Mairi Nielsen’s initial reaction was close to panic.
Nielsen, who has lived in Baker City for about a decade, has been in treatment for Stage 4 breast cancer since she was diagnosed in June 2018.
She takes chemotherapy pills at home.
She travels to Fruitland, Idaho, monthly to see her oncologist.
She has four children, ranging in age from 6 to 11, all students in Baker schools.
And Nielsen had just learned that classes will be canceled at least through April 28.
Suddenly she needed to add to an already hectic schedule a system for keeping her kids educated, and entertained.
During a season when the weather can be less than conducive to outdoor activities.
“I went, ‘oh no, what am I going to do with all my kids,’ ” is how Nielsen, 44, recalls reacting to the extended school closure due to the coronavirus.
The pandemic was already a major concern for Nielsen, who as a cancer patient is more vulnerable to the effects of the virus that has so dramatically affected the country and the world.
“How am I going to do this?” Nielsen thought to herself.
Less than two weeks later, she is still adjusting to this unexpected challenge.
But she’s optimistic.
“We’ve done OK, actually,” Nielsen said Tuesday morning in a phone interview from her home, the conversation punctuated by an occasional exclamation from a child in the background.
“We get stir-crazy, cabin fever of course, but it hasn’t been as bad as I thought.”
Nielsen’s husband, Joshua, hasn’t been cooped up only because he has two jobs — he works mornings at Albertsons and runs his own business in the afternoon.
Nielsen said her focus during mornings has been on learning.
She and her husband are the parents of sons Richard, 11, a sixth-grader at South Baker, and Anden, 8, a second-grader at Brooklyn; and fraternal twins, a son, Kylar, and his sister, Kahlan. Both are 6-year-old kindergartners.
“I’m trying not to have any electronics on in the morning unless it’s educational, Nielsen said.
She’s emphasizing reading.
In the afternoons Nielsen has added some recreation.
“We’ve been playing a lot of board games,” she said.
And there’s always the distraction of Socks.
He’s the puppy the family adopted on March 16.
(Socks came with that name — he’s black and white, with white fur on his paws.)
Nielsen said her children have reacted in different ways to their situation.
Richard, the oldest, is “bored out of his mind,” she said. “I feel so bad.”
He does enjoy watching informational shows such as the series “How It’s Made,” and Nielsen said the family has watched some episodes together.
Anden has been “irritable,” but Nielsen said the twins “seem to be just fine.”
Kylar doesn’t mind being confined to home, but Kahlan has talked about schoolmates she misses.
Nielsen said she has tried to buoy her own spirits during a stressful period by reminding herself of how many other parents have also had their lives upended.
“We’re all going through the same thing, and I think that’s helping me,” Nielsen said.
Although Nielsen has no extended family in Baker City, she said friends, including Sherri and Bill Purcell, have been helping her tremendously.
Less than two weeks into what amounts to a forced experiment, Nielsen said she has gained a new level of appreciation for teachers.
“I’ve always admired teachers, they work so hard,” said Nielsen, who has several teachers in her family, including a sister. “I worry about them during this time, how they’re handling things.”
She said all of her kids have enjoyed their teachers this year, which made the sudden curtailment of classes especially disappointing.
Although Nielsen is pleased with what she’s been able to accomplish with her kids so far, she hopes to refine her schedule.
“I would really like to be able to get more education in our day, but it’s just me,” she said. “I know we’re going to have a deficit. I’m not a teacher. I’m learning how to do it.”
Nielsen said the uncertainty — wondering whether schools will reopen at the end of April — is stressful.
“I feel like we’re in this weird void, an overall sense of being uncomfortable,” she said.
Nielsen is gratified that the Baker School District has offered free breakfast and lunch during the closure. She said she’s either picked up meals every day or enlisted help from a friend.
“I’m so thankful (the school district) got on it right away,” she said. “That was really touching to me, that that was their priority.”