Anna sighed as she turned on the computer in her home office. Her morning Zoom call with colleagues was minutes away and she had not even had time to apply her makeup. As she waited for the meeting to start, she looked at her tired face staring back at her on the screen. In the kitchen, her wife Danielle was loading up the dishwasher as their 10-year-old twins, Sam and Jarrett, headed out to catch the school bus at the end of the street. “Remember what we told you. Do not take your masks off,” Danielle called out. She finished wiping the counters, then dressed hurriedly for a morning of sales calls for her marketing firm.
Two hours later, the phone rang. It was the twins’ school calling. “Please come and pick up Sam. He’s coughing. It might not be anything more serious but we can’t take a risk.” Danielle peeked into the office where Anna was in the middle of a presentation she had worked on all weekend. She scribbled a note for her and grabbed the car keys, muttering under her breath, “This is not how I planned to spend the day.”
By Kate McGregor
While this story is not about real people, it could be. The pandemic has disrupted family life. Couples navigate working at home and caring for children who may be attending classes in person or learning online. Single parents face the pressure of balancing work demands with raising children. Parents struggle with reduced work hours and the threat of unemployment. Teachers who are also parents face the double challenge of delivering in-house and virtual school programs while caring for their own children. Families face the heartache of not being able to visit parents and grandparents who are ill and dying. Marriages that were teetering before COVID are looking even shakier. What used to be routine visits to the grocery store have become stressful expeditions where we don masks, observe physical distancing protocols and wash our hands frequently.
Recently, I drove through the Glebe. It was a beautiful, warm day. Everything looked normal. Restaurant patios were hopping, the children’s play area at Lansdowne Park was filled with laughter, families were strolling along the canal and couples were exploring Dow’s Lake in kayaks and paddleboats. On weekdays, I have noticed more families with children walking their dogs before the work and school day begins. During a stroll with my recently adopted dog, I stopped to listen to a father and his young daughter with a butterfly net talk about the insects she had just collected in a jar. I smiled and wondered if she was being home schooled.
Being outside in nature has become the balm to help soothe weary souls during this unprecedented time of change and uncertainty. This summer, with air travel suspended, we turned our attention to our own backyard and explored the Ottawa Valley and the Gatineau Hills on foot, by bicycle and by car and we fell in love again with the small-town charm of places like Pakenham, Almonte, Perth, Wakefield and Chelsea.
Now that the school year has begun, parents and teachers are bravely mapping out brand new education territory for our children. Thanksgiving and Halloween are fast approaching – with the risk of large groups coming together, there is talk about whether we should cancel these annual traditions altogether to help curb the spread of the virus.
At a press briefing, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the arrival of the second wave of COVID-19. As infections rise, families should continue to take time away from computer screens to celebrate the simple joys life offers – making time for conversation around the dinner table, checking in on elderly relatives and neighbours and starting new habits like daily walks together after dinner. At the same time, we need to look to the wider community and to support the small businesses in the Glebe and beyond that are struggling to stay afloat.
Mathematician John Allen Paulos once said, “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” The pandemic is challenging the physical and mental wellbeing of families. Knowing we are all in this together gives us the collective strength, comfort and hope we need to navigate the new normal.