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'Emotionally, it’s going to take a toll’: How are Maryland families coping while stuck at home due to coronavirus?

Brian, left, and Sharicca Boldon with their children, 13-year old twins, Matthew, in back, Samuel, second from right, and Naomi, 11, right, during an educational Easter egg hunt at their Mount Washington home. Sharicca wrote vocabulary words and definitions on Easter eggs, and the kids were tasked with matching words and definitions to get candy. This is one of the activities Sharicca devised to keep the children learning while sheltering at home during the coronavirus pandemic. April 2, 2020
Brian, left, and Sharicca Boldon with their children, 13-year old twins, Matthew, in back, Samuel, second from right, and Naomi, 11, right, during an educational Easter egg hunt at their Mount Washington home. Sharicca wrote vocabulary words and definitions on Easter eggs, and the kids were tasked with matching words and definitions to get candy. This is one of the activities Sharicca devised to keep the children learning while sheltering at home during the coronavirus pandemic. April 2, 2020 (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

One son has pursued an interest in the Civil War, while his twin brother learned some computer programming and their younger sister researched Madam C.J. Walker, the self-made hair-care millionaire.

The Boldon siblings may be out of school, but they are still learning, their mom says.

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“The school gave us packets of material, but we actually haven’t focused that much on them," Sharicca Boldon said. “We’re focused on giving the kids a chance to explore things they’ve not had the time for. It’s more self-directed learning."

With Marylanders and much of the country under stay-at-home orders, the Boldons’ house in Mount Washington now serves as classroom for the 13- and 11-year-olds, office for their parents and even gym for mom’s dance exercise classes.

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The deadly coronavirus pandemic that has closed almost everything has forced families to isolate from friends, classmates and co-workers — and despite the grim cause, some are finding a solace in the boundless time to engage.

“We’ve done more cooking together and eating together,” Boldon said. “My kids have spent more time together than ever before.”

But the degree to which Americans can settle into a home-centered life runs a gamut, even for households where everyone is still healthy. Some work in jobs that require going out into an infected world. Others are among the millions thrust into unemployment by a pandemic that has yet to peak.

Kareem Boyd is among the Baltimore Convention Center workers who lost their jobs last month when it shut down. Any other year, the banquet server would at least be able to count on his second job bartending at Camden Yards, but the baseball season has been delayed and according to reports may even start without fans in the stands.

“I’m incredibly concerned,” he said. “I don’t have any income right now. I managed to pay my rent this last month, but I don’t know how I’m going to do it."

Boyd shares a West Baltimore house with roommates, and now spends his days trying to determine if he qualifies for any relief assistance and looking for work. But with bars and restaurants closed except for takeout, no one really needs food service employees at the moment.

Meanwhile, other workers, including police, firefighters, bus drivers, sanitation workers, grocery and pharmacy employees, delivery drivers and health care professionals, continue to work outside their homes amid concerns that they’re putting themselves at greater risk of infection.

Dr. Tina Tran is chief of anesthesiology at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins, and the mother of an 8-year-old who watches the news with his parents and is up to the minute on how many cases of coronavirus have been reported. He’s made the connection between what he sees on TV and his own life.

“You’re not going to work, are you?” Tran said he asked one day when she was getting ready to leave their Howard County home. "That’s where the coronavirus is.”

She assured him she was protecting herself and being careful. Still, Tran said, kids “pick up on anxiety and worry more than we know.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently offered suggestions for parents on how to help kids navigate these stressful times: Acknowledge their fears, show them there are things like washing hands and staying home that can help stop the spread of the virus, and engage them in constructive activities to alleviate boredom and frustration.

Parents and teachers say keeping a routine is essential.

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Karen Stysley, a teacher at Catonsville Cooperative Preschool, interacts via Zoom with her 3- and 4-year-old students. Stysley is using the virtual meeting to keep the children engaged and part of a community as well as maintaining social distancing.
Karen Stysley, a teacher at Catonsville Cooperative Preschool, interacts via Zoom with her 3- and 4-year-old students. Stysley is using the virtual meeting to keep the children engaged and part of a community as well as maintaining social distancing. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

“Circle time” continues for Karen Stysley and the 3- and 4-year-olds she teaches at the Catonsville Cooperative Preschool, although now on Facebook.

In something of a modern-day “Romper Room," the ’50s-era television show where Miss Nancy would call out the students she “saw” through her “magic mirror,” Stysley waves hello to Olivia, Grayson, Morgan, Anna and the other students as their parents click in for the broadcast.

She leads songs, gives lessons on numbers and letters and, recently and topically, talked about dealing with “some of the really big feelings that we’re feeling right now, which aren’t always good ones.”

Stysley read and commented on a book, “The Color Monster” by Anna Llenas, in which feelings like fear, sadness and anger were expressed and put in their proper places so that love could replace them.

“It gives a routine to their day, and some normalcy,” Stysley said.

Karen Stysley, a preschool teacher at Catonsville Co-Op PreSchool teacher, has a show-and-tell Zoom session with her 3- and 4-year-old students. Stysley uses the virtual meeting to keep them engaged and part of a community as well as maintaining a routine during this time of social distancing. March 31, 2020.
Karen Stysley, a preschool teacher at Catonsville Co-Op PreSchool teacher, has a show-and-tell Zoom session with her 3- and 4-year-old students. Stysley uses the virtual meeting to keep them engaged and part of a community as well as maintaining a routine during this time of social distancing. March 31, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

And she gets something out of it, as well as the more interactive Zooms she does with them on Tuesday afternoons.

“The last day when we left, it was hard to leave the classroom,” she said, “and think, ‘When are they going to sit in this circle again?’ ”

While couples and parents and children are appreciating their imposed togetherness, they’ve had to distance themselves from the rest of their extended family.

Stephen Berger, a teacher and admissions director who lives in Rodgers Forge, said it’s been “a blessing” to spend more time with his wife and two daughters, ages 3 and 1. But while the girls don’t know why, they’re aware that they now see their friends and grandparents only on the computer screen.

“That’s the most emotional piece of things,” he said. “Emotionally, it’s going to take a toll on people.”

Berger and his wife, Nila, both teach online these days. His 21st century technology class at Concordia Prep in Towson meets via Zoom, which allows him to take attendance and make sure students are wearing their dress-code polo shirts. Nila teaches virtual yoga classes, to students that include some Johns Hopkins University athletes.

The children of Sue DePasquale and her husband, John Musachio, may be older, but no less quieter.

The couple had been empty nesters, with one son in graduate school, another in college and the youngest in Costa Rica in a high school study program.

But then the coronavirus began its global spread and colleges, high schools and international study programs began shutting down.

Their three sons all drifted back to the family’s home in Baltimore’s Bellona-Gittings neighborhood, along with the longtime girlfriend of their 24-year-old son, Ben Musachio, a Slavic literature grad student at Princeton.

“It was like dominoes falling,” De Pasquale said. “Each day we heard from another school.”

The result is a lively household filled with music, work and studying —not all of which can be done at the same time.

Ben’s girlfriend, Liva Bluma, who is from Latvia, sings and plays piano and takes online composition courses at Peabody, while Ben takes voice lessons and online seminars for school.

His brother, Matt Musachio, a 21-year-old University of Maryland music major, spends four hours a day practicing violin and meets virtually with his chamber music ensemble.

And the youngest son, Dan Musachio, 16, back from a disrupted semester at Monteverde Friends School in Costa Rica, takes online classes and studies the viola.

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DePasquale loves being surrounded by music but retreats to the quiet of an attic office to work as an editor for a Johns Hopkins University medical magazine and other publications.

“When I go up there to do an interview or meeting, I can’t hear anyone,” she said.

Her husband, an NIH scientist, has started teleworking as well. Adding to the mix, albeit in a socially distant way, is DePasquale’s 87-year old father, Joseph DePasquale, who drives over from his nearby apartment to visit. He sits outside, though, for safety’s sake.

It’s a more chaotic life than before, his daughter says, but at least there’s a musical soundtrack playing constantly in the background.

“It heightens the spirits,” she said. “It’s very elevating."

And it’s something DePasquale said they don’t take for granted, with the global crisis leaving so many dead, sickened, unemployed and otherwise bereft.

“We’re lucky,” DePasquale said. “Each [child] has said ‘We’re glad our whole family can be together and are healthy and safe.’ We’re really grateful.”

For some singles, life has changed in more subtle ways.

“I’m an only child and an introvert, so it’s been fine,” said Kelly Hager, who works for a publishing company. “It’s not unusual for me to be home most of the time.”

But her upcoming 40th birthday won’t be the celebration she’d envisioned. She was planning to visit family in Florida, then go out to see “A Quiet Place, Part II” the following weekend with friends.

Instead, Hager, who lives in a North Baltimore apartment, will probably buy some cupcakes, FaceTime friends and watch a movie at home. And that is just fine under the circumstances.

“I would say [I’ll] watch ‘Tiger King,’ but I’m going to be done well before next weekend,” she said of the hit true crime series on Netflix.

“I know for a fact that everyone I love is healthy,” Hager said. “That’s the best present I could ask for.”

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