They are families with toddlers, elementary schoolers, pre-teens, teenagers, and college-bound high school graduates. They come from various cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses.Some share a home with extended family, including aging parents for whom they provide loving care. Others take care of bustling households full-time, and still, others spend hours a day commuting back and forth to work in the DMV area.

For all their differences, there is one thing each of these families and so many more like them have in common: most have spent several weeks under a state-mandated order to stay at home in an effort to contain the spread of a virus that has claimed the lives of over 135,000 people around the country – dozens of which were once part of our own Loudoun community. And all agree that life as we once knew it has likely changed forever.

COVID-19 has interrupted life in a way no one expected, least of all in the idyllic communities of Loudoun County, where children on bikes are trailed by watchful parents, couples stroll along scenic pathways, and families gather to chat outside their homes in any given neighborhood. Staying at home has brought challenges for which so many of us were unprepared. Challenges that affected our daily, our work, and our school lives – a few of which were shared in conversations we had with several local families who most certainly echo the sentiments of households around the county.

Working from Home While Homeschooling

The day-to-day commuting grind for which the DMV area is infamously known has come to a screeching halt for most non-essential workers. Working from home has become the current norm for many, and doing so is especially challenging for parents, who added the title of schoolteacher to their roles in the home as they taught their school-age children through the end of the school year.

It’s distracting, trying to work and teach the children at the same time

Mavesh, a technical writer who typically commutes to Bethesda,
splits her daily schedule between working and overseeing the distance learning of her two young sons, while also giving attention to a daycare-age daughter who misses playing with her friends.

©Barry Harley Photography

“It’s distracting, trying to work and teach the children at the same time,” the busy mom and wife admits, “but my employer understands that getting my deliverables in on time also requires some flexibility to my schedule.”

“I’ve never teleworked in my life, so this has been a change,” says Cathy, a government contractor who is used to dropping her children off at daycare each weekday to go onsite to work. “There are lots of videoconferences and phone calls with children running around and dogs barking in the background. But I think everybody understands because we’re all in the same boat.”

©Barry Harley Photography

Many parents were looking forward to what the summer would offer in terms of normalcy. Families held on to the hope that family vacation plans would remain in effect, and that summer camp and edification programs would go on as scheduled. For many, those hopes have been dashed even as parts of the county – the country even – have begun to open up. For so many parents, an even newer role has been added; that of camp counselor as they look for ways to entertain their broods throughout the summer now that most, if not all, summer programs have been closed down for the foreseeable future, and many vacation plans have reluctantly been postponed or canceled altogether.

The choice between getting back to normal while still facing the unknowns of a pandemic some feel will bring even more despair in a second wave – before the first wave is even successfully stamped out – is a struggle that has many on edge and stressed out. These are grim times that have impacted families in social and financial ways that could never have been anticipated.

And yet, there have also been heartwarming moments that have pulled neighborhoods together and highlighted where Loudoun communities shine the most.

Quality Family Time

Most families agree that the stay-home orders have allowed them to spend quality family time together in a way that they have rarely been able to do so – including moments around the dinner table several times a week, and screentime over Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts with relatives outside the home. With parts of life on pause, some parents have excitedly jumped into exploring new activities both recreational and educational in nature for their children.

Mavesh, for example, has found that with her long commute no longer a factor, she’s been able to spend more time with the children in her vegetable garden during the breaks she takes between

meetings to provide her children with a little outside playtime and fresh air. The time that both she and her husband agree allows her and the children to commune with nature in a way that their busy schedules don’t usually permit, and that also naturally leads to reflection and meditation periods before bedtime.

More social time with neighbors, according to Cathy, is another major change seen in the community in which she lives. Already an outgoing personality, Cathy has stepped up in her own neighborhood even more to maintain an element of normalcy in her life and in the lives of others around her. Recruiting food trucks to deliver pre-ordered meals from local restaurants fighting to stay open. Arranging ice cream socials on the Nextdoor Neighbor app and within active LoCo Facebook groups to bring a little sweetness to outdoor play at a safe distance. Other activities to break up the day, get families outside their homes for a bit, and give everyone something to look forward to after a long day behind closed doors.

Thoughtful Gestures and Acts of Kindness

Perhaps even most touching of all have been reports of small but thoughtful gestures seen and heard around Loudoun County.

There have been countless rallies of support for essential workers who faithfully report to work each day at the risk of their own health. Appreciation for teachers who dove in with sleeves-rolled-up to keep county children learning after schools closed their doors to help keep young ones and their families safe. Scaled-down but creative pomp and circumstance for graduating high school seniors who weren’t able to march across stages or football fields to accept the diplomas they’d worked so hard to earn for so many years.

Residents have reported messages of hope colorfully painted on stones, placed thoughtfully about so as to be visible to whoever happens upon them as they take walks around their communities – sometimes in masks, and usually at safe social distances. Chalk drawings on sidewalks pointing to the various flower and plant species in our neighborhoods to provide continued learning experiences for the younger children at every turn. Neighbors checking on elderly ones in ways they had never had time to before.

©Barry Harley Photography

This pandemic has brought many a great deal of worry and grief. But the positive changes it has almost forced upon us have made it somewhat tolerable – even if only a bit.

Even with all the unknowns, local officials have declared that Loudoun is ready to get back to work, back to life, back to all the things that make our communities bustle. No one, however, can say for sure what the immediate and distant future looks like.

When will children return to school? In the Fall, it is hoped, but no one knows for sure. Will office buildings return to their usual hubs of activity, or will companies give their employees the option to work from home temporarily – perhaps even indefinitely? On a case by case basis, that remains to be seen. How long will we have to/should we continue to wear masks? A major topic of debate that may not be unanimously resolved anytime soon considering there are those within our communities – adults and children – with compromised health conditions. What will truly be our new normal? A hybrid of what it once was and what it is now, perhaps. Only time will tell.

However this all turns out, it seems that Loudoun will indeed be ready – as long as communities commit to sticking together, rallying one another, and looking out for the best interests of others as we ride out the effects of these and potential future stay-home orders related to COVID-19.

©Barry Harley Photography