“The storm is coming, the storm is coming… it is here.”
Life in the time of coronavirus in America has changed in just a matter of days.
One month ago, I interviewed a Virginia teen locked up in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus started. She was wearing a school uniform and was connected live to her school in Springfield, Virginia.
On Friday, my own two children were taking online classes streamed out of their school just a half-mile from home. My second-grader son was sweating out a physical education class, and my daughter, in kindergarten, was singing songs.
From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., both participate in their regular school schedule in cyberspace, with the help of video conferencing applications.
The modern-age “distance learning” comes with a caveat.
I have to log them on to a different video conference every hour because classes change. There’s the constant yell out of “Umma” -- “Mommy” in Korean -- asking me to help them get back into the virtual classroom because of disconnection or simply because their screen is hidden behind another tab. After all, these are very young kids who can’t manipulate a computer by themselves.
But “Umma” is the last thing I want to hear when I’m under deadline pressure or participating in a teleconference. I don’t have any help at home, as my husband is a medical professional and leaves our home for work. I jokingly ask him about the early adoption of telemedicine, but that’s still a long ways from now.
This past Tuesday, my fear came true. I was queued up for a question in a conference call on stopping the spread of the coronavirus. But I missed my turn as I was called up by my children to fix their computer problem. Later, my absence was noted in the transcript of the conference.
“Go next to Eunjung Cho of the Voice of America. Please go ahead, your line is open. It’s open, please check your mute function… It looks like we’ll go next to. …” My husband advised me to walk around with my computer next time I’m in a conference call.
Many working mothers around me are also juggling their jobs and their children.
Mrs. Tesfaye, a training developer at the Food and Drug Administration, says her telework experience is completely different now with her four kids at home together.
“I have so many interruptions. I work 30 minutes, and I get interrupted for three minutes. I strive to finish my work, my full eight hours, so I’m going to be working right now as well,” she said at nearly 8 p.m. She was still very appreciative of her agency’s flexibility in her work schedule.
Elizabeth Buettner, an acquisition manager with the federal government, agreed. “There’s a high level of compassion and understanding because children are home for four weeks. So obviously that’s across the board. The beauty of it is I’m remoting in so I can be able to do my work while I help (my child),” she said.
As parents grapple with ways to burn off their children’s extra energy, many choose to go outdoors for a walk.
“We work on assignments, and then we’ll start an adventure, whether we do it as a family or whether the kids do it individually,” said Juliana Cole, an entrepreneur who has three children, ranging from a kindergartener to an eighth-grader. “I went on a three-mile run with my child yesterday. We’re also having individual face time with each kid, so that they don’t start into bickering together.”
After the day’s work is done, or sometimes during lunchtime, my children and I go out on a walk as well.
For my second-grader son, “social distancing” is just another game he plays outside. Whenever a pedestrian passes by, he runs away saying “Social distancing, social distancing” and then gives himself a point for the job accomplished.
And me? I usually get minus two points for saying hello to a stranger.