COVID, Kids, and Controlled Chaos

October 06, 2020
Photo of the Ruggiero family
The Ruggiero family having an al fresco meal in their back yard (l-r): Brody, Lola, Kristine, Mike, Jagger, and Cruz.

Where there’s kids, there’s chaos. Just ask Mike and Kristine Ruggiero, MGH Institute faculty members who have spent the past several months juggling work and four active youngsters in their Reading home in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s been a lot of refereeing, a lot of policing, and some help with school work,” says Mike, an instructor in the Master of Physician Assistant Studies program. “But there’s more refereeing than anything else.”

Kristine, an assistant professor of nursing, has spent much of her career working with children as a pediatric nurse practitioner, a career that Mike admits makes his wife more adept at wrangling their brood.

An early riser, Kristine’s days begin at 5 a.m., giving her a few quiet hours to do some walking or yoga, catch up on chores, or prepare for her next class before the house is abuzz with hungry kids. Breakfast brings out her three youngest, Brody, 11, Cruz, 9, and Lola, 6. First-born Jagger, 14, a high school freshman, grabs something on his own. 

Feeding a crew that hovers around the refrigerator with regularity has produced increasingly growing food bills. “You go shopping and two days later the pantry is bare. It’s just nonstop grazing,” says Mike. “You have to put the kitchen on lockdown.”

Before last year’s school year ended in June, the kids began most days at 9:00 a.m. by reading, studying, or working on school projects. After lunch would come an afternoon of learning, playtime, or activities with Mike such as how to build a picnic table and lighting and cooking over an open campfire. 

With the new school year, all four Ruggiero kids are learning virtually. In addition to their studies, Brody is in the middle school band, so the entire house hears him play the clarinet. The youngest added gym classes in front of their computers via Zoom. “It’s just more chaos,” says Kristine with a laugh.

Carving Out IHP Time

Despite everything going on in the house, the couple carved out time to fulfill their IHP academic responsibilities. However, sometimes the din in the house has been so loud, their only recourse is to retreat to their car for a few minutes of quiet to make a phone call. 

“The car has become our second office,” Kristine admits. “If you want to guarantee nobody is going to say something in the background, you have to go to the car.” Adds Mike: “It’s been a challenge to teach a Zoom session when you are helping the kids with multiplication tables and social science questions at the same time.” 

Yet somehow, the pair managed to not just make time for classes but to fit in extra hours to help their students.

Kristine says she regularly hosts question and answer sessions online for students who might have issues with either the Zoom technology or the complex coursework she teaches. She’s also extended her virtual office hours to give students more face-to-face time and recorded her lectures for students who may need to listen to them again.

Mike says teaching over the Internet helped him create “a personal connection” with his students that was difficult to achieve when teaching large classes on campus. “You can really engage the students and keep them active,” he notes about using Zoom to interact with students. “I feel more accessible. In the virtual space, you have more flexibility to meet with them.”

Despite it all, the shutdown has given the family a welcomed opportunity to be together more.

“The good part is we all have this time together,” says Kristine, who is recovering from a recent cancer scare. “I’ve had that extra perspective on cherishing this time and better appreciating everyone watching a movie together or helping my daughter with her math. That’s been the silver lining.”

-  Bev Ford