One Woman’s Journey Through The Pandemic
Photographs © Todd Bigelow/Contact Press Images
Please Email Contact Press Images with licensing request
Erin Jundef will look back on 2020 as the most challenging, disruptive and unbelievable year of her life. In March, just before the Covid19 pandemic hit, the single mother of two was en route to a promotion while earning six figures as a communications professional, searching for a new home with her boyfriend and monitoring homework with her kids at night. Her life ran like a well-oiled routine, which was just as she preferred.
By April it had all changed.
Nearly overnight she became the full-time teacher for her two kids and was figuring out how to navigate unemployment after losing her job due to cutbacks. By summer she had managed her son’s middle school graduation at home, succumbed to her daughter’s relentless requests for play dates, and quietly hosted a few “girls nights” in her backyard to counter her own sense of isolation. Any hope of the kids returning to in-person school was dashed as summer drew to a close, the kids embarked on another virtual school year and she continued searching for employment.
As winter sets in, Erin has a new job working from home, one kid in high school, one in fourth grade and everyone dealing with Zoom fatigue. The sudden passing of the beloved family dog threatened to derail what Erin hoped would be an uplifting holiday season. She was intent on making sure her kids enjoyed Chanukah and spent a little extra to get the gifts she knew they wanted. Ultimately, Erin knows she’s not alone and more emblematic of those cited in a study in the New York Times; single mothers with multiple children.
“Women make up roughly half of the country’s work force. They range from entry-level to professional, they live in urban, suburban and rural areas, and they often care for toddlers and teenagers. But the burdens of the pandemic-induced recession have fallen most heavily on low-income and minority women and single mothers (emphasis mine).” (New York Times, November 17, 2020)
What you can learn in a year can last you a lifetime, but Erin hopes 2020 is a year she never has to revisit.
In Her Own Words
By Erin Jundef
It could be that the universe was telling me to slow down and to enjoy the time I have with my kids and family – to be present and to be in the moment – or maybe it was the universe pushing me towards a new opportunity. I don’t know, but this pandemic has revealed in me a sense of resolve, a determination to fight through the most disruptive year of my life.
I am a single mom to two great kids – Spencer, 14, and Brooklyn, 9 – and our world was turned upside down last March as the pandemic hit, schools were abruptly shuttered and kids sent home to be taught by their parents. Seemingly overnight, I faced navigating their academic lives while managing my own work as a communications professional. Fortunately, we were well equipped with desks and computers so that my kids were able to continue their education without too much physical disruption, but for Brooklyn it was a bit more of a challenge. I couldn’t just drop her in front of the computer and assume she would complete her lessons while I worked. I mean, the reality is most 9 year olds need supervision and guidance in school and I was unsure if I could fill that role based on the sheer number of hours required. See, instead of just being a mom who normally works from home and oversees a bit of homework each night, I was suddenly thrust into being a mom, a communications professional, the sole breadwinner and a full-time teacher – and let me say that my kids definitely didn’t easily adjust to me as the teacher. My daughter pushed back relentlessly to the point that each day my first thought was, “I need to just get through the rest of the school year and all will be fine.”
Summer was a couple months away and I hoped the virus would abate enough to let the kids return to school. Whether I was suffering from naiveté or just wishful thinking is unknown, to be honest, because all I know is I’m literally in the same situation only it is nearing the end of the year.
The overnight transition to supermom was hardly seamless. I worked all hours of the day to accommodate distance learning from home, often juggling Zoom work meetings, helping Brooklyn with work and guiding Spencer toward the end of middle school. Thank goodness my company understood the situation because it was a challenge like no other, to say the least. Then, on April 22, almost one month to the day when lockdown orders were implemented across California, my world was rocked; after 14 years at the same communications company, I lost my job. I was numb when I received the news and panic set-in. I have never been let go from a job, I didn’t know what do and I had to keep my kids from any more turbulent news. “How the hell do you file for unemployment?” I thought, never having done it before, much less during a pandemic when millions were overwhelming the system.
Resolve in the face of adversity is a funny thing in that you don’t know how you’ll respond until the situation unfolds. I did what I had to do because there was no choice. I battled through the insanity of applying for unemployment in the state the size of most countries and decided this was a sign to redirect all of my attention to my children’s education. Being home all the time, not seeing friends and denied the chance to participate in day-to-day, normal activities weighed heavily on my kids. They longed to have play dates and to feel normal. I certainly understood, but what could I do? I was torn. Sheltering them from the virus was at the core of my protective instinct but their mental health is no less important. Truth is, I felt the same as I missed my social group and down time. Eventually, I allowed for some limited interaction with a very few, selected people who were carefully screened in hopes of finding the right balance during this seemingly endless pandemic.
As the end of the school year approached, it came with mixed emotion. Spencer was graduating from middle school and the in-person graduation was cancelled, yet I desperately wanted to celebrate him and his academic success. Already he’d had to unceremoniously clear out his school lockers and return books. It all seemed so sad and such a perfunctory end to three years of hard work. The official graduation was held virtually but I was determined to make this a day for my son to remember. I got up early and decorated the house and invited just family to celebrate Spencer receiving three academic honors during the virtual graduation. I was so proud that I even ordered him a cap and gown and had him walk into our backyard where the family had gathered. “I’m so proud of you,” I said as I embraced him after he tossed his cap into the air. Looking back now, I guess this was as normal as we could hope for in this crazy year.
Summer was upon us and my kids, especially my daughter, had suffered learning loss during the spring, so I challenged them with online learning opportunities designed to keep them engaged. In the meantime, I attended virtual information sessions for Spencer’s freshman high school year while hoping beyond hope that the virus would subside enough to allow in-person classes. As July turned to August and the decision was made to hold Fall classes virtually, I realized that there was no escaping the fact that I was facing at least another four months of the same.
Given all that we have faced this year, I especially worried about the return of the technical challenges Spencer and Brooklyn faced in accessing class work online, as well as the possible need for tutoring. I’ll do anything for my kids, but tutors aren’t free and, despite a litany of hopeful leads, I was still unemployed. I also worried about how well my kids would connect with their new teachers when the entire relationship is distance based. Would they be bored and disengaged while sitting alone in their small bedrooms?
I took my daughter back-to-school shopping and it felt oddly different. I grabbed a gift card, checked the Target app for specials and headed out with our masks and gloves to gather supplies. I had the grade-level supply list the school had provided that listed the usual assortment of pencils, notebooks and glue sticks, but added to the list were new items, mostly art supplies, that were previously provided by the school. My daughter insisted on buying a new backpack and lunch bag as we do every year, but I explained that it wasn’t going to happen because school was going to be held in her bedroom and at the kitchen table. She certainly didn’t need a backpack or lunchbox to go from the kitchen to the bedroom. Other things that were important to 9 year olds and high school freshman, like new clothes, shoes and jackets, were put on hold since both of them would be attending school in their pajamas, no doubt.
The level of anxiety I had over my job search was like an anchor being dragged through my daily life yet I was determined not to let my kids feel my apprehension. Thankfully, I secured a job during the fall and am back to juggling work and my kids’ education from home. In other words, it’s back to how it was when this whole darn pandemic kicked into high gear. I worry for all the same reasons I did back in March, but now it’s nearly the end of the year.
With the bags of new school supplies, Brooklyn was excited to set-up her classroom/bedroom. Having designated spaces to learn is important and I even found myself learning how to test the strength of our wireless network in anticipation of the heavy reliance both kids would continue to place on it.
The Fall school semester was even more unusual than Spring as we all seemed to hunker down for the majority of the day in our own bedrooms, doors closed or slightly askew, the sounds of fingers tapping at keyboards as teachers voices filled our empty hallway. I was trying to manage new clients and keep the kids on schedule, fed and emotionally stable when the much anticipated Covid surge took hold. All we could do was ride it out through the holidays, so we shared a home cooked meal on a quiet first night of Chanukah, the kids opened a couple of gifts and then Spencer had to get right back to preparing for his first finals in high school. Before you knew it, the Fall year concluded but not before one last challenge as Spencer raced to get an extra credit video uploaded by deadline on a overtaxed internet connection. With fingers crossed, he watched the progress bar race the clock and was relieved when the video finished uploading with minutes to spare. With that, his first semester came to an end.
I’m amazed that we’re still making it all work and attribute what I learned since the lockdown began in March, 2020 to sheer resilience. In the end, it’s been a year like I’ve never experienced before but I’m optimistic about 2021. Now that my boyfriend and I seem secure in our new jobs, we’re back to where we were prior to the pandemic’s lockdown and looking for a home to start our new lives together by combining our families under one roof.
All photographs ©Todd Bigelow/Contact Press Images
If interested in publishing Erin’s Story, please contact Todd Bigelow at Todd [at] ToddBigelowPhotography [dot] com or Jeffrey Smith at Contact Press Images