This is the second story in our series, “Our Lives Have Changed” about how the COVID-19 pandemic has re-shaped life in northern Michigan.
Even before COVID-19 spread through Michigan, 30-year-old Ludington resident Katie Workman and her husband, Mike, were looking for someone to watch their kids.
Their sitter wasn’t working out, so they took early and late night shifts at their jobs so one of them was always home.
But then came the state shutdown, and both of the Workmans lost their jobs. At first, it was a gift to have everyone together.
“It gave us family time. It gave us time to build a plan,” Katie says. “It gave us time to call all the people we cared about. It gave us time that we needed.”
Time to plan
But when it came time to find a new sitter, she and Mike struggled to find someone.
“I’ve called 36 people numerous times,” Katie says. “I went through the phone book A-Z. Do you have a babysitter? Do you have a daycare? How many kids can you take?”
Finally they found one or two friends who offered to watch her children for the same rate she paid a sitter. But Katie worried they were taking too big of a risk of contracting COVID-19. The Workmans decided Mike would stay home until they could find a safer option.
Months later Katie’s happy with the choice they made. She says most people in Ludington don’t take the virus seriously. In fact, she ran into an old babysitter on a trip to Walmart for groceries.
The woman was unmasked with several kids in tow. Katie told her they should stay six feet apart to be safe.
“[The babysitter] said, ‘Oh yeah, I know, we’re on quarantine right now. We’ve been exposed,’” she says.
Dad at home
The Workmans have settled into their COVID routine.
Katie works a morning shift doing logistics for a tool company.
Meanwhile, Mike chases the toddlers around their mobile home, while eight-year-old Gabe tries to do his schoolwork online.
They’ve made time to try new hobbies.
“[Gabe] knows how to set otter traps and he’s got muskrat traps that he can set personally,” Katie says. “How often do you find an eight year old that can say I know how to do that?”
But, it’s not all fun and games.
When Katie gets home at one she transitions to Gabe’s tutor.
She says he’s struggled to focus. It took a few months before Katie realized he’d been submitting incomplete assignments and getting failing grades.
The family has started to feel the loss of Mike’s income, even though they’ve scrimped. The landlord recently raised their rent.
“We’re not happy about it but we’re debating selling things that we have to make it through,” Katie says.
Childcare shortage impacts families
A lot of families have faced tough financial decisions as they grapple with childcare.
Kristi Zimmerman with Lakeshore Employer Resource Network of Mason County tries to assist families in finding help. But she says even if there is a rare open spot, it’s usually too expensive.
“It was an issue that was bad before the pandemic and I think it’s probably only worsened since the pandemic,” Zimmerman says.
She says only people who make a very low income qualify for any government support, leaving families without good choices.
The Workmans now live a life of controlled chaos.
While Mike keeps the house in top shape, the kids have piled the couch cushions into a fort, with the foam ripped out by the dog. And bills are due soon.
Katie just laughs.
“We joke, why did we have a third kid? I don’t know. Who invited the puppy to the table? But we need each other to get through this.”