Alone Together: Storytelling in the time of COVID-19

Matilde Simas | North Andover, MA

This is a photo essay that documents 10-year-old Sydney with Down Syndrome and her 4-year-old brother, Sebastian, during quarantine March-May 2020.

Photo Essay:

“COVID-19: Homeschool Students with a special need” by Matilde Simas (she/her).

The COVID-19 pandemic has given our family a new set of challenges. Keeping our children entertained and educating them while in quarantine is a big job but we are getting through it. We feel closer and thankful for the time together. It’s given the time we needed to slow down and reflect. As a photographer, it’s been a time to document my family and our changing lifestyle.

Being a parent is a joy but it’s not easy during a pandemic with a 10-year old daughter with Down Syndrome and an active preschooler. Like countless American families of children with a special need, we have had some really big changes. The closing of school has meant the loss of our daughter’s therapists and teachers. At school, she has a support network that does everything from academic support, social skills, and handling behaviors.

A virtual homeschool schedule is made up of 6 zoom meetups per week comprised of our daughter’s integrated and special classroom activities. I know there will be regression but right now we are focused on doing what we can by being optimistic. We now have a solid homeschool and activity schedule, but it takes a lot of discipline. Keeping up with a homeschool schedule means staying in touch with teachers and school friends. Zoom classroom meetings have been a wonderful way to help our children stay calm and have a sense that things have changed but we are all still connected. We have a structured learning schedule, playtime and time where everyone gets to go to their own space and do what they want, whether it’s getting outdoors, watching TV, or playing with an iPad/tablet. Most importantly we are staying calm. That way our children are assured that everything will be ok. Having honest conversations about the pandemic using visual storyboards has been helpful.

At times it’s really exhausting being a parent and teacher, but we have found time to have fun. We have been perfecting pizza making, playing dress-up, creating beautiful art, and hiking. We are extremely lucky to have 120-acre conservation at our doorstep. The Conservation has well-marked trails that lead to open fields and ponds. It’s a magical place for us.

As a documentary photographer turning the camera on your own life can be intimidating. But it’s also really wonderful to look back and see a time in your family’s life you have preserved. Hopefully when we look back the images will show our family how resilient we have been. While much about the future of life, work, and society post-COVID-19 remains unsettled, our family will remain optimistic. I feel like I will look back at this time with affection: the time when the outside world was an uncertain place and yet we became closer as a family. 

This photo essay was received as an online submission to TMI Project’s call for Covid-19 stories.