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By Micah Evangelista, Hannah Gordon-Kirk, Isabel Lay and Emily Porter

Life At Home

By Micah Evangelista

Life at Home: Four families during Covid-19

Four families explain their experiences during Covid-19. From Brielle Felatous, a single mother of two, to L. and Kristin Page and Cameron and Melanie Whitley, two couple’s living with a newborn child, to Virginia Crothers, a single retiree. These families all experience the affects of Covid-19 in a different way, and their home life has a definitive impact upon their outlook toward the future.
Examining Chosen Family during COVID

By Isabel Lay 

This is what my house sounds like. It’s May 7, 2020. A Thursday. I’ve been quarantining with my five roommates since March 13, 2020 in our house in Bellingham, Washington.

This is what my house has always sounded like. Over the three years we’ve lived here, it’s been rarely quiet.

Quarantine has changed so many things about the world around us, people are sick, dying, fighting for their lives, practicing social distancing, not practicing social distancing, getting mad at people not practicing social distancing, getting mad at people practicing social distancing. With so much going on it felt important to encapsulate my experience during quarantine, the ups, the downs, the in-betweens. As I kept documenting however, I realized that this experience, with my chosen family, the four people I’ve spent the majority of the last four years with, is really not unlike how we’ve been living with each other this whole time. If anything, we’ve gotten closer, gathered together a little bit more compassion for each other, cooked more food for each other, spent more time together, comforted each other more. 

So much stress comes with being confined to our homes. How will we escape when someone is frustrated, how will we make it through this together? The family I have chosen has made this easier. It’s something so many of us are experiencing right now, we are college students, unable to go home to our parents for fear of transmitting a disease that could be deadly to them. We are scared and isolated but we have formed our own community.

I know I’ll look back on this time as an encapsulation of my college experience. It’s a demonstration of how close I’ve grown with people I didn’t know existed just four years ago. I feel closer and more understood in this household that I did living with “real” family. We are figuring this out together, making sense of it one day at a time. For those of us who’ve had a choice to quarantine with our friends and roommates it’ll be a magical bubble where we can reminisce on how close our friendship got in the face of something unprecedented. This isn’t how I would’ve chosen to spend my last quarter of college, my last sweet days in Bellingham, but it’s something I’ll remember. These photos, this writing and the sound I’ve compiled will be a time capsule, something that I can show someone someday when they ask, “What was it like?”

Hannah

“I will remember my time in quarantine by the quality time spent with close friends and the chance to take a break from my bustling life.” -Hannah Gordon-Kirk

Emily_

“I will remember this as a time I was able to have more free time, learn new creative activities such as baking, and a time where I learn to cherish the little things in life. I’ve also grown closer to my family during this time so I will look back on that and hopefully continue to grow that relationship” -Emily Porter

“I will remember this time as a much-needed chance to appreciate what I have in my life. It’s been a chance to slow down and think about how important my roommates are to me and how lucky we are to have each other.” -Micah Evangelista

Portraits of Families

Photos by Emily Porter and stories by Hannah Gordon-Kirk

The Feltaous Family

 

Brielle Feltaous, mother of two, sits on the front steps of her transitional home. Her two daughters Naima, 7, and Qahira, 5, buzz aimlessly around her. They are eager to show off the books they have read as well as the art they have created during their time in quarantine. The girls are sassy and curious, they ask questions about the recording equipment and cameras, and frequently interrupt their mom for her undivided attention. Within the hour long interview they hysterically laugh and have a meltdown or two.

As Brielle puts it, “single parents have different levels of sanity.”

Brielle is currently unemployed, much like the other 40 million people in the U.S. today, before COVID-19 hit Washington state she attended Whatcom Community College with plans of becoming a medical assistant. In addition to being a student, Brielle also worked part time as a substitute teacher at Garden View Montessori.

In September of 2019, the mom of two made a life changing decision when she opted to escape a violent domestic relationship. The family was left homeless, until December when they moved into a transitional home. This severe hardship left Brielle with PTSD which has escalated since being confined to her home.

“I have no savings,” she explains, “After their dad took the house he left us with nothing and swept out the bank account, I can’t afford to pay a sitter $22 an hour-what is considered hazard pay.”

The initial transition of becoming a single mom was difficult on Brielle and proved nearly impossible for her to establish a stable environment for her kids. As the family settled into their new home, they were able to come up with a new routine, one they have been struggling to get back into. In mid-March Brielle joined a Facebook group called Whatcom County COVID-19 Community Helpers which has allowed her to interact with people in the Bellingham community during this time of social distancing. From this group Brielle has received numerous books for her daughters which have occupied a lot of their time.

“Me having to ask for help and accepting help is a ginormous step,” Brielle sighs, “I’m not used to being on the other end of that point.”

Brielle has taken on the responsibility of being a full-time teacher for her kids. It is evident from the relationship with her children as well as her background in childcare, it’s a great fit for Brielle for the time being.

“I am honest with my kids, I don’t sugar coat what’s going on,” she tells me. “It’s a disservice to them, we assume kids can’t handle it.”

Naima, the book worm and drama queen of the family according to Brielle, runs inside to retrieve a poem she wrote for her class. Naima beautifully constructed the “Coronavirus Poem” with little help from her mom. When it is time to read her poem, the bubbly girl turns quiet and asks her mom to read it aloud, Brielle continues:

School gone, virus is long
It makes me sad plus mad
I can’t go out to play
No friends, because the virus is free today
2.99 million worldwide sick from Covid-19, this virus is mean
In my county 288 confirmed cases – 27 deaths
That’s scary
It’s stolen people’s celebrations, Easter, parks, socialization.
Made us scared of hugs not the dark
I just want it to go away, I don’t want to live in quarantine another day
I’m tired of mom saying what we cannot do because of Covid-19
Wear masks to keep germs away, stop touching your face, I’m tired of wash my hands a million times, can’t go to school, I feel like I want to boohoo
It’s kind of cool that the earth gets to heal, but this virus is an awfully big deal
Animals get it too
This virus doesn’t belong here
It is wrong, stay strong.

The Page Family 

Kristin and her wife L sit in their garden with their 10-month-old baby girl Fern. It is a sunny Bellingham afternoon a week before Mother’s Day, and the couple has been occupied with their home remodel as well as the upkeep of their ever-growing garden.

“Yesterday we put in these raspberry beds, and we also have strawberry beds over here,” L points another direction, here is where we put our Walla Walla sweet onions and tomatoes, we just added four new apple trees too,” L exclaims.

The Page’s expansive garden shields the outside world from their quaint blue house, where they have spent all their time in the last couple months. The couple has been in quarantine for six straight weeks, and on top of all of this they are experiencing the roles of parenthood as well as working from home.

L is the manager of the Queer Youth Project at Northwest Youth Services. “It’s been a tough transition for work, there’s so many parts of my work that is fine to do a at a distance like meetings and collaborating with adults. But a big part of my job is advocating for young people and that’s become a lot more challenging to reach out to them,” L tells us.

Much of L’s work has shifted into ‘crisis mode’ as she describes it. Young people that she works with are at risk of being stuck in unhealthy home environments, where their parents could be unsupportive or don’t accept them for who they are. “This can be very emotional and sometimes a physically dangerous place for them, so trying to support them by email or text message can be difficult,” L says.

“There’s been lots of Zoom going on around here, on both ends,” Kristen adds. Kristen is a Nurse practitioner who recently switched to online appointments. “My company switched to virtual all within a week, patients and practitioners,” Kristin adds.

Intentionally, the new parents have kept their baby away from television and screens. However, given the current social distancing requirements the Pages have been unable to meet with friends and family members in person, so they have implemented Zoom for Fern to acquaint herself with relatives. According to Kristen Fern now recognizes faces on Zoom, like her grandparents.

For people like Kristen and L who are natural home bodies, life hasn’t changed drastically. The parents express their appreciation for this quality time to spend all together, especially while Fern is so young.

“I’m grateful for the time with Fern,” L says, “But one of my concerns for Fern is for her socialization because she isn’t being held by other people, I’m worried about her stranger danger and her not being as comfortable to be held by other folks when the time comes,” L explains.

It is no doubt that baby Fern is content with her two loving parents. She is smiley, talkative, and very aware of the new people with recording equipment in her yard. 

 

The Whitley Family 

The sounds of panting dogs and chirping birds floods the Whitley’s front porch. The family of three stand humbly before us with their two rambunctious dogs. Before beginning our interview, the neighbor pulls into her driveway and greets the Whitley’s from across the road. The neighbor explains that her husband tested positive for A-symptomatic COVID-19. The Whitley’s handle their response with support and care, they hold up their two-month-old baby Oliver who has consumed most of their time during the pandemic. 

The couple is a personable and lighthearted pair, even with the stress of taking care of a newborn in the midst of a global pandemic, they both are excited to start this new chapter of their lives. 

“One of my biggest fears of parenthood was FOMO (fear of missing out),” says Cameron. “We had every intention of already being home for the next few months anyway,” Melanie adds.

It is clear to see from the couple’s conversational habits, that they often finish each other’s sentences.

Most of the couple’s time has been spent caring for their newborn Oliver, and as Melanie laughs, “trying to convince myself not to go through the drive-thru coffee.”

Cameron an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Western but is on parental leave for spring quarter. Melanie is on maternity leave from her position as a Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University in New Jersey. She explains, “everyone I know who is teaching is struggling, they’re trying to take care of kids at home and teach.”

She reflectively adds “We’ve had it so easy compared to other people, we’ve been incredibly lucky.”

Despite their absence of work-related stress, the couple faced the struggle of delivering a child during a time where hospitals are overrun with COVID-19 patients and the general panic the pandemic has produced. 

“When things started to get bad, we were in the hospital, our OBGYN friend told us to get out of the hospital, we were hyper social isolating. Everything we need we pick-up, we order to our house. It feels like we’ve been inside for three months,” Melanie explains.

The new family is being extra cautious about the virus, considering the kidney transplant Cameron had three years ago. Keeping a safe distance with a newborn that everyone is eager to meet is also taxing emotionally and physically.

He chimes in “I’m Impressed that our families have been respecting social distancing rules, that’s not always the case with our family.”

The two are on their own with their newborn which has put pressure on the pair to be patient with one another as they navigate parenthood for the first time.

As Melanie shifts Oliver onto her hip, she talks honestly about the day to day struggle of staying inside. “Sometimes we think this so amazing and it’s a great time to bond, but today is not one of those days for me.”

Cameron and Melanie have been Oliver’s only caretakers since he was born. “One of us is with Oliver at all times, I can’t imagine being a single parent right now.”

The couple gets limited time to themselves, at night or briefly when Oliver is napping. When free time presents itself, Melanie enjoys painting and portraiture, and Cameron embraces a more youthful creative endeavor: building LEGO sets, in fact their whole basement is dedicated to the colorful blocks.

The Crothers Family 

Virginia (or Ginny) Crothers, sits at a white table on her recently remodeled deck. Her blonde curly hair rests atop of cheetah print glasses framing her bright blue eyes. At 67, Crothers is retired and a new resident of Bellingham. Before moving to Bellingham, she worked in the high-tech industry for 35 years and taught English as a second language at the college level. In 2019 Crothers made the big move up north from Sedona Arizona, where she spent most of her time flipping houses.

“I swore my days of flipping homes were over, until I moved into this one,” Crothers exclaims.

Her house has a rustic yet modern feel, the garden and surrounding greenery engulf her home which makes it feel like an oasis.

“The house was pretty sad looking, it was a 1972 mess,” she describes. “It was a long time rental before I bought it, the owners before me had big dogs and chickens, which smelt like it when I moved in.”

Crothers gutted her home, in the last year she removed the popcorn ceilings, replaced the floors, primed and painted all of the walls, put in new light fixtures, broke down walls, extended the perimeter and added two new decks. She explains this in a nonchalant manner, almost like the renovations were easy. What Crothers leaves out, is she did most of the work.

Since the pandemic hit Washington in mid-March, Crothers has not been able to show off her renovations to her family and close friends.
“My life hasn’t changed much from the pandemic,” she explains. “I notice that I don’t use as much gas since I’m not traveling much and I’m able to visit my friends over Zoom, plus I have a sister in Bellingham,” Crothers says.

When she is not chatting with her friends on Zoom or fixing up her home, she is either reading with her cats nearby or out walking with friends.

“My days since I’ve retired are very fluid, although I get up early in the morning. I have a little breakfast, if I have a book that is really grabbing me then I will read for most of the day and I normally go for a walk either in the neighborhood or with a friend in the neighborhood.”

Her two cats have kept her company during this especially isolating time. Her oldest cat Tessa is an 11-year-old pure bred Pixie-bob, the ‘princess’ as Crothers calls her, and is high maintenance requiring a lot of brushing. Crothers’ youngest cat Doug, described as a ‘20 pound lump of orange calm and love’ was rescued by Crothers from the humane society.

“They have their routines and they expect me to keep up with them and if I don’t, they definitely tell me,” she explains. “They are great company, they talk to me and I talk to them, we never talk about politics, they just don’t care, it’s not worth their time.”

Crothers tells us that she has limited her news consumption to just one editorial a day for health reasons.

“Usually it’s NPR or BBC, the more news that I read online my blood pressure goes up and up, my health isn’t worth it,” she says while fixing her hair.

Within the hour spent with Ginny Crothers it is clear to see that she is a natural at social connections. She is looking forward to hosting family and friends at her revamped space and is excited to get back into yoga, but more importantly, for her post yoga tea dates with friends.

“We haven’t had tea in many months, I really miss that,” she adds.