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We Can Come Out Stronger

Three weeks into lockdown, JP mom Isabella discusses how the early stages of pandemic have affected her and her daughter.

At the time of this interview, Isabella, 23, was sheltering in place with her 18-month-old daughter at Jeremiah Program’s St. Paul campus. Although struggling with social isolation, Isabella remained focused on her future and her hopes for how the pandemic could positively influence humanity.

Isabella reflects on how the pandemic has affected essential workers and the privilege inherent in being able to stay at home.
How are you doing, personally and emotionally, in the midst of the pandemic?

I feel like I’m holding up pretty well. I’m trying to see the bright side of this situation. The fact that, for the last three weeks, I’ve had uninterrupted time to spend with my daughter has been one of the upsides of this, and I actually am really appreciative for that. I do have some days where I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m just sitting here in the house!” But I’m able to snap back from that pretty quickly.

When did you first hear about COVID-19, and when did you first realize that the pandemic was going to have an effect on your life?

It really is a unique program because it has so many awesome benefits to it. The aspects that have been really important for me are the education part of it,

I remember I was in class for anthropology; we were doing an assignment about current events and someone brought up coronavirus. That was the first time that I heard about it, and it seemed really distant at that point. When it really started feeling it was going to affect my life was about the time that I when on Spring Break, about three weeks ago.

I started socially isolating really early, just because I have a young daughter. I was more concerned about her at first, so I wasn’t really going out. I started taking it seriously right away and just trying to do my best to not contribute to the spread of things. It was scary. I mean, it took me two weeks to actually go outside for fresh air. Now, I’m trying to find the balance between staying safe and not shutting myself off from the world. That’s kind of been the struggle with me—finding that balance—and it feels different on different days sometimes.

It’s just hard to have the lack of social human interaction, adjusting to FaceTime calls. I have to fight the urge to just pick up my stuff and go have a board-game night with friends. It’s not just, “Stay inside the house.” It’s literally like, “No, stay away from other people as much as possible. Limit your contact, stay home as much as possible.” And then, of course, it’s the idea of, “How long is this going to go on for?” Personally, I think it’s at least a few more months. And so, I’m just preparing myself, having that mindset of “keep positive, move around when I have the chance.” I open my windows every day for a few hours, even if it’s chilly, because I need fresh air. Just adjusting, but also preparing myself for how this will affect life moving forward.

I really am trying to see the bright side of everything. It’s really interesting that there have been articles being published that are showing the environmental effects of this—that the planet is finally getting a chance to breathe because our traffic has gone down. As weird as it is to say, there are some good side effects to this, and I know it’ll pass. And then, after this, how will we reflect on that and do better for each other and for the environment?

Has the pandemic affected your employment?

I was just in school when this all happened. In a sense, it kinda did because a week before it really started getting serious is when I started looking for jobs again. So now going out in public and now not having the daycare–cause our daycare is closed–kind of has halted the job searching process. Honestly, I might have to hold off because, ultimately, my daughter is my main concern, and I would hate to do anything that put us in jeopardy because it is just us. I applied for cash assistance and some benefits; maybe we’ll get that and it’ll help in the meantime.

“I think we can definitely come out of this much stronger, and hopefully everyone can see that and make good choices for the better moving forward.”

Isabella, St. Paul mom
What skills you find yourself relying on at this time?

I’m digging into my bag of coping skills when it comes to the mental health stuff because of the lack of social interaction. I’m such an extrovert. I’m a talker. I just like to see how people are doing. I love to be around people. And, so, I’ve been reaching into my little bag of tricks. One, seeing the bright side of things. Two, when I am feeling lonely and shut off from the world, I try to reach out to friends on FaceTime. I just want to see how people are doing. And I’m trying to develop new skills, to make the most of this time. I got a whiteboard for my daughter that I stuck to the wall, and so having a little place where I can teach her homeschool—I did that. I got a book shipped to me from Amazon, just this huge thick book of really fun toddler activities that cover gross motor skills and fine motor skills and numbers and letters, So, just trying to fill the time, but in a productive way.

Isabella comments on the messages she’s taking away from her experience of the pandemic.
How have Jeremiah Program and other moms in the program been then there for you since the pandemic began?

I have one mom that I’ve connected with over the past few years here. We’ll check on each other. She doesn’t come over; we don’t do anything physically around each other, but we’ll message each other on Facebook and be like, “Hey, how are you holding up? How are you doing?” And that’s just really nice to have that genuine relationship with her.

Jeremiah has also been doing their best to be a support to the moms. There is still at least one staff member on campus during the week, so if we do have questions or have immediate needs, we can go to them. They actually just came up with an emergency needs form, and they’re trying to do their best to come up with donations, too, so that moms who need diapers or anything that is a necessity that they can’t get right now—because they’ve lost their job or are inside with children—they can fill out that form and see if it’s available to us.

We’re all just trying to figure it out. We’re all still getting used to this idea, this new normal, that’s going to be in place for a few months at least. I do think that Jeremiah is trying their best to come up with different solutions and different ways to be there for us.

Your daughter is pretty young. Does she understand what’s going on?

She will be 18 months on the eighth. The most that I can do is, walking down and through the elevator and stuff, I’m like, “Nope, don’t touch things!” And that’s kind of the extent of that conversation with her because she doesn’t understand.

My sister the other day made a remark like, “Isn’t it so crazy that she has no idea what’s happening right now?” This is history and she just doesn’t have the capacity to register this right now at her age. Actually, I’m thankful for that because that’s another worry that I don’t have: “How is her mental health?” She’s not going crazy. She’s not worried about that. She just wants to have a good time and she loves that Mommy is here with her all the time right now. If anything, this whole situation has strengthened our bond because I’ve literally had three weeks uninterrupted with her.

How do you think things will be different going forward after this is over?

I would hope that this is a wake-up call to people to just be there for each other. I think it’s really interesting what has been unearthed through this situation. The restaurants that are coming together to serve food for the homeless. And just in general, the politics right now of how working-class people are being treated, with grocery store workers even being called emergency workers right now.

Who gets to stay home? It’s all the people with all this money, and the people that the general world hasn’t appreciated are the ones that are keeping society afloat right now. So, in that regard, I hope that people can treat each other nicely and just be more appreciative of the things that they have, because—ultimately—it’s a privilege to stay at home. It’s a privilege to socially isolate yourself. Not everyone has the opportunity to be at home right now because they have to provide for their own families and for themselves. And, so, I just hope that the political climate around that changes once this passes. It shouldn’t take such a drastic thing to happen for people to come together and support each other.

This is one of the biggest things to happen in my lifetime. I think that this generation of people who are living through this and growing up through this, there might be some social aftermath. I have this analogy in my head, for example. The Baby Boomers and the people who went through the Cold War, they might have different fears than we do because of the environment that they grew up in. So maybe, for them, if they hear sirens, that’s a little triggering because it reminds them of this thing that they went through, versus maybe for us, growing up through this, maybe the way we interact with each other might change and people might be germaphobes in the future because of just what we’re going through now.

I think this whole event and all of this that’s happening right now is serving as a reminder to, “Hey, slow down. Take things slow. Really love each other.” And the way that we have been living maybe isn’t the best way to be living just in terms of the energy that we have for each other and kindness. And I think that in these dark times is when people really come together, and I just really hope that that continues after this all goes away. So, even though it’s scary and sad, and there’s going to be a lot of loss and all the losses that have happened, I think we can definitely come out of this much stronger, and hopefully everyone can see that and make good choices for the better moving forward.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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