If these were regular times, the Huntrods triplet boys of Collins-Maxwell would be very busy.
“Since we are a small school, the kids are involved in a lot of activities,” said mom Tara Huntrods, who works in information technology for the Iowa Department of Transportation in Ames and is currently working from home.
“Right now, they (her boys, Luke, Blake and Jace, freshmen at Collins-Maxwell High School) would have weightlifting in the mornings, track practices after school, practice for baseball on weekends … (they would be) playing Sunday basketball with friends and working in the greenhouse for FFA,” she said.
Instead, like every other school-age kid in the country, the Huntrods boys are at home on their farm.
“We are lucky there are three of them, and we live on a farm,” their mom said. “They are outside a lot riding four-wheelers, doing chores, hunting and fishing, and they have started doing woodworking projects.”
When the weather isn’t nice enough for being outside, Tara said she had to update the family Netflix subscription for more than one device, so everyone could watch what they wanted. The boys, she said, “they have been catching up with ‘The Office!’”
The family has also taken advantage of the incredibly low gas prices to take long car rides and look at different scenery. “This has been cheap entertainment,” Tara said.
Thinking back a few weeks ago, when normal school ended, Tara recalls how excited the boys were at first.
“They wanted to start seeds for our garden and make fishing lures to prepare to live like pioneers. I let them be creative, and they started their own survival projects. That lasted a whole day.”
The next two days, she saw the excitement fade. “They started sleeping in all morning and forgot to water their seeds.”
Tara realized she needed to set up a routine, which would most importantly involve the boys waking up at a decent hour.
“They are all still taking their DMACC courses online, so I made sure they logged into their class every day for any homework at 9 a.m. They have certain chores to do at home, like laundry, dishes and animal chores, while I am working online. They have started the habit of cooking more for themselves, which is great for me.” The boys have also started pitching in with more chores around the house.
Tara is also a leader of the Indian Creek Circles 4-H club, of which her boys are members.
“Our club had to cancel our face-to-face meetings, but as a leader, I am trying to keep everyone updated through emails and social media. We might pull together a Zoom meeting to connect with members and see what they are working on.”
Her boys, with their increased free time, have spent some of it outside, creating projects of their own. “They have started making and painting their own fishing baits, and they pulled an old boat from our farm and decided to fix it up with boards and carpet,” Tara said. Also, the boys have been redoing an old rocking chair for their aunt.
“Right now, we are starting on 4-H projects while they have time. … My kids are panicking with the possibility that the county fair could be cancelled. They tell me staying at the campground (at the fair in Nevada) is the best thing we do all year,” she said.
Each of the boys weighed in on how they are dealing with this strange time in history.
“It has been awesome fishing and hunting,” Luke said. “I do miss my friends at school. Today we heard school had been canceled the rest of the year. It hit me at this point that I do not get to throw discus for track and go to Ames Tribune’s Prep Awards. It made me think about the seniors that they are not able to finish their sports career for track and celebrate graduation.”
Blake said he feels like he’s started summer break. “I think it has been great, but I do miss sitting down in restaurants. After hearing that school is canceled for the year, it hit me how long this distancing can drag out. I am having fun now, but it hits you that this could be months longer. I think of all the activities everyone will be missing out on. The seniors are already missing out on so much.”
Jace said he has been enjoying the free time and doing things “I normally do not have time for. When I heard that school was canceled for the rest of the year, I was disappointed to not see how our track team will do this spring. I have hopes there will be a baseball season. This is just our freshman year, but I feel bad for the seniors that cannot celebrate their accomplishments.”
Tara does worry about how the schools will catch up next year, and what the effects of missed time in school will have on Iowa Assessments, ACT and SAT scores. “I know with my boys; they do not want to work on any school work that is not required. Sorry, C-M teachers, but it is like pulling teeth! They would rather fish!”
Tara also worries about those students who need the school structure, stability and meals.
But while the pandemic hasn’t helped her retirement account, Tara does try to look for the positives of this time.
“My kids are cooking, doing household chores and wanting to fix things at home. They even admitted they like cooking. I see how excited they are when working on their projects. They started a job on weekends feeding bulls at the genetic lab down the road. They’ve now talked about taking that path of animal genetics in college. They also love to hunt and fish and have had more time for those activities. I am lucky there is three of them so they do have playmates with the same interests at home,” she said.
She also believes this is a time for schools to prepare staff for virtual online classes and a time to reevaluate the technology that is given to staff and students for home. One problem with online schooling for working parents, she said, is “how to make sure your kids are following along and understanding the material.”
Tara ponders many things these days. She is the parent who is at home, around the clock. Her husband, Joel, works for Colfax VanWall Equipment and still goes to his place of work every day.
Tara ends her interview by paying tribute to the true heroes and victims of this unprecedented time. “My heart goes out to the families that cannot mourn their losses together, visit family in hospitals and visit loved ones. We thank the medical staff for many hours trying to fight this virus.”