By Jannette J. Witmyer
Special to the AFRO

Anyone who has never worked from home and parents who don’t normally home-school their children may find it all a tad overwhelming, trying to figure out where to begin. Under the circumstances, even experienced teleworkers may need to develop a strategy for their “new work-from-home normal.”

Dana M. Peck typically works from home, managing social media and designing websites and databases, as managing partner of Global App Suite, and consults on technology issues, while performing myriad duties for the AFRO-American Newspapers. Her husband, Kevin “MPECKABLE” Peck, vice president of marketing and technology for the AFRO and manager of popular R&B group Dru Hill and lead singer, SisQó, also works from home. Jointly, the Atlanta-based couple cohost “The Family Biz” (https://www.facebook.com/officialfamilybiz/), wealth and business programming on the AFRO’s Facebook Live stream, and until recently, traveled to Baltimore monthly to work onsite at AFRO headquarters. 

If that sounds like a lot, keep in mind that the Pecks also manage a seven-member household, which includes Dana’s two sons and daughter from a previous marriage, Nico, 12; Eva, 14; and DJ, 17, and Dana’s dad, retired Judge Trammell, 93. With the closure of Clark-Atlanta University, Kevin’s 19-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, Morgan, a sophomore, has now joined the home-based flock.

Dana Peck pictured with her youngest son, Nico, taking a social distancing break outside their home. (Courtesy of Dana Peck)

“I came up with this big, elaborate schedule for my three and quickly realized, which I already knew, they all learn differently. So, I needed to alter the plan according to their learning styles and workloads,” Dana explained.

During this period of isolation, she has made it mandatory that the family enjoy some form of daily exercise and activities have ranged from Debbie Allen’s Instagram Live dance classes to walks around the neighborhood. The family also holds weekly bible study and includes extended family, virtually. Also, there are virtual family meeting calls, to stay in touch with both sides of the family. 

And, there was the water bottle upcycling project, which evolved as a result of an abundantly available supply of empty water bottles. After being told by the boys that water from the refrigerator did not taste good, she challenged them to prove it. 

“I did a blind taste test and told them if they could tell the difference between bottled and refrigerated filtered water (Brita) I would still buy bottled water. Well, they could tell each brand and source,” she exclaimed. “So, we have way too many bottles, and have been saving and transforming them into fish.”  

All of the family activities’ success rely on a team effort. Dana said, “Kevin brings the leadership and sanity, and calms the crew. He also reminds the kids about nonessential expenses, respecting our house, and not going overboard on the snacks! He has many talents, and he’s bringing out the DJ equipment tonight! We are all very excited. We’re hoping he will also set up the microphones for karaoke.”

While all of the youngsters are grateful to spend more time with family, this new normal is also a major disruption. For DJ, a high school senior, prom and graduation are now a big question mark, but he’s also concerned about where this will leave him, academically. As an International Baccalaureate Diploma candidate, the break has changed everything.

I don’t want to go into college not having been seriously learning for up to six months,” he says. “I’ve been working for a year and a half towards the diploma, which is basically like a certification that I have achieved an education that’s recognized worldwide, and they’ve completely canceled all tests.”

In spite of his unhappiness with the situation, he continued, “At the end of the day, it’s not like I’m waking up struggling. I don’t want to say that, or it’s like the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s just kind of unfortunate. But, my family’s healthy. We have enough food. You know, stuff like that. So, I can be appreciative of all of that at the end of the day.”

DJ is really worried about the less fortunate. “That’s what I think really should be the highlight of this whole quarantine. You’ve got to look out for your neighbors and those in need. Even if you are practicing social distancing, there’s some good you can do in your community all the time, every time.”

Morgan, whose spring semester ended before it began, is also somewhat frustrated, and says, “I had an internship this summer with Boeing, and it would have been in Seattle. I was really excited about that. So, that’s a bummer, but I’m just praying everything’s going to work out by then.”

Although she’s optimistic, she also recognizes that the internship is in Washington State, and, before anything can happen, all of the COVID-19 issues there will have to be resolved. In the meantime, she’s finding solace in communicating online with fellow members of Women of Essence, a book club they started this year.

While Eva misses spending time with her friends and going to the mall, she says this experience has taught her a valuable lesson about family. Before COVID-19, she and her siblings spent time with their father, regularly, but as a safety precaution, that practice has stopped. She says, “I miss having to be away from half of my family. So that’s the hardest part for me. I didn’t really expect this to happen. So, I guess I had kind of taken things for granted, and it’s made me appreciate them more. You never know when you won’t be able to be around most of your family.” 

Family is also important to Nico, who says, when speaking of his new normal, “The best part is spending time with my mom, stepdad, and siblings. It has really been fun. It’s just like a release for us. But, the worst part is not being able to see my dad and my family over there.”

He says that it’s all been a hard adjustment, but he understands what has to happen in order to move forward. “I mean, it requires consistent hand-washing, being aware, being clean, practicing social distancing… But, at the same time, while practicing social distancing, getting out of the house, and walking like around your neighborhood.”

These days, as the family activities play out, Dana’s dad, who is sightless, is protected in seclusion in his area of the house and says that he appreciates the concern for his vulnerability. And, because he sometimes hears the children playing outside his area, it allows him feel a part of the family life. “They are very, very considerate, and that’s why it feels comfortable in my situation, because I sense a great deal of love, and of that I’m very appreciate,” Judge Trammell explains.

Getting through this period of isolation has forced people to slow down. As an actively involved college student, Morgan believes that it may be a time to refocus and rest.

“Sometimes it’s good, I guess, to really take time to yourself and rekindle things with your family and even your relationship with God, whatever that may be for some people. You can’t just keep going. Like a phone, you have to eventually turn it off and reset it. So, I think that’s a good way to think of it if people are getting really down.”