By Meredith Hughes

So when a journalist asks four Corrales-centered youngish moms how they have coped during the pandemic lockdown —with a handful of questions as a guide— the answers are rich. In honor of Mothers’ Day, we are sharing some of them with you. But first, the cast of characters: Valerie Burkett, realtor, mom to two boys and a girl, ages eight, 10 and 12; Liv Baca-Hochhausler, principal at Corrales Elementary, mom to two girls, one third grader, one in first; Keisha Wixom, yoga teacher, mom to a daughter, 11; and Stephani Dingreville, PTA president at Corrales Elementary, mom to two daughters, 12 and six. All of Burkett’s kids were in Corrales Elementary when the first lockdown rolled through in February 2020, and her work as a realtor was not deemed “essential.”

“There really was no manual or handbook on how to proceed for anyone,” she said, amused but also grateful that she did not have a large plate full of realty transactions underway when everything closed down.

“Our kids were in fifth, third and first grades, and each level and each teacher handled the school thing differently. The three first grade teachers worked together to share the lesson planning and that seemed to work best,” she said. Burkett’s husband is Village Councillor Zach Burkett. As APS attempted to maintain consistency, against the odds, summer approached, and the Burkett family decided to pull their kids from Corrales Elementary, put their daughter in a charter school, and begin homeschooling their sons. “I didn’t want them always on line.” A family member suggested the homeschool projects developed by Timberdoodle —four hours a day, four days a week. It has worked out well.

Meanwhile Principal Baca-Hochhausler was “working onsite and in person throughout the pandemic closures.  At the beginning of the school year, one of our kindergarten teachers needed to take an extended leave —so I did what any school principal should do— I made myself an online kindergarten teacher! While wearing both a principal and a kindergarten teacher hat (on top of my mom and wife hats) was difficult and overwhelming, teaching my little online group of five and six year olds was incredibly rewarding and fun.”

Because her husband teaches first grade at Monte Vista Elementary, he worked remotely from their guest room during the school closures. And her mother was able to help with school and childcare two days per week, “and my husband and I split schooling and child care the other three days —usually one daughter would come to work with me and the other would stay home (less fighting!) and then we would flip-flop the next day.”

A key question for all: “When did it first hit you re the ramifications of lockdown?” Baca-Hochhausler wrote the following: “I think it hit me a few times... we had a birthday party for our older daughter on February 29, 2020, and I remember buying extra toilet paper (it was still on the shelves in the early days), bags of dried beans, and some Clorox wipes along with party hats and plates all while thinking, ‘hmm... I wonder if we should have all these kids over at our house?’

“Then it hit me again (literally) while driving home from an empty school building on March 18, 2020. I was hit by a driver who ran a red light and broke my nose on the steering wheel.  It was surreal going to the ER, everyone was in full PPE and there was a very long line twisting throughout the parking lot for people needing COVID tests.

“But things got incredibly ‘real’ for me when the Secretary of the Public Education Department announced that New Mexico schools would not be required to make up the instructional hours from the days we had missed (we had only been closed for 10 days at that point). My school clerk and I watched the press conference on her office computer when Secretary Steward made that announcement. I said to her, ‘Oh no, that means we won’t be coming back this year.’ My clerk responded, ‘Nah, we’ll come back.’ And I thought, no, we won’t —we've had to make up two weeks of instruction before (during the blizzard of 2006), if the secretary is saying we won’t need to make up the time, we won’t be back this year.”

Keisha Wixom noted that “We never really knew what was waiting around the corner. It was a slow-building change that started at the end of Rylee’s 5th grade year at Corrales Elementary when the kids went home for the remainder of the year. From there, we thought she might start her first year of middle school with a hybrid model, but she has decided to be healthy and happy at home for 6th grade.”

“Sandia Labs required all staff to stay at home for several months, but no way my husband is going into work two days a week. Neither my daughter nor her father miss waking up early in the morning to drive across town.” Wixom, a long-time yoga instructor, put a hold on teaching classes and meeting with private clients in early March of 2020. “I have yet to return to teaching yoga and am enjoying more time with my family.”

What about pandemic-era groceries?

Wixom reported that “We had never used curbside pickup for groceries before. We will never go back to roaming the isles! This discovery was one of the biggest boons of the past year. “I have been amazed at how much money we have saved by becoming online shoppers. I now make menu plans, comparison shop three or four grocery stores online and place my pick up orders. I was a big fan of wandering store aisles before lockdown, and picking up whatever looked interesting. Now I am much more organized and we are eating better and saving so much more. I’ll never go back!”

Dingreville, whose family organized things well seemingly from the start, explained it this way. “We created a schedule at the beginning of COVID, including school time, art time, exercise time. We all remember those days as being really fun! In spite of the stress of not knowing what would happen in the world, we were having a blast at home.

“The girls have had no academic problems with remote schooling. And we’ve been lucky to have no connectivity problems. Each girl is in their own space to do their Google meets, and my husband works remotely from home, too. Sometimes I feel like I run the cafeteria in an office building, but really I just bounce from one to another, acting as support staff. My youngest needs the most attention, and reminders for when it’s time to get on and offline.”

On the other hand, regarding groceries anyway, Burkett said “that was a crazy time, half of everything was out of stock, buying via a ‘shopper,’ who sometimes made the most bizarre substitutions.” For only about three or four months, the family wore gloves and used a light bleach solution to wipe everything down. But Burkett truly loves to cook, and as a small child remembers her mom making Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai food. Lockdown gave Burkett more time to master some tasty Asian dishes, including the Vietnamese pho pictured. She follows Emmymade on YouTube for ideas. On the other hand, Baca-Hochhausler confesses she is “so over cooking.”

“Remember when there wasn’t any yeast and we all had to learn how to make sourdough?” Exercising became a priority for all four women and their families. Baca-Hochhausler bought roller skates for everyone. Wixom said “Even though we have lived in Corrales for almost a decade, we never played on the beaches or kayaked down the Rio Grande. Now it is a regular part of our weekly routine. We all love taking walks, runs and bike rides in the bosque.”

Biking is big for Burkett as well, one- to two-hour rides in the Bosque Preserve. Dingreville reported “We would walk or ride bikes in the bosque every day at the beginning. These days, it’s a bit harder to get moving all at the same time. My older daughter rides horses at the next door neighbor’s house, I walk in the bosque with the dog most mornings. Then we have a trampoline/zipline/swing situation in the back yard and my little one plays out there like a wild thing for hours every day.”

Using Zoom and similar applications was fine, as Baca-Hochhausler explained. “I’d been using Skype to talk to my Swedish grandma since the early 2000s, so Zoom wasn’t a big learning curve for me.” Wixom’s kids both found it relatively easy to adapt to school and work virtually. Some silver linings came with this new paradigm. “The family managed to keep in touch with friends and family using FaceTime.” Since most of her husband’s family lives in Utah, “this new normal has actually allowed us to visit with them more often than before.”

Grandparents helped enormously via FaceTime, too, according to Dingreville. “Although my husband’s parents are in France and my parents are in North Carolina, my kiddos are able to see them and ‘play’ with them almost daily over the computer. They have always connected this way, so that wasn’t exactly new. I’d say it happens a lot more often now, during quarantine, because the girls have a lot more time.”

Another positive from Wixom? “Luckily, we have two very close families who have followed the same COVID protocol as us for the past year. Our daughters are the same age and have been going to school together since kindergarten. Having this connection has been a life saver for all of us.”

Pods, gatherings, helpful elders, all have played a part for these women. Not to leave out pets. four chickens and a cat for Wixom; a lab and a kitty for Dingreville; Burkett got two goats and built a barn for them; and a stray cat subsequently named Delilah adopted the Baca-Hochhausler gang in June. Funniest or silliest pandemic event? Dingreville said she and her husband had a date night “where we sat in the minivan and watched a movie in the driveway while the girls watched a movie inside.”

“Decorating our scooters and putting on a Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, consisting of our family of four, for the neighborhood,” Baca-Hochhausler responded. Pluses? “We have been very fortunate to have made it through this pandemic relatively unscathed. It has been a valuable time to readjust our priorities and remind ourselves what matters most to us. I think everyone is looking forward to getting back to ‘normal,’ but I have to say, that our family is looking forward to our new normal that includes being more invested in each other’s lives and being grateful for our many blessings,” as Wixom put it.

Burkett truly focused on “getting to know my kids better!” Dingreville thinks “I’m lucky to have been able to turn the volume down on all my other responsibilities and just support my kiddos during a challenging time.”  Baca-Hochhausler wraps it up. “Now that Corrales Elementary and the rest of APS is back in session, work has gotten much busier and much better.” And, she’s hoping for a trip to Maui soon.

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