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German mother of 11 kids fights virus with discipline, love

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Katja Heimann, her husband and their eleven children sit around a table in their home in Eisemroth, central Germany, Thursday, March 25, 2021. One year into the coronavirus pandemic, Katja Heimann is still trying to keep her spirits up - despite several lockdowns and months of teaching seven of her children in home schooling. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

EISEMROTH – One year into the coronavirus pandemic, Katja Heimann, a mother of 11, is still trying to keep her spirits up — despite several lockdowns and months of homeschooling seven of her children. The secret of her success, she says: structured daily routines, patience and love.

Heimann, who lives with her husband Andre and their children in the small village of Eisemroth in central Germany, keeps a strict daily schedule to get everything done that needs to be done when you have 11 kids. That includes a lot of self-discipline: getting up at dawn, cleaning the home, doing the laundry, cooking and, in addition — since schools have been closed for most students in Germany since the end of last year — helping her children with remote learning.

Despite her perseverance the situation “has become very exhausting lately,” the 41-year-old told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday.

“The biggest challenge is to keep on going,” she added.

Like millions of families in Germany and across the globe, the Heimanns are struggling with the ongoing daily burdens of the pandemic. But where most families, at least in Germany, have to take care of one, two, three or rarely four children, the Heimanns have an entire soccer team of kids in the house.

The oldest, Milena, 22, has already moved out, but lives nearby and comes over for visits several times a week. In addition to the seven school-age children, the Heimanns also have three little ones — the youngest only 18 months — who are still in kindergarten, which has also been closed some of the time due to the virus.

“It's very noisy here and cramped," Katja Heimann said with a sigh, but also a smile. When the four high school students are participating in video conferences with their teachers, she helps her three elementary school students solve their exercises on the long wooden kitchen table.

“In the beginning of homeschooling we had only one laptop for our entire family — that didn't work out at all,” she said. Friends and neighbors quickly helped out, lending their spare devices to the family.

Husband Andre, 52, a locksmith, says he is in awe of how his wife manages to keep their family together during the pandemic.

“She takes care of the household, the homework, the cooking, the cleaning, the paperwork, everything," he says. "She's amazing.”

Of course, the Heimanns have good and bad days.

Sometimes the kids argue with each other, they get bored and don't want to do remote learning anymore but do want to hang out with their friends again — which is not allowed due to the distancing regulations.

“Of course, we have stress and we argue too,” says Andre. “But in general the situation made us get closer together."

Across the country, families are bearing the brunt of the pandemic and parents as well as children are exhausted by the ongoing school closures. While in some German states some schools have reopened carefully and for half-size attendance only, other states are still keeping many children in remote-learning-only mode.

In the beginning of the pandemic, Germany seemed to have the virus relatively well under control, but things got worse last fall, when the start of the second wave quickly filled hospitals and brought up death numbers. Since November, the country's 83 million people have been living under various lockdown measures. Restaurants, bars and many leisure facilities remain closed.

However, despite the restrictions, infection numbers in Germany have been rising again in recent weeks as the more contagious virus variant first detected in Britain has become dominant in the country.

Germany has registered more than 75,000 deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic a year ago. On Thursday, the country’s disease control center reported 22,657 new confirmed daily cases, up from 17,504 a week ago.

Contracting the infection is a constant fear for the Heimanns as their 3-year-old son Oskar suffers from a rare genetic disease, has an intellectual disability and is therefore especially vulnerable.

“We have two risk patients in our family — Oskar with his genetic defect and my husband," says Katja Heimann. "So we are living in constant fear that somebody will bring home the infection.”

Despite their worries, some of the children started going back to school part-time recently and they're hoping for full-time classes again soon.

“The best thing will be when we can all go back to school every day and meet and play in groups again,” says 10-year-old Martha.

“And play soccer again which is currently canceled — which is really a stupid thing,” adds 12-year-old brother Willi.

The rest of the Heimann family also can't wait for the pandemic to be over.

“The most important thing will be when the kids can finally be kids again and enjoy their hobbies,” says father Andre. “That they are no longer bored and can go wherever they want and do what they like to do again.”

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Grieshaber reported from Berlin.