Shawn & Tracy Ryan

Interviewed May 13, 2020. Interview edited for clarity and length.
Shawn and Tracy, longtime PRUMC members and volunteers, have been married for 16 years. Shawn, 47, is an executive at a software company, and Tracy, 37, is a stay-at-home mom. Their children are Caleb, 11, Asher, 8, Alden, 6, and Micah, 2 ½.

What has this time so far been like for your family – schools closing, having classes at home, isolating for months with four young children?
Shawn: On Friday, March 13, in just a couple of hours, we went from all being normal and Asher about to leave for an overnight field trip with his 2nd grade class, to learning the field trip was cancelled, to learning that school was closing. Immediately. The teachers did an amazing job to shift everything, basically over a weekend, to online learning. Those classes began on Wednesday, and on that day, Tracy became the home school teacher for our kids.

Tracy: So now a normal day is the older kids and me all in the kitchen together for school! Asher is at one end with his computer and headphones. Alden and I are in the middle at the bar, because she needs a lot more help. Caleb is our oldest and in 5th grade, so he’s more on his own but at a desk that’s also in the kitchen. The teachers provide a curriculum for me to use. Our teachers are just amazing, with videos and Zoom calls. Caleb is basically in Zoom classrooms from 9:00 until noon, and then does work after that.

For Micah, our youngest, things are very different than our family has been before. We have never been a big screen family, but Micah is watching a lot of screens, because it’s hard to find activities to keep a kid that age busy for long stretches. Especially while the home schooling is going on. And we’re all near each other, because Shawn’s office is in a bedroom on the same floor. He goes in there at 9:00 and begins his work day when we all start school.

Shawn: Yeah, we went from almost zero technology here at home to sort of drowning in it, between home school with all three kids on their computers and Micah on TV. And even there, Micah only lasts so long before he’s hopped in here and joined me on my work meetings! It’s gone ok, because what I’ve learned is you pick him up, put him on your lap, he looks at all the people on screen and waves, and then he runs off.

Tracy (laughing): It’s hard having everybody constantly together like this, and we even have a big house! Shawn is on conference calls with people in New York who are doing this with their kids in a tiny apartment. We don’t know how they make that work! The weather has been a huge blessing for us. The kids have lived outside, the way you and I grew up. When this started we agreed that our kids and the three other young kids here in the neighborhood could quarantine together, that they could play outside together but not go into each other’s houses. So they can’t watch TV, because they can’t come inside. They’re just having so much fun playing in the backyard on a trampoline and a swing set. We drag them inside at about 6:00 for dinner, and then they basically pass out at 8:30!

And this is great for their imaginations. Before, we were so busy with after-school activities. Track, baseball, basketball, gymnastics, you name it. This is a really good flashback to the 90s! (Shawn interjects, laughing: What? That is the 60s, not the 90s, when kids played outside!) This is how it should be! We are a little anxious about moving into summer. School has given us some structure, so it will be interesting to see what happens when they’re outside all day with nowhere else to go. We might have to get more creative.

How do you think the kids feel about what’s happening?
Tracy: They’ve all adjusted very well, but they’re sad not to be at school in person, and everybody misses their teachers. We’ve been very honest about what’s going on, and we’ve also made it a point to find the blessings. We say thankful prayers that we have computers, we have a roof over our head, we have food to eat, Daddy has a job, and Mommy is able to help them with school. Though they’ve been affected by the virus, they also know that a lot of people are having a very hard time. All in all, we tell them, like they say at PRUMC, to look for the helpers, look for the people who are out there doing what they can.

Shawn: Our family has been involved for years, and we’re still involved, in volunteering at SafeHouse Outreach. Now, instead of serving people for a sit-down dinner, our kids are putting on masks and gloves and putting food and drinks out for nearly 300 people who have no home and are social distancing in a line that goes for blocks, to get a take-out meal.

Tracy: Our neighborhood is just 12 houses and only two others have young kids, so our kids were never surrounded by a big group. In some ways, with four kids, we are kind of an island unto ourselves. We play well together. But still, our nightly prayer is to be kind to others – especially to the people inside our own house! We’re asking for forgiveness, because tempers can be short with the days sometimes being long.

Shawn: We’ve prayed a lot for the people we love at the little restaurants we used to go to as a family ritual. The kids miss those people. We know the owners at these places, like the R. Thomas downtown where we used to go for breakfast. It’s a bit of a pressure cooker, being home like this, but it’s also accelerated all of our relationships in different ways. For example, Caleb and I have butted heads a few times with me trying to help him with a process for school work and him not wanting help. But he’s recognized that “I do need help to organize myself.” We’ve had opportunities to grow up, and then opportunities to grow.

Do you have advice for leaders on how to approach this process differently if we have another wave in the fall?
Tracy: A lot of people disagree with the state being reopened so soon, but I’m thankful that we all have options on doing what’s comfortable for us. I’m hoping that schools will take the same approach with options. Not all families and teachers will be comfortable going back yet, while some people would send their kids back right away and even co-op teach in order to get school open again! We all need flexibility. People have now had the opportunity to have a whole range of interactions, and I think schools are looking at that. Maybe having some kids come one day and then work remotely while another group comes. Maybe home schooling completely. Whatever it is, we need to have a bunch of different options because we just don’t know.

Shawn: It’s hard for us to give advice. Everybody’s in different circumstances, and none of them are easy. I’m thankful. School has been very good. We are at Whitefield, and we get the best of all worlds. They just pour love into our kids. We pray for our leaders, who are having to make very hard decisions. We’re praying for God to guide every one of their choices and give them wisdom beyond what we have. Our job as Christians is to break through all of the bickering that’s surfacing in this process.

Tracy: Good point. We need to pray for our helpers and for our leaders, whether we agree with them or not. And Bill’s sermons have been so refreshing on pulling everybody together and focusing on what God calls us to be.

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