Editor's note: Journalists were among those deemed "essential workers" in Minnesota during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, we conclude our series The Essentials with this conversation between two Tribune newsroom staff members who had very different stay-at-home experiences.
It’s 7 a.m. on a Tuesday morning.
Bob: The day begins like every other day. It’s all about the dog.
I get up first followed by a yawning Jasper Beagle. We have a few belly rubs. He has his breakfast and goes outside while I have a cup of coffee. Upon coming inside, he gets his first treat of the day. We howl at each other for fun and he won’t eat his snack until I’m done howling and he has gotten the last word.
After the snack, we go for a walk or straight to the dog park. It’s like clockwork and usually doesn’t change much during the week. By 8 a.m., I’m ready to start the workday and Jasper is satiated enough to allow me a couple hours before he begins his late morning demands.
Marie: Man, that sounds pretty peaceful.
I wake up around 7 a.m., too, but not because I want to. I’m jolted awake by either: A) A small child staring me in the face from the side of the bed (or sometimes two small children); or B) A small child or two climbing up onto the bed and jumping all over me in a way that’s neither careful or painless. Either way, I’m awake now. So are my husband and our two dogs, who are all also in the bed and thus get the same treatment.
The house goes from quiet to chaos in a hot minute. The rest of the morning looks something like this:
The 2-year-old and 5-year-old are hangry and require breakfast immediately. They must have cereal and microwaveable pancakes, always. If the pancakes run out (which has been known to happen) and Mom has failed to go to the store to buy more pancakes (gasp!), then there might just be a temper tantrum at the breakfast table. Same if the pancakes are too chewy, or hard around the edges. These things are unacceptable to preschoolers, I’ve learned. If, however, Mom has remembered to buy donut holes at the store, and offers said donut holes at breakfast, then there will be sparkling eyes and big cheers and what a great morning it suddenly is.
The dogs also require immediate attention. They must go outside right away to conduct their business -- especially our pug, Snug, who is not afraid to leave a calling card on the bathroom floor if I take too long to let him out. Then they get fed and watered, and a few good scratches on their tail-wagging rumps.
The birds come next. I’m a bird nerd, so any birds that happen upon my property must be well cared for. Their multiple feeders get put back on the hooks outside every morning after spending the night indoors, because we live in the country and we’ve had a bear around our yard lately and it likes to eat the bird food if we leave it out. That’s another story.
Then our pet turtle gets fed. He’s easy. He never throws tantrums, leaves calling cards on the bathroom floor, or attracts bears.
After all the little creatures are taken care of, I have about 20 minutes to hurry and get myself ready while the kiddos and my husband, Dan, finish breakfast. Then Dan usually heads downstairs to his home office and I get the kids piled in the van and we’re off to preschool. I wear a face mask now when dropping them off and leave them with a teacher at the door, since parents aren’t allowed inside the building.
There are all sorts of new rules to follow because of COVID-19, and I’ll gladly follow them if it means my kids can be at preschool. They stayed home for eight weeks during the state’s stay-at-home order, and for me that was like trying to run two marathons at once. Dan and I did our best to work our “essential” jobs from home -- me a reporter, him a health care worker -- but concentrating on anything work-related for longer than 5 minutes with two rambunctious, curious, strong-willed and often loud preschoolers running around the house is a “Mission: Impossible.”
Anyway, it’s about 8:30 a.m. by the time I get back home after dropping off the kids. I make myself a quick breakfast and clock in for work.
I could already use a nap.
It’s time for the newsroom team’s 10 a.m. Google Hangout.
Marie: Back when the kids were still at home during the day, there were constant interruptions during this half-hour online meeting. One time, my 2-year-old burst into my bedroom (which is one of a few spots in the house that have become makeshift offices for me) mid-meeting to announce, “Mommy, I love you!”, which made me look really good in front of my colleagues and didn’t bother me at all. But usually the interruptions were more of the “Mommy, where is this?” or “Mommy, help me with that” ilk. I was frequently turning off my computer’s mic in an attempt to shield my boss from the reality of my so-called workdays -- loud cartoons, kids’ shrieks, block towers toppling over onto the hardwood floor, and barking dogs were constantly making noise.
Today, with the kids back at preschool, my main distractions are just the usual glitches and hiccups of technology. Talking to people through a device is never as good as face-to-face. This is true for me not only with work meetings, but for all the other parts of my job, too. These days, everyone I talk to for a story, I talk to over the phone or online through a program like Zoom. And any photos I take, are taken at least 6 feet away from people. It’s a challenge to try to craft a story, and visuals to go with it, without ever seeing or speaking to your subject(s) up close.
Bob: The hours leading up to the meeting are spent going through 15 bookmarks of Forum Communications sister websites looking for any sports stories that might be applicable to our area and keeping up with what’s going on anywhere from Grand Forks to Rochester. The rest is spent finalizing stories for deadline.
Jasper isn’t big on the meeting but makes a rare appearance. After discussing the editorial demands of the day, it’s time for brunch, the boy’s late-morning treat and outside he goes so I can get the rest of the work done. It’s typically quiet on his end until 1 p.m. when it’s time for another walk or back to the dog park. Back home for any final edits while pondering what’s for lunch on a quiet and breezy patio.
How the rest of the day goes.
Marie: Man, again, that sounds pretty peaceful.
My peace comes in moments. I have a flower-decked front porch I love to escape to when I need a minute to myself. I can breathe there, smell the flowers and watch and listen to the birds at the feeders. It’s my Happy Place.
I think you get the idea as far as how my days have gone during "coronatine," just from hearing about my typical morning. There’s a lot of go-go-go and divided attention and meeting various needs while trying to get my work done -- some nights during the stay-at-home order I’d be up until 1 a.m., since the best time to get stories written was after the kids were asleep.
All stories in ‘The Essentials’ series:
- Sheriff deputies Ryan Aho and Brandon Meyer
- Spanky’s bartender Matthew Hanson
- School counselor Sara Pender
- Day care owner Shandy Mehl
- B&M Electric owners Mike and Brenda Eidenschink
- Police Sgt. Robert Strand
- Gas station employee Robyn Habedank
- Registered Nurse Molly Hillukka
Every day, there’s breakfast, lunch and dinner to prepare, playtime to be had, toys to pick up, dishes to do, a lawn and gardens to maintain, dogs to be let out, tantrums to soothe, floors to sweep, laundry to fold, diapers to change and on and on and on. And, oh yeah -- emails to send, stories to write, interviews to conduct, magazines to edit, and that list goes on, too.
For weeks, I operated in “survival mode,” utterly exhausted.
All the COVID-19 togetherness has gotten the better of me and my family some days, for sure, as tiredness and grumpiness take over. But other days, silliness and harmony have ruled. We just take it one day at a time, and try to appreciate all the good things we have -- our health, our jobs, our home, each other… we’re among the lucky ones in all this. I remind myself of that, all the time.
Bob: During the school year and nonvirus times, deadlines are the week’s stressors on the soul and the clock trying to get as much on the print page as possible. The past few months have been much easier on both ends.
While more time is spent actually finding stories than trying to keep up with the usual grind and driving between events, I’ve been able to spend far more time with my little family of two and the beagle has taken advantage of that.
Both deadline days go by rather peacefully with the late afternoon to evening mostly open.
Bob: Tuesdays are capped off with more deserved relaxing, highlighted by #Pugchat on Twitter, where pugs from around the world answer breed-related questions for prizes with adorable photos in ridiculous outfits.
Marie: I may finally join Twitter just for this.
Bob: While I look forward to getting back to the sports grind soon, this break in the action has been welcome.
Marie: What break?