Worlds collide for Petaluma families

The lines between work, school and home life are blurred during the coronavirus lockdown|

In the many hours she spends each week talking to kids and parents during virtual yoga and mindfulness classes, Ozlem Ozdener keeps hearing the same phrase: “I’m tired.”

“It’s the same thing I’ve been hearing from both kids and the parents,” Ozdener said. “I’m not a trained therapist, but to me it sounds like a code word for ‘I’m scared,’ and it’s what I just keep hearing.”

In the midst of a sudden upending of daily life for those across Petaluma, Ozdener is stepping in to offer support to families with children enrolled in Grant and Loma Vista elementary schools. Along with the two-dozen families she aids each week through virtual mindfulness classes, Ozdener is also overseeing a newly-formed support group for Loma Vista parents.

As the shelter-in-place orders reach the one-month mark and families prepare to finish up the school year at home, Ozdener said she thinks the need for assistance and social connection will only grow.

“The unknown is the biggest challenge right now,” Ozdener said, herself a parent to two kids under 10. “Not having a date, not knowing where this is going, it doesn’t really translate to an actionable plan. I’m hearing families say they want to know when this will end, and it’s creating so much anxiety.”

Ramona Faith, CEO of the Petaluma Health Care District, expects the mental health element of this public health emergency will soon become a top priority for community groups and health care professionals. It’s a compound problem, as parents are forced to navigate distance learning and working from home, she said.

“This stress and anxiety parents are feeling can also impact children’s levels of anxiety, so I think it’s going to be important to focus on this,” Faith said.

Petaluma residents are no strangers to the discussion of “resiliency,” having already lived through two wildfires and associated challenges, along with a years-long effort by local health providers to raise awareness about early childhood stress.

“We’ve been focused on creating community resiliency for years now,” Faith said. “We had the fires in 2017. Fires again, then now the coronavirus. Now we’re leading into another fire season. It’s clear we’re all living in a time of great change.”

With the shelter-in-place order just over a month old and recent announcements that regular schooling will not resume before summer, much of the focus now is on supporting families to accept this new reality.

Faith said organizations like Seeds of Awareness, the Sonoma Community Resiliency Collaborative and local healthcare providers are starting to train their attention on what will likely be a long-haul effort to tackle stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Angela Egan, parent to three daughters in elementary, kindergarten and preschool, says she feels an element of comfort when talking with other parents and learning they are all holding similar concerns.

“We are all commiserating that this is a definite challenge, we’re are all having to wear many hats and keep up with the demands of a house, family, work and homeschooling,” Egan said. “There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of difficulty.”

For Egan, who also works from home, a crucial step in managing the first month of shelter-in-place and virtual learning has been to change expectations. Getting the kids out for a walk is now just as important as completing an assignment on time, valuing structure and routine more as each shelter-in-place day ticks by.

“Initially I felt overwhelmed and found there wasn’t enough time in the day to do things the way I wanted to do it,” Egan said. “We’ve found the best remedy had been to loosen things up a bit and lower expectations, to just keep things peaceful and harmonious.”

It’s a similar priority for Ozdener, who says she’s most interested in ensuring her daughter and son are regularly talking with their friends and keeping social connections. It’s this emotional support she hopes her virtual mindfulness classes are also encouraging among families, as well as providing a sense of normalcy for kids now unable to see their teachers and classmates regularly.

“For the kids, they miss school so much,” Ozdener said. “When I ask them what they’re looking forward to, they say it’s when this is all over and they can get back to class.”

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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