BURRILLVILLE – From the fun of family board game nights, home renovation projects and Netflix binges, to the challenges of distance learning and trying to keep enough food in the house, the experience of staying at home varies from family to family, and northern Rhode Island is no exception.
In a follow-up with the 40 local families who participated in her Front Steps Project – a localized version of an idea pioneered by Boston photographer Cara Soulia – Burrillville-based photographer Meagan Sharum asked a simple question: How is your quarantine experience going?
The answers reveal both the anxieties and joys of the unprecedented lifestyle change residents have experienced since mid-March, when the state ordered residents to stay at home to curb the spread of COVID 19.
Many discussed the highs and lows of spending significantly more time together.
“We go through a ton of food, we don’t get a break from each other and we’ve never been closer,” said Dena Ruzzano. “With the bad comes the good.”
“What can we say? It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for all of us,” said Renee Mainville. “Although Dad is still working full time and mom is home, we have actually spent a great deal of time all together. It has given us time to learn, laugh and cry at and about one another. We have all amazed ourselves during this time and are cherishing every moment. This is us… a little bit of crazy, a little loud and a whole lot of love.”
The “kids are bonding so much more than ever before,” said Amanda Rossi, adding that the experience “will really make an impact on how we shape our future.”
“Being home is fun,” Rossi said.
Many, including Sharum herself, have used the extra time to start long-awaited projects, such home renovations.
“We grabbed the opportunity to renovate around our home,” said Sherry Zarembka. “Some days, we have full energy to do the stuff around house. Some days, we are so lazy. Some days, we binge Netflix while our son goes to bed.”
“I’ve been having a hard time not working, so in order to stay sane Justin and I have been working on renovating our Airstream together,” said Sharum. “We pretty much gutted all of the 70’s interior, Replaced the subfloors, sanded down and painted the walls a beautiful bright white.”
For parents used to relying on nearby family for childcare, staying isolated has presented extra challenges.
“The hardest part is not having our parents close by, but this too shall pass and we’ll all be together again,” said Ruzzano “Look out grandparents: once this is over, they’re all yours.”
“This picture shows a sacrifice that we make during quarantine,” said Megan MacGregor. “My husband is at work. This is what life looks like after 3 p.m. most nights for us. We like to try to get some exercise in, take the dog for a walk, or play outside in the back yard while dad is off at work. After dinner, it’s time for cuddles, bath time, books, and bedtime. It used to be grandma taking care of the kids many nights.”
Beyond the struggles, what the answers may have most revealed is just how unique each family’s quarantine experience has been.
“Quarantine has been an adventure for sure,” said Matt Thompson. “We literally just closed on the house March 20, so we’re still unpacking and settling in.”
“Overall, we love where we are and we love the extra family time we’ve gotten,” Thompson added. “We couldn’t ask for a better place to be quarantined.”
Sharum raised $1,400 in donations for Burrillville-based organization Between the Cracks with the project, which allowed families to take advantage of the time together with a front steps portrait, while still following socials distancing guidelines.
She said she was surprised by many of the answers she received to her simple question.
“We bought a house with an in-law with the idea to provide both my family and my parents with extra support as they aged,” said Jennifer Hopgood. “The goal has been to protect them and to care for them as well as they did for me. We thought it was a bonus that I was in the healthcare field but lately it’s been nothing short of feeling like I am a threat to them every day. Now because of me and my line of work, they are living totally secluded in that little apartment.”
“They have tried to make it fun for the boys by sending little messages back-and-forth under the door but that is growing old and lately they’ve been just sitting in front of the door crying wanting to snuggle their grandparents,” Hopgood said.
The shut-down of many businesses while essential workers continue their daily routine has also left families with varying workloads, another element of quarantine reflected in the families’ responses. While parents with multiple kids in the house have struggled to keep up with distance learning, those without children at home have had time for new hobbies.
“Quarantine is going fine for us,” said Emily Buratto. “I honestly cannot complain as everyone is healthy and able to work from home. Compared to what others are going through we are very blessed. We are able to spend a lot of time outside in our gardens and yard which is wonderful therapy.”
“The quarantine has affected our routine greatly,” said Renee Reichert. “We have been spending a lot of quality time together now that we have it. I am a behavior tech and I work in the public school system, since school has been shut down for quarantine I am out of work, while my son Matthew is home and not in preschool.”
“While not seeing our extended family any closer than 6-feet away is definitely frustrating, we are actually some of the lucky ones,” said Ilana Coulbourn. “We run two businesses where we are able to keep working and thankfully have not had to lay our employees off. We realize just how truly blessed we are.”
“Luckily no one has killed each other yet, despite getting on each other’s very last nerve,” said Leigha Joyal.
“The toughest thing has been schooling and adapting to trying to help out everyone during the class day while also running my business. I have worked at home for almost 10 years now but this is a whole new dynamic,” Joyal said. “These teachers deserve to be paid millions a year for what they do day in and day out. Then there is the grocery bill…”
“We are both teachers trying to navigate online learning with sixth-grade public schoolers and incarcerated youth,” said Katie Vadenais. “Someone asked me how homeschool and work is going. I told them: I yell, they cry, we get over it, repeat.”
“There is a lot of love thrown into the mix , but everyday has its struggles,” she added.
Adjusting to the slower pace due to COVID 19, for some, it seems, has been a gift in disguise.
“Life is better in many ways now,” said MacGregor. “After this is over, I am certainly going to hold onto everything that I loved during this quarantine and make it as important as the other parts of my life.”
To see all of the families’ photographs and responses, visit Sharum’s blog post here.