Born and raised a Pittsburgher, I moved with my husband and three kids to the Cleveland area for work in 2017. We settled into life there and grew our family to include our fourth child, Aaliyah. But we missed our connection to family and friends back in our hometown. 

In early 2020, we decided we would begin the process of moving back home. My husband, Marellus, and I both secured jobs in the Pittsburgh area — myself in a retail store, and he in the insurance industry. 

We moved into the small three-bedroom home my mother and her husband have in Penn Hills for what was to be a temporary stay. We just needed to look for a home for our family of six and get our first paycheck to secure that housing. We crammed our clothes into my mom’s dining room, and the rest of our belongings into the garage. It was a little adventure during our well-laid plans to resettle in Pittsburgh. We had no idea the timing couldn’t have been worse.

My first day at work was supposed to be March 23, and we hoped to be in our own home by mid-April. 

On March 20, the store I was set to start at closed indefinitely as the coronavirus pandemic ramped up in the Pittsburgh area.

All of those plans we had? Gone. 

I was furloughed officially last week and given a list of other places that are hiring. I’ve applied at a bunch, but despite signs up saying they need help, no one calls back. I think they are scared of introducing new people to the team with unknown virus risks. My husband’s job of selling insurance also relies on a lot of face-to-face contact, so that has been halted, too. 

Dreams of moving out of my mom’s house are put on hold. Instead, there are eight of us in this tiny home — living, working and homeschooling. There is one bathroom. My husband and I sleep with our four kids in the living room. We have to get it set up each night for sleeping and clear it again each morning for living. We stack all the bedding against the front door. It was a lot of work at first, but is just routine now. Aaliyah, our toddler, usually ends up snuggled between me and my husband at some point during the night, on a full-size mattress. I miss our queen-size bed. 

In Cleveland, my 8-year-old, Marellus, was already enrolled in online school. My 6-year-old, Aaron, was in traditional school. Just before the shutdown started, I was thankfully able to get them enrolled here in PA Reach Cyber. I was a bit nervous about working full time and schooling them from home full time, but they love to learn and I was optimistic before the pandemic. However, I didn’t expect all eight of us to be around while I attempt to teach them.  My husband tries to entertain the toddlers while I do so. It works sometimes, but other times it is chaotic. 

My boys have such a good attitude about it all, and I am thankful that they have such a love for learning. It is still hard though to complete their 25 hours of schooling each week while squeezed into the dining room among all of our things, with their little sisters running around and the TV on in the other room. The teachers are enthusiastic and engaging, which helps. We try to make sure we get something significant done each day even if it’s just review. It is not ideal, but we make it work. 

My stepfather is a nuclear chemist so he is considered essential and working right now. Between his salary and our tax refund, we are able to keep afloat for the moment. We planned to save our tax refund and not use it for general bills, but things changed in an instant. My mom has been trying to apply for unemployment, but frankly, it’s an overloaded system right now, not designed to handle such an influx. Wrong PIN numbers, backed-up phone lines — it’s been a mess. Who knows how long this will go on? 

My kids, though, they are resilient and they are having fun. My son Marellus is definitely aware of what is going on. But the littles? Aaron, 3-year-old Naeemah and Aaliyah are loving the movie nights, the extra snuggles, the silly times. The house has a nice backyard, and we take advantage of it any time the weather is decent. We’ve had a few fires out there since this started. They seem to think everything about this is great. 

I don’t know how they will one day recall this insecure time in our lives, but I hope it is mostly with the good memories of togetherness. Memories of mom and dad being home, of grandparent time, of playing together without the busyness of life in the way.

I feel hopeful that this situation will get under control, that our jobs will still be there, and that we will get our own place and be able to spread out a bit. I feel hopeful that life will get back to normal, and I am really just trying to embrace this current “normal” and focus on these sweet little moments with my children. 

Nykkia McCray. (Courtesy photo)

Nykkia McCray is living in Penn Hills with her family. If you want to send a message to Nykkia, please email

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