Dana Stokes shares her experience during the COVID-19 pandemic in Madison. She talks about how abruptly all of her plans changed in February and March, when hiring freezes halted a job opportunity and her kids were at home with her full-time. She describes adapting to take on many different roles for her family - teacher, counselor, friend - and continuing to be an advocate for her son who is on the spectrum. As a board member and former President of the Homeless Services Consortium of Dane County, Dana also talks about homelessness as "another pandemic," exacerbated but not created by COVID-19.
Narrator Name: Dana Stokes
Interviewer Name: Karen Dreyfuss
Date of interview: 11/13/20
[00:00:02] Start of interview
[00:00:27] What’s your connection to Madison?
[00:00:49] What was life like for you in February and March?
[00:03:57] Walk us through a typical day pre-pandemic, and what a day looks like right now
[00:07:05] What helps you get through this challenging time?
[00:09:41] Can you talk about your experience with the UW Odyssey Project?
[00:10:54] Could you speak a little bit about politics and current events?
[00:14:21] How has your thinking shifted over the past nine months?
[00:15:50] Has COVID touched your life personally?
[00:16:56] What gives you hope these days?
[00:18:49] Is there anything else you want to share about how your life is or what you might tell the future us, five-ten years from now, about what's happening now?
[00:19:51] Is there anything else you want to speak about?
[START OF RECORDING]
Interviewer: All right. Good afternoon. My name is Karen Dreyfuss, and I'm here today with the Madison Public Library's Stories from a Distance project. Today's date is Friday, November 13. The year is 2020, and I'm here with our narrator who will be sharing her story today. I'll let her introduce herself.
Dana Stokes: Hi, I'm Dana Stokes.
Interviewer: Dana, what's your connection to Madison?
Dana Stokes: My mother lived here when I was a little girl and she moved away. And I just loved living here as a little child and in my adolescent years, so I moved back here when I had my own kids to raise them here.
Interviewer: Awesome. Well, great. Thanks for sharing your time and your story with us today. As you know, our topic is a little bit about how the pandemic has shaped the last nine months of life. And I wondered if we could go back and do a little bit of a snapshot of how things were going for you in February, early to mid-March, sort of as you were learning about coronavirus. Can you talk a little bit about just what you were hearing, what you were thinking about, how your life was beginning to shift.
Dana Stokes: I just had started seeing stuff on the news, you know, about China. And I started seeing them not letting people go to the airport. I thought, Now this is getting serious now. You can't even leave. It just happened, you know, masks, all of a sudden–everybody wearing masks and stuff. But I was, like right before it started in February, I was going to start a job at the school district. And I was on my second interview stage. That means that if you got through the first interview, if they like you, they'll give you a second one just to let you, you know, play by example basically. And I didn't get a chance to even start that job, because it was working with early mothers, like teenage mothers and their children. And it would have been a perfect opportunity for me just because I'm a mother and, you know, I just could understand being younger and a single mom. I think that would have been a good job for me.
But anyway, that didn't happen, and I kind of just fell into life as a whole new life schedule or whatever you call it, as a whole new schedule. The summer was kind of okay because the kids wasn't in school. But then when school started, just a couple of months ago, it kind of dawned on me like, Oh, I'm the guidance counselor, I'm the principal, I'm the detention teacher, I am the teacher, I am the parent, I am the friend. And I really had to just step back and re-evaluate sometimes my schedule, really, because my kids count on me. And right now, I count on them as well.
Interviewer: You know, to that point,
Dana Stokes: [inaudible] Benny, [inaudible].
Interviewer: I love it. I think that's a true slice of life right there. Can you walk us through more of a typical day, maybe pre-pandemic and what a day looks like in your life right now?
Dana Stokes: Okay. So a day for me–waking up probably 8:00 a.m. If I have something to do, though. But if I don't have anything planned, I'm going to be probably getting out of bed at like 11:00. But I do get up and fix my children breakfast way before that, because they're not going to let me sleep until 11:00. [inaudible]. My son, he's on the spectrum–my youngest son, Abraham, is on the spectrum for autism, the lower side. So we're going through therapy twice a week–four times a week [telephone rings]. I'm so sorry, Karen.
Interviewer: That's all right.
Dana Stokes: That's his people calling me. They're calling me to set more appointments, because we had a therapy session today. [talking to children] But, yeah, that’s what sometimes my days consist of, like I said, it's rescheduling all the time, or just scheduling so everybody can have time with me. I've got appointments to go to for my youngest son two times a week in the therapy inside the clinic, and then we have two times at home a week on the computer. So that's four sessions. And forty-five minutes each, and then I have my son, Daniel. He's five years old. He's in 5K. So his class is from 8:45 a.m. until 1:15 p.m. And those are like breaks in between. So it’s kind of really hard to juggle his schedule, because he has 15 minute classes and get off for 15 minutes, get off for 30 minutes, get back on. So you end up missing some classes or just going to English and math classes that I know he gets something from, and then I do the other– reading a book with him. I love reading books to my kids. I love reading them books. That's what we do. We go to the park, probably four or five different parks during the day when I'm really feeling spunky. But the majority of the days, that's what we do. It consists of going outside, walking around, doing art, doing coloring, reading them books, talking to each other. They don't have a T.V. in their room, because I just don't allow T.V.s in the children's room.
Interviewer: It seems like you have some really good coping. I imagine that your emotions kind of come and go. I wondered if you could speak to things that help you get through this challenging time? How do you manage the emotional shifts?
Dana Stokes: I like to decorate, I guess. [talking to children]. I like to decorate. So I rearranged my room, my apartment a couple of times since the pandemic. [inaudible]. And another thing I do is finding things to do and making sure I do them, not just saying, Oh, I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this. You know, just reading a good book. I love reading or writing. That's a thing that I have. Just writing in my–I have a really little bitty journal. I have a lot of them, because they're so little. But that's what I like. I don't like a big piece of paper because then I'll be like, Oh, I didn't finish the rest of the paper. And I feel like, you know, I should have did more. [talking to children] So yeah, that's how it goes. And I'm just–you see I'm the nanny around here.
Interviewer: Right. Hard to get time to yourself, it seems like.
Dana Stokes: Well, when we go to the park, I like having a book with me, and I take it and I'm walking–I'm trying not to stay so long at parks, because people are out now. But we'll go walking on the trail, and I have my book and they'll be digging under rocks and stuff and on walls, and I'll just be walking with my book and making sure I check on them, making sure they haven't got attacked by a skunk or something. You know, it's fun. We go to the apple orchards, to the little farms they have. We can't really be so close with the people there, but the other people there with their children, they are wanting that, they are wanting the same thing that we want. Just to socialize so bad, so they'll take anything right now with their kids. They're like, “My kids drive me crazy too.”
Interviewer: One thing–obviously one connection we have, and I know you signed up through this, but I know you're taking a class through the UW Odyssey Project. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your experience with that.
Dana Stokes: Yes. I think that's a great way for me to deal with the pandemic. Because I can make sure I'm somewhere every week, seeing other people's faces. It's one thing that I'm really big on because I'm a single parent. I don't have a lot of friends. I'm not trying to say since I don't have a lot of friends I'm there, it's just I want to expand my knowledge. I want to expand my knowing of other people's point of views. And just how, you know, how to write. I've never really did English class in high school, but I think that's a really good thing to teach our kids to have, so your kids can learn how to talk, and you can know how to use the proper–or a different dialect, you know. I think that's great, just learning different--
Interviewer: I wondered–not only do we have a global pandemic, some would say we have other pandemics in our country, and over the last nine months with politics, some protests, some movements, the election, I just wonder how involved you are with that and if you could speak a little bit about current events?
Dana Stokes: So the only thing I could probably say about politics or just if I'm in it or not–I don't vote, because I don't think it's any of my business. And I know it's my right, so I'm so enthusiastic to read about people in Odyssey voting and saying how important it is to them. I love hearing that. I love my rights, it's just my personal thing, I don't like politics. But I can say that I sit on a board–it's called the Homeless Services Consortium, Board of Directors. And I was the president for that for some time, and I currently stepped down, because there's just so much going on. Everything kind of switched to home, and I didn't have my kids in these meetings. Running these meetings is great, but I didn't have my kids so close next to me. So I just stepped down from being the president of the Board of Directors. But I'm still sitting on the Board as just a lived-experience Board member. And I can say it is way many more pandemics in the world other than this. And one of them are homelessness, and we take that for granted that we have a bed or just some place to go back to the kids every day. And it's sad because, you know, people who have those jobs for case management and all that, they live in McFarland, they live in Verona. They have nice places to live. I can go on and on and on about the pandemic that’s going on with homelessness right now. And still with the pandemic, people can catch an illness. It's kind of really heartbreaking, so I still try to go to all of the meetings every month because they just started–well, I've been on the Board for three years and they just started confis–how do you say it? I don't know how to pronounce that word.
Dana Stokes: Yeah, confiscating. They just started confiscating us, but that wasn't the reason why I was attending these meetings anyway. It was just really wanting to express my feelings, my views, to other people who don't know the services that they could get connections to if they are homeless. Or the people on the other side who are helping the homeless people who want to help people, but don’t know how to really connect, or the services that these people want and need and how to get it to the people who don't even know about them. Every question and answer and idea they ask me, they literally email me. We talk. You have to attend these meetings to get your point across, I'll say that.
Interviewer: Yeah. That's awesome. I think a lot of people are struggling to find community or follow passions. It sounds like you've found a few outlets. Can you speak a little–you know, nine months is a long time, and I think people were thinking one way in March and April and May, and here we are now in November. Can you talk a little bit about how your own thinking has shifted during that time? Maybe things you were worried about then that you're less worried about or perhaps more worried about now.
Dana Stokes: I've just been taking every day, just every day. I don't know. It's the same thinking from the beginning. Like I want to stay away from people, because I don't want to get sick anyway, you know, give it to my kids. I don't know. I just don't watch the news. I don't watch the news. And I think that keeps a smile on my face. It keeps me [inaudible] and ready to go, because I don't want to be put down. I don't want my brain to be put down. It's not even about me. I can be as beautiful as the sun every day, but if I'm studying, watching something that's telling me every bad thing that's happening, I just can't associate myself with something like that.
Interviewer: That makes sense. Has COVID touched your life personally, like maybe in your extended family or has COVID gotten close to you in other ways?
Dana Stokes: No. I think one of my children's fathers, his brother had got it–some of his family in Chicago, when it first started really, really bad, some of his family members had got it. But they pulled through strong, and they made it. That was in May when they had it, and they're still here. That's the only thing I can say, you know, you have to take care of yourself and [inaudible]. [laughter] I don't know.
Interviewer: [laughter] That's good.
Dana Stokes: I try everything right now. I don't know.
Interviewer: I know. You seem so creative in your approach to COVID and just this quarantine time.
Dana Stokes: Yeah, it's a lot going on other than COVID.
Interviewer: Yeah. What -- you strike me as someone that has a lot of hope and energy, and I wonder what gives you hope these days? What keeps you going?
Dana Stokes: I don't look the same as everyone. So I don't live like everyone else. I just live–I know that I'm different. So I just know that. I can't be like everybody else, so I think that's what gives me hope is that being different will always make me think–or have a different attitude or expectation of whatever I'm doing. I love being different. I don't know. I like living different.
Interviewer: That's beautiful. Yeah.
Dana Stokes: I just don't want nobody to look at me and think that my character is bad just because I have one little bad day. So I try to always be, you know, not really happy, but just having a good attitude, because sometimes I do have really bad days. And it's sad. You know, I'm a single parent, and I think to myself why don't my children's father don't want to be with me. Because I'm so, I'm the whole package, and sometimes I don't have a good day, but every day I look at my kids and I'm like, I've got to be here for him and him. I just know that they'll do the same thing for me one day, hopefully. But, I'm going to just smile every day and that's it.
Interviewer: One of the purposes of telling these stories and recording them and keeping them is so people five years from now, ten years from now, could go back and really understand what it was like to live right now. Is there anything else you want to share about how your life is, or what you might tell the future us about what's happening now?
Dana Stokes: No matter how [inaudible] your life already was before coronavirus, not even thinking about corona–if your life was hard before that or struggles you were going through, just know that you can get through it. Everybody has struggles, and just know that your struggle is not as bad as anybody else's or unimportant. You work through your struggles and you make sure that you stay positive while you do that, because that's how you can complete your goals, if you do that.
Interviewer: Thank you so much, Dana. Is there anything else you want to speak about or tell?
Dana Stokes: No.
Interviewer: All right. It's been such a pleasure talking, and I think people are really going to enjoy your story. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.
Dana Stokes: Thank you.
Interviewer: Take care. Bye.
[END OF RECORDING]