When Jerrica Mueller learned her hair and tanning salon would be shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, she plunged into cleaning projects. The house. The garage. An outbuilding.
“It’s what I thought I needed to be doing,” said Mueller, who owns Town Square Tannery in downtown Iola.
But with three little boys in tow, she also knew there’s an element of futility in getting things too clean or organized; for whatever can be done, will be undone even faster.
Not knowing how long her salon would be ordered shut down also left Mueller with a sense of urgency — to unwind.
“I realized I wanted this time to be remembered for something other than me cleaning the house,” she said. “We’ve had ‘stay-cations’ before, and I’ve always resented not spending more time just hanging out with my family.”
So she downshifted gears and stopped looking at each day as a to-do list.
“It took me a while to see the gift that the shutdown could be,” she said. Now at work again, Mueller looks back longingly at those lazy mornings that stretched uninterrupted into afternoons.
“One day we packed a picnic and headed to the pond. When we got home, I realized we’d been gone nine hours.”
Only 100 yards from their rural home sits a big pond that Jerrica’s husband, Josh, had stocked four years ago with crappie.
Usually reserved for weekend fun, the pond became an almost daily destination during the shutdown for Jerrica and sons Jaxen, 8, Jonas, 6, and Jentry, 4.
On that marathon day, the boys fished —“we caught 45!” — tormented frogs and bugs, threw sticks, slurped juice boxes, found dinosaurs and space heroes in the clouds, and probably splashed mom and dad not a few times, but always followed with a quick “I’m sorry!” though you know they weren’t.
THE FAMILY used the time for lessons, too.
About health and wealth. And trust.
The pandemic, of course, needed explaining. But so did why mom was not working and why dad, who drives a semi-trailer hauling crude oil for Plains All American Pipeline, is home more, too.
“It was a good time to discuss the difference between needs and wants and how we wouldn’t be buying as many things now and needed to save our money,” Jerrica said.
“One day a package arrived at the door, and Jaxen said, ‘now mommy, is this something you need or want?’”
As the oldest, Jaxen has been eager to spread his wings.
It began with being allowed to ride his bike up and down their long driveway. One day, he ventured beyond, onto the country road.
“That brought a lesson in trust,” Jerrica said.
WEEK BY week, Jerrica began to notice changes in family dynamics. Good changes.
For second-grader Jaxsen, school was always good and he loved his teacher, Tiffany Riley, probably more than he cared to admit.
As a high-achiever, Jaxen tends to put a lot of pressure on himself, and at day’s end would bring home the competition and stress from the playground and classroom.
Sometimes the first stop would be his bedroom where he could chill out before engaging with his younger siblings.
Jerrica described Jaxen as a typical older sibling — bossy. Perhaps unnecessarily so.
With the sudden discontinuation of school and the self-quarantine, Jaxen began to ease up, she said.
“With having only each other, the boys began to treat each other as classmates, friends and brothers,” she said.
With time, Jaxen began taking more interest in his younger siblings.
“He went from being their boss to being their little teacher, helping explain things to them and reading to them,” Jerrica said. “It’s been wonderful to see. That’s been the biggest gift of this time off. I never would have believed what six weeks could do to my family.”
Jerrica also saw changes in herself.
The Muellers describe themselves as typical parents. Besides working for the pipeline, Josh also farms with his dad, Tom. Jerrica took over the Tannery in 2011.
Their life is a whirlwind of juggling jobs, school, daycare, and after-school activities.
Like every mother in the world, Jerrica suffers “mom guilt” because she’s not June Cleaver.
When Jaxsen was born she took two weeks maternity leave. Ditto for Jonas. Ditto for Jentry.
“I’d never spent more than two weeks, maybe three, at a time with my children,” she said.
The six-week shutdown opened up a whole new world.
She dusted off her bike, got new wheels and hit the nearby rail trails with the boys.
“I hadn’t ridden a bike since high school,” she said.
For their first excursion Jerrica had her sights on the overpass a couple of miles north of their home. With Jaxen and Jonas on their bikes, Jerrica towed Jonas behind hers.
“It was slow-going,” she said.
With the 2 miles under their belt, the boys asked what lay ahead.
“Well, there’s Dairy Queen,” she said.
The 10-mile excursion took 2.5 hours. Which they’ve done on three separate occasions as well as numerous rides along the LeHigh trail.
“We stop every few yards,” she winked, noting the boys’ interest in the great outdoors.
The rewards go both ways.
“Before this, I might not have felt I could afford that much time to just play,” she said.
BACK at work since Monday, Jerrica is again in her element. She loves her clients and the personal care she and her staff provide.
And how have the boys adjusted to daycare?
“They love it!” she said, almost wistfully.