Academics and Parenthood in the Time of COVID-19

Month: March 2020 Page 1 of 2

Monday, March 30

Today, we ate blueberry muffins and Dot “painted” rainbows and suns on our walls and piled up all of her clothes on to a chair in her room and said she was making a “wonderful.” When she started making splashing noises, I realized she was talking about a “waterfall.” Then she asked me to put on her poodle skirt, her Batgirl costume, a bathing suit, some sunglasses and a hat, which she called her “sweet potato hat:” (named, I think, after what Mr. Potatohead calls Mrs. Potatohead in Toy Story, since Mrs. Potatohead has a similar hat). She put a different boot on each foot, and she stomped around the house, admiring herself in mirrors. Then she put some Easter stickers on her Beymax toy, then on her own belly, then on my back, then back to Beymax, then back to my back, then back to Beymax. Then she put Beymax — festooned in Easter eggs and flowers — in her high chair and fed him toy cheese.

So it was a day of little wins. I got to talk to some of my DRI reading group over Microsoft Teams. I ate some mini eggs. I drank a little whiskey. I read some awesome work by my students (before whiskey). I watched a fashion reality TV show, despite the fact that I will never get out of sweatpants again. We didn’t go outside, but it was a decent day nonetheless.

Sunday, March 29

Made blueberry muffins to the sound of sirens. For awhile, Dot said, “An ambu-lamps. Helping people” after each one that passed, since we’ve told her that ambulances are for helping people. But they got so frequent that she stopped mentioning them. Another one is passing as I type this. I’ve been trying to build in routine to our lives — blueberry muffins on Sunday morning — but reminders of what’s going on are never far away.

They don’t give the B.C. stats for COVID-19 on Sundays, and if these ambulances are any indication, I think we’ll see a big jump in numbers tomorrow.

On our outdoor adventure today, we kept receiving reminders to notice nature. First, Dot found two rocks with the words “Still, sit. Tastatlaw invites you” written on them. There used to be a storytelling bench here, before it crumbled, and the place where it was has been seeded with bright green grass. A nearby plaque tells that tastatlaw is a river that runs underneath the street. It’s good to think about the land, and whose land we’re on.

A toddler in a pink coat bends down to investigate two rocks, one of which is painted with "Still, sit." and the other "tastatlaw invites you."

Later, we were smelling trees (as one does) and I told Dot that the tree is cedar. She said, “Cedar is a good friend to me.” I’m not sure where that came from. We do talk about only patting plants — not grabbing them — the way we pat the cat and don’t grab her. Wherever it came from, I hope she continues to think of trees as friends.

Not content to merely smell trees, Dot insisted on getting up close and personal with the earth by kicking off her boots and running into a puddle before I could stop her.

A toddler in a pink coat runs in a mud puddle in only her sock feet.

When I came home, I learned that John Prine is currently intubated due to Coronavirus. He’s one of my favourite songwriters. When I was introduced to him in university, I thought that “Angel from Montgomery” was one of the most beautiful songs I’d ever heard. I had to get older/weirder/sadder to really appreciate him. So now I’m spending the night with my cat at my side, listening to John Prine, and sending him good wishes. I wonder if there will be a time when I say, “John Prine was the first celebrity death that really hit me.”

Saturday, March 28th

Two weeks into this blog and I find myself adopting the tone of those letters read in Civil War documentaries in a very flourishy British accent. My dearest friend, it rained hard today: a loathsome tempest that spattered against our windows and made us glad for the heat of the fire. Though we have recently fortified our provisions, we remain perilously low on a few much-needed supplies. Will I be forced to venture out into the streets where our common enemy lurks, where it is most perilous to practice effective distancing of the social variety? I pray thee keep well.

Anyhow. Today was also a day of phrases like “how did those crayons get zipped up into your pajamas?” and “Noodles don’t go in marker lids!” and “The cat doesn’t want to drink coffee.” We ended up staying indoors: colouring and bubble blowing and attempting to do toddler yoga, which was really me doing yoga; (I have very limited flexibility, so by “doing yoga” I mean “mostly standing in one place and very enthusiastically repeating the directions of the yoga instructor on the screen). My attempt to do ‘snake pose’ turned into me laying there while Dot decorated my back with stickers, patting my hair and assuring me “oh yeah, it’s cute.” Then I had a shower and the toddler covered my new shirt with stickers too.

As I am writing this, I’m realizing that the scritching noise I hear is not the rat/squirrel/whatever that’s in our walls, but several Toy Story (what else?) stickers that are still occupying my shoulder.

However, I do deserve an A+ in pandemic parenting today. I filled up a cup with water and gave Dot a little paintbrush, and she spent an hour lovingly “painting” all of her stuffies. I was feeling very proud of myself. The joke’s on me, though, because when she woke up from her nap she didn’t understand why she could paint her stuffies but not draw on her stuffies, and also why not just draw on the wall? When her crayon was apprehended, she noted that Daniel Tiger paints a sun on the wall and she should be able to draw a sun like Daniel Tiger. She got me there. Daniel Tiger does paint a sun in the episode where he’s getting ready to be a big brother. Why do you have to do me like this, Daniel Tiger?

A red shirt covered in Toy Story stickers
Spot the Toy Story characters.
A curly-haired toddler wearing a tulle skirt paints the eyebrow of a very large rubber duckie.
Pandemic fashion and art

Friday, March 27

Feeling the urge to bust into Instagram influencer mode and declare myself #blessed. Yesterday, my wonderful colleague heard me complaining on a Microsoft Teams chat about how I’d neglected to bring my art supplies home from campus. The craft situation in our household was dire. We were down to half a crayon and one crusty marker, which I kept trying to revive by dipping it in water. She dropped off a huge bag of crafting supplies for Dot, plus some chocolate and candy for me.

Then, today, my parents dropped off some toys that they’d kept at their house for Dot, along with the best gift of all: toilet paper.

We really are lucky to have people who care about us during this time.

Today, I went grocery shopping for the first time in nearly 3 weeks. Usually, Dot and I go shopping nearly every day. Dot loves the free piece of fruit at the grocery store, and she is a “very big helper” pushing the tiny carts that they have there. I love our usual routine of breakfast, store, coffee shop, park, lunch, nap.

But today, there was no time for a toddler helper to careen through the aisles, filling the cart with Peppa Pig colouring books. Just me and my careful list, sorted by aisle. I planned to go early, hoping there’d still be toilet paper (there wasn’t). I arrived at just the wrong time and couldn’t find a shopping cart, so I lugged two baskets around, filling them with everything on our list. It was so bizarre to approach this mundane task with military precision: to feel as if I was entering enemy territory, dodging and weaving around customers to keep my social distance. The baskets and shopping bags were so heavy that my wrists were raw by the time I was done. When I got home, I wiped everything down with Clorox wipes, put them away, changed my clothes and had a shower.

Arm with bruises from carrying heavy bags

In 2009, I had a failed hip replacement and had to relearn how to walk. (I blogged through that too). I was supposed to get a blood transfusion, but didn’t, and so even shuffling a block would require a 4 hour nap. I spent a lot of time in bed, full of nervy boredom. Today’s grocery store trip reminded me of the first time I went to a grocery store after the hip replacement. I can’t even remember what I bought, but I remember standing in the aisle on my crutches, trying to reach something from the shelf, feeling as if I was pushing through dense gravity, thinking, “Wow, I used to do this all the time and it was just a normal thing.”

But what a wonderful feeling to be home, freshly showered, my cupboards full of food, toilet paper in the cupboard, re-upped on mini eggs (thanks mom!). So many people don’t have that.

And what a wonderful feeling to spend an hour in the rain with Dot as she investigated the chestnuts on the ground, turning each one in her hand, peeling off the outer layer “like an orange.” What a wonderful feeling to watch her dirty little hands making sense of the word, and to look at chestnuts as if for the first time.

Thursday, March 26

I tweeted about this, but I’m going to flesh it out again here. I’ve been thinking about something that happened two years ago, nearly to the day. My husband’s band was having a little show and I’d left late so I could get her settled with the babysitter. As I was driving to the show, I passed two women in their 20s being harassed by a man in a black trenchcoat, safety vest and big boots. I stopped, rolled down my window and asked if they were okay. They said they didn’t know. I offered to stay with them until they got to safety. Suddenly, the man shouted, “I’m going to count to 3. You better run!” He reached towards his pocket. I told the girls to hop in my car, and I took off. When I looked in my rearview mirror, the man was following me. 

We were near the police station, so we flagged down a police car. As the police officer was talking to us, the man caught up to the car. He wouldn’t take his hands out of his pockets, and kept menacing the police officer. Suddenly, there were 8 police cars, flashing lights everywhere, and a bunch of police officers chasing the man. We were told to leave the scene, so we did. 

I gave the women my phone number in case the police needed a statement. One texted the next day to say that the cops didn’t need to talk to me. She mentioned that they had learned their lesson, and would be more careful. Careful how? They’d been walking in daylight, in pairs, right by a police station. Hard to be more careful than that.

Image caption: Graffiti that reads “wash your hands and your rights and freedoms away.”

Graffiti that says "Wash your hands and your rights and freedoms away"

But I empathized because I’m someone who always believes that if I can just find the lesson, I can control the situation. If I can just give something meaning, or change my behaviour, if I can just be good enough or smart enough or aware enough, then I can prevent bad things from happening. Which is, of course, bullshit. Sometimes bad things just happen. Sometimes you’re really good and careful and a pandemic hits. Sometimes you’re walking in daylight and a man chases you down the street. But it is terrifying to say “there is no lesson here” because it means that you don’t have any control. There’s nothing you can do to fix the situation. 

I’m trying to apply this lesson (oh no – I said I wouldn’t find a lesson in it and then I did!) to this pandemic. My goal is to stop stress-reading all about how I need to scrub down my groceries and shower after I leave the house and this and that. I will focus on what I can control. I can stay inside. I can wash my hands. I can try to keep Dot from picking up random crap from the ground and putting it in her mouth. I can connect with people and try to offer care to keep others safe. 

And I can also show patience for little toddler storms, when I have to tell a 2-year-old that she can’t go on the slide because the slide is broken, and she can’t go on the swings because the swings are broken and she can’t go to the playground because the playground is broken, and she breaks a stick in half and says, “Mommy fix it, okay?” And I have to tell her that once a stick is broken, you can’t put it back together. So many broken things on our walk today. But we’re jumping in puddles and doing what we can.

Wednesday, March 25

I am regretting my lack of Cadbury Mini Eggs. Cookie rations are also dangerously low. I am trying to focus on good news: today is 14 days after we were exposed to Coronavirus, and we haven’t shown symptoms. So, I am breathing a teeny tiny little sigh of relief, even as the numbers of sick people climb. I keep thinking about the person who was sick in Dot’s dermatologist’s office. How are they doing, 14 days later?

Today, we went outside for the first time since Sunday. I realized that I’ve been subconciously dressing Dot in the sweaters my grandma knit me when I was a child. It feels like a little extra protection being able to wrap her up in something her great-grandma made. Maybe she’s watching over us.

Dot was like a little rocket unleashed. She just ran around in circles yelling “outside! Oh yeah, we’re playing! Outside!” This girl is a world-class connoisseur of puddles, and she somehow found the only one within miles. She jumped and splashed, and her hair flew up, and the water flew up, and I think it did us both good. Then she squish-squashed in her wet running shoes all the way back to the car. 

Every evening at dinner, I ask her what the best part of her day was. Today, she said, “Go outside. Jump in muddy puddles.” I can’t wait until my girl can get muddy to her heart’s content, and we can spend all day outside wandering around like we used to. 

Three vertical images of a toddler in a blue sweater jumping in a mud puddle.

Tuesday, March 24

I ate cookies for breakfast and for lunch. Take that, diet muffins! The morning and afternoon dissolved into a series of virtual meetings or attempts at meetings, since Zoom wasn’t cooperating for my department meeting, and coffee and Playdough, and half-eaten pears squished into the floor and Peppa Pig stickers and (our constant companion) Toy Story. Toy Story is taking up so much space in this Coronavirus narrative that they should be paying me for the free advertising. To influencer marketing…and beyond!

Image description: Arley stares at the camera as Dot, dressed in a striped shirt, climbs on her head.

As you can see from the above photo, working from home is going swell.

Dot’s nose was running, which is not a sign of Coronavirus, and which probably was a result of her crying about how mommy was sleeping and not playing. (Mommy was not sleeping. Mommy was sitting on the bed trying to have a virtual meeting). Still, I kept her inside, which is probably a bad move. She needs to run.

Luckily, she doesn’t have a fever. I know because I’ve been turning taking her temperature into a game. We take her dolly’s temperature, and Buzz Lightyear’s temperature, and then her temperature. Unfortunately, our reliable thermometer seems to be out of batteries, and we don’t have that type of battery. We have 3 other thermometers: a gun-style one that apparently takes a temperature at a distance, but basically spits out numbers at random, an ear thermometer that Dot hates, and then a tiny one I got in a newborn care package when Dot was born. But, I did a test and the ear thermometer and tiny thermometer gave a similar reading, so I guess I’m going to have to trust them. (This post is brought to you by the letter A for Anxiety!)

I have chronic pain, and one of my favourite coping techniques is to set a timer and think, “Well, I got through this pain for 5 minutes. Probably, I can do another 5. I got through 10 minutes, probably I can do another 10.” I am trying to do this with days. I got through today. Probably I can tomorrow. I’ve gotten through 2 weeks. Probably I can get through another 2 weeks. 

Monday, March 23

Parenting pro tip: if a toddler, who’s supposed to be asleep, shouts “oh yeah! It’s snowing!” you need to rush right in there. The snow was about 100 white garbage bags, which she had retrieved from her dresser drawer and was tossing up in the air with wild glee. Apparently, through all of this she is still growing, and now she’s tall enough to reach the dresser from her crib. This is what I get for not taking her outside today. I guess we’re all going a little stir crazy. 

I had a lot of conference calls, and I just couldn’t bring myself to take her out. Worrying about her touching the elevator buttons. Worrying about finding a place where people are social distancing. Worrying about her not touching benches and rocks and gates and fences and sidewalks and trashcans. Worrying about her trying to put garbage in her mouth. Worrying that the virus is airborne, that everyone we pass has it. Worrying about washing her hands when we get home, and if I’ve done it well enough.

I needed a day off from all that. I know it’s not rational. We’re still allowed to go outside. Everyone needs fresh air. But today I really wish I had a yard where I could just sit on my porch and let her run. 

Today we also resorted to Playdough shenanigans. First we made hair for Rex. Then we made spaghetti and meatballs. Maybe he’s born with it. Maybe it’s Playdough through a garlic press. 

Image description: A Rex dinosaur with a bunch of purple and green Playdough tat looks like hair.
Image description: A Rex dinosaur with a bunch of purple and green Playdough tat looks like hair.

But the highlight of today was that I got to talk to a lot of people. It’s so nice to talk with adults! And I love writing collaboratively. Also, I made chocolate chip cookies, and we all ate them warm.

And it’s raining, finally. Never thought I’d see the day when I looked forward to rain in Vancouver. But a little rain will chase us all indoors, and everything feels cozy again.

Sunday, March 22

It’s been over a week since I started keeping this Coronavirus journal. When I started, I wondered what my life would look like in a week. A week later, I’m feeling the same way. Things can change so quickly. Yesterday, we didn’t go outside. I just couldn’t stomach walking past all these people sitting on picnic blankets.

Today, however, Dot kept asking to “go to fresh air,” so we tried to go up to our apartment complex’s rooftop deck, but the key got changed and I guess we no longer have access. Then, I tried to go to the cemetery, thinking she could run there, but it was closed and there were signs up. We ended up back at the school grounds. No one was in this big field, so I let Dot run. But as if we didn’t have enough signs of apocalypse, there was a random pile of seagull feathers, and another pile of crow feathers, as if birds are now exploding. 

When you walk with a toddler — or at least my toddler — you never go from Point A to Point B. You stop to dig in the dirt, use a stick as a microphone, investigate rocks, touch bark, say hello to flowers. Today, Dot turned over a plain grey stone, and it was painted underneath. A nice little moment of surprise: a little bit of colour added to our day. I hope that a week from now, we still have moments of calm and peace.

An oval white stone painted with faded vines sits on a larger gray rock

Saturday, March 21

Today’s lesson: a pandemic is not the time for diet muffins. I baked some muffins for breakfast and wanted to use up some ingredients we had, such as applesauce, frozen blueberries and oatmeal. I found a recipe that looked okay, even though the first 1000 words of it were the blogger talking about all the deep insight she gained from her juice cleanse. I didn’t realize that these are diet muffins: the kind that the juice cleanse crowd sees as a “special treat” or “just like eating real food.” Well, they taste like someone smeared blueberries on some wallpaper paste. Bah! A pandemic is a time for, in the words of the poet Mary Oliver, letting “the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” The extremely soft animal of my body does not love diet muffins!

Speaking of soft animals, the toddler took my ill-timed bathroom break as an opportunity to turn herself into Daniel Tiger. I came out of the washroom to hear “Oh yeah! Tattoos like Aunty Kiki!” She was covered in orange marker. Tiger stripes, like Daniel Tiger. Well, if the kid’s going to need a bath anyhow, we might as well go for broke. So, we busted out the paint and some brown paper from an Amazon order. Then, it was time for a bubble bath, where Dot made me several “coffees” out of bubbles in a teacup. 

A toddler's painting on some brown paper. The letters F and E are present
A toddler's arm striped with orange marker.

We didn’t go outside for the first time, in part because I couldn’t think of ways to keep away from crowds and in part because she woke up from her nap cranky. Instead, we Daniel-Tigered it up. Not having the outside time to look forward to was really disappointing, but I think it’s become necessary now.

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