About 10 days into the pandemic, as the reality of what I would have to do as a "homeschooling mom" of a 3rd grader who in recent months had begun to develop behavioral challenges in schools, a 7th grader going through puberty and had been a challenge since he came to my home at the age of 3, a senior in high school now missing out on all senior activities, and a 10th grader who had made it to States for Cross Country and Track her freshman year and was about to begin her 2nd track season,
I knew that even with all of those things going on at home, I could not give up at work. As the President & CEO it was my job to rise to the challenge for the sake of many lives - my family, my employees, and our children across Philadelphia.
My children, my employees, and the families and schools we served needed my leadership now more than ever. I could feel this incredible weight bearing down on me and yet I knew I did not have the answers. At that moment of exhaustion, I went to the third floor of my Philadelphia row home, fell on my bed and wept. I felt alone, weary, and completely uncertain of next steps, particularly because our funders were telling us they would no longer pay us.
For about 10 minutes my cries could be heard in the entire house. I had no idea at the age of 45 that I would be living this and be in such a position to impact change, good or bad for so many people. But after 10 minutes I knew I needed to be done.
I completely stopped my tears. I sat up. I told myself that was enough. I had to get up, and I had to fight.
My staff must remain employed. My kids had to keep up with their education and I had to do it with them. Our clients and students needed our support. No more tears. It was time to start planning.
Getting up from my bed and my now tear soaked pillow, I knew the very first thing I had to do was create a completely new schedule for my family and for work. If I was going to navigate the long hours of work ahead of me I needed to be able to clear my schedule for focused attention on the "homeschooling" of my 3rd grade son and the fight to stay focused on my seventh grade son. My two older daughters would continue to stay on track so they would primarily require a listening ear.
My schedule was tight. I began running first thing in the morning at 6:00 am. I chose a five and six mile route and began meeting people in Penn Treaty Park who were creating their own new schedules. I would run under the elevated train in Kensington and began to meet the trash and recycling men who would have their regular schedules. That time, whether in the light of day or the dark of night, was a joy for me. I would run five days a week and have a different route for my walks on the other two days.
When I returned I would wake my boys from their slumber, have them get breakfast, dressed, teeth brushed, and beds made all while I got myself prepared, showered, and fully dressed for the work day. My boys also needed structure and a sense of "normalcy" (whatever that was to look like ).
By 7:30 am I had my youngest son doing about an hour of his schoolwork with me by his side. I would let him focus on the things I knew he would do with little support from me as I went through emails from the day before and from that morning. I knew each day what subjects he was to accomplish and we got him online.
Mondays were the worst because he had art class. Thursdays were the best because we had "gym" days and typically he, and my 16 year old daughter, and I would be in the kitchen watching the workout videos and doing the gym classes with him. We laughed a lot being at home together but also "fought" and cried over school, maintaining the house, and the schedule.
Once we did an hour of work in the morning, my youngest had an hour of TV and would have play time until around 11:30 am. That gave me time to dig into several solid hours of work before I needed to get lunch prepared for the kids and took time to sit with them. I had to block out my work calendar from 12-2 roughly each day to sit with my son and finish his work with him. We would focus on the subjects that he needed the most support with. My staff knew that I would not accept meetings during those hours unless it was an emergency or outside entities needed that time for meetings. Then from 2-6 I would work, prepare dinner and get back to work until later evening hours.
As a side note, grocery shopping was more than challenging. I had determined that I would continue to shop for groceries and prepare meals for as long as I could. I was concerned about food shortages and despite having freezers FULL of food that I had pre-prepared, I was wanting to ride this out well, given the unknown future. Each Saturday I was in line when the grocery store first opened and I would spend Saturday preparing meals for the week, so I could simply reheat our dinners. I also made sure I had my own healthier meals full of vegetables and protein. I was aware that if I was personally going to make it, running and walking and eating healthy would be imperative.
Soon after COVID began, my church, which was also shut down, began meeting in the evenings in my backyard. A crew would come, space chairs out across my yard. We would open the gates to the street and roughly 25-50 people would gather for about one hour in the later Sunday afternoon for a brief service and communion.
I worked hard to take Sunday off. It was a day for me to relax, sit outside as the weather warmed, and enjoy a glass or two of wine. Naturally, like so many others, I joined a wine club. 😊
In some ways, these days were incredible for me personally. I got to know each of my kids better. I learned what triggers my youngest son in school, ramping up his behavior challenges. I spent a large amount of time outside with my neighbors and we grew closer too. My home (outdoors) became a place of gathering for many, including the use of my outdoor pool in the summer time. I enjoyed cooking, being organized and fully aware of my home needs. I loved scouting for toilet paper even though I had plenty. Nobody knew how long this would go on so I told my kids we needed to limit usage and be wise about it.
My newly formed park friends began texting me pictures of me running as the sun rose over the Delaware. We found new ways of gathering with my mother in safer conditions. Sure, there was a great deal of stress, but there was also a great deal of incredible joy.
Change and stress can be good. It can even be rewarding, bringing new life and new perspectives. But stress and change also takes a great toll on us. As leaders, managing change well with those around us, is essential for us to survive and then thrive. At times it requires a top down approach. This was true during COVID. At other times it requires facilitating from the direct service staff and administrative staff up to leadership.
Change is inevitable. It is how we manage it that makes the difference.