two days after being exposed to a friend that ended up testing positive, she and I meet to review our evaluation project, not knowing of her prior exposure. As soon as I found out, I signed up for a rapid COVID test. I still haven’t been contacted for my appointment. Fourteen days later, my family and I remained symptom-free. We have since returned from visiting my Pawpaw, who lives across the mountain ridge in Western North Carolina, and who has turned 86 this past weekend.

This is a photograph of my living room and shared workspace taken on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, and I will need to start making dinner soon. The timer for “television-time” is about to go off and my daughter has just asked me for another snack. My son has fallen asleep again.

Almost a week ago from today, I would be on my way to the school district’s building with a friend, posters, and children in tow. She is a front-line worker in the medical field with four children, ranging from ages 1 to 9. We display posters asking the superintendent to keep his plans to open our schools. We share with the news our stance; our children, and the children of our neighbors, rely on our schools to remain open and to stand strong as pillars that support our community.

Moving instruction online and keeping our school closed will further dig into the increasingly wide and deep divide between privileged and underprivileged children. Moving instruction online and keeping our schools closed while co-op families congregate and swap supplemental enrichment lessons will not decrease the risk of spreading COVID-19.

It is now 4:52 pm on Tuesday, July 21, 2020. My daughter has finished her Netflix break and my son is ready for another feeding. Truthfully, I am thankful I can have my children with me while I work remotely from home. Realistically, I do not know how I will keep managing this new sharing of space and juggling of time. Faithfully, I will continue, one day at a time and remain hopeful.

Before I began this doctoral program, I was a teacher for 11 years. I look over at my daughter and tell her, “This is hard.”

She looks back at me, pumps her arm up and down, and tells me, “Momma, YOU…CAN…DO…IT, YOU…CAN…DO…IT!”

I look over at my son. He spits out his pacifier and smiles.

So, I will stand, put up the dishes that I took out earlier, change the printer ink, and THEN get started on our dinner. My husband should be home by 7 pm.

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