Loribeth recently posted a list of questions which were originally meant as scrapbooking prompts, but which she recognized would make great blog posts! Loribeth has already posted with her answers, and I’m jumping on the bandwagon. I’ve also decided to just post my first set of answers as it’s taking me a long time to work through them all. I’ll link back to this post when I get the second round of answers finished.
When was the moment you knew this was serious? Where were you and what happened?
There wasn’t one “uh oh” moment for me. It was more like a gradual realization of the inevitability of what was going to happen. I was aware of the virus from January onwards and knew in February that it was spreading rapidly. I made a late contribution to my RRSP at the very end of February and was pleased that I’d put the money in when the markets were down (little did I know how much further they’d fall!).
Q. and I had a huge public presentation that happened on the 1st of March in front of several hundred people, which involved some academic colleagues travelling to the city. During one of the coffee breaks I was chatting with another colleague at my university who was supposed to go to Italy in April for a lecture/study tour that had been in the works for over a year. On the 1st of March, it still seemed reasonable that he might be able to get to Italy, but he was concerned that he and his wife might get stranded there, or that the archives would shut. Our universities had already cancelled their summer study tours to Italy. One of our visiting colleagues (the only one from the US) sounded quite Trumpian at lunch in his assertions that the virus wasn’t that bad and that we were all in danger of overreacting. (We’ve been in touch with him via email since and he’s certainly changed his tune!)
On Thursday, 5 March, Q. went and did a grocery shop where he stocked up on shelf-stable staples and household supplies (including toilet paper!). He’d been reading the Globe and Mail and there had been an article recommending that everyone have two weeks of food on hand. We were about a week ahead of the panic-buying. Q. didn’t think to buy yeast, which was our one big error, as we haven’t been able to get it since and he needs it to bake his own bread (he was diagnosed with celiac disease late last year).
The cascade of bad news really came the next week. On Monday (the 9th) my students were still confident enough that they would see me the next week that some of them opted not to walk back with me to my office to pick up their tests. On the 10th and the 11th, I made sure in my classes to emphasize that if we had to pivot to online teaching, I was experienced at that method of course delivery and I would be able to finish the term with no difficulties. On Thursday (the 12th) I told my class that I thought it extremely likely there would be disruption to the end of the semester. After class had finished, I was taking public transit home when my sister sent me a link to the announcement from the premier that the schools were going to be shut for the two weeks following March Break. At that stage I NEEDED the university to transition to online, as there was no way I could have the kids at home while I still had to be on campus four days a week. Friday (the 13th, appropriately enough!), my university made the decision that we were transitioning to online delivery, effective immediately. Some universities shortened the winter semester by a week to give their faculty time to make the change, but not mine.
On Friday, P. and I set out to do our usual weekly grocery shop. When we pulled into the parking lot of our usual store, there was a massive line up to get inside! I quickly drove to another grocery store, which was further away and not easily accessed by transit. I (correctly) predicted that it would be busy but that we’d be able to get in without lining up. We did a very quick shop as we had to be back in time to get E. from school. There was noticeable shortages in many parts of the store, including fresh produce, all cleaning supplies, dried pasta, canned goods, toilet paper, etc. The other shoppers looked stressed. We got the shop done, picked up E., and then I took them to the library. Here I made my single largest error of the entire pandemic. We were IN THE LIBRARY with three library cards. I could have checked out up to 150 books (50 books per card). Instead, I let E. pick a few that he seemed interested in, put back on the shelf the ones I’d found that he didn’t want to choose, and held P. to her usual limit. I don’t know what I was thinking. Actually, I know I wasn’t thinking. I think I knew that the libraries were going to shut too, but I hadn’t quite realized just how quickly that was going to happen. Maybe I thought I could go back on the weekend? It was a real brain explosion for sure, because we took our (very small) pile of books home and the libraries shut for the duration of the pandemic that same evening.
The 14th of March (Saturday) was my grandfather’s funeral (he had died on the 2nd). My sisters and I all felt uneasy about the event going ahead given the demographics that would be attending (mostly elderly so all high-risk). It was probably one of the last big gatherings in the province- church service for the Sunday had already been cancelled. We were able to see all of our extended family on that side, including our father. It was bittersweet, but I’m glad we were all able to be together in person given what’s happened since.
The original plan was for my mum to take the kids to her house for March Break, and we kept that plan. Mum had been at our house the previous week (she’d been coming every week to help us out with childcare since the beginning of January because of my ridiculous teaching schedule. She is the world’s best Grannie), and we’d seen her at the funeral, so we figured anything we’d been exposed to, she’d been exposed to as well. She picked the kids up on Tuesday (the 17th) and we drove to her house to get them on Saturday (the 21st). In between, I worked like crazy to write and record my lectures for the last three weeks of semester because I (rightly) suspected that it would be difficult to get such things accomplished with the kids underfoot. On the Wednesday (the 18th) Q. and I drove up to our university to liberate as many books as we could carry from Q.’s office because we (correctly) predicted that it would be only a matter of time before the university shut down entirely (and we got the email that all access to buildings would be suspended the next day!). We also hit up one more grocery store and picked up a few more fresh things, which meant that we were then able to go a full two weeks before we needed to get more groceries.
The news just kept getting worse and worse that entire week. Trudeau told all Canadians overseas to come home. It was clear that schools would not be reopening in two weeks as originally suggested. The markets crashed and then crashed again. We picked the kids up on the 21st. It had been a really different March Break from what Mum had planned: they’d stayed home (but had lots of outside time exploring green spaces on their scooters and geocaching). They’d made pizza and puppets and done yoga and read tons of stories. The kids had loved it so much that they were both incandescent with rage that Q. and I had picked them up on Saturday and not Sunday (we thought they might have been homesick, haha). E. wept in the car as we drove away.
I’m really glad they had that time with my mum, because that was the last time they saw anyone outside of our household (other than neighbours from a distance or family online). As of today (the
8th 9th of May) it’s been 48 49 days since we picked them up.
Looking back now, is there one particular news article or story that stands out to you?
I can’t point to any single news article or story. I spent a lot of time comparing the numbers between Canada and Australia in the early days. For a long time our case loads and our curves were almost identical and then they got things under control (I would say despite the actions of their prime minister, not because of) and we didn’t. I think the difference was in testing and contact tracing (as well as the fact that they sealed their border faster and with stricter quarantine requirements). I don’t think our premier’s suggestion that families should “go away and enjoy themselves” over March break (this was after he’d announced the schools were going to shut) helped matters either.
What was the first meme that caused you to laugh out loud?
There have been loads of great memes, but the earliest that I can clearly remember was the video of the sock puppet eating cars, which one of my sisters-in-law sent to me on the 17th of March. That might not even officially be a meme. The meme about if Trump was the captain of the Titanic (first line: “There is no iceberg”) is still one of the best I’ve seen.
What have you observed in your community that has been heart-warming?
There have been a lot of supportive posts in my neighbourhood F.book groups. There’s a woman in one group who has sewn over 2,000 fabric masks for people in the area – all by donation! Lots of positive messages written in chalk on sidewalks and fence posts. Lots of rainbows in the windows.
What has been the biggest change to your everyday routine?
My entire routine has been upended by the pandemic, so it would be hard to settle on one thing. In the early days I really noticed the absence of my commute, especially the walk to/from transit. I used to work from home on days when I wasn’t teaching, but when I did that I had a quiet empty house. Now my work is squeezed into the afternoon and I do my best to ignore the shenanigans upstairs. I had to transition all four of the courses I was teaching into an online format. I haven’t seen my students or my colleagues in person since the 12th of March.
I miss chatting with other parents at drop off at E’s school or at P’s nursery school. I miss the chats I would have with the kids as we walked home. I miss being able to pop into one of the shops on our main street and get them a scone or a muffin as a treat.
How has family life been altered in your home?
We are all trying our best, but this is HARD. Pre-COVID E. was in school full-time (grade 3) and P. was at nursery school four days a week. Now they’re at home with us, but E.’s still meant to be in school. I’m not going to sit here and type that this is all a great blessing and we’re so lucky to be spending all this extra time together, because I’m not at all convinced that all this extra time together has been good for any of our relationships. There have been occasional moments where P. and E. have been getting along really well and playing together, but most of the time they’re fighting or pestering each other. They get bored and they start to push each other’s buttons. E. is highly reactive and P. can be a real PITA. It’s not a great combination.
One thing that has shifted but hasn’t changed is our routine. We were always a heavily routine-oriented family. Both kids really thrive on (and need) the predictability (and, frankly, so do Q. and I). We were never late for school (or anything). We always ate dinner at around the same time. The kids had consistent bedtimes. I know there are families out there just taking each day as it comes, and if that works for them, hurrah. I’m still waking E. up at a consistent time in the morning (somewhere between 7:30 and 7:45) to make sure he’ll go to sleep at night. P. I let sleep until she wakes up (and that’s been one positive of the new normal- she’s getting more sleep now that she doesn’t have to be woken up to get E. to school on time). We start school at 9. We’re usually outside by 11 and lunch is at 12:30. In the afternoon, E’s usually finished his schoolwork with Q. by 2:30 or 3 and he has educational app time (he plays a lot of Prodigy) and then they have snack and go outside. When they come back in it’s video time and then dinner.
We’re trying as much as possible to avoid being sucked into power struggles with E. about schoolwork, but we’ve all had meltdowns and we’ve all lost our tempers and we’ve all had some rough days. There’s a reason we don’t homeschool.
Q. and I are both stressed about work. It’s just not possible for us to get work done during the hours when we’re responsible for the kids. The big kid doesn’t have the maturity or the focus or the interest to do his work independently and the little kid needs time and attention too. It would be much easier if they were both old enough to be doing schoolwork, and easier still if they were both old enough to do their work mostly independently. I’m not saying it would be easy, just that it would have to be easier than our current gong show.
We get the kids outside at least twice a day, and we have a yard to run around in, and a laneway behind our house to ride bikes or scooters in, and a big garden with lots of weeding and digging and planting that needs to be done, but they are bubbling over with energy. They miss the parks. They miss going for walks. They miss their friends. WE MISS THE LIBRARY SO SO SO MUCH.
What have you learned to do during this pandemic?
Q. and I have mastered the art of ordering groceries online (which we might keep doing, at least some of the time, post-COVID).
E. has made huge strides in typing and general computer skills. He’s learned to make a few simple lunches (egg salad sandwiches, quesadillas, tuna melts).
P. got a new bike last week (an early birthday present) and is making a spectacularly smooth transition from a 12″ balance bike to a 14″ bike with pedals.
One thing we’re doing for the first time is seed starting (although I wouldn’t say I needed to learn how to do this). We had planned to do this before COVID but the pandemic made it even easier to prioritize our ‘victory garden’ (as Q. insists on calling it). One of the science activities I did with the kids in the first week they were home was to germinate seeds in damp paper towel. We put 10 seeds of each type on wet paper towel, used washi tape to label each set (E. recorded the legend) and then put them in a ziploc bag and put them on top of the fridge for a week. We tried all the varieties of seeds we had at home from previous years and discovered that almost all of them would still germinate (we had no luck with the onions, the fennel, and the lettuce, and the swiss chard from 2010 failed too (the 2014 and 2016 packages were fine)).
We did learn recently that you can regrow all sorts of veggies from their leftover ends so we have green onions and celery regrowing in glass jars on our kitchen counter, which is fun.
Generally, though, when it comes to ‘learning’ things, I see all the inspirational posts about what people are doing with “all their free time” and my head explodes. I don’t have the time or the emotional bandwidth to take on anything new right now. I’m struggling even to read.
What change has created the most disappointment for you?
The big one is the closure of the schools. It was the right decision to make from a societal-standpoint, but it has made everything so much harder for us.
My university has stayed online for the summer semester, which is fine, as the course I was scheduled to teach was designed as an online course from the outset. If we’re still online for the fall, that will be far more problematic. The administration is hedging a little bit there but at the moment the recommendations are if our courses are going to be more than 50 people we should plan to be online.
The public libraries. We used to go every week. I can’t express in words how much we (and especially E.) miss the libraries.
On a personal level, I’m sad that I didn’t get to see Hamilton after our hard-fought battle to get tickets. I’m sad that the entire season at Stratford has been cancelled/postponed, a season where we were planning to go at least three times because everything looked great. I’m sad that we won’t be able to go down under this summer as planned, that we’ll miss Q.’s mother’s 70th birthday and the christening of E. and P.’s newest cousin, that it might be another two years before we can go since Q. is scheduled to teach in summer 2021.
I miss seeing my family. The rule in our province is no gatherings over five people, and since there are four in my household, we can’t really meet up with anyone else. We did discuss meeting up in a socially-distanced way, but Q. is not comfortable doing anything that could get us fined since his permanent residency is up for renewal this year, and I have to respect that.
More to come!