After completing her shift as a nurse on the COVID-19 floor of Falmouth Hospital, Melissa R. Cavanaugh-Meau of East Falmouth would normally go home and spend time with her three sons. Not these days.
“The last time I gave my kids a real hug was on April 7,” she said.
Ms. Cavanaugh-Meau and her husband, Jeffrey A. Meau, a firefighter/paramedic with the Falmouth Fire Rescue Department, are essential workers in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
When schools closed in mid-March the couple sent their sons to stay with the boys’ grandparents, Deborah A. Davies and Wayne C. Davies of East Falmouth, “for a few days.” Or so they thought.
Four days later, Mr. Meau told his wife he had been exposed to the virus. “The kids can’t come home,” he said.
Ryan P. Cavanaugh Jr., 14; Trey A. Meau, 9; and Colin A. Meau, 7, had often visited their grandparents overnight, but never for more than a few days at a time depending upon their parents’ work schedules.
At this point the Davies do not know how long the boys will be with them, but they are grateful to be able to help.
“Not everyone would let their kids go; we’re glad they trust us with their kids,” Ms. Davies said.
“We’re lucky to have them here,” she said as the family sat on the back deck at the Davies’ home on Sunday afternoon, May 17. “If only they didn’t eat so much,” she teased her grandsons with a laugh.
The scene, a sunny weekend afternoon, would at any other time seem surreal. The grandparents and grandsons sat together on the deck while the boys’ parents stood at a distance in the yard.
“I hate that we can’t all hug,” Ms. Davies said.
The first order of business was to get a home-schooling routine set up.
“At the beginning, it was rough for all of us,” Mr. Davies said. “It took the teachers a while to get organized, but I give them an A-plus for effort. They are working hard to get the parents through this.”
“It’s harder when you are grandparents,” Ms. Davies said. “I’ve realized that I am not smarter than a 3rd grader. The last time I did 3rd grade math was 38 years ago.”
“You have to get a system, and make the kids think it’s normal,” Ms. Davies added.
Ms. Davies and her husband have divided the home-schooling duties; she calls herself “the principal and the cafeteria lady,” and Mr. Davies is the teacher.
Ryan is enrolled in the IT program at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical High School.
“We check to be sure his work is turned in, but I can’t help him with it,” Ms. Davies said. “It’s way over my head.”
Trey’s teacher uses Google Classroom to work with students. Colin’s teacher meets with her students via Zoom.
“I love Zoom, but it means I have to be up and put together; while my friends can stay in their pajamas all day, I have to get dressed, with my makeup on,” Ms. Davies said.
Ms. Davies is allowed in Colin’s Zoom classes, she said, because she has a lot of questions to ask. She thinks some people appreciate her questions because some students are on Zoom by themselves. Some have parents who do not speak English.
When asked what they enjoy most about living with their grandparents, Ryan said, “Having every day at my grandparents’ house is pretty cool.”
Trey and Colin agreed that being able to ride their bikes throughout their grandparents’ quiet neighborhood streets is a huge plus, something they can’t do at home because of traffic.
When asked about the hardest aspect of their current situation, all three boys answered “school” in unison.
Ms. Davies acknowledged that the teachers give a lot of homework.
School for the boys takes place from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM, then lunch, then “recess.” When not doing schoolwork the boys ride their bikes, play videogames and talk with friends online.
At lunch and dinner the family watches “House Hunters International” and other HGTV shows, like “Caribbean Life and Island Life.”
“We’ve been to Cuba, Vietnam, Norway, Sweden, South America and South Africa,” Ms. Davies said. The shows give tidbits of information about the countries and some of the history.
“It’s a neat idea,” Ms. Cavanaugh-Meau said. “They get a little education and some of the shows have quizzes, and the kids all love it,” she said of her sons. “Now they know where the Faeroe Islands are located, which they never would have known if they hadn’t traveled during lunch.”
Mr. Davies named chocolate milk and “lots of fruit” as some of his grandsons’ favorite foods. He bakes muffins for their breakfast—blueberry muffins for Ryan, chocolate chip for Trey and Colin.
“They suffer through dinner,” Ms. Davies said, adding that they miss their mother’s cooking.
Ms. Cavanaugh-Meau goes to see her sons every day, but she only spends time with them outside. Often, she and her sons will travel the neighborhood “loops,” she on foot while her children ride their bikes.
Mr. Meau also visits the boys when he can.
Though Ms. Cavanaugh-Meau lives just three minutes away by car—or a walk through the woods—from where her sons are staying, it might as well be across the state because of the sense of separation.
When not at work, the boys’ parents try to keep busy. They are putting the finishing touches on an addition to their house built by Mr. Meau, and they are re-doing each of their son’s bedrooms, from replacing flooring to painting the walls.
“My main thing with this whole separation is just trying to keep active and keep my mind busy,” Ms. Cavanaugh-Meau said. “I think I would lose my mind if I didn’t keep busy. I would be too sad.”
Shortly after the pandemic hit Ms. Cavanaugh-Meau was quarantined for 14 days, at the end of which she tested negative for the virus. She spent three nights having a “pajama party” with her boys at the grandparents’ house, and that was the last time she could hug.
Ms. Davies acknowledged the sacrifice the boys’ parents are making, and Ms. Cavanaugh-Meau said she doesn’t know what she would have done without the grandparents’ help.
“When we finish home schooling, can we apply for unemployment benefits?” Ms. Davies said, jokingly.
“That depends on their grades,” Mr. Meau quipped back.
“Oh, they’re very smart,” Mr. Davies said of his grandsons.
Ms. Cavanaugh-Meau said she can’t foresee how the future will go. “The virus is still there,” she said.
For now Ryan, Trey and Colin are not complaining.
“They know their parents are working on the front lines,” Ms. Davies said.