Brianna Bell is a Guelph-based freelance journalist.
Like every other Canadian, my family is under strict orders to stay away from others during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most days we stay at home, where I break apart sisterly arguments and attempt to teach math to my school-aged children. My kids play in our tiny backyard, or scooter down the sidewalk. Some days though, no amount of chalk drawing can dispel the thick cloud that hangs over our heads, changing our moods and making us more irritable than we’ve ever been. On those days, my husband and I gather our three daughters and quickly climb into the car. I nervously look over my shoulder, hoping no one will comment on our group departure. We drive to a nearby trail on the outskirts of Guelph, Ont., and let the anxiety slip away into the deep forest. My kids run down the paved path, their blonde curls bouncing, their once-clean indoor shoes covered in mud and grime.
During our forest adventures, we don’t break any physical-distancing rules, but I still feel nervous about bringing my children out in the car. I don’t think we’re taking unhealthy risks, but the stories that fill my social-media newsfeed make me nervous – tales of people making judgment calls that aren’t theirs to make, or jumping to unwarranted conclusions. The sentiment that we’re all in this together sounds nice – but the truth is, we’re all writing our own unique stories right now. While some of us have resorted to baking bread and bingeing Netflix to pass the time, others have taken up the hobby of COVID-shaming, an unhelpful and divisive tactic that threatens to tear us even further apart.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau left Ottawa’s Rideau Cottage to be with his wife and three children in Quebec’s Harrington Lake for Easter, the country collectively lost their minds. I don’t begrudge the Prime Minister visiting his children and wife over the holidays. There has been a recognition – even in a recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision – that maintaining parental and familial relationships should be at the forefront during this pandemic.
Going through a global pandemic is no easy feat, no matter who you are. It’s challenging for me and my husband, who are raising three children at home. It’s hard for my 60-year-old mother, who shelters by herself at home, and for my elderly grandparents, who say they’ve never experienced something so difficult in their lives – and they lived through the Second World War. Yet, each of us are going through our own separate experiences. The challenges I face isolating at home with a family of five is worlds apart from my mother’s experience going through this pandemic by herself. We must acknowledge that while we are dealing with the same situation, we all have dramatically different experiences, tools, resources and lived experiences. For my mother, visiting the grocery store every two weeks and staying within her neighbourhood works. Our family needs to get groceries around five days – we have a small fridge and a big family – and with three active children and a barely usable backyard, we need to get to an open space and let them run free.
Recently, Rebekah Geldart, a single mother of two children in Guelph, Ont., had to take her children to the grocery store with her. Her children’s father was unavailable to help, her parents were under quarantine and her sister is immunocompromised – she had run out of options. “We needed groceries, and the wait times for delivery or pick up were over a week long,” Ms. Geldart says. She instructed her eight-year-old son and six-year-old daughter to keep their noses and mouths covered with their balaclavas, and keep their winter gloves on.
“Five separate people stopped me during this trip, only to inform me that my children should not be out,” she says. Some comments were gentler than others, but one woman stopped Ms. Geldart and asked her, “What kind of mother wants her children to die?” Both Ms. Geldart and her two children were shaken and upset by the exchanges. Her children’s behaviour was affected by the experience in the coming days and weeks.
“Both kids became so obsessed with hand-washing and sanitizer, their hands were becoming raw,” she says. They also were afraid to leave the house, or even play in the backyard. Since the experience, Ms. Geldart has found new solutions and now shops for groceries on her own, but she is hurt and frustrated by the lack of empathy she experienced.
A single parent still needs food and she doesn’t always have a village around her to help. The dad buying toys and balloons at the dollar store might be trying to make his preschooler’s birthday extra special. The person who often leaves their home for extended periods of time might be delivering masks to hospitals.
In Toronto, a new website was recently launched where residents can file complaints against neighbours or anyone else who seems to be breaking physical-distancing rules. I think this could potentially be helpful in certain situations, but I worry that nosy neighbours will jump to conclusions without seeing the big picture.
While there are certainly instances of flagrant disregard of physical distancing, there is often an unknown nuance we don’t see. Instead of jumping to judge others, we should be embracing our differences and acknowledging that our individual needs are not the same.
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