White Coat, Black Art·First person

This Toronto mom was juggling 3 kids, 2 jobs and community work — then she got COVID. Here's how she managed

The pandemic tested Anna-Kay Brown’s "anxiety and limits," but it also brought her family closer together.

'It did test my anxiety and my limits,' says Anna-Kay Brown

Anna-Kay Brown says COVID-19 has taught her the importance of self-care and how to make time for family. (Submitted by Anna-Kay Brown)

This is a story from White Coat, Black Art's series called Prescription for Resilience: Coping with COVID on the many challenges people are facing during the pandemic, and what they're doing to find resilience.

A resident of Toronto's Jane and Finch neighbourhood, Anna-Kay Brown is a community leader and an advocate for the Jane-Finch Community & Family Centre.

During the pandemic, she's helped families in her neighbourhood get groceries, along with managing the remote schooling of her own kids aged 12, six and two. Brown has been able to work from home during the COVID-19 lockdowns, as her husband works in construction and can't always help with their children.

Then, in December, she was diagnosed with COVID-19 and hospitalized for a week — just as several others close to her, including in her own family, also tested positive, though with mild symptoms. COVID-19 has taught her the importance of self-care and how to make time for family.

Brown shared her story with White Coat, Black Art. Here is part of the conversation.

I always said to myself that I'm a very resilient person, and the last 10 months, especially because I was personally affected by COVID, did test my mental health. It did test my anxiety and my limits.

Brown with her children: 12-year-old Anthony, six-year-old Arianna, and two-year-old Amaiyah. (Submitted by Anna-Kay Brown)

A typical day in my house right now is: I get up, get the kids ready for virtual learning. By 8:40 a.m., their online session starts.

I also prepare myself with my youngest daughter, who's two, so she's not in school, so I have to entertain her, and then I start my work online.

Setting work aside for family time

When we started in April with virtual learning, my children did not gravitate to it very much. They did not understand or enjoy that form of learning. Now that we're doing it again, we're struggling with it.

My daughter who is six requires a lot of my help, because she's not technologically savvy right now. My son is in Grade 7 and he's swamped with a lot of work.

I'm teaching her, 'Mommy needs a little quiet time right now, I'm about to do a presentation.' But she doesn't care what I've got to do.- Anna-Kay Brown

I'm maybe in a work meeting where oftentimes I have to be muted or my work video is off because there's just too much happening in my background; I don't want to be distracting for my other co-workers. 

I'm juggling this while taking care of the two-year-old. I'm teaching her, "Mommy needs a little quiet time right now, I'm about to do a presentation."

But she doesn't care what I've got to do. So she's been incorporated into a lot of my meetings, because obviously all of them are through Zoom or some virtual online forum. I've just gotten used to children being a part of these new environments. And my husband works 12 hours a day, so that doesn't help.

Brown says her kids have a lot of questions about COVID-19 and want to know why the pandemic has lasted so long. (Submitted by Anna-Kay Brown)

The evening hours are when it's family time. I tell my kids that for at least an hour or two, don't do any homework: be themselves and just play and enjoy being at home and having that time together. Talk about whatever they want to talk about.

They tend to ask me a lot about COVID, because they just can't understand why we're dealing with it for so long.

I try to make sure that I'm engaging with them, having conversations about their wellbeing and especially their mental health.

Before, that time was very limited because they were in school and I was at my office working. So now that we have this time, it has definitely brought the family closer together, which I'm grateful for.

I've also probably subscribed to every network there is. We have Netflix, we have Disney+, Prime TV.  So we've been doing family nights where we watch movies together. We've been playing games.

I've spent a lot of time with my kids now, so I know everything that irritates them, what they enjoy doing. Every emotion that they have, they share.

Getting COVID-19 changed the family dynamic 

So then I got COVID. I thought I had a normal cold, which I get every year. COVID wasn't something on my radar.

After Christmas, I started to get a lot more sick — intense headaches, chest pain, vomiting, diarrhea, everything you can think of that was on the list [of symptoms]. I saw a doctor and they had to admit me to the hospital.

Spending more time together has brought her family closer, says Brown. (Submitted by Anna-Kay Brown)

I was in a COVID unit to receive the care that I needed. I was able to call the kids a couple of times to let them know I was okay.

My husband took on a lot of the responsibility and took a week off from work. He cooked for the kids,  took care of them — he became mommy and daddy.

When family members dropped off food or groceries  at the door, he would be able to pick it up, especially when the baby would run out of diapers and formula. So I've been very appreciative of him, and also the family and friends that have stepped up.


Written by Paul Gallant. Produced by Sujata Berry.
 

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