Frontline parents cherish time with middle schoolers

At left, Stephanie, Marin, Ethan and Mark Ruter enjoy the outdoors. 

By Ellie S. Grossman, Special to the Jewish Light

Perhaps the most important lesson that Stephanie and Mark Ruter have taught their son and daughter during the coronavirus pandemic is an appreciation for the simple things in life and to not take their health for granted.  

Both parents are nurse anesthetists who help secure airways in patients for all types of procedures. They’ve been doing this lifesaving work for 20-plus years, Stephanie full-time at St. Louis University Hospital and Mark part-time at Missouri Baptist Hospital. 

“Being in the front lines of this pandemic has taken on a bigger stress factor than otherwise. We pray every day for our gratitude of health and staying healthy. We’ve had to discuss plans with our kids should one, both, or all of us get sick,” said Stephanie, who works three 12-hour shifts per week. “My schedule allows me to be off two days a week, which lessens my exposure.”  

The couple’s son Ethan, 14, and daughter Marin, 12, both go to Wydown Middle School in Clayton and have adjusted to their new normal. 

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“The biggest challenge is the lack of face-to-face teacher connection /relationship for the kids,” said Stephanie. “The grades are not the most important to us. However, what’s important is the kids feeling the accountability, feeling comfortable asking for help and having the teachers face-to-face to do so. 

“My kids actually have been doing great navigating these new waters,” she continued. “We as parents need to determine how best to help them, even if it means tough love. The isolation from their peer groups has also just been a big bummer. But that goes for all of us, adults included.”

For the Ruter family, who are members of Congregation Shaare Emeth, the advantages of slowing down and spending more time together far outweigh the challenges. 

“The best part is more family time, a bit less structure and therefore a bit less stress, and more independent choices,” said Stephanie. “I think all of these aspects have allowed the kids to be proud of how much more self-driven they actually are and take notice of it. Having us around more has been so much more fun and relaxing too for the whole family.” 

Extra free time has allowed her kids to engage in new hobbies and healthier lifestyles.  Her son has been re-teaching himself guitar, painting artwork and working out.  Her daughter is also self-motivated and has created her own exercise routine and taught herself guitar. 

“Both kids are becoming more independent to prepare their own meals and prepare meals for us,” said Stephanie. “They’ve been helpful at meal planning and more engaged just in general. Plus, my husband is an amazing chef, so we feel very blessed to have this time home with the kids. It’s really been a shining light during this difficult time.” 

Another family hobby is gardening. Together, they have planted vegetables and herbs and have fun watching their crops grow. They’ve also collaborated on a mitzvah project with close friends from Edwardsville, making masks and individual lavender-scented hand sanitizers for 45 police officers in Webster Groves who can really use the community support. 

“We divided up responsibilities,” said Stephanie. “We are keeping our social distance from them yet accomplishing a mitzvah together.”