Reporter’s note: This new feature in The Beachcomber, to be run on an occasional basis, is a question-and-answer series with islanders who are parenting during the pandemic. We are grateful to those who share their stories, and sometimes their struggles, with us, and hope readers find inspiration here as well. Readers who would like to be included in this series should email firstname.lastname@example.org. — Elizabeth Shepherd
West McLean and Laura Powers are the mother and father of Phineas, aged 8, and a student at Chautauqua Elementary. West is a university e-learning course designer and curriculum writer, and Laura is a semi-retired K12 teacher and e-learning support.
Where do you live and how long you have been on the island?
We live on the westside near Island Center Forest. We’ve lived on the island since December 2019. Not a moment too soon.
How has your family life deepened in the past year?
Firstly, we have re-learned how much we like each other. Of course, there are times that each of the three of us needs our alone space — and we’re sensitive to that for each other. But we maintain our daily routines, have meals together and talk a lot about gratitude. Our gratitude has increased dramatically, in no small part because we moved to the island right before the pandemic.
The challenges and craziness of 2020 have given us nearly constant opportunities to have conversations with Phin about difficult topics. Beyond understanding that we’re more privileged and fortunate than others across the country, we’ve talked about politics, climate change, community and state policy, and especially civil rights and social justice. Our 8-year-old is becoming more aware of the world around and the things we feel are important.
What have been the biggest hurdles and challenges of 2020?
The biggest challenge, quite frankly, has been loneliness. Phin is very social and very active, and keeping him from interacting with other kids has been tough. We try to have virtual Face Time play dates often with friends and cousins, but it has been hard for him. Like many families, another major challenge has been remote school. Again, we are more fortunate than many, in that we both work from home, but juggling a huge amount of e-learning work (given the state of online schooling now) and daily school schedules has not been easy. We were one of those families with the color-coded spreadsheet of school and daily activities in the first few weeks. That has since been scaled back to our two-step plan to keep him alive and get him to class.
How have you talked with Phin about the pandemic?
We have had many conversations about why we can’t have play dates, why we aren’t going to school, why we didn’t trick-or-treat, why we’re not having Thanksgiving. And we’ve used these restrictions to reiterate that we’re not only keeping ourselves safe but also, our community and our family. This year will be a hell of a memory for him, once this pandemic has been overcome. The year the world paused.
What have you learned from him?
A fair amount of beginner Spanish. We’ve also learned that things are simpler than we frequently make them. We are getting by through talking frequently and openly and remaining calm.