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When the coronavirus came, my need to be home with my young girls outweighed my need to go out as a photojournalist. So I chronicled the pandemic as they saw it: A time of tears, joy and everyday beauty

In front of our house in Halifax's north end, my daughters Harriet, 6, and June, 3, watch people line up at a distance on the sidewalk to get food from a mobile delivery service. Like other parents in this crisis, my wife Tammy and I have tried to soften our children's experience of the changing world around them.Photography by Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail/The Globe and Mail

Darren Calabrese is a proud Maritimer and photojournalist based in Halifax.

I’m not really the kind of dad who photographs his kids. I mean, I use my iPhone to take pictures of them, but rarely do those ever get seen. As a photojournalist, I’m regularly on the road, so when I’m home, the first thing I do is lock my cameras up. I often think I should take more pictures of my home life, but, as odd as it may sound, I don’t really feel relaxed with a camera in my hand. For me, it’s work.

When things started to shut down because of COVID-19, I was on assignment out of province. When I got back home to Halifax, I studied my coming schedule – Newfoundland, PEI, Australia, Japan. I crossed those trips off the calendar and put my cameras away.

Once schools and daycares closed, and the full breadth of the virus started taking shape in Nova Scotia, my wife Tammy, an RN and patient care co-ordinator at a clinic here, had a clear and defined role to help the community get through this. But I felt lost. My first instinct, as a photojournalist, was to get out there and help share stories of the pandemic. But I couldn’t. I needed to be home with our girls, so Tammy could be at the clinic.

I have largely experienced the pandemic as a dad, more so than a journalist. And there has been an elegant simplicity in that.

There has been a lot of stress with my wife on the front lines and we have been navigating those anxieties. Like every other parent, we have been trying to soften our children’s experience of the pandemic – trying our best to shield them from our myriad concerns. Within our own walls and around the few blocks of the neighbourhood that we have been exploring, our life has continued to move at the speed of busy six- and three-year-olds. This has meant hours of make-believe and silliness from irrepressible imaginations; buckets of tears shed over missing friends; confused mood swings; and the thrill of persuading their mom to let them raise chickens here at the house.

We have our health and we are fortunate for that. But, these past months have not been without their difficulties. The intention for these pictures was simply to record the girls’ experience through this extraordinary time. All of the joy. All of the tears. And to remind parents that we are all in this together.

Tammy holds June after a day at the clinic early in the pandemic. Looking back at this moment, all I see is the stress and uncertainty they were feeling. As for Harriet, who is normally very measured and in control, she's had irrational bouts of emotion like the one shown at right: she hid and cried in the play structure in our backyard after getting frustrated explaining the rules of a made-up game.

Here, June is crying because she confessed to trying to bite her sister's arm, and was told she'd get no dessert. June has been acting out much more than she did before the pandemic.

I had eyed this beautiful tree on the grounds of Citadel Hill for years, thinking it would be great for climbing. On a cold March day, we went out to explore. This picture, and the next two, were taken before the province closed off parks and playgrounds.

June wanders slowly around a footpath while out for a walk.

On an outing with her scooter, June eventually gave up and had a lie-down on a tennis court.

Nova Scotia's restrictions on movement have made imaginative play even more essential for the girls. They have claimed most spaces in our home as theirs. It's been incredible watching their irrepressible imaginations at work.

June gives a daily checkup to dolls Belle and GiGi. She admits, with concern, that they have fevers. Tammy's job as a registered nurse gives the girls an obvious model for role-playing at home.

The girls watch a PSA in which Nova Scotia's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, answers questions for children about COVID-19 and isolation. 'Right now, we just can't have groups of people in the playground or groups of kids playing soccer,' he says in this video. 'It's not safe.'

Harriet works on a Grade 1 writing exercise from her teacher. Harriet was able to focus on the mid-morning activity in the first two weeks of learning at home, but since then she's been more resistant.

We decided to stop following specific exercises in Harriet's lesson plan, and instead turn everyday tasks into lessons, or to go outside when the sun is shining. Here, Harriet plays in the backyard with two of our new chicks, Theresa and Oreo.

On May 17, the girls got to see two of their friends again for the first time in 63 days, thanks to an easing in Nova Scotia's restrictions (including a 'bubble family' rule that allowed two households to share contact). At left, June (in a ball cap) hugs Rosie, and Harriet (in black pants) hugs Anna.


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