by Dennis Dalman
One day not long ago, it dawned on Trina Dietz with fresh clarity: “There are five people in our house; there are not five desks in our house.”
The Dietz family is one of two Sartell families interviewed about how their lives have been upended by the coronavirus threat. Each family, like so many others, is adapting, improvising, rearranging and changing the previous patterns of daily life. Both families (the Dietzes and the Koubskys) are included in this story.
All house-bound now, each member of the Dietz family needs a desk to do at-home work. The children have to do school work. They include Matthew, a ninth-grader; Hattie, a seventh-grader; and Alex, a fourth-grader at St. Francis Xavier Elementary School. Their mother, Trina, is director of marketing for the St. Cloud Area YMCA; and their father, Eric, is an information technology teacher at St. Cloud State University. Like their children, both parents now do their work from home via computers. Thus, the Dietz household has become a busy beehive of “virtual” connections with others – for work, for socialization, for relaxation and for entertainment.
The family not only needed five desks, but they needed their own personal work spaces, so they improvised and rearranged and cobbled together a couple makeshift desks. The two boys used to share a room, but now the youngest has his own room, his own work space.
“It’s been tough in the last few weeks, but it certainly could be much worse,” Trina said. “There’s always somebody worse off. Think of all the people who don’t have jobs. We are very blessed. We are still working. The kids are in educational situations. We don’t have a choice but to figure it out, and complaining doesn’t do any good.”
A real challenge for the family is trying to establish a “new normal,” to get used to a new daily-living/working routine.
Normally, during Easter time, the Dietzes would be visiting her parents in Green Bay, Wisconsin, or Eric’s parents in Plymouth. But this year the virus ruled that out, much to the family’s and their loved ones’ disappointment.
Instead, they have found other activities to do, mainly a lot of walking and biking in their neighborhood and at places like Lindbergh State Park, Mississippi County Park and the Blanchard Dam area north of Sartell.
The family did manage to have some Easter fun, with parents hiding treat-filled Easter baskets for the children to find Easter morning.
Both parents and children have found creative ways to stay connective with others through virtual get-togethers via Zoom. Eric can “meet” with students via Zoom for conference calls, for lectures and for one-on-one learning assistance. Trina, too, does conference calls and other online work.
“Each of the kids has a way of communicating with their friends via technology,” Trina said. “That’s so important. That kind of communication just wasn’t available when I was a kid.”
Matthew has been playing a video game called Minecraft with a bunch of friends. The younger children, too, have fun via Zoom with friends and school chums.
Trina and a good friend shared what they called a Virtual Happy Hour, chatting online as they both enjoyed a glass or two of wine, raising their glasses in virtual toasts.
“Humor really helps, too,” she said. “It’s a good stress-reliever.”
“Our family has also been doing a lot of cleaning and organizing,” she said. “We have the time.”
The silver lining to the at-home isolation, she noted, is the family is rediscovering fun activities, learning how to improvise creatively, new ways of working, new ways of connecting to others and – yes – new ways of making their own kinds of fun.
On April 12, the Nick and Rachel Koubsky family attended the Easter Service at their church, The Waters in Sartell.
But it wasn’t the usual worship gathering. The service was officiated from the rooftop of the church, via a live broadcast on KSNI, and all of the congregants were gathered below, in the parking lot, inside their own cars, listening to their radios with all the windows rolled up.
Previously, church officials had sought and received permission for the drive-up service from state and local officials, including the Minnesota Department of Health. Leighton Broadcasting agreed to live-broadcast the service.
The Koubskys are not used to such virtual gatherings because their lives have long been defined by their connective relationships with others. She is a pastor of The Waters church and as a leader of Life Group gatherings with church members; and he is a Sartell High School math teacher, a coach for junior varsity boys basketball and one of the coaches for the boys baseball program. Although Nick now teaches via Zoom, he can still go to the school to work there now and then, becaused social-distancing is strictly adhered to.
Rachel also connects with the Life Groups and other activities via computer. They enjoy an interactive team word game dubbed Code Names.
The couple has 7-month-old twins, Audra and Nellie; and naturally the parents love to be home with them, lavishing them with love and attention.
“The twins are a matter of buy one, get one free,” said Rachel, chuckling. “Audra was born first. She is very determined. Nellie smiles all the time, and both have beautiful blue eyes.”
Being house-bound, it’s sometimes difficult to set and to keep a routine, Rachel noted.
“We’re always trying to find some sort of normalcy, something consistent and doing things we didn’t normally do,” she said. “But we go to the parks, we take walks, we wave to others in their yards. We rented a couple movies and we watch some TV. We try to be creative, to re-think and to re-prioritize.”
The social confinement can be difficult for Nick because he loves sports and is so actively involved in coaching students. Like Rachel, he is eager for the crisis to be over so he can re-connect, in person, with the many people the Koubskys cherish in their lives.