The Front Steps Project: Maynard – Karen & Neil

Neil reflects:

Soon after my bachelor’s degree, I moved from central NY State to Auburn, Alabama for grad school. It was a shock to my system in many ways, especially the heat. I was more of a cold-weather person then. There was a decent music scene for such a small place. That combined with the club lacrosse team helped me gain some continuity between my previous life and my new one in Alabama. There was a band called the Month of Sundays. That phrase puzzled me. Southerners were familiar with it, but I never got a sense of what it meant. Until now. Now, even with work, I feel like we are living a month of Sundays.

Prior to COVID, and like so many people, Karen and I were commuting or working long days, packing our two children onto the bus at 8 am and picking them up between 5:15 and 6:45 pm. They were long days, something I reflected upon since my kindergarten days were half-days. Before COVID, I spent too much time in the car each week and was stressed over a lot of things.

As you can see in the image, we have a decent yard that, if you squint in your mind’s eye, mimics a forest. I am a forest ecologist and my goal with the backyard is to turn it back into a forest, from floor to ceiling. What you cannot see is that it is tiny, but for a children, it is big enough for now. It gives us an escape, like I hope the treehouse will provide for them when they are older.

We live on a cul-de-sac and the traffic is light and often slow. Our neighbors have gotten used to us being in the street playing. We are extremely fortunate and have plenty of space to work out feelings and have some fun during these times.

Karen reflects:

Neil writes about a “Month of Sundays.” I likewise feel some unexpected blessings from having more time together with our kids, more time outside (lucky us on our cul-de-sac), and, especially, the privilege of flexible jobs that mean we are not worried about loss of income, even as that worry is so widespread among people we know and in our community as a whole. The photographs, I think, reflect that.

Neil reflects:

Now in our COVID world, Karen and I are splitting our workdays and trying to keep our children on a healthy path during this Month of Sundays. I work, Karen guides, teaches, watches, plays, and feeds and then we switch roles, splitting mornings for work when we are at our most focused and caring for the children at the end of the day when their emotions become more fragile. When we had big projects or deadlines, this is what one of our weekend days was like.

Karen reflects:

And yet…there are significant stressors for everyone. The challenge of trying to balance work with homeschooling, to manage the anxiety our kids, our feelings, and to contain worries for family members and friends who work in hospitals and in other essential services. I wake up every morning, and for about 5 seconds, I exist in a world where I have forgotten all of those things. And then I remember, and the day starts anew.

Neil reflects

We are fortunate in the setting of our home and that everyone we know so far is ok. Beyond the existential dread and the preventable illnesses and deaths, which weigh us down, we are getting a slower, more thoughtful pace of life in [in between the conflicts between children who are missing their friends, teachers, grandparents, and cousins]. My health has noticeably improved and, despite 25+ years working in the forest as a part of my career, I am noticing new phases of life and kinds of life in the sliver of woods near our house. I miss colleagues and visiting with friends, but as a student of environmental history, these types of events are relatively common for humans to experience and endure [as is true for all other biological creatures].

It is our turn to endure this rollercoaster of conditions and emotions, from hours to days, from weeks to months, and from months to [hopefully not more than two] years. In that light, and in reflecting on human intelligence, creativity, and our ability to endure and grow through common cause, I am trying to keep the dread at bay, capture the moments of joy, and hold steady as we move through our new world.

While there is much talk about how we will not go back to normal or that everything will be different, I take a different view. We will reach back to before this time, reflect on the good during these times, and build continuity in our lives between the pre- and post-COVID Era.