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Levi and Paige Clark are pictured in their dining room — which is now their new school room — completing work in their jammies. (Submitted photo)

Fear, hope, anxiety, gratitude— Villagers talk sheltering in place

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As Ohio made its way through the second week of the governor’s mandate that all Ohioans “stay at home,” the News reached out to several villagers to find out how they’re navigating their lives under the order. These villagers responded with a variety of feelings — confusion and worry, but also gratitude and hope — and discussed what life looks like in their homes as they prepare to spend their days there for the foreseeable future, and at least for the next month.

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With two young children as her only housemates, Levi Cowperthwaite has found that the pandemic has changed the way the three of them entertain themselves. She doesn’t consider herself an “outdoorsy” person, but with both kids, Rocket and Imogene, out of school, being outdoors is essential for her family.

“It’s a big change for us,” she said.

The family has made trips to Dayton MetroParks and nature preserves to stretch their legs. The three take walks around their neighborhood, but the necessity for distance from neighbors has been difficult for the kids.

“It’s really hard for them to see that their friends are out and not be able to play with them,” Cowperthwaite said. “It’s almost easier to go somewhere novel, because the people there are all strangers and we stay away from strangers.”

Cowperthwaite is a student at Sinclair College, so as she makes sure that her children are maintaining their education at home while schools are closed, she’s doing the same for herself. She attends her classes daily via the videoconferencing app Zoom, and avoids the impulse to show up in pajamas — though she indulges herself a little by wearing “sequin reindeer slippers.”

She also shares parenting — “for better or worse,” she said — with a former partner.

“I know a lot of divorced parents are worried about how they will proceed with co-parenting, and whether it’s safe,” she said.

For now, her kids are only seeing herself and their other parent and are keeping up with other family members via phone, Facebook and video chat. She said that sheltering in place has also spurred her to reach out to people she might not have otherwise — she found herself emailing an acquaintance she typically only contacts for business, just to ask how they were doing.

“I realized that this is what we should be doing all the time — and now we have to!” she said.

Cowperthwaite is employed by Wright State University, but the closure of its campus means that her job has been suspended until at least the middle of May — though she said that’s subject to change, and it may be longer. The uncertainty surrounding her employment means she’s feeling some financial insecurity.

“I’m trying to be really strategic and creative with how we cook and use the ingredients in my house,” she said. “But very few people deal well with this type of uncertainty.”

Not knowing how things are going to pan out over the coming weeks and months, Cowperthwaite said she’s trying to keep her eyes on the stability that she and her kids do have. She worries more about people in her circles of acquaintance whose situations are more precarious.

“I remember how terrifying it is to be extremely poor and laid off from your job,” she said. “What does it mean for people to have to stay home when they don’t have a home?”

* * *

When Erica Wyant, an assistant store manager at Starbucks in Fairborn, was offered 30 days of leave, she took it — and so did many of her co-workers. Because so many staff took the time offered, the store closed.

“There’s a little bit of guilt there, even though I know there shouldn’t be,” she said.

She’s staying home because her son, Calum, who’s home from college after his campus at Ohio University closed, is immunocompromised. Her husband, Caleab, is unable to work — he’s a projectionist and event coordinator at the Little Art, and works at Aug Dog Dyes, a custom T-shirt company in Enon; both businesses have been shuttered by the state until further notice.

Despite the fact that they’re both out of work, they feel fairly secure financially: Erica’s leave is, thankfully, paid, and Caleab has applied for unemployment.

A bigger concern is the fact that they’re unable to see their daughter, Megan, who lives in Fairborn.

“Megan is still working, so she doesn’t want to risk Calum getting sick,” Erica said. “We missed her 21st birthday.”

The two elder Wyants have, for several years, written and performed music together as Yikes! A Band. They’re still writing music, but the new influx of free time hasn’t been the creative motivator they’d expected it to be.

“My first reaction was just more to be depressed and lay around,” Caleab said. “At some point I couldn’t do that anymore, and I’ve started working on a few things here and there.”

On her first day of leave, Erica made a long list of all the things she wanted to do.

“But I’ve found that there are so many things I could do with my time that I feel overwhelmed,” she said.

Because Calum is immunocompromised, the family also has to be especially careful when one of them leaves the house for necessities. They’re trying to limit trips to the grocery store — when they can.

“We’re running out of food with Calum being home — I forgot how we’d have to adjust our food buying!” Erica said.

The couple said that, despite the situation, they’ve enjoyed their time with Calum and their 9-year-old daughter, Rudy — something that was hard-won when they were both working and Calum was away. Though they both miss their jobs, they’re feeling lucky that they’re surrounded by loved ones.

“We take walks and ride our bikes, we play games together and laugh really hard,” Caleab said. “We’re counting our blessings.”

* * *

At Eric and Jackie Clark’s house, the dining room is now a classroom. The couple’s two kids, Paige and Levi, are students at YS Schools and are now learning from home.

Jackie oversees the majority of their work — an adjustment that perhaps comes easier for her than for some other parents, as she’s a teacher in the Fairborn schools. She said that the shift to schooling at home in Fairborn has been rocky: “It’s confusing — everybody’s trying to do their own thing,” she said.

In the Clark home, however, they’ve got things down to a science.

“They get up, brush their teeth, eat breakfast and then, from 10 to 3 every day, I’m teaching them,” Jackie said.

“So every day is a late-start day,” Eric added.

With Jackie still teaching her Fairborn students from a distance, her income is secure, but Eric worries about his own — he owns a one-bedroom bed and breakfast rental, “The Library Loft,” located near the Clarks’ home.

Though hotels and motels are still considered “essential” businesses under the stay-at-home order, the language in the order from the state doesn’t explicitly name independently owned, single-renter spaces like Airbnbs and other vacation-rentals-by-owner in its language.

“That property pays the mortgage,” Eric said. “If the B&B folks in town can’t rent, that’s going to be tricky.”

At the moment, the property is being rented by an out-of-state couple who were in town to care for an ill family member before the state mandate was issued.

The need to be extra careful has added unexpected stress to the family’s lives. As the “stay-at-home” parent for several years, Eric said one of his favorite things to do was grocery shopping — “you have to eat, so you get to buy things without guilt,” he said.

But navigating crowded stores and knowing just how much they should sterilize their groceries when they bring them home has been confusing — especially when the same precautions aren’t urged for carry-out food from restaurants.

“Nobody really knows anything, and that’s what makes it hard,” Jackie said.

The family is taking the mandate to stay at home seriously, as much as possible — but they say they’re worried about family members who don’t.

“My brother is upset that he’s not allowed to come in our house, and when my sister came over, she didn’t like that we made her stay six feet away,” Eric said. “They don’t understand.”

* * *

For Kathryn Hitchcock, the key to getting through sheltering in place is to stick to a routine: go to bed at the same time every night, get up on time, take a shower every morning and eat a healthy breakfast.

“Then I try to have two things that are goals for the day — it doesn’t matter what it is,” she said.

Hitchcock lives alone and, before the state mandate, worked part-time as the director of outreach and development for NAMI Clark, Greene and Madison Counties. Until NAMI reopens, she’s looking to the community to fill her free hours.

“I’ve volunteered to do a few things — I’m one of those people who needs to be doing something,” she said.

She’s signed up to be a neighborhood block captain, part of an initiative from the YS Community Foundation aiming to make sure needs are met in the community while folks are staying at home; as a block captain, Kathryn will be a point-person for those in her neighborhood, collecting surveys distributed by the Foundation that aim to connect those with needs with the services to address them. She’s also participating in a spring clean-up organized by Ann Cooper and Sam Jacobs, picking up roadside litter.

“I used to go to the YMCA in Xenia, so with the cleanup, I can walk around and get my exercise,” she said. “I have to get out of this house!”

Hitchcock said she’s holding up pretty well — she’s part of the over-65 group who are at risk, but she’s keeping in touch with family via social media and, occasionally, in person. She and her sister, Beth, are currently hemming matching Viking costumes for the fifth annual Ohio Viking Festival,  slated for  June — though she assumes, at this point, that the festival will be canceled.

“Beth came over to hem with me, but we kept our distance,” she said. “We decided, well, if we get this virus, we’ll get it together!”

Hitchcock is also still doing some limited work with NAMI — she runs the monthly YS Family Support Group via Zoom, although participation has been lower for these virtual meet-ups than the in-person sessions, which were held at the Bryan Center.

When she thinks ahead to the end of the pandemic, Hitchcock mostly thinks of how the world will operate in general.

“It’s kind of like 9/11, in a way,” she said. “It’s caused enough disruption in people’s lives and in the economy that there will certainly be changes.”

But Hitchcock sees positives in community reactions to the pandemic — she said it’s clear the people around her are caring for one another and considering the effects of their actions.

“We’re all subject to this virus, so we’re starting to think of others now,” she said. ‘That’s not a particularly American practice, but maybe that will change.”

* * *

“You’re just kind of always doing body scans to make sure you’re feeling all right,” said Lori Askeland as she walked through her home, speaking via video chat. “I find myself watching TV and saying to the characters on screen, ‘I don’t think you all should be that close together!’ It’s fried my brain.”

To combat brain-fry, Askeland and her husband, Frank Doden, take a one-hour walk every day at noon. This practice has become sacred for the couple — Doden even took leave from a recent web meeting before it had ended because their daily walk was imminent.

“We’re really committed to it,” Askeland said. “It’s the time of day when the sun is best, if the sun is out in the dismal Ohio that we know and love, and you can wave to your neighbors.”

Askeland, professor of English and department chair at Wittenberg University, said that working remotely has been something of a pain when it comes to dealing with “departmental trauma,” which was a challenge the college was facing for a long time, even before the pandemic. Her classes, however, meet via video chat twice a week, and by her estimation, they’re going well.

“I did guided meditation for my students — and it’s just been good to see them in their spaces,” she said. “It’s been intense, but pretty amazing.”

Doden, who also teaches English, at the Columbus School for Girls, has been on spring break, but at the time of writing, was due to begin teaching remotely in a few days. He worries that teachers, who he said have a tendency to over-prepare, will unintentionally burden students and parents with an ambitious workload.

“So fortunately, as a person with a long history of improvisational teaching, I’ve done little preparation,” he said.

The principles that will guide Doden’s online teaching in this uncertain time will be compassion, simplicity and flexibility — because “our students’ lives will be, in a lot of cases, turned upside down,” he said.

Askeland said that, even though they’re both contracted to teach through next school year, she has worries about what the pandemic will do to higher education in general.

“Nobody really knows how things will play out for small colleges,” she said. “If my students can’t pay their tuition because their parents have lost their jobs, then my institution won’t survive.”

When it comes to the village, though, they’re feeling less worried — after talking to friends in other communities, they’ve been moved to appreciate the strides for social welfare made by local organizations like the Senior Center, the Chamber of Commerce and the YS Community Foundation. Like Kathryn Hitchcock, Askeland and Doden are block captains for their neighborhood.

“I think it’s partly that ‘Arthur Morgan vision’ — being communitarian in an intentional way is a deep part of the ethos here,” Askeland said. “So it means that infrastructure is already built up before there’s a crisis.”

Though uncertainty about the future and worries over the health of her parents and children, who live far away, take up a sizable portion of her thoughts, Askeland said there’s also room for hope.

“Every day I thank God for having a stable, competent partner to get through this thing with,” she said. “I do have anxieties, but I also think we’re gonna be OK.”

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