islandparent Parenting Fatherhood Love in the Time of COVID-19

Love in the Time of COVID-19

I’d planned to write this column about our family’s new puppy. I was going to confess how, against all good parenting advice, we gave in to our kids’ lobbying efforts and adopted a mixed mutt a week before Christmas. I’d describe in comic detail how bringing home an eight-week-old pup felt like we’d become new parents again: the sleepless nights, the random poops and pees, the worry we were raising her wrong—and the sheer joy of watching this new life wiggle her way into our hearts.

Then everything changed.

Now, we mark our memories with a big B.C. for “Before Coronavirus.” We still don’t know when we might add an A.C. for life “after COVID-19.” We’re all stunned at the speed that the coronavirus hijacked our cities and our imaginations. One day, we were posting puppy pics on Facebook; the next, we were sharing pandemic protocols. Tomorrow…who knows?

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Looking back, it feels like watching a runaway truck accelerating in our rear-view mirror. It began with a news item out of China. Then a quarantined cruise ship. Next, a spike in northern Italy and nearby Washington State. Soon we were hitting refresh on our browsers every 15 minutes to find out how radically our world was changing around us.

At first, we wondered if and when and how we should talk to our kids about COVID-19. Today, we summarize the daily directives from our Prime Minister and public health officials. We try not to overwhelm them with the news, even as we try not to get overwhelmed ourselves.

Parenting advice can feel fraught at the best times. Now it has gained a life-or-death edge. Many of us shared a blog post from a mother in Italy pleading other families not to make the same mistakes: Keep your kids at home, she warned. Don’t worry about screen time. Flatten the curve.

And so we did. In mere days, COVID-19 reduced us to our most basic family units. Friends separated from friends. Co-workers kept apart except for essential services. Grandparents banished from seeing grandkids.

I’ve been touched by how quickly our kids accepted and adapted to the strange new regime of “social distancing.” School on hold. Sports seasons cancelled. Playdates a thing of the past. All their routines wiped away.

Without complaint, my son planned a virtual sleepover to replace his birthday party. He taught himself to make Italian ice desserts from YouTube and then used garage scraps to build a pushcart so he can sell the treats on the street when the quarantine lifts. My daughter keeps to her music practices (despite a cancelled band trip) and training runs (for a postponed TC 10K). Their hope gives me hope. What could feel like an extended “Time Out” they’ve turned into an active “Time In.”

It helps that our communities have forged new ways to stay connected yet safe. People share links for educational resources and tips for family activities and offers to help elderly or other at-risk neighbours shut inside their homes. We did our dog obedience class by Zoom. Our kids continue music lessons on Skype. A crafty family friend dropped off supplies and led a felting class via Discord. I’ve dusted off my teenage Dungeons & Dragons know-how to run an online campaign with my sons’ friends.

Who knows how long this will last? I won’t make any predictions as I’m notoriously bad at fortune-telling. Exhibit A: my Fall 2016 column about how excited I was the next U.S. president would be a woman.

I only hope that we all act on what we learn during our time in collective quarantine. I hope our temporary loss of in-person contact reminds us to strengthen the true social networks—with our friends and neighbours, with local businesses and the strangers we’ve had to step away from—that make a community livable and help our kids to blossom. I hope that the resiliency we discover in our own families, in the face of global tragedy, can help us to rebuild our shared institutions to be twice as durable as before.

And I hope that everyone can get a puppy, because a puppy is a healthy distraction during a pandemic. But I can tell you about that another time.

David Leach
David Leach
David Leach is a professor in the Department of Writing at the University of Victoria and author of Chasing Utopia.