Paula Brousseau is a single mom with two children. She’s also a classroom support aide for the Early Head Start program at York County Community Action. When COVID closed schools, she worried about her children, and her children that she Zoomed with for a half hour each week.
In March 2020, when the Head Start program closed, Paula was able to focus on her family for two weeks while the program tried to figure out the next steps. The school decided that the teachers would Zoom with the little ones.
Paula’s students are all under the age of 3. Paula said that it was rough at first. “We did a lot of strange ideas to keep them occupied.” She said, “We did a lot of crying…. We have kids at home, and these are our work kids. There’s no difference in how we treat our kids at home and our work kids…. It was really hard to say ‘Bye’ every week and not seeing them for a week.” Neglect was not a concern, but she worried about any financial burden that parents might have.
Paula worried because she shared the parents’ experience. She received her regular pay for 20 hours per week, but she consistently worked 30 before COVID, so she had a deficit in her regular budget. Paula understood what the parents were going through and could empathize. With housing, MaineCare and food stamps, she said that she was able to budget and get by.
Restrictions made her dependent on her boyfriend. That was hard for Paula, but things were tough enough without taking two children into stores to buy essentials if she did not need to.
In addition to the weekly half-hour Zoom with her students, Paula did hours of training. Paula’s son has an Individualized Education Program and Zoomed with his specialist, but she knew he needed more. She supplemented activities for her son on her own.
Before COVID, her daughter lived with her father in New Hampshire and attended school there, because Paula had to work during the week. Her daughter was able to stay five weeks at a time with her and return to her dad’s for two weeks. Paula said that it was frustrating to homeschool and plan around everyone’s Zoom meetings. They went outside a lot. Even when the parks were closed, they took picnics and played in the fields.
Paula is grateful for being home with her children during the summer. By mid-August, the time came for her to return to YCCA, but her children were still home. She was able to stay home on the Family Medical Leave Act under the CARES Act until her children went back to school. It was a financial hit for her as the amount she receives is three-quarters of her pay. Paula said that she was angry with her employment for a while because she felt there was an alternative that could have been worked out.
When Paula returned to her class, it was with half enrollment, based on priority. She continues to have Wednesdays off under FMLA because her son is home. Her daughter is back with her dad while Paula is working, but with ADHD she is having a hard time.
One of the biggest challenges of COVID is not seeing her family in Massachusetts until the recent lifting of the governor’s mandate. She said that it hurts, but that isn’t her biggest loss. Paula said it’s “Freedom…. When I’m not allowed to take my kids to the park…. When I’m looked at funny because I’m a single mother and I’m bringing my kids to the grocery store.”