Dalton Turner plays the piano recently while his brother Ashton accompanies on guitar. Like many Sitka families, the Turners are trying a lot of different activities to keep the kids entertained in social isolation. (Photo courtesy of Meggan Turner)

Sitka families are confronting a new reality as the COVID-19 pandemic rewrites the parenting playbook. School is suspended until May 1st, playgrounds are closed, and seeing friends is generally out of the picture. As Sitkans brace for a long stay at home, parents with young children find themselves looking for creative ways to stay well, and stay sane.

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Alycia Tresham had a plan: enroll her two kids in daycare, then find a job for herself. And until recently things were falling into place — her son got a slot at the Betty Eliason Child Care Center, Tresham herself got a job there, and her daughter was going to enroll in their infant program. 

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We’ve been trying to quarantine ourselves inside as much as possible,” Tresham said.

Like so many families around the country, and around the world, Tresham and her kids are at home, following medical experts’ advice to isolate themselves as much as possible in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus. 

A single mother, Tresham says she can’t afford to stock up on groceries and childcare supplies. So one of her main concerns is that she won’t be able to get certain essential items as panic shopping clears out grocery shelves. 

“It’s worrisome that you won’t be able to get to the store in time, or be able to get diapers or food, if people buy it all,” she said.

That already happened recently, when, by the time Tresham got to the store with the kids, they were out of milk and eggs. 

Then there’s the daily task of keeping the kids entertained while maintaining social distance. That’s more of a challenge for her son, almost two years old, who had become used to a daycare schedule. Tresham says they’ve been going on daily walks to help burn off some of his energy. 

Like Tresham, many Sitka parents are faced with the same, sometimes daunting task: keep the kids occupied and entertained all day without school, friends, or even playgrounds. 

Some are coming up with creative projects, like improvised fish tote hot tubs. 

“We set up three totes on the deck, and we got some warm water and the kids played in those,” said Meggan Turner. Turner and her husband both work for the school district, and they have three kids, ages seven, six, and two.

She says the kids miss having playdates, but understand the need to keep themselves and their friends healthy. For example, Turner says the kids came up with alternative ways of greeting their friends if they run into each other on the beach — like offering an air high five while staying a safe distance away. 

For inside fun, there’s the usual books and movies, plus the online live stream of the hippos at the Cincinnati Zoo (the zoo posts live videos on Facebook highlighting different animals), and virtual Lego playdates with friends over Facetime. 

As new practices like social distance and self-quarantine become regular parts of daily life, parents of young children are trying to find the words to explain big, difficult, and sometimes scary concepts. 

“That there are people in the world right now who are really sick, and we need to do our best to stay healthy and to help keep others healthy,” said Molly Blakey. Blakey has three boys — a four and a half year old, a two and a half year old, and a three month old. She says the two older ones understand about hand washing and trying not to spread germs. 

But, she says, one of the hardest parts of social isolation is explaining to the kids why they can’t see their grandparents, who are normally a daily presence in their lives. 

“Not seeing them has been difficult,” Blakey said. “Every morning my oldest asks me, ‘Do we get to go to Tutu and Granddaddy’s house? Do we get to see Tutu and Granddaddy today?’”

The answer, for now, is not yet.  

“The last thing I would ever want in the entire world is to put them at risk,” Blakey said.

These days, they get by with a lot of Facetiming and sharing photos. Blakey points out the sad irony of this moment, that fighting this pandemic means avoiding direct contact with friends and loved ones she usually relies on for support. 

Yet even as her family, like so many others, adjusts to this new, strange reality, Blakey says she feels fortunate. 

“How lucky am I that I get to spend that time with my three kids, right? Granted I’m not always that positive, there are real moments of like, ‘What am I doing?’” Blakey said.

Other parents are hanging in there as well, despite the difficult circumstances. Alycia Tresham, who was just starting the new job at Betty Eliason, says she’s still squeezing in some work training when she can. 

In the meantime, Tresham says she’s happy to see the community supporting each other. After she posted her concerns about panic buying on Facebook, someone dropped off a pack of diapers at her apartment, along with supplies for making homemade baby wipes.

At this point, she says, she just hopes she doesn’t get sick.