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A six-student school in just one home

  • >>Audra D S Burch, The New York Times
    Published: 2020-10-14 11:08:46 BdST

The Ramirez children, who lost their parents, with their half-sister, Marlene Torres, right, who took them in, in Passaic, NJ, on Monday, Oct 12, 2020. The New York Times

Imagine running a K-7 school. By yourself. In your own home. Carl, 39, and Jesse, 38, are the parents of six children ranging from 18 months to 12 years old. The Crawfords live in Sterling, New York, a town on the shore of Lake Ontario, where they grew up. Married 16 years, they met in elementary school, riding the same bus to school, and became high school sweethearts. Jesse works remotely for a beauty company. Carl is an essential worker, a manager at a nuclear power plant. When the pandemic erupted in New York, he moved out of the house for about a month in case he was exposed to the virus at work.

JESSE: Carl turned to me one day and said, if it gets close, I’m going to leave and stay at my parents’ house. His parents spend the winter in Florida. He said it’s not what I want to do, but I feel like it’s the smart thing to do. I was scared — we don’t spend a lot of time apart. I was scared not having my best friend here.

CARL: I knew I had to leave. I knew it would be a lot of work for Jesse, but the last thing we needed was for me to get sick and then the whole family is sick. We have six children. I couldn’t take that chance.

JESSE: The oldest four were at home instead of being at school, so there was really no denying that something different was happening in the world. My oldest two are 10 and 12, so I was able to explain more with them. My younger two, who are 5 and 7, I told them a more simplified explanation. Some people are sick and they got some really nasty germs. And then with the babies, you just go with the flow. For them, nothing was different except having everybody home to play with. And they get to wear “PAW Patrol” masks, which they love.

Life with six children at home during a pandemic. Wow. Before the pandemic, people would ask me all the time, how do I do it all? There are days where it’s chaos, and there are days where it’s controlled chaos. There are days where I feel like I have it all together, and then there’s days where I am just like, the people are alive and in bed. Hey, that’s a win. You have to laugh at yourself or you’re going to cry to yourself. And honestly, I have done both, many, many times.

When the schools closed, suddenly I became a homeroom teacher for kindergarten to seventh grade. But I have to admit, it wasn’t terrible because I actually used to work in a school system. For a while, Carl worked from home, too. He would tell the kids over and over to stay away from the computer while he conducted meetings. I am like, dude! We have six children. We can’t keep them all away.

One of the most heartbreaking moments for us was the kids not being able to be with their grandparents. When Carl’s parents came back from Florida, they stopped at our house and they waved through the window. The kids wanted to hug them. But they had travelled through so many states to get home. There’s just no way. The kids waved through the window. The kids cried. I cried. All I could do was hug them inside the house. But it wasn’t the same.

Going back to school. It’s such a huge thing for parents right now. Every time I go on social media, I see no less than three or four people asking, what are you guys planning to do this year? Are you going to do it remotely? Are you going to send your kids to school? And there is no right decision. We talked about it a lot. We asked ourselves, do you send your kids back and risk them getting sick or stay at home and feel like their mental health is at risk because they are missing their friends terribly? Fortunately, the case numbers here are extremely low. So at this point, it feels safe to send them back to school.

CARL: One of the funniest things that happened was with our youngest who is 1 1/2. She doesn’t really understand what is happening, but she knew we were not going out much. She is used to getting in her car seat and going places. We keep it in a storage area. And she started going to get in the seat in the storage area. She is just sitting in the car seat on the floor yelling she wanted to go! It was pretty comical. She just wanted to go somewhere.

c.2020 The New York Times Company