Times Free Press columnist Mark Kennedy adjusts to working at home with his dog Boise at his side. / Photo by Brooks Kennedy

For answers to frequently asked questions about the coronavirus, click here

Editor's note: Today, Times Free Press columnist Mark Kennedy starts a semi-regular online column about his family's experience with social distancing.

On school days, our family runs like clockwork.

The kids are up by 6:40 a.m. Breakfast begins at 6:45 a.m. — frozen pancakes for the 13-year-old, a heaping bowl of Life cereal for the 18-year-old. Then, it's off to school by 7:20 a.m. sharp. Five minutes late means getting caught in traffic.

There is practiced rhythm to school days in the Kennedy household that is both frantic and comforting. Everyone has a job to do and a specific time to get it done.

But this week it feels like someone has slammed on the brakes. Hard. Whiplash hard.

The coronavirus has us all homebound. They call it social distancing but it feels like house arrest. There's not much traffic on our busy suburban street. There's bread in the breadbox, but my soup stash is dwindling — I'm completely out of chicken noodle.

Even our dog, Boise, seems to know something is wrong.

As I sit in the dining room working on my laptop on a Tuesday morning, he is in the chair beside me nuzzling my arm, as if to say, "What's up, Dad? Why are you home?"

Like a lot of suburban families stuck in coronavirus limbo, we are left wondering: Is this just a brief staycation, an experiment in togetherness, or something more ominous?

Maybe it's better not to fixate on the answer to that quite yet. Too many variables.

Our four-person nuclear family covers a lot of the touchpoints of the coronavirus story:

* My wife teaches fifth-grade in a public school. In another room I hear her doing a second take of a morning video to her students. She is trying to smile more. Project positiveness. She is still working out the kinks on uploading it. The channels are clogged.

* Meanwhile, our 13-year-old son is deep into online schoolwork, while yearning to be at his grandfather's house, where they could wile away the hours building furniture together and forgetting about the current unpleasantness.

He seems anxious about our food supply. I tell him there is plenty of food, don't worry.

* Meanwhile, our 18-year-old son is trying to keep his chin up, but I know he is hurting inside. Being deprived of the last few weeks of his senior year in high school seems especially cruel.

An athlete since age 3, he was so looking forward to finishing lacrosse season with his buddies. They walked off the field last week not knowing if it was their last time to wear a uniform. They were undefeated, contenders for a championship. It doesn't seem fair.

Meanwhile, our older son has a pile of college acceptance letters and scholarship offers on the kitchen counter. Most of the universities have suspended classes because of virus fears. Who knows what the fall will bring.

* As the old "at-risk" person in our family (61 and diabetic), I feel strangely out of sorts. As a career journalist, I think I should be at work. "Run toward the fire," we are taught, "not away from it." Still, I feel an obligation to my family to stay out of harm's way as much as possible.

"Sausage and cinnamon rolls are done," my wife calls from the kitchen.

"Sounds good, thanks," I answer.

Meanwhile, I hear the boys playing a board game — Mancala — in the family room, taking a break from schoolwork.

I am so proud of them.

Suddenly, I realize I'm cradling my chin in my hands.

A voice in my head sounds the alarm, "Remember, don't touch your face."

Oh, shut up.

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645.