Parenthood in Palisades, Post-Covid

During the pandemic, parents and children alike faced incredible stress when the lockdown in March 2020 suddenly cut everyone’s normal social connections. One response was that many families chose to leave New York City and join our community. Parents we contacted told us that living in Palisades has helped them to rebound from the disruption.

Marissa Alexander moved out of her apartment so abruptly that she and her son Henry had to sleep on mattresses in their empty house here; they couldn’t hire movers to bring their furniture with them for many weeks. Henry, who is now nine, remembers that the worst thing about the lockdown was that he wasn’t allowed to go outside, but one good thing was that he had spare time to do things he wanted because school was closed. His mom might not totally agree…

Kris Haberman, the father of an eight-year-old son, used to split his time between Palisades and the city but moved here full time after the pandemic hit. Currently, his son Parker is in 2nd grade at William O. Schaeffer School and Kris feels that South Orangetown Central School District is one of the big assets of living here. “Every one of his teachers has been delightful,” he added. Parker was in pre-kindergarten when all the schools had to be closed and, like most small children, he found online nursery school to be baffling. Parker seems to have rebounded from it all, with no memory of the experience.

Babies had the easiest time during the shutdown since they expect to be spending most of their time at home with Mom and/or Dad anyway. Meanwhile, their working parents had to navigate a year and a half of daycare closures while learning to juggle zoom calls with infant feeding and naptime routines. Maintaining a professional veneer while keeping small children happily occupied has never been easy, but lockdown zooming brought the problem home like nothing else, and it became the signature challenge of the era.

Ben Wolk and Julia Burrer have twins plus one more close in age, and while the nursery schools were closed, Ben sometimes found himself juggling three toddlers in the cab of his pickup truck as he worked with his family’s Palisades-based landscaping/ gardening business, Heyhoe Garden Design.

Natalie Barak was pregnant with her fourth child when lockdown hit and had to leave her full-time job in finance and abruptly switch to caring for the family; she gave birth alone in the hospital in September 2020 while the schools were still closed. “Sometimes I just lay on the couch and cried,” she told us.

Erica Lockwood and her husband Phil found lockdown life very difficult in a small condo in Piermont, so they moved to a house with a yard on Closter Road in Palisades with their two children. Their younger daughter Ivy was an infant and sailed through all the chaos, but their son Blake was in pre-kindergarten and missed out on key social experiences such as birthday parties and playdates. They are both teachers, but even armed with those skills, they struggled. The district did the best it could, but faced a nearly impossible task. The Lockwoods didn’t have any way to meet other parents and their son was blocked from making friends.

Jessica and Radame Perez have twin boys who attend the Academy of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in New Jersey. Aidan and Logan were totally isolated and did 2nd grade online, linked with other kids and their teacher in the classroom. Keeping two energetic boys busy inside one house for months at a time kept their parents busy too. They set goals for the twins to earn their screen time. The boys took walks every day, they ran up and down all the stairs in the house with step counters, they played soccer with their dad in the back yard and they did an online remote karate class with TAMA Martial Arts.

Four years out from the “big bang” of panicky shutdown, life is finally getting easier. Palisades institutions have helped with the transition. “The small-town feel is wonderful. Everything is within walking distance,” the Lockwoods told us. A family-favorite is the annual Halloween celebration at the Palisades Community Center. Like the Perez family, they first started going to the Community Center to visit the Farmers Market and now participate in many activities there.

Everyone we interviewed for this article praised the kids’ room at the Palisades Free Library which is jammed with books and a dollhouse. The library offers a rich schedule of programs for children. “The staff there did an amazing job continuing the activities during the pandemic,” commented Haberman. Now that Aidan and Logan Perez are back at school in 5th grade, they continue to use the Palisades Library frequently when they are assigned to do reports and research. According to Jessica, their remote academic learning was successful, but readapting to social life at school took them awhile.

For people who love the outdoors, access to nature is effortless here. Parents emphasized how important our parks and woods were during the lockdown. Kris Haberman did father/son hikes on trails in Tallman and took Parker fishing on the Piermont Pier. The Lockwoods still walk in Tallman with their kids multiple times per week. Searching for that same kind of connection with nature, Ben Wolk and Julia Burrer enrolled their three toddlers at Lindgren School in nearby Closter, NJ, as soon as it reopened because Lindgren runs programs with its next-door neighbor, the Closter Nature Center. With a pond, canoes, and woodland trails, pre-teen kids can attend summer camp there.

Sports and cultural activities proved to be a lifeline for many families. The Perez twins were able to do karate classes online and started piano lessons via a remote connection with the Rockland Conservatory of Music in Pearl River. As these activities returned to in-person they are continuing karate and music classes at the conservatory and are now avid OMM soccer players.

From our vantage point in 2024, in Natalie Barak’s apt summary, most of us have just “blocked out” the pandemic experience and moved on. Everyone is relieved not to feel the anxiety and inconveniences of constant masking and Covid testing. On a brighter note, the pandemic reminded many families in Palisades how to cherish a strong sense of community when that opportunity returned to us. People were just barely able to survive in our “pandemic bubbles”; and we have now broken free of those restrictions filled with a deep appreciation for the importance of our social networks. There is a lot happening in our hamlet and in our school district and this brings us a sense of hope and energy for the future.