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Motherhood, careers and Zoom classes: How three working moms are doing it all

According to a 2019 WalletHub study, Minnesota is the second-best state in the nation for working moms. But as COVID-19 restrictions continue and school is in full swing, balancing it all gets even more complicated.

Here’s how three women across the southwest metro are juggling motherhood, education, Zoom meetings, careers and a million other details.

It takes a village

Audrey Kennedy / Photo by Audrey Kennedy 

Valerie Amsden looks over her son Carson’s schoolwork in her Shakopee office on Friday, Oct. 2. Amsden brings Carson and daughter Piper to her work for online learning twice a week.

Valerie Amsden has been a working mom since her first child was born 10 years ago — as in, she brought him to the office when he was just a few days old.

“We converted our server room into a space with a crib, changing table and rocking chair,” she said.

Started by her great uncle in the 1930s and bought by Val and her brother two years ago, she’s the chief financial officer at Kelley Fuels, a wholesale distributor of petroleum products. It’s a flexible job, but comes with a huge amount of responsibility — she wears a lot of hats, she added.

One of them is mom to Carson, 10, Piper, 8 and Henley, 6, who are more than used to their mom’s Shakopee office. They’re all enrolled in the same elementary school, though Carson and Piper spend two days in-person while Henley is there for four. On distance learning days, they attend virtual classes next to their mom.

Working side-by-side isn’t just convenient for the family. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Val said it’s important for her daughters to see their mom working.

“I want them to see that they can be whatever they want. They can choose to be a stay-at-home mom, they can choose to work, they can choose to do both. And whatever they choose, it’s their choice. They can do anything,” she said.

The key to balancing a business and a family? Well, there isn’t one, Val said. She doesn’t seesaw between work and home — life is like balancing a dozen balls on a single plate.

“There’s all different kinds and they’re all rolling. Sometimes they fall off, sometimes we have to make adjustments to keep them on. It’s just knowing where they are and knowing what the most important ones are,” she said.

There are no easy answers or secret hacks to a work/life balance, but having a support system of family and friends makes all the difference. Her husband, who works from home, does “80% while I do 20,” she laughed. She runs the business with her brother and has a group of close friends who help when needed.

“I don't feel that I'm solo in anything that I do. I'm fortunate to have had some successes, but none of them are because of me alone. I couldn't do it without everybody else,” Val said.

Blessing in disguise

Photo courtesy of Neyva Nava 

Neyva Nava with her husband Suriel and their three children: Nathan, 11, Leyla, 6, and Jacob, 3 months.

Neyva Nava was six months pregnant with her third child when COVID-19 restrictions began.

“When you plan on having another child, you don’t think something like this would happen. Everything was normal until March ... it was a very different adjustment,” she said.

Instead of planning a baby shower or gender reveal party, she began teaching her two children virtually while balancing her full-time job. Neyva, who works with the Women, Infants and Children program through the Scott Carver Dakota CAP Agency, worked from home until the day before she was due.

“I feel more connected with our participants who are also at home. We both have kids screaming in the background,” she laughed.

Pre-pandemic, her 11-year-old son Nathan went to before and after school care while Neyva’s mother watched 6-year-old daughter Leyla. Now that they’re a family of five, Neyva is up at 6:30 a.m. to take care of her now 3-month-old son Jacob. After getting Nathan and Leyla up for school, she settles in at her computer by 8 a.m. — working right next to her daughter.

The three take a group lunch break and Nava sets the two up with their online classes for the afternoon. After months of distance learning, they’re practically experts, she added. After school ends at 3 p.m. and work ends at 4:30 p.m., they get outside as much as they can before dinner.

While her immediate family is nearby, she’s lost the physically close relationship she has with her relatives, who all live in Shakopee. Pre-pandemic, Neyva saw her mom almost daily. They used to have family dinners on the weekend, but with a new baby, social distancing is vital.

But while her schedule is busier, Neyva is counting her blessings.

The stay-at-home mandates meant she could spend extra time with her son and daughter before the new baby was born. She and her husband, who runs his own business, were planning for her to reduce her hours at work after maternity leave, but because she can now work from home, she was able to come back full-time.

The best part about working from home is the extra one-on-one time with her family, she said.

“You get into that schedule when working — dropping them off at daycare or taking them to school, picking them up and going to activities, coming home and eating dinner. ‘Tell me how your day is’ during that 10-minute drive home. But now, we get to sit down and chat with them and know much more. I appreciate all this time together,” Neyva said.

'Give yourself some grace'

Audrey Kennedy / Photo by Audrey Kennedy 

Jamie Bell poses with her 5-year-old son Jacob outside their Savage home.

When Jamie Bell and her husband Jason moved to Savage last year, they were looking forward to sending their 5-year-old son Jacob to Prior Lake schools for his first day of kindergarten. He made it there the first day — but on day two, he was back at home, while his parents tried to balance work and online learning.

“That first week was really rough. There’s growing pains, for teachers, for kids, for us. It’s a learning curve, and I only know so much,” Jamie said.

Jamie, an operations coordinator for Medicare, has worked from home for years. But now, she’s added a 5-year-old in school with “12 hours of tornado energy” while coordinating schedules with Jason, a Minnetonka high school teacher who is now working out of Jacob’s playroom.

Because Jason is a teacher, the family has access to extra care through the school district that allows Jacob to attend an in-person program every day. But the hardest part of pandemic life has been keeping her son at home while still working herself, Jamie said.

Before, Jacob would hang out with friends, go to baseball games and play in parks across the suburbs. He was signed up for swimming lessons and T-ball, but they were cancelled. The yearly summer programs they were used to attending shut down.

“We want him to experience as much as he can. I hate seeing him miss out on things, because he knows he’s missing out on them. You can just see the sadness in his eyes when he can’t see friends,” she said.

Initially, the switch to online learning meant the entire family could spend more time together, she said. But now that high school sports have been reinstated, Jason will go back to coaching track and football — another timetable to keep straight. One savior is her color-coded kitchen calendar and the baskets on each side: one for school days, one for program days.

Jamie is making up for the outdoor losses as best she can. The two practice reading and writing together. She’s teaching him how to cook. Everything can be a learning opportunity, and there’s some major positives to working at home — namely, the relationships the family is building now that they’re together for most of the day.

Juggling everything is a part of parenting, she added, but it’s important to make time for yourself and allow for slip-ups.

“Give yourself some grace. Nothing will go as planned. Your kid will not get up at 8; he wants to watch Rescue Bots. You’ll forget an assignment. It’s not going to be perfect, but if you get through the day and get off to school and they come home happy, that’s what matters.”


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Looking at COVID closer to home

Though Carver County COVID-19 cases are down (compared to the last two months) cases are increasing rapidly in Minnesota, according to Richard Scott, director of health services and community health services administrator with the county.

Last week, southern Minnesota cases rose most prominently. Throughout the state, hospitalizations are increasing (with over 7,500 hospitalized and 2,100 in intensive care, according to the Minnesota Department of Health).

BREAKING DOWN NUMBERS

As of early Tuesday, seven Carver County people have died from COVID, while Minnesota recently passed 2,000 deaths.

According to the MDH, county deaths were mostly evenly spread between age groups, with one death per cluster, while two deaths each were of 65- to 69-year-olds, as well as 85 to 89-year-olds.

Carver County has the lowest case rate in the metro area, the MDH said, with over 1,400 cases (69 included hospitalizations). The highest case rates are in Anoka, Scott, and Hennepin counties.

According to the MDH, confirmed Chaska COVID cases are at 478; Chanhassen, 340; Victoria, 139; and Carver, 80. The state’s case count is over 100,000.

Throughout Carver County, the following congregate care facilities have had at least one confirmed COVID case from residents, staff or visiting providers: Auburn Manor in Chaska, Chaska Heights Senior Living, New Perspective in Waconia, and Trouvaille Memory Care Suites in Chanhassen.

Five percent of people in Carver County with COVID need to be hospitalized, Scott said.

MINNESOTA PERSPECTIVE

Of the over 97,000 Minnesota COVID cases so far, over 2,000 have resulted in deaths (another 52 were suspected of having COVID but not confirmed). Just over 1,400 of those were of people living in assisted living or long-term care facilities, the MDH said.

The biggest portion of cases are of those between ages 20 and 24. Most deaths were of those between 80 and 89 years old, according to the MDH.

As for exposure, most cases (24,000) were from unknown community exposure. Another 21,000 cases were from known community sources, and around 15,000 were from completely unknown courses. The fourth-biggest case count can be traced to congregate living facilities at 11,000 cases.

Other cases can likely trace back to community outbreak, travel, healthcare and corrections. The lowest number of traceable cases is from the unhoused population, the MDH said.

ON A LARGER SCALE

Scott said nationally, new cases have been increasing and deaths have declined. Regionally, neighboring states like Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas have “had some of the highest case rates in the county” last week.

Eleven vaccines are currently in phase-three trials as of last week, compared to nine the week before, Scott said.

He said there’s work to be done to keep reducing the impacts of COVID.

“We still need to reduce barriers and expand our testing capability. We also need to continue to be vigilant with our message on how to protect yourself and others,” Scott said.

That looks like staying home when sick, wearing a face mask, social distancing, washing your hands, and self-isolating when COVID is confirmed or suspected.

“Most of the outbreaks we are seeing are associated when people who forget or fail to practice these guidelines,” he added.