Stick Tight: One Family’s Early Pandemic Days
Photojournalist Ryan Conaty's images capture the chaos and calm of family life amid a global pandemic.
Early in the quarantine, Ryan Conaty began photographing his wife, Megan Hall, a reporter, and their two daughters, as a way to stay connected to grandparents. Over the months, however, as they were stuck at home and then hit the road for a trip unlike any other, the images evolved into a passion project. Here are some of their thoughts about last year.
RYAN: Megan teaches a class at Brown so she’s the natural choice to lead Alice, six, in distance learning at home in North Providence in the spring. Parents helping their kids with classwork at home while holding down a full-time job know this juggling isn’t for the faint of heart. Alice has to fill in many daily worksheets during the day and four-year-old Claire takes an interest in her sister’s lesson.
RYAN: Claire’s an enthusiastic eater; even the governor’s COVID press conference for kids in which she answers the burning question “Is the Easter Bunny an essential worker?” can’t distract her from more important items like snacks.
RYAN: As the quarantine grinds on, Megan tries to take a break and relax with some me-time, but Claire has other plans. Meanwhile, all dressed up and nowhere to go, Princess Alice looks wistfully out the window to a world on pause.
RYAN: Claire, weeks from her fourth birthday, struggles with the so-called new normal that COVID has brought. Meanwhile, Alice calls a Barbie summit.
MEGAN: By the fall, we’re feeling the strain of being stuck in the house together. Alice announces we need a field trip and I’m missing my family in Oregon. I think, why not take a cross-country trip? We can do it safely in an RV. Once we get there, I’ll work remotely and my mother and sister can help with distance learning. After some convincing, Ryan gives in. It is not easy to find an inexpensive RV during a pandemic. After much searching, we buy a 1979 Dodge Avco. Ryan is handy with cars, so he promises that this twenty-nine-foot beast can make it across the country. Plus, he’s confident he can fix it if it breaks down. We stock up on food, get COVID tests for everyone and hit the road.
RYAN: First day on the road, Claire wakes up to a welcome change of scenery. Over the course of ten days she will sleep at orchards, wineries and campgrounds in a dozen states.
MEGAN: Our first stop is an apple orchard in New York, followed by a winery in Pennsylvania. In Iowa, we park at a family farm that is full of adventures for the girls with a zip line, a giant swing, a trampoline and a treehouse that has been struck by lightning.
RYAN: Every day, road schooling begins at sunrise like the one here on a farm in Iowa. The light from a single bulb in the Avco means Megan is starting the coffee and Alice is preparing to log on with her teacher back in Rhode Island, Mrs. Smith, and the rest of her distance pupils.
MEGAN: In Colorado, we splurge on a campground with a hot tub. It’s perfect after days of driving. Alice loves it. She insists on taking a dip in the morning before her first virtual lesson. School on the road is challenging. I try to keep the lessons going while Ryan drives. Alice fills out her worksheets, but the RV shakes so much it’s hard for her to keep her writing steady. We keep the girls occupied with screen time and lots of snacks. Claire has a knack for getting angry, antsy and hungry right as we are navigating the last few miles to our campsite. When she gets really rowdy, we tell her she needs a nap and cover her with a blanket. Sometimes that actually works.
MEGAN: We’d never used an RV before, so we make a few mistakes. One night, Alice is taking a shower and we run out of water. Her hair is full of shampoo, so we have to pour seltzer on her to get it out. Also, halfway through the trip, we realize our generator isn’t connected to the RV. We’ve been running it every night but actually getting our electricity off the RV’s battery.
MEGAN: We average about 300 miles a day and it takes eleven days to get to Portland. Have we really driven all of this way? Once we get to my parent’s house, I hesitate. Our family has taken two COVID tests and avoided human contact for the entire trip, so I’m pretty certain we didn’t have the virus. Still, it’s the first time we’ve been in someone else’s house since March. Is it okay to hug?