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I try not to think too much about my children’s future. Life today feels unrecognizable from how it was a few weeks ago, so how could we possibly know what a decade or two will bring? But of course my worrying mind meanders, and I wonder how my three children will look back at this global pandemic that is punctuating their childhood.
My children will know this time as the Big Sickness. “When will I go to school? Can we go to the museum? When can we go to the playground?” can all be answered with the same response: “After the Big Sickness.” A vague, uncertain reply uttered by parents who have no idea what the answer is because no one has the answers for something that has never happened before.
They will think back on hushed adult voices discussing the News. They will recall cheerful, matter-of-fact reassurances that the many changes to their normal routine are to keep everyone safe and healthy. They will recall the whispered realities that crept in through the crack at the bottom of the door, as their parents discussed their worst fears in a closed bedroom.
They will know this moment as a time in which the pantry was stocked with slightly more pasta than usual, and by softer parents who were slightly less resistant to approving screen time. Maybe they will think back to how the air seemed to change: How there was a before the pandemic, and an after.
Much of what is happening will not register at all, not with children as young as mine. They don’t know about the uncertain bank accounts, the mortgage deferral discussions or the relief at hearing about an increased child benefit. They don’t know how our vision of the future seemed to change overnight. They don’t know about my personal disappointments at the cancellation of dreams that were months in the making, which are unimportant in the scheme of things but important to me. They don’t know about the drumming in my ears as I scroll through my news feed and the anxiety that begins to overwhelm. They don’t know that, while this is difficult for everyone, we are fortunate and there are many vulnerable people who are facing greater hardship.
There are parts of this global pandemic that I hope my children forget, and parts I hope they remember.
I hope my two-year old son forgets the fear in my face when his fever spiked and his forehead started to hurt, and how he was allowed out of our domestic isolation only to go to the hospital for tests. I hope my five year-old daughter forgets the long, airless moment when I told her that her birthday party was cancelled and tears welled up in her eyes. (Though I hope she remembers the moment right afterward when she decided to be brave, and we decided to make the most of it.) I hope they forget when I yelled at them for the blueberries spilled on the floor, because really I was upset about my powerlessness and not the dark stain on the carpet.
Most of all, I hope they remember how to ask a neighbour, “How are you?” and really listen to the answer. I hope they remember the slow pace of a week where the to-do list on the kitchen counter was never filled in. I hope they remember reading more books and baking more cookies, and how many things there are to learn outside of school. I hope they remember spending more time outside and how nature was our greatest solace.
I hope they remember how their father brought me flowers in the middle of a global pandemic because you cannot always change the course of history but you can make a difference to the lives around you. I hope they remember washing their hands wearing birthday hats while singing Happy Birthday with the names of our nearest and dearest. I hope they remember gratitude for health and how beautiful it is to feel another person’s touch – to hug, to kiss, to hold hands.
I hope they remember how many obligations and so-called essentials we can do without, and how not to waste the contents of the refrigerator. I hope they remember how we decided to evolve our casual vegetable garden into one where we plant more of our own food. Perhaps they will associate the smell of fresh soil with self-sufficiency and the weight of a seedling in their hands with feeding each other.
I hope they remember that, when it comes down to it, we can choose life over the spoils of a consumer society. That, in uncertain times, neighbours and communities help one another out and look out for our most vulnerable. That the farmers, cleaners, nurses, teachers, workers and grocery-store clerks are essential and deserving of respect. That when people live with a lighter footprint, there is room for all of us on this beautiful planet. I hope that they remember how humans sing from balconies to feel connected and how nature regenerates herself when we make some space.
I hope that they remember that governments and businesses do know how to make sacrifices in the short-term in order to prevent the worst of a crisis. My children will need to know how to live in a time of great crisis, as their lives will surely be marked by plenty of it. I hope that they remember how to be gentle and caring with themselves and with others, as a way of survival and resilience for the road ahead. I hope they remember how interconnected we are, and that we are all in this together.
Whether they remember all of this will depend on whether we, the adults, remember the many lessons offered by this unprecedented and uncertain moment.
Alice Irene Whittaker lives in Chelsea, Que.