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The Earnheardts | Family observations from the pandemic

Like Jane Goodall observed the chimpanzees in an attempt to gain insights about the way they lived, I began to observe Earnheardts in a way I had not previously. I was looking for pandemic-specific behaviors.
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The Earnheardts: Clockwise from top: Mary Beth, Katie, Sadie, Adam, Ozzie, and Ella.

As soon as Mahoning Matters editor Mark Sweetwood asked us to start writing this column and share the inner-workings of our family, I started to see my environment from a new perspective.

Like Jane Goodall observed the chimpanzees in an attempt to gain insights about the way they lived, I began to observe Earnheardts in a way I had not previously. I was looking for pandemic-specific behaviors.

Most of my observations were pretty obvious. If you’ve read previous columns, you’ve been treated to our family’s take on school, getting carryout from Valley restaurants, death and puppies. Each of these topics explored ways our lives changed since mid-March and were fruitful enough to sustain a healthy word count. Still, there are other little things that I’ve noticed and believe are worthy of sharing. 

So, for this week, I’ve compiled a list of pandemic observations. 

The first one deals with the children. In the early days of the pandemic, when Americans worried about shortages, many people hoarded toilet paper. I find it interesting that my children showed similar behavior. However, it wasn’t a lack of toilet paper that concerned them — they were afraid of running out of Sunkist. 

During normal times, we’d buy a 24-pack about every two weeks. During the pandemic, our personal market for the faux orange beverage has expanded. We started buying a case a week. As soon as it crosses the threshold into the house, the children snatch their share and hide the loot. At any given time, there are at least 5 stashes of the Sunkist hidden throughout the house. We’ve found unopened cans under the dog bowl, behind books and next to the toilet. 

Oz, our 7-year-old, has also started doing strange things to each can before he drinks it. He habitually removes the tab from the top and puts it in the full can before he even takes his first sip, as if dropping a coin in a well and wishing to the soda gods for more Sunkist. As he drinks it, he crushes the can. Now if we could only convince them to horde the empty cans in the recycling, we’d be making real progress.

Hidden Sunkist isn’t the only shenanigan happening in the Earnheardt bathrooms. We’ve recently found that bored dogs love to eat toilet paper. Leave the bathroom door ajar and you’ll almost certainly find a trail of white paper leading from an empty cardboard tube to a playful puppy. At any other time, this would be a mild annoyance, but with six human butts in our house, we need to teach our furry friends to find other, more appropriate toys. 

Until recently, toilet paper was difficult to find. Maybe it still is in some locations. But I was genuinely concerned that we would be forced to use toilet paper alternatives. The internet will provide you with some less than ideal options. Do a Google search and you’ll find suggestions that range from sponges and water bottles to coffee filters and, my favorite, newspaper. 

Anyhow, when the dogs started messing with the toilet paper, they started to seem like a genuine liability. The last time they each destroyed an entire roll, Adam had to talk me out of putting them on Craigslist.

Aside from managing household goods, we’ve been dealing with smaller holidays and celebrations. I wrote about our pandemic birthday parties, but Spring has been full of missed rituals. For example, the only person who got me something for Mother’s Day was Adam, my husband. The kids skunked me. In a normal year, teachers, youth group leaders and other community members would have organized activities that would provide the kids with opportunities to hand-craft my presents. 

Turns out there was no special Zoom meeting for this task. 

Oz even admitted that I wasn’t getting a present from him because his teacher wasn't there to tell him what to make. And because he’s my third kid to be in Liberty first grade, I know what I’m missing. I was set to get my fourth tulip-shaped bud vase. It was supposed to show up in his book bag, wrapped in an empty Walmart bag or newspaper (wow, lots of uses for old newspapers.) He would have been under strict instructions to wait until Sunday, but would have broken 2 minutes after he got off the bus, and the vase would’ve been mine. Instead, I got skunked. 

But it’s not just the items that are supposed to be coming into the house that are the problem. I’m also concerned about how the children are using the existing resources. I’m halfway convinced they are building something out of hairbrushes and cellphone chargers. There’s no other explanation for the large-scale disappearance of these items from our household inventory. On top of the dozen or so hairbrushes we already possess, each child was gifted a new one for Christmas. 

Do we need 14 hairbrushes? You wouldn’t think so, but I dare anyone to come into my house on a morning before school. Find one within 5 minutes of searching and you win the prize: my admiration, which is usually reserved for Adam, who has excellent hairbrush searching skills — a true feat for a guy with no hair. 

As for device chargers and cubes, Adam has completely lost his mind. Although we’ve designated a specific drawer to house these items, there are never any in the drawer. It’s like we’ve created the Bermuda triangle of electronic cables in our kitchen. This was a problem before the pandemic. We assumed the children took the hairbrushes and chargers out of the house to lose them before. Now that we’re stuck at home, we know that’s not the case. There has to be some other sinister reason for the large-scale disappearances.

Not only is our hair especially ratty these days, and our mobile devices dead, we’re also dressed badly. Don’t get me wrong, as a family we were never known for being fashionable, but the virus has set us back even further. No one is trying. Most are not wearing day pants at all anymore. The problem is so bad, we’ve had to start calling them “day pants.” 

The uniform for Earnheardt home school is pajamas and sweatpants. I assume now that the weather is changing, we’ll allow for shorts, but we’ll have to see what the school board (Mom and Dad) decides. Plus, I guess I could argue with my kids, but what clothes they wear during a pandemic is not a battle I’m interested in fighting anymore. I have admitted defeat and joined the children. 

Even with all of these strange changes and peculiar behaviors, it’s fun to watch our family and record my observations for the rest of you. I’m sure you are seeing similar behaviors, or God bless you, even stranger things. While I’m not sure how if these observations are part of a new family normal, for now I’ve decided to not worry about it. 

I’m just enjoying the strangeness of it all alongside the people in my life I love the most.

— Mary Beth Earnheardt is director of the Anderson Program in Journalism at Youngstown State University. You can follow her on Twitter at @mbexoxo.




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