Pittsburgh families find silver linings to a full year of social distancing

One year into the pandemic, the lives of most people are dramatically changed.  It’s been a different journey for everyone, but many families found some benefits along the way.  Closed businesses, empty offices, and empty classrooms mean busy houses that now serve as offices, schools and cafeterias.

Mercedes Williams from Pittsburgh says it’s been tough for her family.  Her husband works in a nursing home, and her kids haven’t been in class since March 13, 2020.  They attend Pittsburgh Public Schools where she also works.

“It was just very difficult. It was very hard,” Williams says.  “It was one thing for me to be working at home, but to also be managing three different grade levels, it took a toll.”

Williams says her 4-year-old daughter has a hard time sitting still for online school. Her freshman daughter is sad that she missed the fun parts of her first year of high school like football games and dances. And her middle school-aged son still hasn’t gotten out of a slump, missing friends and needing the stimulation of in-person learning.

“I don’t like being principal, referee, counselor or social worker, or food service worker,” she said. “I wouldn’t like to be all of that, but I do feel like this past year I’ve become more vulnerable and more susceptible and more understanding to what my children are going through because I’m going through it as well.”

Amber Phillips from the Hill District had her fourth baby, Gabriel, a few weeks into the pandemic and was lucky the pandemic meant she got paid unemployment for her hairdresser job instead of unpaid maternity leave.  Gabriel’s like a mystery baby with no one outside the house has met him, but she prefers it over the parade of visitors.

“That part  is different,” Phillips said, “but I tend to like the intimacy that we tend to have right now.”

Her 10-year-old son Gary says online school is hard and he misses seeing friends, but Amber enjoys the unexpected time with him.

“It’s been nice spending a lot more time with your family because you can’t really go and do much of anything else,” she says.

Both families have support, which helped them experience the benefits of quarantine.  “I think everything is better.  We definitely have a closer relationship and I got to know my kids a lot more,” Williams said.  “To see how they learn, how they’re growing, I think I’d definitely say this is the better of the times.”

Mercedes misses going to the movies, but in its place, she created theme nights and “Pandemic Picnics” every Friday which is something she’ll continue after the pandemic is over.  She appreciates each day, especially after so many people have died from COVID and she, herself, got very sick with it.

“It kind of changes the way you look at life and our understanding of it.  For three weeks, I struggled (with Covid), and I’m so thankful and grateful that I’m here today to even talk to you,” Williams said.