During the week of March 16, many businesses were shutting down and local families were let go from their jobs indefinitely. I desperately wanted to know how everyone was adjusting to the new way of living. My background is in anthropology and documentary photography, and I wanted to record what was happening on the local level. I saw an international post on Instagram, about a photographer capturing drone shots of families in their homes (with permission), and I knew I wanted to do the same thing, but on the ground.
Photographers around the country started photographing families at their homes, either in their doorway or through their windows. I put out a Facebook call for people interested in the Mercer/Bucks County areas to be photographed safely, using a telephoto lens and plenty of distance, and contributing their stories of staying home.
The original plan was to compile the images and stories for social media. Many of the families wanted to give something back, and at the suggestion of a friend, I decided to open contributions to HomeFront, who desperately need assistance. Families on the verge of homelessness are at a greater risk in this situation and could lose so much if there is a temporary layoff or job loss. They are already in need of so much. Losing more would put them further behind. So far, we have raised $1,485 for HomeFront.
In the coming weeks, I am hoping to capture some of HomeFront’s families to show the adjustments they have made.
With 20 families and growing, I will be working on making this into a photo book as a reflection of this time in history.
Five weeks into the project, I have learned a lot about the creativity and resiliency of families. I am aware that today’s families run around from one activity to the next, and complain that there is never enough time to be still long enough to enjoy each other. With this new adjustment, and added stress in some cases, people have found a way to get closer to one another, even if that means creating new physical boundaries in the home. There are more meals at the table, and greater effort to find new forms of entertainment.
I have also seen the kindness and altruistic nature of people in our communities as they are contributing to organizations, such as HomeFront, in search of ways to make a difference and help out. As soon as I made the announcement regarding donations to HomeFront, multiple families that I documented decided to contribute, quickly bringing in $400 in the first few hours.
Something truly interesting to me is the observation of how a person’s home can affect their perspective. A family living in a small condo with no yard has a very different perspective than a family with a yard and a large porch. A family of seven in a smaller home can cope differently than a family of two on multiple acres of land. On one hand, the larger family has to navigate multiple personalities and moods on a regular basis, but they also have a greater community within the home for support and company. The family of two may have greater feelings of isolation on a larger property.
I am still looking for more people and families to photograph as part of this project. Participants have the freedom to add props if they like, such as games they are playing, pajamas and sweats they’ve been wearing for weeks, or just themselves as a family.
It has been interesting to read each person’s and each family’s story, but it is clear they all express the same hopeful outlook to keeping a slower pace when this is over.
What follows are the stories of the families I’ve photographed, in their own words. (Stories correspond with photos above, starting with top left, and moving clockwise.)
Erin Petura and family, Hopewell
Being a family of six has proven to be a challenge and quite the blessing during quarantine.
My family has four children; two girls and two boys. They are all handling the quarantine in extremely different ways. Aside from doing online learning, they have had to overcome the obstacle of being in what we consider a very small house for a family this size. You know, the house that we swore we would be out of in just a couple of years. And now it is 12 years later.
There has been a lot of fighting over space, trying to figure out who is going to do each meeting where, battling for attention from me, Mom.
There have been many tears, tantrums, and even the breakdown that resulted in throwing things over the past two weeks. One of my children just started ¨seeing¨ a therapist to try and process his emotions on what is happening. On the flip side though, there have been many hugs and apologies and talks that we might not have had the time to do before.
What we didn’t realize through all this anguish was the positivity that came with all of that as well. There has been a bond, a solid pact if you will, that has grown between all of us. One of my kids who struggled this school year with emotions has really blossomed and become a
much calmer and easier person to live with. The relationships among us have become stronger and more loving. The silliness that I once saw when they were little has returned. The acceptance and understanding of one another’s emotions has grown exponentially. We have become a family unit again. One whole fighting this crazy thing called corona.
We try to get out as much as possible. The air and sun help us a lot. We play basketball, ride bikes, and the kids even made up a silly game on roller skates called Grandma (think they miss her?). Being outside together really helps. On rainy days, we get in the car and play Pokemon Go. Anything to get out of the house. We have been on birthday drive bys and have gone to “visit” our friends from the curb. As it should be though, our main place for hanging out is our house.
As you can see in the pictures, the dining room is our place. Our one stop for e-learning, mom hugs, questions, tears, laughter and togetherness. It is the place where we come together as a family and (sometimes barely) make it through the day. It is not always easy but as long as we are together, I know that we will all be OK.
Alex and Ryan Brady and family, Lawrenceville
Ryan has been working full time from home, which has been nice because even though he is working, the girls love running into his office all day and saying hi. He commutes to Philly so they only see him from 7-8 p.m. regularly, so this time has actually been beneficial to building their father/daughter relationships.
During the day, it’s been mostly me and the girls plus our dog Callie playing outside. The girls love going for walks in the wagon, and even take turns holding Callie’s leash.
I’ve been a stay-at-home mom since my second was born, so for us, this is normal, except we are so used to being on the go to different play dates and activities so that has been the most challenging (finding a way to entertain them just me). But we make it work!
The girls are at such fun ages. They run and fall and crack up and repeat. The laughter is contagious. It reminds Ryan and I that our girls won’t remember this crazy unprecedented time, being home just us, but we will, and it has been so special.
Kids have a magical innocence about them. They find beauty in almost everything. I feel that we as parents have been learning more from them over the last 6 weeks. We are letting them be kids more. Make the big mess, we have all the time in the world to clean it up. And that has made our laughter grow as well.
I hope this story is helpful. We are trying to be more like the girls. More carefree, in a time where we have to be so careful.
Heather MacNew, Edwing Medina and family, Ewing
During this time of COVID-19, I find myself with mixed emotions. As I sit down at my kitchen table to start my workday in what has become the “new normal,” I worry about what lies ahead for our family. While I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work from home during this time, my husband is not, as he is a physician at a local hospital. Although we have adopted a rigorous decontamination routine for each time he comes home from work, it is still quite nervewracking. This is magnified by the fact that we have an 18-month-old daughter and I am 7-months pregnant. There are times when I find myself frustrated that I cannot go out or meet with friends whom I have not seen for some time. In light of the uncertainties this new disease has brought upon our world, I must remind myself just how lucky we are to have our family, our health, and our livelihood.
Patrice Coleman-Boatwright and Jim Boatwright, Ewing
It’s times like these that make us pause; times like this that encourage us to welcome all the memories and the blessings we’ve received over the years. As kids growing up in NYC, we always had the comfort and security of neighborhoods filled with row homes and apartments with a “front stoop.” The front stoop was where we gathered (under the watchful eyes of adults), where big decisions were made (like who’s gonna ask for money for the ice cream truck), where we laughed, played, and watched the world go by. So, it is only natural for us native New Yorkers to be drawn to that safe space again—our own front stoop—during this pandemic.
The pandemic is our reality now. In the blink of an eye, our lives and our community have forever changed. There has been enormous loss, yet there is also more compassion evident. From the vantage point of our front stoop, we now look at neighbors to whom we have absently waved for 20 years, and we feel differently about them. There are more “hellos”, but they’re coupled with a genuine, “so how are you doing today?” Somehow (and at last) there is more of a reason to be concerned for one another, to offer help and a caring word as we find our collective footing again.
Sara Cooper, Titusville
Diagnosed with ALS in November 2018, Sara is one of the bravest and determined women I have known. She does not let the disease define her, and although her body is becoming paralyzed, her mind is sharp, as well as her sense of humor.
At this time of staying home, Sara reflects on some of the changes the Corona virus has made to her life and network: “Because of the virus and my very compromised immune system, I am unable to have really any visitors.”
She has been supported by a tribe of women that have been there for her every single step of the way, in every element of her life. She now uses Zoom to see and “spend time” with friends during their Friday afternoon cocktail hours.
“I miss their hugs. They all text and send cards, and the zoom Facebook is key because I hear the voices and see the wonderful faces,” Sara said.
Sara was regularly going to Schafer Sports Center for aquatic therapy, but now that she is not able to due to the shut down, she feels the “disease is progressing more so than prior, probably due to lack of activity and range of motion.”
“But my attitude is one of gratefulness and hope,” she said. “It is amazing the love that continues to be shown to me via technology and regular mail. I am a very lucky girl.”
A fighter and an inspiration, Sara has lived a very full and wonderful life. “I am very grateful and I wanted to make a difference to help others.” She, with the help of her team, has created a roadmap for newly diagnosed patients, and is currently searching for people who will benefit from this resource. Sara and her family have also started a nonprofit to help those with ALS…#LetsKickSomeALS.
Victor Medina and family, Pennington
The need to quarantine hit our family hard and fast. The two oldest boys were with their grandparents in Puerto Rico, and all four had to come home early flying through JFK airport. They got picked up, driven to their apartment in NYC to grab clothes, medicine and other supplies before continuing on to quarantine in Pennington.
The living and working arrangements need to accommodate three distance-learning students and one full-time working parent—the other parent has an estate planning law firm in the borough, and owns the building where the office is located and can disappear for most of the day. But for the rest, there’s a challenge in finding six different corners for everyone to scatter to during the day—two more than otherwise might be needed due to the grandparents. On the plus side, one of the grandparents has a terminal condition (which is why they are quarantining here instead of NYC), so there’s an opportunity to create memories that might have been impossible in any other situation.
There won’t be a return to the old “normal”. What life becomes will look more like what we’re doing now than what we were doing before. The only way to come through it successfully is to acknowledge the things we can’t control, and express gratitude for the gifts this change has presented.
Erin Cahill Wetzel and family, Hamilton
Life is tough being confined right now. We have four kids ages 5 and under, including a one month old. It’s been hard to have any routine right now. We miss family and friends who can help us with the baby and even see her. Our oldest was in kindergarten and loved it so it’s disappointing to have him likely finish out the year homeschooled. We were constantly out doing things with our kids so this quarantine has been particularly hard given how much we were always doing with our kids.
I fear things won’t be normal for a long time, and I worry about all the experiences my kids will miss out on because of what the new normal will be. I worry about being able to go anywhere with our new daughter or kids because it will take so long for things to be normal and safe. Positive moments is learning to check in more with family and friends. Also feel like if we can get through this, we can get through anything. I am hopeful things can return to normal sooner than expected.
Heather Raub is a Ewing-based photographer. For more information, go online to her website.