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Adjusting to reporting, parenting during pandemic

Ryan Pfeil

This is a thank you. It’s a necessary action, the right thing.

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a health care professional; a wealth of knowledge on the local level who is one cog among thousands working on the COVID-19 pandemic. You’re either a doctor or public information officer or health department manager who, in addition to everything else you’re working on, also has the added responsibility of talking to members of the media.

Now imagine a reporter who calls talks to you for a mere two minutes before you, the overworked, exhausted professional, hear a scream in the background that’s either from “The Exorcist” or a young child who’s upset about something that, in her view, signals the apocalypse.

Maybe she ran out of apple juice. Maybe she can’t seem to turn a (non-electric) toy on. Maybe her sibling wouldn’t open the door while they were using the restroom.

You know, typical reasons for a tiny human to think the sky is falling.

“I’m so sorry,” the reporter tells you, clearly mortified. “Can I please call you back?”

You agree, hear a click. A few minutes goes by, and yes, he does call back. You get to finish talking, but you likely can sense the cloud that has appeared over the person on the other end.

This scenario is far from hypothetical. It’s been my reality for a couple weeks now.

Nice to meet you. I’m Ryan Pfeil, Mail Tribune web editor and dad to a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. Until recently, those two titles were separate designations. COVID-19 and Gov. Kate Brown’s Stay At Home, Save Lives mandate changed that. Suddenly, my office is at home. Suddenly, my daughters don’t have a school and day care. Suddenly, my wife, a nurse, is needed more than ever.

You can see where this is going.

Like so many parents, I’m now balancing the responsibilities of work and parenting, roommates who frequently don’t get along.

Phone calls with sources are no longer simple things. I cut conversations short, ask them to repeat themselves. Writing is no longer a fluid groove, interrupted by a 2-year-old’s babble and a 5-year-old’s stream-of-consciousness.

These are the best kids. My 5-year-old is empathetic and sincere and loves art and animals. You can tell my 2-year-old’s curiosity is going to be one of those qualities she never outgrows, one of those permanent personality traits that’s going to pay dividends. She also smiles and waves at everyone. Most of the time, they smile and wave back, their day clearly made a bit merrier by this brief interaction.

But they’re also kids. Their attention needs are through the roof. This is the period in their lives where they’re solar panels, 100% renewable energy. And all of their interruptions are motivated by love. My wife and I have tried to explain this new, virus-ruined reality to them, but the concept that this contagion has altered life to such an acute degree is hard to understand when your age is a single digit. Some of us double-digit folks have a hard time understanding it.

But here’s something to chew on (this is the part where I get to the actual “thank you.”) No matter how difficult it is to make the responsibilities of employee and father work in tandem, there is a silver lining to all of it. These sources, these people who have had to endure abrupt hang-ups and children, you know, playing a toy harmonica right next to me while I’m on the phone, have been incredibly gracious individuals. They haven’t merely endured the insanity I pull them into daily, they consistently assure me.

Oregon’s deputy fire marshal told me she “loved it,” when she heard the chaos brewing in the background. The first time Jackson County’s Tanya Phillips heard it, she said, “Well, hello, tiny one,” an obvious grin on her face. County medical director Dr. Jim Shames told me about his own family, clearly empathizing. Asante spokeswoman Lauren Van Sickle offered encouragement.

Et cetera.

Thank you to all of you and others. Thank you a million times.

This is a period of uncharted territory. My situation is not unique, it isn’t an outlier. I’m one of millions of new people who are trying to figure out how to marry parenting and work due to school closures and health advisories intended to “flatten the curve.” What makes this situation notable to me is the grace I’ve received from people who are clearly exhausted and saddened in their own ways by what we must now deal with. They haven’t just tolerated. They’ve accepted. They understand to a degree I would never have thought possible.

Sometimes people don’t have to learn things. Sometimes grace is innate. I really believe that now, based on how kind and patient everyone has been.

“Bounce,” my 2-year-old just yelled, throwing a ball that struck me in the ankle and made me jump in surprise. My 5-year-old is also standing next to my desk, blowing bubbles through a straw into her water cup.

“Daddy, I wish I was a scientist. Daddy,” she says, pulling my bookmark from my book and holding it up to the light. “Is this where you were in your book?”

I need to cut this short. Thank you for understanding.

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.