Shiri Goren and her family begin every day in quarantine by writing on a mirror, charting each family member’s responsibilities for the day in dry erase marker. The schedule is color-coded: red for 11-year-old Alma, blue for eight-year-old Mika, black for Goren — the director of Yale’s Modern Hebrew Program — and green for her partner.
“I think the main thing is to take every day as it is and to continue to be very empathetic to everyone that we encounter, whether within the nuclear family or while engaging with our students or in the many meetings we have with our colleagues,” Goren said.
For many professors with young children, the University’s March 14 announcement that all classes were to be conducted online through the end of spring semester coincided with the closure of many primary schools and day care centers. The announcement gave instructors a little over a week both to ready their courses for online delivery before classes resumed and to figure out how to provide full-time child care, while devoting adequate time and effort to their teaching. In the near-month that has passed since the decision, several of these working parents told the News that daily life has proven to be stressful, uncertain and, on occasion, joyful — but certainly never boring.
A lack of uniformity between physical distancing guidelines issued by local, state and federal officials precipitated a variety of experiences for families when initial school closures began. Hal Brooks, a lecturer in the Theater Studies Department, decided with his wife to start keeping their second-grade son home from school in Brooklyn several days before the March 15 decision to shutter all New York City public schools.
Remote learning in those schools began March 23, the same day Yale’s spring classes resumed, giving both the parents and the child a week to prepare for the shift to online teaching and learning. The transition “has not been horrendous, has not been hard,” Brooks said.
For other families, though — especially those with younger children — the shuttering of daycare facilities has presented a logistical nightmare. Sarab Al Ani, a senior lector in Arabic and the mother of twin four-year-old boys, did not know what to do when the Hamden mayor’s March 18 state of emergency closed child care facilities serving more than 12 children.
“Before all of this started, my mom would be happy to come by and play with the boys for a little, which would buy us a couple hours to do things around the house,” Al Ani said. Both of her parents are now confined to their senior living home under strict social distancing rules, and the babysitters they would usually call are “understandably very reluctant” to work.
Thankfully, Al Ani said, the family found another day care that’s still open in nearby Cheshire. The arrangement entails two additional hours of driving every day, and imposes extra child care costs, which Al Ani said she had expected.
Upon arrival at the center every day, employees take the temperatures of both the child and the guardian dropping them off, a procedure repeated at pick-up. If any member of the family exhibits COVID-19 symptoms, the child cannot attend day care for at least 14 days — creating the possibility that Al Ani and her husband might both have to work full-time jobs from home while caring for twin preschoolers.
Coping with stay-at-home guidelines has forced every family to find its own balance, or lack thereof. Similar to Goren’s mirror, Pauline LeVen, an associate professor in the Classics Department, sits down with her husband every night to fill out the “situation room board,” a whiteboard on the refrigerator, she said. Both professors and parents of a 34-month-old, the couple uses the whiteboard to separate their responsibilities for the day from their aspirational goals — things like cleaning the house, crafting or meditating.
“Research belongs to the [aspirational] column, and [will] for the immediate future,” LeVen said.
Other families have yet to settle into a quarantine routine.
“Balance is not the word I would use for what is happening,” said Sarah Demers, an associate professor of physics. “We do not have a system that is working for the whole family, we’re just each doing our best.”
Demers added that one successful mechanism her family has instituted at home has been creating individual “wish lists” other members of the family can help check off during the day — playing a family game or preparing a demonstration for a class, for example.
Negotiating the division of child-rearing duties in two-parent households has created varying degrees of balance. Many faculty members interviewed said that both parents now have to compress a full day’s work into just half a day, to split child care time equally. Paola Bertucci, an associate professor of history and history of medicine, helps her seven-year-old son with reading and math in the morning, and her husband Ivano Dal Prete, the director of undergraduate studies for the History of Science andMedicine Department, occupies him with science projects and playtime in the afternoon.
Brooks estimated that he and his wife each spend a third of their day with their son, who spends the last third of the day occupying himself.
“That’s worked out pretty well, but then there will be days when it’s four o’clock in the afternoon and I realize I haven’t started my work for the day,” Brooks said.
Still, he said he’s found life in quarantine to have “serious plus sides.”
“It’s a great joy spending time teaching [my son] with my wife,” he said.
Assistant professor of English Ben Glaser said that, for the most part, he’s been able to engage with his students to the same degree he was on campus. However, that has meant “more sacrifice on [his] wife’s part,” as she cares for their four-year-old and 20-month-old. Sustaining his own productivity has come at the expense of hers, Glaser said.
The News was unable to interview any single-parent families for this story. Still, several faculty members interviewed speculated about how compounded the difficulties of balancing teaching and parenting must be for single parents in quarantine.
On March 21, the University announced a one-year extension of the tenure calendar, relieving some stress on tenure-track faculty to keep up with research, papers and grants. For non-ladder faculty members, though, the economic implications of the pandemic create additional anxiety.
Provost Scott Strobel wrote in an April 7 announcement that a previously-imposed hiring freeze would extend through June 2021, in addition to a salary freeze. The freeze poses a threat to faculty in single-year and part-time instructional positions, as some have contracts that are set to expire July 1 and may not be renewed.
“As instructional faculty, it was disheartening that the first communications we’ve received that pertain to our situation was a list of ways in which the University is instituting cost-cutting measures,” said Kathryn Slanski, a senior lecturer in Humanities and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. “It’s hard not to worry that our positions might be next.”
For graduate students, the outlook is even bleaker. Those nearing graduation will enter a job market either in the throes of or recovering from the COVID-19 crisis — but in the meantime, they still must conduct research, serve as teaching fellows for undergraduate classes, and, in some cases, raise small children.
Paula Calvo GRD ’21, a doctoral student studying economics, has a six-month-old baby with her husband, who also holds a full-time job. Her family is in an especially challenging situation, she said, because graduate students have no access to subsidized child care, and child care costs represent between 50 and 80 percent of a graduate student’s monthly stipend.
“I think considering subsidizing child care will help alleviate a lot of the stress related to [making] financial ends meet for the extra time we will need to finish our programs,” Calvo said.
From LeVen’s perspective, the University has not done much to help its faculty with children in the face of an unprecedented global crisis.
“Acknowledging the commitment, the energy, and the resourcefulness needed to combine teaching… from home and parenting would be a first step,” she said. “I will send my energetic toddler to the next administrator who “encourage[s me] to spend this period in activities that will expand [my] imagination and advance [my] thinking… and planning future projects” and see how they manage to advance their thinking and plan their future projects with someone climbing on their back, crying and asking to be held, or demanding them to read Doctor Seuss on the floor for the 30th time that day.”
Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler wrote in a March 23 memo to faculty that the University was “acutely aware” that its COVID-19 policies — such as very restricted use of on-campus office space — put the “heaviest burden on those faculty whose home situation is already challenging and those whose physical space is not conducive to research and teaching.”
Gendler added that she was thankful to those faculty members for their “willingness to take on these additional personal burdens in order to best support our community through this very difficult time.
Shilarna Stokes, a lecturer in theater and performance studies, said that there have been “mixed messages” from the University about whether the health or the productivity of the faculty is more important.
On a departmental level, though, many faculty members described an outpouring of support. When Michael Faison, a lecturer in astronomy, and his wife developed COVID-19 symptoms in mid-March, his department chair delivered groceries to the family, “[making] it clear” that he could take as much time as he needed to recover. The couple reported that they now both seem fully recovered.
“I’ve been really impressed since this whole thing began at the compassion and intelligence of my colleagues,” said Kevin van Bladel, Stokes’ husband and a professor of Near Eastern languages and civilizations.
According to Glaser, Yale does not currently provide child care for faculty or staff members. While they do offer teaching releases for child-rearing — in the advent of a birth or adoption, for example — the provision does not apply in today’s unprecedented circumstances, Glaser said.
In an email to the News, University spokesperson Karen Peart pointed to a list of resources compiled by the University “to help staff manage work and family responsibilities through the COVID-19 pandemic.” The webpage includes lists of resources for wellness and parenting, as well as FAQs for pet owners.
The webpage also lists back-up child care resources. For clerical, technical, service and maintenance staff, Yale offers a “Caregivers on Call” service, in which the University and participating families “share in the cost of care” for up to 40 hours of care per year — equivalent to one standard workweek.
For faculty and postdoctoral associates, in addition to managerial and professional staff, Yale offers a program called Crisis Care Assist through Bright Horizons Care Advantage. The standard benefit subsidizes up to 10 days of care per year, with employees paying six dollars per hour for in-home care or 25 dollars per day for care in a center. Employees in this group can also access free online tutoring through Homework Connection for up to five hours a month per eligible child.
Glaser described the situation working parents now find themselves in as “incredibly hard and unsustainable,” saying that while the impacts of sacrificing productive time to parenting duties may not be immediately apparent, the “impossibility” of sustaining a full-time career will increase as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Echoing Glaser’s sentiments, Bertucci said that “we cannot pretend that academic life continues as usual, just online,” during the pandemic. She described reacting incredulously to a recent Washington Post article on Isaac Newton’s time spent productively in quarantine at his countryside estate during the Plague of London in the 1660s.
“As a historian of science, I could not help thinking that Newton had his ‘annus mirabilis’ because his mother, half-sisters and servants were taking care of the more mundane aspects of life, so he could sit under the apple tree and peacefully wonder about the laws of the universe,” Bertucci said.
Olivia Tucker | firstname.lastname@example.org
Corrections, April 13: A previous version of this article attributed a quote about communications surrounding cost-cutting measures to associate professor of physics Sarah Demers. In fact, that quote was said by Humanities Lecturer Kathryn Slanski, not Demers. The article also referred to Slanski as the DUS of Directed Studies; she no longer holds this position. Additionally, the article said the Plague of London occurred in 1633. In fact, it occurred during the 1660s. The article has been updated to reflect these changes.