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Quarantine Chronicles: Crystal Bales Milner

CRYSTAL BALES MILNER is a massage therapist who made the choice to close her practice before the official word was given because many of her clients are immunocompromised. Now, she's at home with her two kids, one of whom is already homeschooled.

This is her Quarantine Chronicle.

What’s life like for you? How has this affected your job?

I’m not working because Gov. Kemp finally shut down massage therapists as a whole, so I’m pretty much at home, homeschooling my kids. My oldest is dyslexic so we had already been homeschooling her. Most people are like, “Well, if you’re already homeschooling, you probably know how it goes.” But my youngest is in public school, and honestly, it’s been hard schooling both of them, even though I’m an experienced homeschooler.

I have a 12 year-old, I’m on middle school mindset, and now I have a preschooler at home too, so trying to do preschool work and middle school work at the same time is really hard. Traditionally, in normal homeschooling, you have a lot more flexibility, so if you’re having a rough week, you can say, “We’ll take a break and finish it next week.” But the public school systems are not allowing people to have that kind of flexibility, so trying to have two kids logged into devices yesterday at the same time, and they both needed my help.

Luckily, my oldest is not in public school, but I heard several parents complaining about how much they’re expecting these kids to do while their parents are still working or trying to work from home. So I’m not even working from home and I feel it. My 5 year-old just wants to hang out with my 12 year-old and she doesn’t understand they have different things they have to do during the day.

What sort of oversight do you get from the schools?

Mine’s in preschool, so they’re making them take pictures and send her pictures of what she did every single day, which is time-consuming in itself, but they finally decided that wasn’t necessary because preschool is not even necessary in Georgia, so they’re just doing Zoom calls once or twice a week. They were a little stricter and finally backed off a little bit, but I haven’t heard the same about older kids. I think they’re still struggling to get it done, which I get. I’m struggling to get it done with my 12 year-old.

Do you feel like the schools are handling this situation as well as they could be?

It’s a hard position for the parents and the school system, so I can see where they’re both coming from. When you start homeschooling, your first year is figuring out how much schoolwork they should be doing in a day, because you’re used to that eight hour structure. But in that eight hours, the teacher is teaching 30 kids, so it’s not like the teacher’s really instructing those eight hours. So for most homeschoolers, a full day is about four to four and a half hours, depending on how quick your student works.

If you’re struggling in something, you can spend more time there because you’ve already completed other ones quickly. I think they’re taking that concept away from the parents and just having them do all this work.

How are your kids handling being home?

Honestly, they’re fighting like crazy. My oldest one who is used to homeschooling is like, “This is a lot being home all the time.” And my five year old is like, “Don’t touch me, we’re going to get a virus and die!”

How is that for you?

I love being home with my kids. I would be home more if I didn’t have to work and need the money. At the same time, it sucks having less money, and I miss my clients terribly and I worry about them. I still have office bills and work bills I have to pay. It’s a complicated feeling. You wake up and enjoy being home with them, and then they start fighting and it’s like, “I can’t even go outside and get a break from screaming children. I can’t even go to Target.”

What do you think will happen with massage therapy whenever we get out of this?

I have no clue what it’s going to look like when I come out of this. I have clients still calling me because they’re in pain and they want me to come in, which makes me feel terrible. But at the asme time, I don’t know if they’re going to open up childcare at the same time they allow massage therapists to go back to work, so if I don’t have childcare, it’s not like I can go back to work anyways.

I think a lot of massage therapists are wondering, “Are we going to be swamped when we come back, or are we going to be dead when we come back?” Is there going to be a stigma around touching people?

I’m already seeing on massage group forums, “Would you take a client who had the coronavirus but is immune?” Like, how is your practice going to change after this? Even after a shutdown, they’re not talking about it going completely away—they’re talking about a resurgence. Are people going to want to actually come in?

I’m hurting more because I’m not moving as much, so I get that. When it actually changes, what will that stigma look like, and are we going to lose massage therapists in the meantime? If they don’t have a savings or a way to keep their business afloat through this, are they going to come back or get a secondary job in the meantime and just not come back to the industry?

I’m fortunate that my husband does have an essential job; he’s a diesel mechanic, so he’s working overtime to compensate for my bills and everything. I know a lot of massage therapists are younger ladies or single moms.

I know there’s been a lot of bickering in the industry about whether we should be essential or not, just because we do relieve pain and chiropractors are open, yet acupuncturists aren’t. It’s kind of complicated who’s open and who’s not. Depending on where you work, it’s going to be different, too. Not sure what spas are going to look like after that. But then again, spas can sell retail online currently, and I’m more of a therapeutic therapist, specializing in oncology massage and pain management, so I have a lot of older clients or immunosuppressed clients, so a lot of my clients are at-risk clients. I don’t know how long it’s going to take them to get back in.