Stephen lives downtown with his wife and three young children.When we planned this interview, he suggested meeting at a local park where he would be with his family, during an intentional break in his work day. Stephen’s family schedule and regular habits have changed quite a lot during the current COVID-19 crisis, but he talked about trying to appreciate what we still have amidst all the upheaval.
This is part of a series of interviews with Ann Arbor residents, talking about personal experiences adjusting to (and adapting during) the COVID-19 crisis. Interviewed April 3, 2020
Alright, so I’m talking to my friend, Stephen. Hi, Stephen!
So I am asking people: how has your lifestyle changed, what adjustments have you made to our current situation with the COVID-19 virus?
Well, my wife and I have three little kids and before the pandemic started, our life was just a whirlwind of school and multiple extra curricular activities— so busy that you literally had to have a family calendar to plot it all out so you knew exactly what you were going to do next. There would be two or three things every evening and on the weekends just, you know, one thing after another. We’ve gone from having this incredibly full calendar to absolutely nothing.
It’s kind of ironic because about two months ago, my wife said, “You know, maybe we should cut back on all the extra curricular activities and spend more time with our family as a family” and, you know, because our kids aren’t going to be young forever. Well, boy, did she get her wish come true!
(laughs) I’m not sure this is quite what she wished for…
No, it was not, not exactly.
So… how has it changed… so, not only are we spending a lot of time just as a family together but, you know, now my wife has to be schoolteacher for three little kids. That’s really stressful because— I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to teach a spouse or a child something but— they don’t take direction as well from a parent as they do from just a complete stranger so… it’s a challenge. That’s stress-inducing.
And then— I’m a critical infrastructure worker, I’m president of the University Bank— so I actually have to go to work, although the vast majority of our employees are all working from home and have been for about three weeks now. What I am doing, I changed my schedule up so that I’m coming home at the noon hour to have lunch with my family, to get my wife out of the house and give her a break to kind of decompress, because it is very stressful having three little kids in a small house, not being able to go out. These kids have a lot of energy and they just… you know, they rebel after a certain point. And to give her a little break is really, we’re finding very helpful.
The other thing that we’ve started doing just recently is —to give my wife a break because, you know, she’s just constantly in this pressure cooker with the three kids— after dinner and after we clean up, my wife and I just go out for a long walk by ourselves out, downtown (we live downtown). Our oldest is old enough to keep an eye on the other two, so it’s okay. We wouldn’t want to leave them there for three or four hours (it’d be like Bueller’s Day Off) but, you know, for a thirty minute walk we get to talk and she can kind of tell me all the things on her mind that she doesn’t want to say in front of the kids. That’s been very helpful.
Anyway, so those are the main things that have changed.
I am having to work extremely hard, though, in the bank, because of all the things we need to do, both first to get our employees off-site and safe and then secondly, you know, with this new program that just came out today for businesses that can get loans from the SBA. So we had to do a whole bunch of work in preparation for that. It’s been crazy at work, too.
So, for your household, have you made any changes in terms of how you’re grocery shopping or how you’re meeting the needs that we usually meet by going out in public places and getting things?
Yeah, absolutely… so, we’re trying to minimize the number of trips we make to any place. At the very beginning of the pandemic, I filled up my car with a tank of gas and I haven’t been to the gas station since because we’re trying hard to do a lot of walking or bicycling. We’re lucky that we have a good grocery store downtown— the People’s Food Co-op— that we’re members of. Once a week, my wife is going out to Trader Joe’s to stock up. We’ve tried to do the online ordering with Costco and Kroger but I have to say that’s incredibly difficult because if you don’t get to it at a certain minute, literally, of the 24 hour day, you’ll never get a delivery time.
I’ve heard this… I’ve heard this
I’m not going to say what the minute is, because
You figured it out!
We figured it out, it’s a secret!
Anyway… it’s sad. We’re trying hard to just, you know, only go like once a week grocery shopping and then have delivered in other things.
So, you and I are meeting in a park today and obviously you have kids who need to be outside and running off energy.
Yeah, they’re running around… Isabel, come over here, come on…
So this is going to go on my blog, I don’t know… some people are cautious about…
It’s good, it’s good, it’s all good.
So, we’re in a park now, what kind of precautions are you taking in outdoor spaces like this one?
Well, we’re standing at least fifteen feet apart…
(laughs) Yes, we are.
And, other than my kids, we’re not going anywhere near anybody. Right, so if we see somebody coming down the sidewalk we start crossing to the other side of the street. We’re not engaging with anybody, we’re not getting anywhere near anybody. If we say “hi” to somebody it’s about as close as you and I are… in fact, maybe even a little further. Hard to see me in the video camera if I’m too far away. Yeah, that’s what we’re trying to do.
So, do you have any suggestions for people who are finding the current circumstances very difficult, who are feeling very cooped up and isolated? Any strategies that you have found to be helpful to make things a bit easier? I mean, you mentioned some of them, obviously…
What I would say is… everybody’s different. There are some people who are introverts by nature, like my mom. She loves it! Not having to deal with people and not be bothered by people, she’s in her own little world and she thinks that’s great. She’s sitting there every day reading or doing whatever it is she wants to do, right? But there are a lot of people, this is extremely hard on them, like my wife is a great example. She is a people person, she’s an extrovert. Not being able to see her friends, talk to her friends as much in person, it’s really tough.
What I’m hearing from her friends, some of her friends are doing really well and some are really not.
What we hear works the best, looking and observing our friends: the busier you are, the less time you have to think about the fact that you’re unhappy. I have a friend— old friend— who posted something on her Facebook page a couple days ago and it really kind of struck a chord with me. She was like: what’s wrong with having the time to spend with your family that you always wished you had? What’s wrong with eating home-cooked meals every meal? What’s wrong with having a closer relationship with your God?
All the things that you wished you had time for, gosh, you have time for it now! So, if you’ve got a pile of old newspapers you want to get through and read, read them. You’ve got a pile of books that you didn’t read that you’ve got laid up for some future event— it’s now, right? If you’ve got a project to, like, paint your kitchen, wallpaper a wall, build something. A friend of ours is building a chicken coop. She’s happy because she’s busy. She doesn’t have time to think about all the things she’s deprived of, that she wants to have or used to have.
Having said that, another good thing is occasionally you have to treat yourself. I wouldn’t encourage you go out all the time, but, for example, we live downtown. There’s a handful of restaurants that we love and we don’t want to see them go out of business. So we’re picking one every so often— not very often— to get a takeout meal from. We love it because it’s something that we really enjoy. It’s kind of a way of giving ourselves a small treat and a taste of normal life. Not really normal, because you can’t eat in and you’ve got to eat at your dinner table but at least it’s something that you can do.
Alright, well, is there anything else you have to add? I think you have given a lot of good advice to people, and I appreciate you talking to me.
Well, thank you. The only other thing I would say is I would encourage everybody that if you do see people who are not following the rules, speak up, right? Either— from a safe distance— talk to them about “Why are you doing what you’re doing? I mean, you’re making everyone unsafe” or report it to the proper authorities.
I was telling you earlier— before we started filming— I actually emailed the president of the U of M, Mark Schlissel, yesterday morning because I saw a whole bunch of kids (students obviously) playing basketball together— an organized game— and Frisbee 500—an organized game— on some of the athletic fields. I’m like “What’s up with that? Can’t you do anything about this?” Later in the day, I got contacted by the U of M police force, a lieutenant who assured me that they’ll be patrolling the athletic field. I go by there a lot and I haven’t seen them doing that since.
You can make a difference in helping the authorities. If they don’t know about something, how can they stop people who aren’t following the rules? They can’t counsel them to do the right thing. So don’t be afraid to speak up, it’s for everybody’s benefit.
I agree with you and I took a trip yesterday to Island Park because I had heard about people crowding around the owls. I was relieved to see that people… that was not what it looked like, what I saw. They were keeping distance but, had they been crowding, I would have said something— NICELY— I would have said something nicely.
If you want to hear owls, at West Park we have some wonderful owls you can hear. I don’t know if you’ve heard them in the background while we’re talking. One great thing about Ann Arbor, too, is there’s 160 parks. Some significant percentage of our city is in parkland, so you’ve got all kinds of options to be outdoors, enjoy beautiful spring, without being near people.
Pick a park that doesn’t have anybody in it.
Yep. Well, you have piqued my curiosity, now I want to go see the owls! So I’m going to end this conversation and say thank you for talking to me!
Alright, thanks so much!