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Claremont parents walking a tight rope

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

With Claremont Unified School District officially going to online school in the fall, parents and caregivers are readying for their new role as de-facto homeschool teachers and those who work outside the home are balancing this responsibility with full-time employment.

Adjusting to the new, ever-changing normal has forced parents and caregivers to delve into a whole host of new skillsets. And, like most issues these days, the reviews are mixed.

“I understand everyone just kind of had this fall in their lap, and there was minimal time to plan for anything, but at the same time we have to kind of go into crisis mode and figure out how to make this work for our lives,” said local business owner Tria Belcourt, 46, whose son Rowan, 10, is going into fifth grade and daughter Ashlyn, 6, into first at Sycamore Elementary.

“If I just threw up and my hands and said, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ I wouldn’t have a company anymore,” she said. “But I had to buckle down and say ‘Okay, how can I adjust my life, how can I adjust my schedule, to made sure that I can continue working and continue bringing in money for my family?’”

Having to recalibrate most everything—not just school schedules, but how the home functions, computer and Internet access, how to work from home and the big one, how to arrange for childcare—continues to be a challenge for many.

Single parent and full-time college professor Katie St. John, 40, lives in Claremont with her three sons, recent Claremont High grad Thomas, 18, and rising Vista third and second graders Malone and Morrissey. She shares custody with the children’s father, and has had to restructure her work flow.

“I tend to do as much work as possible when they’re gone, and then when they’re here I just sort of check emails and make the workload very light,” Ms. St. John said “I’m really fortunate in that way in that I don’t think it impacts me very negatively. Also I have an older son who can watch them when I need to Zoom in or whatever. The toughest thing is we do live in a tiny apartment, and that does make it challenging and I definitely want to move, because I don’t think this is going anywhere anytime soon.”

The physical aspect of having children at home full time is a topic on many a parent’s mind these days. It’s no secret that parents and caregivers can benefit from time spent away from their school-aged kids. In the pre-COVID world, stay-at-home parents used it for what’s now called “self-care”: They decompressed in myriad ways, ran errands, saw friends, or caught up on housework. Parents with jobs outside the house used that same time to get their work done.

With kids now quite literally underfoot 24/7, it’s an adjustment that requires a certain amount of compromise on many fronts.

“It’s just going to be a lot of balance,” said Jocelyn Bocking, 37, who works as a full-time financial administrator and is mother to daughters Parker and Bea, 13 and 5, who are going into eighth grade and kindergarten at El Roble and Oakmont, respectively. “I think one of the hardest things is just letting go of the expectation of the organization that your house used to have, because that’s just out the window now. We’re just trying to adapt.”

For some parents who continue to work full-time, adapting has been eased by maintaining a sense of humor.

Take insurance company owner Nona Tirre Miranda, 43. She and her husband Jason have both been working from home since March. Their three sons, Jason Jr. “JJ,” 16, is an incoming junior at CHS, Mario a seventh grader at El Roble, and Luke is going into the second grade at Condit.

“We have a little cabin fever!” Ms. Tirre Miranda said with a laugh. “It’s actually harder to work from home. I miss working from the office and not having to worry about some child pulling on me, ‘Hey, what’s this? What’s that? Hey, I’m hungry. Can we do this? I’m bored.’ You know, all the things that we get. I need a ‘she shed’ where I can hide in the back and do some work!”

Each of the mothers interviewed for this story acknowledged their advantage in being able to pull this off emotionally, spatially and perhaps most importantly, financially.

Ms. Belcourt said she will likely be hiring a full-time tutor/nanny—at $25 per hour—to help keep her kids on track educationally and free her up so that she can run her business during the school year. She also lamented what she sees a lack of consideration given to working parents and caregivers who have been unable to take part in CUSD’s mid-day, mid-week meetings, such as last Wednesday’s 11 a.m. emergency session.

“My ex-husband and I both are very lucky in that we get to work from home,” she said. “But I don’t know what anybody would do if they had a job where they actually had to show up, or they were essential workers. I realize I’m in a privileged situation because I can work from home, but I also feel like as a working parent I need to kind of voice my opinion that there wasn’t much thought given to people who are essential workers.”

Ms. St. John said while she fully supports CUSD’s move to online education in the fall, “it sucks because if you’re a nurse or somebody, then what are you going to do with your kids? I’m happy with it, I’m okay with it, but what are other people going to do? And they don’t really have an option, which is unfortunate.”

She added she’s grateful to have the wherewithal to be able to take part in and enrich her children’s online education. “But again, when you’re not in that position, or maybe English is your second language, there’s definitely going to be disparity between the haves and have nots. And it’s not going to be pretty. That’s why I feel like there should be something offered to the special needs population, but what I don’t know.”

As anyone who’s been following CUSD’s attempts at planning for the upcoming school year will attest, uncertainty is pretty much all we can rely on these days. Acceptance of that frustrating fact may go a long way toward minimizing the gloom. And again, maintaining one’s sense of humor is another valuable weapon in staving off despair.

“I think this I the kind of spirit we’re going to have to have, or we’re going to get so run down,” echoed Ms. Bocking. “And I don’t want that to rub off on my kids. Yeah, it’s hard. It’s gonna be hard. But I’d much rather know that my kids aren’t going to be possibly bringing anything into the school, and I don’t want to harm the teachers or the staff. That’s my number one concern, but also my husband’s a teacher, so I think that I’m looking at it from two levels.”

“It’s that or cry,” said Ms. Tirre Miranda. “Don’t get me wrong, I have my moments where I’m very frustrated and I’ll have that cocktail at 3 o’clock instead of waiting for a little later. It’s rough, but I think we persevere and we’re gonna make it through.”

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