Academics and Parenthood in the Time of COVID-19

Month: May 2020

Hi CMNS 1110!

How’s it going? We are in a session. It is Friday! yay!

Rainbow cat wearing headphones

Saturday, May 23

The semester has started and my day goes like this:

  • Work
  • Parent
  • Work while parenting
  • Parent while working
  • Work and parent badly
  • Brief break to play Boggle
  • Back to work
  • Stare into space
  • More working
  • Fall asleep to baking show.

But sometimes, I get a little slice of daylight. Yesterday, I took my toddler to New Brighton Beach. I’d been busy all day with grocery shopping, then weekly (optional) synchronous sessions, and the toddler and I needed a little time together. I asked her what she wanted to do and she said, “Drive in the car and see some ducks and go to the beach.” You got it, kid.

So, we went to New Brighton Beach. Only two other people were wearing masks, but I wore my jellyfish mask, which delighted my daughter. She kept asking me to pick her up, then patting my face and saying, “One jellyfish. Another jellyfish. Oh, it’s another jellyfish.” Then she’d try to kiss me, which kind of defeats the purpose of a mask but was endearing nonetheless.

We immediately saw little ducklings, and then we threw rocks in the ocean, and ran up hills and learned about barnacles. Soon, she was tired, so she asked to be carried in our toddler carrier. So we walked around for a bit and had some sleepy snuggles.

On our way to the car, we passed two East Van Hipster girls, and one of them loudly said, “It’s so performative to wear a mask outside when your kid isn’t even wearing one.”

We’ve been in our own little bubble, literally, for months. And so it’s weird to have our bubble popped in those moments, when I remember that other people are watching us, making judgements about our decisions. Yes, the toddler wasn’t wearing her mask. Even wearing pants requires some negotiation. And yes, I was one of only a few people wearing masks outside. So many different opinions, different priorities, different values. So much tension running high.

But it felt good to be outside. As the semester gets busier, I’ll have to remember to save room for little adventures like this.

May 16, 2020

It’s back to school! In January, I began the Spring semester feeling optimistic. My daughter was entering daycare and I thought I might finally have enough childcare to have some time to catch my breath. I was excited to meet a new group of students. My OER textbook was coming together, I had some cool projects on the horizon: this was going to be my year.

And then Covid-19 hit, and everything changed. I still had great students, but the way I taught was completely upended, and our daycare was closed. I changed my method of delivery, my priorities and even my assignments, which is how I ended up blogging.

But now it’s a new semester: a new group of students, and a new situation. My students will be blogging from the start, and I’m looking forward to seeing all of their blogs and hearing their stories. I hope we get to meet in person one day, but even through the computer, their personalities are coming through. It seems appropriate that the semester is starting right as two things are happening:

  1. It’s become clear that this won’t be over soon. We are going to have to adjust our way of life for years.
  2. BC is doing well *knock on wood* and we’re beginning to lift some of the restrictions.

BC’s second phase is definitely causing both joy and anxiety, with some people feeling more joy, and others more anxiety. There’s still so much we don’t know about Covid-19, and many places that have opened up too soon have had a surge in cases. As I type this, there’s a large group of teenagers passing by: laughing, shouting at each other, not social distancing in the least. Some people are treating this as a return to normal, and others are hunkering down and preparing for things to get worse.

So far, however, it has felt good to be back in the classroom, even if that classroom is my couch and my computer. Even though I’ve taught online before, my classes have always had face-to-face orientation sessions. It was strange to facilitate creating our team charter in a collaborative writing document, though both classes came up with thoughtful charters. And it was definitely a first when my toddler burst into my office, said hello to everyone, found a random ziploc bag full of nails, then turned on my husband’s Spiderman game. I guess she’s been promoted to teaching assistant.

Monday, May 11

Today, I was doing some online banking and scrolled down to my February purchase history. How strange to see all those little transactions. The salted chocolate chip cookie I bought at Platform 7 and ate while reading a book. The coffee I bought on the way to work, before my 10 am class. The glass of wine I bought when I saw Hannah Gadsby.

And those tiny grocery bills. We used to go nearly every day, and it was the highlight of my toddler’s day. I know it’s a privilege at the best of times to be able to buy a coffee without thinking about it. But I felt so sad, looking at all those brief, thoughtless little moments of pleasure. Driving to work, drinking my iced coffee, listening to podcasts. Wandering the aisles of stores.

I know the last thing I bought before sheltering in place: a bag of flavourless Baked Lays at the Subway in Columbia College’s lobby. I was there to give a session on OER. If I’d only known, I wouldn’t have wasted my last frivolous purchase on wallpaper-paste sadness crisps. After my session ended, I saw a text from my friend. She’d become very ill after going to a conference, and the news was reporting that the conference had a Coronavirus outbreak. We’d interacted with her.

I picked my toddler up at daycare, drove her to a specialist’s appointment (where we were exposed to Covid, I’d find out later), and came home knowing that my family was going into lockdown. That was March 11th. Exactly two months ago.

Right now, we’re caught in an anxious moment where rules are starting to be relaxed, but there’s also no end in sight and there are expected to be larger outbreaks. Some people seem to be treating it as business as usual, and others are worried that relaxing the rules will cause mass death. Either way, I just can’t imagine casually wandering the aisles of a store, popping into a coffee shop, sitting there with my laptop people-watching. I’ve been reading that they might never find a vaccine. Or, the vaccine will only give a slight protective advantage for some people.

I am lucky to still have a job. I can pay my bills and feed my family. And it feels indulgent to stew over wanting to walk the streets with an iced coffee in your hand. But every once in awhile you get the reminder that we are in this for the long haul, and nothing will be the same, and I think it’s okay to mourn for those little moments of pleasure.

A poster on a wall that says "be kind. Be calm. Be safe."
Someone is posting these around our neighbourhood

Wednesday, May 6th

In his poem, “Everyone Sang,” Siegfried Sassoon captures the day that peace was announced. He wrote, “Everyone suddenly burst out singing; And I was filled with such delight; As prisoned birds must find in freedom.” Today, the B.C. government announced that restrictions will be slightly lifted.

It was less everyone suddenly burst out singing, and more “some people burst out singing and then other people shouted that those people clearly hadn’t studied the Spanish Flu and were reckless and probably going to kill us all #StayingHomeSavesLives.”

Or “everyone, after a brief moment of singing, assured everyone else that they were still going to keep everything mostly as it was, but maybe see their grandparents — or maybe even not that.”

Or “Some people hummed a little, and other people reminded them about the Spanish flu, and then other people reminded those people that other countries have reopened and avoided a spike in cases, and we’re doing more contact tracing and testing, and then everyone decided that instead of singing they wanted to instead bang pots and pans for the healthcare workers at 7 pm.”

Or “everyone wasn’t sure if they were supposed to sing or if they even felt like singing because, on one hand, it gave their heart a tiny spark of joy to think that their kid could see another child or hug a grandparent, but on the other hand, it’s likely that everyone will take this to mean ‘business as usual’ and there will be a massive spike of cases.”

You can see why I’m not a poet.

So, today was a strange one. For the past week, I’ve been sick. I have no idea how I got sick, because I’ve been so careful. But I got sick all the same, and for several days, I couldn’t swallow. I lived on popsicles and pudding. I’d lay awake at 3 am wondering if my shortness of breath was anxiety, or Covid.

I tested negative for Covid, thank goodness. And today was the first day when I felt like I’d rounded a corner and was getting better. But I feel acutely how dependent I am on other people’s actions, and how lucky I was. I washed my hands and sanitized everything and wore a mask and grocery shopped once a week, and I still ended up sick.

So, the close call is looming over me. But the joy that my daughter could see her grandparents, or play with her good friend, is also tugging at me. It looks like we are in this for the long haul, so what happens next becomes a complicated matrix. If I let my daughter see her grandparents or another kid her age, she might get sick. She might make someone else sick. But if I don’t, what’s the cost to a year spent without friends?

My calculations would be different if I had an older child, or more than one child, or if I wasn’t working, or if I had no children, or if I had a yard, or if I had a big house or a woods nearby. A thousand variables, and here I am still dependent upon other people. I could stay the course and still get sick. I did stay the course, and I did get sick, just not with Covid.

Until there’s a vaccine or an effective treatment (and we are so far off from those), there won’t be a ceasefire or a moment where everyone bursts out singing. There will be no celebration on the streets. There will just be these small, fraught moments, where every step forward is scary, and where the right thing to do won’t be obvious until years later.

Saturday, May 2

I got tested for Coronavirus today. Four days ago, I drank a Coke and noticed it burned my throat. When I took my daughter or a walk that day, I had a bit of shortness of breath while just walking along a flat surface. That night, while reading her a bedtime story, it was the same. The next day, I had a full-blown sore throat, and it’s only gotten worse.

My daughter also isn’t feeling well. And because of that mild shortness of breath, when I called 8-1-1, they urged me to come in to get tested. So, I drove to a drive-through testing facility. You weren’t allowed to take pictures, but here’s how to went:

  • You pull up to the site and someone asks you if you’re here to get tested.
  • Then, a police officer asks you if you have symptoms. If so, you get to drive through.
  • You drive your car through some cones, past a series of white tents that are heated by the kind of heaters you see on restaurant patios. Healthcare workers in masks ask you a series of questions and type your information into a computer.
  • Then, another worker with a face shield does the test. I was surprised at the casual, friendly atmosphere. (Why am I reviewing this as if it’s Yelp?) The workers were chatting about what they wanted to get for lunch. And the woman who did my test was kind and asked questions about my daughter.
  • The swab itself felt weird — the woman counted to 10, then it was over — but it wasn’t as painful as I expected.

And then I was done. The whole thing took maybe 20 minutes. I am so lucky to live in a place with access to testing.

But still, I am baffled at how I managed to get sick in the first place. I’ve been sheltering in place since March 11th. During that time, I have taken my toddler outside for one single outing a day, and when we return I wash her hands thoroughly and then do mine, change both our clothes, wipe down my cellphone and all surfaces I touched as I entered. I’ve also been grocery shopping and I wear a mask to do so, practice social distancing, and when I get home I wash my hands, shower and then wash my clothes.

Even if it’s not Coronavirus, which it’s likely not, where did I pick up anything? We did drive through McDonalds on our way back from the beach: a one-time treat for the toddler, who loves nuggets. But drive-thrus are considered relatively safe. That’s the only thing I can think of.

So here’s hoping that the illness is mild, and that we’ll be able to entertain a toddler in 1000 square feet for 10 days. Dot is already putting on her pants and saying, “Go outside now?” I bought a subscription to Disney+ because if we’re going to get through this, we’ll need an extra dose of Toy Story. Forky don’t fail me now!

Friday, May 1st, 2020

I’ve been trying and failing to write and instead I’m playing endless games of online Boggle: finding words when word won’t find me. Getting schooled by Nana_of_9 and Wanda_Granny because I’m not actually good at Boggle. I don’t care about strategy and just like to follow the thread of letters until it unspools into a long word. ‘UNBELIEVABLE!’ the game cheers me on. ‘INCREDIBLE!’ Some days, you need to take compliments in whatever form they arrive.

Today, I tried to make myself a Mother’s Day present. Daycare is closed and I don’t have the appetite for the old “you’re not MY mom so why do I have to buy you a gift?” discussion. I know that Mother’s Day is a thing I shouldn’t care about. It’s heteronormative and capitalistic etc. etc. But some days, you’re whiny, and you’re trying to balance work with parenting in a global pandemic, and you could use a present.

So, I wanted to make one of those salt dough handprints. In my parents’ house, our pre-school handprints are framed along with a poem that goes something to the effect of:

Sometimes you get discouraged
Because I am so small
And always leave my fingerprints
On furniture and walls
But everyday I’m growing up
And soon I’ll be so tall
That all my little fingerprints
You never will recall
So here’s a little handprint
Just so you can say
Exactly how my fingers looked
In Tiny Tots this May.

Tiny Tots was my preschool. I remember looking at that tiny handprint when I was 9 or 10 years old, sighing with wistful melancholy over my fleeting youth. (I was both dramatic and also have perpetually looked like a 40-year-old, in part due to my childhood penchant for sweater vests and permed hair). Who am I to deny my own toddler the pleasure of waxing nostalgic when she grows older, though my hope is that, unlike me, she won’t base her personality around The Phantom of the Opera and spend most of her childhood lurking around, wearing capes and punishing her enemies by composing satirical songs about their shortcomings.

Anyway. Make a salt dough handprint, I said.

It will be fun, I said.

It will surely go better than the last 8 – 10 crafts you attempted, I said.

Dear reader, I submit to you the fruits of our labour:

A lump of dough painted grey

Majestic.

As I write this, I have paint on my neck, somehow. And on my pants. Still, I baked our greyish lumps into hard greyish lumps, and I cut a few into hearts, and they are charming in their own way. And because Mother’s Day is so fraught, and because I am tired, and because I have run out of words, I will resist the urge to turn the failed craft into a life lesson — Maybe the real salt dough handprint was the friends we made along the way — and simply return to playing Boggle: tracing my fingers along letters until a word appears and someone tells me I’m INCREDIBLE! UNBELIEVABLE! EXCELLENT!

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