Striking a balance
When clients tell Aja King that they’re stressed out by the pressures of working from home while caring for their children, she doesn’t have to ask why.
The Brooklyn Park licensed therapist is tending to her own two children’s schooling while fielding phone consultations.
“When I wasn’t comforting other parents, I was comforting my children,” she said.
King gave up her home office to one of her sons, so he could focus on his online lessons. The other son sets up in the dining room.
“That left me with the bedroom,” she said. “But it’s OK. I have a candle burning. It’s nice in here.”
Her workload has increased since the shelter-at-home directive was issued. Many days, she’s on the phone almost constantly from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., squeezing in a few minutes when she can to check on Austin, 9, and Chris, 14.
“I’m trying to make sure they still do all the [school] work but also give me space to do my job,” she said. “My older son was OK with it. He’s more independent. But at first, my 9-year-old was distraught. There was a lot of frustration, and he missed his friends.”
After a stress-filled week of balancing school work and counseling, King insists that the family do something together. “Weekends we spend taking walks, watching movies, painting,” she said. “When you stop being in motion, you lose your motivation.”
Her advice to her clients — which she tries hard to follow herself — for minimizing stress during the quarantine: Create a schedule and stick to it. As much as you can, keep doing the same things you did before (her sons have kept up their karate classes via Zoom). And however things work out, don’t feel guilty if it’s less than you had hoped for.
“Be kind to yourself,” she said. “Don’t feel bad because you missed the mark you set for yourself. Right now, we need to concentrate on just getting through this.”
A people-person without people
The stay-at-home directive hit Nina Jonson hard. As the programs manager at Plymouth Congregational Church, she’s in charge of the youth and child education classes.
When the Minneapolis church closed, she tried to find a way to keep doing what she does.
“I asked myself, ‘What’s something I can do?’ ” she said. “I love talking to people, and all my work is with kids.”
She and her husband, Jasper, the principal of Minneapolis’ Bethune Community School, had an extensive library of children’s books from their two preteen daughters, as well as a stash of books from when they were kids. Enough books that you could read one a day and not run out for months.
And that gave her the idea for “Nighttime With Nina,” in which she reads stories online seven evenings a week.
Her original intent was to post the stories on the church’s Facebook page.
“It’s good for kids to see an adult they recognize,” she said. “It’s important to have some normalcy in their lives.”
But the segments’ appeal quickly spread through her extensive social media network and word of mouth among tots and parents alike.
“This isn’t Michelle Obama or LeVar Burton, who have very professional shows,” she said. “Mine definitely is not professional.”
Granted, Michelle Obama has never had someone drop the camera in the middle of one of her segments, but her production crew doesn’t consist of a 9- and 11-year-old, either. What Jonson’s segments lack in technical pizazz, they more than make up for in energy and sincerity.
She puts a lot of work into each session. Stories are chosen for having an “uplifting message” and being “welcoming to all children.” She starts many segments by explaining why she picked that particular tale. As much as possible, she tries to match her outfit to the story. And she tries to add a little drama to her reading.
“I’m pretty terrible at doing voices,” she said. “I do British and cowboy. But I can do higher and lower voices.”
She has done some of the segments live, but she prefers to do them on tape so she can back up should the dog wander through the frame or her crew — daughters Zinnia and Adella — experience difficulties. If there’s a day when she won’t have time to tape a segment, she’ll do it ahead of time. One day, she recorded seven stories, changing outfits for each one.
“I’m lucky to be able to do this,” she said.
The segments are posted by 6:30 p.m. daily on plymouth.org, the church’s Facebook account and on Jonson’s Facebook page.
New mom, new perspectives
Ali Biro is delighted by the wonders of her 11-month-old son, who manages miracles on an almost daily basis.
“He goes from not being able to crawl to crawling to standing,” she said. “Now he has started to walk behind a push walker.”
Any other time, her parents, who live nearby, also would have been there to witness their first grandchild’s progress. But they haven’t seen him for two months.
“He wasn’t even able to crawl then,” Biro said. “He’s grown a lot.”
Biro and her husband, Roland, have turned to electronics to keep them up to date on Bjorn’s progress.
“We record as much as we can,” she said. “And we FaceTime [with her parents] every day.”
They also connect with Roland’s parents, who live in Nashville.
At one point, plans were in place for a Mother’s Day gathering, to celebrate and to hold Bjorn’s baby dedication. But with churches closed, that has been postponed indefinitely.
As for Bjorn, he seems to be taking all this in stride. He gets excited about seeing his grandparents on FaceTime and has figured out that there’s a world beyond his living room.
“He loves looking out the window,” his mom said.
As for when he’ll get to interact with his grandparents, Biro remains optimistic. After all, that all-important first birthday is coming up June 2.
“I hope we all can get together soon,” she said.
Going back to school
Pam Kairies didn’t hesitate when she was asked in mid-March to babysit one of her grandchildren who was running a fever and needed to stay home. At the most, she figured, the duty would last a couple of days.
Then Gov. Tim Walz ordered schools to close. And with that, a couple of days turned into a couple of months, and a babysitting gig turned into a teaching engagement.
“I’ve had no training to be a teacher,” she said, adding dryly: “Fortunately, my grandson is only 6, so the math isn’t over my head yet.”
Kairies’ daughter works at the family business. While she’s there, Kairies tends to Michael. Or, as the case may be, tries to stay a step ahead of him.
“Sometimes even I forget that he’s only 6,” she said, recalling a day in which he asked Siri to answer the questions his teacher was asking him.
Michael is dropped off at her house at 7:15 a.m. and picked up at 4:30 p.m. It’s a long day — but an enjoyable one.
“I’m getting to do some things with him that I never had time to do with my own kids,” she said. “When you’re the mother of three young children, you don’t always have a lot of time to have fun with them.”
She’s also keeping in touch with other family members — thanks to Michael, who uses his iPad to connect with others who are quarantined.
“He FaceTimes other kids, his cousins and aunts and uncles,” she said.
Now Kairies has adopted the practice herself. “When I’m ready for a break, I FaceTime with someone who’s been a close friend since eighth grade and now lives in Texas,” she said.
She’s also learned another lesson by teaching Michael: “They say you have your kids until they’re 18. It actually goes on long after that.”