From left, Anya Thompson, 7, Juliet Thompson, 5, and Corie Tracey pick flowers at a farm in South Windsor. Her family replaced their summer vacation with small outdoor activities they can enjoy while social distancing. After staying home most of the summer, finding ladybugs and smelling flowers at the farm excited the girls. "It's the challenge of making sure that they're not bored all day," Tracey said. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

Editor’s Note: This is one of four stories published today examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on single mothers. Photographer Yehyun Kim and reporters with the CT Mirror tracked the lives of the three women profiled in these stories over the last nine months, interviewing and photographing them as they experienced lockdown with their children and as the state began to open up last month. A podcast featuring two of the women in this series can be found here.

It’s hard to select just one day from the last year that can be deemed “the worst,” but Corie Tracey, a 37-year-old single mother of two, gamely takes a stab at it.

It isn’t any of the days where the hours dragged and blended together like some kind of drab Impressionist painting, numbing in their monotony. Nor is it one of the nights – so, so many nights – when spiraling fears about the pandemic jolted her out of sleep at 2 a.m. and kept her there, pinned awake until dawn.

No, it was something else entirely, something specific and – dare we say it – funny in the retelling.

Corie Tracey makes lunch for her daughters before returning to her computer. Tracey has been working from home since March, 2020 as her children learned online. “It’s just been a lot of change in a short period of time,” Tracey said. “Being realistic with how much you can do in a day is really important right now. To stay mindful about that.” Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
Corie Tracey makes lunch for her daughters before returning to her computer. Tracey has been working from home since March, 2020 as her children learned online. “It’s just been a lot of change in a short period of time,” Tracey said. “Being realistic with how much you can do in a day is really important right now. To stay mindful about that.” Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
Anya Thompson, 7, hugs her younger sister, Juliet Thompson, 6, as she studies a word while their mother assembles their desks. Tracey bought them so her daughters would each have a space to do schoolwork during the pandemic. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
Corie Tracey assembles desks for her daughters with a borrowed drill. The process wasn’t as easy as Tracey expected so she ended up FaceTiming her dad and cousin for help. “One of the great things about kids is that they’re super adaptable. They go along with change really well,” Tracey said. “It’s more the parents who are like, ‘Oh my god, what are we doing?’” Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
Corie Tracey assembles desks for her daughters with a borrowed drill. The process wasn’t as easy as Tracey expected so she ended up FaceTiming her dad and cousin for help. “One of the great things about kids is that they’re super adaptable. They go along with change really well,” Tracey said. “It’s more the parents who are like, ‘Oh my god, what are we doing?’” Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
The desks that Tracey assembled after much trial and error are set up in the living room for her daughters. ‘Mrs. Parent Kindergarten’ is written on Juliet’s whiteboard. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
The desks that Tracey assembled after much trial and error are set up in the living room for her daughters. ‘Mrs. Parent Kindergarten’ is written on Juliet’s whiteboard. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

One day last April, between juggling works calls and remote learning, Tracey took her then-four-year-old daughter, Juliet, to the pediatrician for a suspected urinary tract infection. A nurse met them outside the building and handed Tracey a sanitized container and a set of instructions for Juliet to pee in the cup at home.

“We couldn’t go in the office. I just thought ‘Oh my god, how am I supposed to do all this?’” Tracey says.

[Life has never been easy for single moms. The pandemic made it harder.]

Back at their condo in South Windsor, Tracey and Juliet camped out in the bathroom. Four-year-olds, in general, do not easily do things like pee in cups –especially if it hurts to pee.

“I’m on the bathroom floor holding the cup, and she’s standing over me and she’s squeezing my hand and I’m saying, ‘You can be brave! You can do this!’” Tracey recalls. “It was such a cluster.”

That moment, while not life-threatening or even particularly frightening, seemed to encapsulate everything that has been hard and isolating about the pandemic for Tracey.

Like other single parents, she has spent the last year alone at home with her children – her other daughter, Anya, is 7 – and is solely responsible for not only their usual care but has also served as a stand-in teacher, playmate and – on that difficult April day – nurse.

Juliet spells out a word that her sister Anya reads. Making sure her daughters continued to learn at home was Tracey’s main concern, especially because Juliet was going to enter kindergarten later in 2020. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
Juliet spells out a word that her sister Anya reads. Making sure her daughters continued to learn at home was Tracey’s main concern, especially because Juliet was going to enter kindergarten later in 2020. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
Juliet, left, and Anya hang out in their room while their mom, Tracey, works in her bedroom. The close age gap between the girls has been helpful during the pandemic, Tracey said. “We’re all just becoming closer because we’re getting to spend even more time together, which I think is one of the benefits of this too. Just getting to slow down and enjoy them.” Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
Juliet, left, and Anya hang out in their room while their mom, Tracey, works in her bedroom. The close age gap between the girls has been helpful during the pandemic, Tracey said. “We’re all just becoming closer because we’re getting to spend even more time together, which I think is one of the benefits of this too. Just getting to slow down and enjoy them.” Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

Because she has sole custody of her daughters, there was no one to spell her when she was on deadline at work, no one to help amuse the girls when they were bored, no one to share the burden of keeping them on track with their schoolwork.

“It was very stressful, and there were days that it felt really dark,” Tracey says. “I wasn’t really sleeping, and in the beginning I wasn’t really eating. I remember being on the phone with a friend and saying, ‘Oh my god, it’s four o’clock, and I haven’t eaten anything yet today.”

Tracey does an online meeting for work while her daughters run around the house. At first, Tracey made tight distance learning schedules for the girls. Seeing herself and her girls stressed out, however, Tracey soon realized that it wasn’t going to work. For her family’s mental health, she lowered expectations, Tracey said. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
Tracey does an online meeting for work while her daughters run around the house. At first, Tracey made tight distance learning schedules for the girls. Seeing herself and her girls stressed out, however, Tracey soon realized that it wasn’t going to work. For her family’s mental health, she lowered expectations, Tracey said. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
“Do you guys need anything?” Tracey takes a break from work to check on her daughters as they watch TV. Tracey said she’s constantly asking herself if the girls are getting enough attention. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
“Do you guys need anything?” Tracey takes a break from work to check on her daughters as they watch TV. Tracey said she’s constantly asking herself if the girls are getting enough attention. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

The death of George Floyd last May at the hands of Minneapolis police, unrest over the election results, and the attack on the U.S. Capitol also contributed to her fear about her daughters’ safety, she says.

“It has felt like a very heavy, dark year,” she says. “I am white, and my children are biracial. Systemic racism continues to be a very real issue in this country. I hope that people are waking up to the fact that we need to make changes.”

Lying in bed the night before her first in-person class at kindergarten, Juliet told Tracey that she’s scared of going to kindergarten. Tracey listened and nodded. “You were out of school for a long time,” she said. The family of three had stayed home for nearly six months. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
Lying in bed the night before her first in-person class at kindergarten, Juliet told Tracey that she’s scared of going to kindergarten. Tracey listened and nodded. “You were out of school for a long time,” she said. The family of three had stayed home for nearly six months. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

With more and more people getting vaccinated, schools reopening and spring returning, however, Tracey is finding herself feeling more positive – hopeful, even.

Her daughters, who are now in second grade and kindergarten, recently returned to the classroom full time and, even though they haven’t yet resumed play dates, Girl Scouts and gymnastics, they are at least seeing their now-vaccinated grandparents.

[‘When a storm comes, you just get blow over’]

Tracey, who is a marketing manager for an insurance company, is still working from home, however, and says she won’t be comfortable returning to the office until she is fully vaccinated.

She realizes she is privileged to have a job that allows her to work from home when so many other women with children have been forced out of the workforce since the pandemic began.

“I do feel very lucky that I have not had to choose between a job and making sure my children are safe. I think I’ve been incredibly fortunate that I work with mostly women, and I have a boss who is incredibly understanding,” she says. “My heart really does go out to so many women who have disproportionately been impacted, and it’s almost always Black and brown women.”

Anya, left, and Juliet watch their mom pull out her car on the first day of in-person classes in the fall semester. Tracey decided to drop them off, instead of putting them on the bus, because she was worried about possible exposure to COVID-19. Tracey bought new lunch boxes, bigger water bottles and many masks for the return to school. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

The pandemic has woken her to the need for systemic changes in how society values the contributions of women, both at work and at home – changes that would also benefit children.

[Getting by with the ‘grace of god and caffeine’]

“I think it reinforced the idea that our society needs safety nets of some kind to help children and working moms,” she said. “I read all these articles about women in crisis. What I didn’t see is what are we going to do about it. Are we just going back to women bearing the brunt of all of this?”

More flexibility from employers, more affordable child care and more recognition from men about the amount of time and effort women spend on children and the home are all good places to begin, she says.

“I do hope that the lessons learned from this pandemic are things we don’t forget quickly. I really do think moms are the gel that keeps everything going and moving. We are the secret sauce.”

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Elizabeth HamiltonExecutive Editor

Elizabeth Hamilton joined CT Mirror as Executive Editor in 2018. She is a 20-year veteran of Connecticut newsrooms, including more than a decade at The Hartford Courant where she was Reporter of the Year in 2000 and where she won the newspaper’s prestigious Theodore Driscoll Investigative Award for a series of stories about deaths in group homes for the developmentally disabled. Elizabeth has a degree in history from the University of Connecticut and an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University, where she also teaches writing as an adjunct professor.

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