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Michael Hoke

Michael and Laura Hoke and their two kids, Aaron, 8, and Mara, 5, spend much of their time in the front yard now, even bringing out some of the backyard furniture, as they embrace a slower and more home-oriented lifestyle during social distancing. (Michael Hoke)

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In pre-COVID times, calling the Hoke family "busy" would be an understatement.

Hyper-social and community-oriented, Laura and Michael Hoke and their two children barreled daily through club meetings, social lunches, farmers markets, volunteer projects and more. In Austin, regularly ranked the best place in the U.S. to live by various magazines, it was easy to fill their calendar.

But after a month of staying home to help stop community spread of the virus, a different Hoke family is emerging.


They're home together every night. They eat their meals outside. There's extra cookie-baking. There are more family movie nights. Daily bike rides. Longer bedtime routines. Fewer plans.

"We do so much less than we did a month ago, but somehow life feels richer than ever," said Laura Stromberg Hoke, whose job in the nonprofit sector allows her to work from home. "I don't want this crisis to go on forever, but I desperately want our future as a family to look more like this."

Amid outbreak fears in mid-March, Austin's schools shuttered, and museums and social venues shut down. Families found themselves with little choice but to stay home together.

It's a stark change for Austin, where families like Melissa Huebsch-Stroud's often trade extra square footage in a suburban home and yard for a more compact house near downtown. They avoid traffic but rely on school, playscapes and museums for activity and to keep toys to a minimum at home.

"That's all out the window," said Huebsch-Stroud, whose family just installed a playscape in their minuscule backyard "to ensure physical activity and therefore sanity."

Families like hers say they are lucky to have the opportunity to stay safe at home with their jobs and families, even as financial, emotional or logistical challenges take their toll.

Working and parenting full time, at the same time, often feels like an impossible task. Huebsch-Stroud was even inspired to create a family life spreadsheet to process her feelings of being overwhelmed (see below).


Melissa Huebsch-Stroud made this spreadsheet to try and figure out why it felt so draining to work and parent full time every day. (Courtsey: Melissa Huebsch-Stroud)Melissa Huebsch-Stroud


Jobs are cut, electric bills are up, dishwashing is constant, bandwidth is strained, food bills are high.

"They eat like seven times a day," local mother Evelyn Escamilla says, almost incredulously, of her three teenagers.

But they find comfort in the new habits they've built around home life—daily walks, a stocked kitchen—after staying there, for a change.

"The benefit is having this more 20th century family life, like the kind that I grew up in," said Anthony Haley, whose two kids are ages 9 and 6.

Jimmy Stewart, owner and co-founder of Do512, built his livelihood on people going out and doing stuff. Earlier this week, he and the three kids built a campfire and pitched tents in the backyard.

"I'm already thinking about how when this is all over, I'm definitely going to miss parts of it," Stewart said. "I'd say these are definitely traditions that we will try to carry on."

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