Natalie Perez Is Recovering Her Hope After A Pandemic Year Of Perseverance

March 6, 2021
Natalie Perez Wants Son Learning Online Asa School Opens During The PandemicNatalie Perez Wants Son Learning Online Asa School Opens During The PandemicHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Natalie Perez at Barbaco at El Oso, the restaurant that her family owns on South Federal Boulevard in Denver. She’s navigating the stress of trying to figure out how and when her son Roman will return to school and has decided that he’ll stay home and learn online because of underyling health conditions during the pandemic.

At last. Some hope.

Natalie Perez sees some good signs when she looks around — the first, really, since the coronavirus fell upon Colorado. Her son is back in his fourth-grade classroom after almost a year of isolation and frustration. The family’s Denver restaurant is coming back to life.

“I feel like things are starting to feel back to normal and the worry is not as bad as it was in the beginning,” she said.

It’s been a rough year for Perez and her family. When Gov. Jared Polis ordered schools closed last March, her son, Roman Ortiz, joined kids across the state in opening his laptop and logging into his class from home. At first, Roman did well.

Then came fall and what seemed, at the time, like an excruciating choice. It appeared Denver Public Schools would open, and Roman would have the choice of going back to the classroom or learning remotely. He’d had some health issues when he was little. Perez and her husband went back and forth and decided to keep him at home. 

“I’m just trying to make it the least stressful I can for him and I hope it goes well,” she said then. 

That meant a grueling routine. Many mornings, Roman would log onto class from home in the morning, sign off and reconnect from his mom’s car and then log back in from a small back room at the restaurant while his mom worked.

Natalie Perez Wants Son Learning Online Asa School Opens During The PandemicHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Natalie Perez at Barbacoa at El Oso, the restaurant that her family owns on South Federal Boulevard in Denver. She’s navigating the stress of trying to figure out how and when her son Roman will return to school and has decided that he’ll stay home and learn online because of underlying health conditions during the pandemic.

Roman was isolated from his friends, frustrated by his school work and acting out. Late last year, Perez put him in therapy.

Then, finally, came January. Roman’s school, Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, reopened and he went back. 

“He comes home happy from school every day,” Perez said.

“I just see him with more energy now and being less frustrated. Also, he was having trouble sleeping and he's been dealing with that very well now and I'm so happy because it was a struggle almost every night.

“He’s eating really well and he's also started going to the gym with his dad. So that's something that feels a little normal, like doing the afterschool and the rush and being busy.”

The family restaurant, Barbacoa el Oso, is doing a little bit better, too. After a rocky year of lockdowns and limited capacity, the regulars are starting to come back. “It's really exciting to see people I hadn't seen in over a year and it's crazy and they're coming back in and they're like, ‘Oh my God, it's been so long.’ ”

It will take a while, though, for a full recovery, as people start to feel safe again.

“We had just opened like two years before and we were just starting to see the growth and then the pandemic happened,” Perez said. “It kind of pushed us back all the way to the beginning. But I don't know, we're just hanging in there and hopefully, hopefully, things will work out.” 

Along with the trouble and turmoil of the year, Perez said her family’s learned some things.

“We've slowed down a lot. Before I feel like we were always in a rush to get somewhere to do something and now it's like, ‘Oh, we got time. There's no rush for that.”

When the time is right and things are safer, she said, she wants to travel, both to see her family in Mexico and to give Roman some new perspective.

“I just feel like you just never know what could happen,” she said. “I just want to be able to show Roman that the world is really big and there's so much we can find out there. So, yeah, I just can't wait to get out of here for a little bit.”

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