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VPM Audio Diaries: Finding a Rhythm During Coronavirus

A message on the sidewalk in chalk reads It will be okay!
Melissa Ansley Brooks wrote this message in front of her neighbor's house to encourage the community during the first week of social isolation (Photo: Melissa Ansley Brooks)

What’s it like being a parent, teacher, service industry worker or artist as we respond to the coronavirus? VPM has asked people in the community to record audio diaries of their experiences. Thirty-five year-old single mom and community college professor Melissa Ansley Brooks tells us about working, parenting, finding joy in everyday things, supporting local businesses and developing a rhythm for this new kind of day-to-day life.

You can hear Melissa's complete audio diaries via VPM's Soundcloud page. 

Monday March 16, 2020 11:19 AM 

This is our first day of social distancing, where we have no scheduled work. And so we woke up this morning and came down stairs and turned on the news. And for the first time I think in forever, my son watched regular television with me, ABC, CBS, Morning Edition. I was concerned at first if the news would scare him in some way, but it provided some good morning conversation. 

We did a little bit of organized learning this morning, a math worksheet that I'd put together, and some cursive training from a book I picked up months ago, on Around the World Places using the 26 letters of the alphabet. We went for a neighborhood walk and noticed some really beautiful flowers trying to be more mindful of the beauty that's around us. So far, so good, but it's barely after 11 and I'm already tired.

Bright pink flox flowers blooming in Richmond's Church Hill
Photo: Melissa Ansley Brooks

Monday March 16, 2020 7:52 PM 

This is the end of day one of social isolation. We made it through on a wing and a prayer. I did all the recommended things today, perhaps they were not meant to be done all in one day because I'm feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, working full time from home and trying this homeschool thing and still being a loving and attentive mother and all the things. I'm just kind of feeling the weight of it today. 

So, like I said, I'm really going to rethink what I try to accomplish for tomorrow, and give myself a little bit more grace, and a little bit more space to figure all this out. I think we're all just trying our best. I was able to speak to my Grammy today who is 91 living in an assisted living facility in Iowa, where she's on complete lockdown and not even receiving mail at this point, and taking all of her meals in her room. But she did tell us about a game we can play where you hide a button in the house and go look around So we might put that on the roster for tomorrow. For now, we're just gonna pack it in and call it a night.

Tuesday March 17, 2020 9:43 PM 

We managed to walk today, and we did a little bit of work. And my son had his first virtual playdate with his best friend Sam, who he is what they call more than friends. They are just brothers, in every sense of the word and they miss each other desperately. I could tell by the time it was time for bed, my son was just really reeling from being a very social kid and a son of a very social butterfly mom and right before bed, he built a fort on the stairwell out of a bedsheet and he called it his depression fort. And I went up to the landing where he had built the fort. And he was crawled up on the floor and they just kind of crawled up next to him and he started to cry. We're so disconnected from everyone as best as I try to explain it, it's still just really difficult for him to understand. And so that was tough. 

Anyway, grateful that my neighbor donated to me, unused gingerbread house kit. So we are going to pretend maybe tomorrow that it's Christmas. Play some Christmas carols, build a gingerbread house and try to make it a better day.

Brooks's son playing on carpet as he interacts with his best friend via video.
Photo: Melissa Ansley Brooks

Thursday March 19, 2020 

This is day four of social isolation. I did not get around to recording yesterday and so I wanted this recording to be a reflection of yesterday and then I'll leave another recording for tonight. Yesterday we ventured out to our local bakery. We are really trying to be mindful of supporting our local businesses. The food service industry is really hurting right now. I have so many friends, neighbors, my own students who work on tips and commission and work in restaurants and restaurant hospitality and they're really struggling right now. 

So we went to our local bakery for our morning pastries and coffee and you could just feel the difference and in the establishment, Sub Rosa, our favorite baristas and workers were there and just in making small talk. They're so grateful to have their job still at this time anyway and very concerned and hurting for many of their friends and colleagues who are are not working right now. So that was really tough. I'm going to take a different look and how I can help support the restaurant community by ordering out or commit to ordering out one to two nights a week. 

Come On In We're Open sign outside a Richmond restaurant offering take out, pick up orders only.
Photo: Melissa Ansley Brooks

It's incredible to see each other kind of come together, people are providing free meals for work service industry folks, free bread, all kinds of lovely gestures and said it's really inspired me to figure out how I can contribute. Even my son was saying, I think maybe because he's sick of my cooking already, but he was like, Mom, you know, let's do Doordash or takeout or something. So maybe tonight will be a pizza night. 

We did a social distancing bike ride yesterday, thank God, thank God. We were with our neighbor, who's also a single mom and her kindergarten son. And the boys did a great job of keeping distance between them. We felt like we could still talk to each other and have some grown up conversation which I think we're both really hungry for. But we would drive past several playgrounds and the kids, you could tell were just visibly disappointed to not just run and play and jump in what they would normally do, I think, for such sensory social creatures, they're just having a hard time with this new normal. 

Our online school starts today. So I'm looking forward to that. We've had amazing communication with my son's school, from the head of school, to the head of the lower school. And just supportive commentary from other parents about what they're doing and what to expect and all this. So I'm anxious to see how this will go today. And how we'll figure out how to manage the tasks. I also really appreciate the grace that has been given to us about not necessarily completing every task and trying to work at our own pace and figure out how to implement this in the home environment. 

I think it's supposed to be like 80 degrees today outside so I'm really looking forward to spending some outside time maybe we'll take some of our lessons outside But overall as discouraging as some of the figures are for how long this may last, or I'm hearing now that there's a lot of shelter in place happening in larger cities-- I’m still continuously uplifted by intentionally seeking out the goodness in people and how people are coming to help one another and comfort one another and check in on one another. And that has really kept me going in these last few days. I think we're slowly starting to find our rhythm.