My New Normal: We’re Naming Squirrels and Somehow That’s Keeping Us Sane

A girl swings from a swing in her front yard as her mother laughs in the distance.
Megan Cassidy McGee and her family have turned their front yard into a playground, where her daughter, Justine McGee, and son can swing, make chalk drawings in the driveway and name squirrels. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Megan Cassidy McGee is a grants writer for the police department in St. Petersburg, Florida, where there’s a stay-at-home order in place. The transition from office to kitchen table has been mostly seamless for the divorced mother of two. Here’s her description of her life now, as told to senior multimedia producer Chris Zuppa.


I have my fiance’s laptop and his desktop. We started off where we just had my iMac (laptop) and that’s all we were going to use. Somehow I thought we would just rotate and it would all work out perfectly. But we learned very quickly that just wasn’t going to be a thing. 

If I know I have a call, I talk to the kids about an hour before the call and about 30 minutes before the call. I basically have the lecture with them and I make them repeat it back to me: “You do not interrupt me when I’m on this call unless your hair is on fire, you’re being chased by a bear”… and I usually throw in another one to keep it fun.

Teamwork Goes A Long Way

My fiance, Randy, has really identified this has been a stressful time for me and the kids. He is out in the field working every day, but when he comes home he’s going straight to, “Hey, let me make you a sandwich” to run interference sometimes because with the kids, they’re really not able to do a whole lot of stuff by themselves.  

James, the kids’ dad — he’s an absolutely great, involved dad. (We) talk every day numerous times a day, especially since all of this has been going on. Even on the days I don’t have the kids, he’s sending me stuff about what they are working on at his house. We’re trying to have this seamless process. 

So we’re making sure: “Did he finish The Hobbit?” 

“Did he finish chapter two at your house?” 

“Okay. Good. So he needs to start on page whatever when he’s at my house.” 

A family sit in their front yard.
McGee, her children, Justine, 10, and Ian, 11, and her fiance, Randy Fields, sometimes sit in the front yard and name squirrels as a fun activity. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Sometimes the kids take advantage of it a little bit and say “I completed that at Dad’s (house),” so we always have to have our guard up and be prepared to ask questions.

The positive part of it is that we’re getting the hang of it a little bit more. I think now that we’re going into week three, I’ve changed my expectations for myself and the kids. We’re getting to the point where we’re like, “screw it … we are not going to kick this online learning in the (butt). We are probably going to get our butts kicked and respond accordingly.”

The Front Yard Is The New Playground (And Fitness Gym)

We’ve spent a lot of time on our outside chairs naming squirrels in our neighborhood. We take some kind of joy in it. I’ve got to give my son credit. He just names everything. A car will go down the road and he will say, “Slow down, Gertrude.” 

My fiance and Ian, they think they know which is which. 

“That one is Mario.” 

“That one is Speed Racer.” 

We‘ve created this whole new room in our house — so to speak — in the front yard where we were never before. 

Randy and I haven’t been able to work out in our gym because that’s all closed. We’ve had some neighbors laughing at us because we’re out there trying to work out. We’re doing it in our driveway. He was able to get some different things for us to lift. 

Apparently you can’t get weights now. First it was toilet paper. Everybody bought out toilet paper. So now they’re buying out weights. So we’ve been trying to lift different things, such as a keg filled with water.

In two side-by-side photos, a girl and boy play in their yard.
Justine, left, and Ian play at home. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

When we’re not stressed out about the school component, it really has given us some time, primarily on the weekends, where we are just sitting around together. We had music (playing) one night and we were dancing in our driveway. Pre-COVID, we probably wouldn’t have done that. 

I’m trying to be grateful for those experiences too.