As people started ringing in the new year, Antonia Garza, a Forestville working mom, law school student and middle school volleyball coach, was contemplating what she wanted to accomplish in 2020 and what improvements could be made at her paralegal business where she does legal document preparation for family law.
Then, the coronavirus hit.
The promise and hope of a fresh new year dwindled away as the virus reared its ugly head, changing the plans and lives of countless people, Garza included.
Business at her Larkfield office increased as more and more people filed divorce, custody and restraining order papers as courts closed, her son’s school closed, anxiety levels ran high as she helped her child navigate distance learning with a three-year-old running around and summer came along with only one liberating camping trip. Despite this roller coaster, Garza said she’s stronger now, ready to take on what the next few months may bring.
The COVID-19 crisis has touched everyone, but this is the story of one individual, a portrait of a life in quarantine and pandemic.
At the beginning of the new year Garza had recently started law school and was working on ways to improve her business, Antonia Garza LDA (Legal document assistant).
The Sebastopol native went to Analy High School and got her associate’s degree at Empire College and wanted to pursue her longtime dream of going to law school.
“I went to Empire College. I graduated twice from there. I’ve been working as a paralegal for about 20 years now and have always been wanting to go to law school but because I went to Empire, it gave me a little bit of difficulty in getting into a law school because they required bachelor’s degrees. I finally found a college that takes associate degrees and I started a month before the pandemic not knowing that this would happen,” Garza said.
She had also started working on her New Year’s resolutions and ways to improve her work.
“What are we going to change, what are we going to do differently, stuff like that. We went through it and then we got a slap in the face (with COVID),” she said.
When the shelter in place order was implemented in March and businesses closed and city streets emptied, Garza’s office remained open.
“I’ve had the office for 14 years now and we have not closed since this pandemic, we’ve definitely gotten a lot busier because I specialize in family law. That means divorces, child support, custody, restraining orders, a lot of that is on the rise right now and with the courts being closed a lot of people have difficulty getting around things,” she said.
Garza tends to her law school studies in the morning and goes into the office in the afternoon to see clients.
“It’s open regular hours and I have office help and I kind of just divvy up the day and try to juggle it all with the kids,” she said.
When schools shut down in mid-March, Garza had to start juggling another item, distance learning, and instead of having her nine-year-old son attend Parkside Elementary School every day, the Garza dining room table became the new classroom.
The first few weeks of distance learning were hard for Garza’s son, who’s more into drawing and art rather than computer games and technology, and she said it was difficult adjusting to the online component of distance learning.
“My son isn’t a tech nerd kind of person and really the only computer time he would get was at school and so when we had to start the programs at home I assumed he would know how to navigate through them. I had never navigated through them and it was very frustrating because he didn’t know and I spent time on each program and each page he was on and trying to figure out how to navigate through the computer,” Garza said.
She said it was a lot to deal with for the both of them. “He would get very frustrated because he’s not a computer kid, he likes to draw a lot and he is more of an artist,” she continued.
Luckily his teacher gave him the option of doing paper work with handouts and packets instead of online work in order to foster more of a hands-on approach. In addition, they did weekly virtual check-ins with the teacher and a Zoom check-in with the class.
Despite the online-learning solution, Garaza said the first few weeks of the pandemic and the shelter in place definitely started to affect her anxiety.
“At first I thought everything was just going to be closed for two weeks, that’s what we were anticipating and then it was extended every month and then it was indefinite. I think (it affected me) a good month and a half in after doing all of the home schooling, trying to work from home and trying to keep the kids busy and it was definitely starting to affect my anxiety,” Garza said. “It felt like there was no end to it.”
She said it was a struggle at first to balance everything, work, law school, the kids’ school and keeping their 3-year-old busy. Hearing a constant stream of negative news reports and stories, report after report, also didn’t help the stressful situation.
“Hearing all of the media and the constant posting of information and people texting... it was getting to me so I kind of had to block off social media for a while and take a deep breath,” she said.
She said she’s trying to stick to her normal routine and schedule to try to have some sense of normalcy. She added that in sharing her story with Sonoma West she hopes others will realize that they’re not alone when it comes to stress and anxiety in a COVID world.
As the summer months approached and the 2019-20 school year ended the parenting/work/life balance got a tad easier. Garza was able to enroll her son in a half day summer camp and for the rest of the afternoon the kids would come to work with her, reading or lounging on her desk among the papers and files to pass the time.
In order to get a respite from the day-to-day grind, the family went on a camping trip and also spent long summer evenings taking walks or visiting the Russian River, which is only minutes from their home.
Most recently Garza helped her son pick blackberries for his jam business. “My son has a blackberry jam business that he started. He sells his jam every year. He has a label and just got t-shirts and hats made,” she said.
Plans for the future
While it’s difficult to make plans for anything right now, Garza said she’ll continue to work on her law studies. She’s also getting ready to get her kids settled in for the new school year.
“Unfortunately, I think he’s (her son) going to have to stick to the computer stuff unless they are able to let us do something different, but we don’t know,” Garza said of distance learning.
She said while it was difficult to immediately switch to distance learning in March, at least they know what to expect this fall.
Her son’s learning space will yet again be at the dining table, or wherever they can find space, but they also want to get more creative this time in terms of setting up a different learning area. She said a friend of hers opened up a camper to use as a classroom and Garza might follow suit with the idea.
When asked of Garza if she’s learned anything new about herself through this experience, she cited her ability to stay strong and positive.
“I’ve never really been a super duper negative person, I always try to look at the future and be optimistic about things,” Garza said.
She said she’s not going to worry about the future or the past, rather she’ll focus on things day by day.
“I am a lot stronger than I think,” she said, noting that her friends have quipped that that will be helpful for getting through law school.
“You got to have the will and strength to go on,” she concluded.
Our next profile in this mini-series will be on Sebastopol local and recent college graduate, Irene Long.