10 reasons for gratitude in this pandemic

A few days ago, Arthur hugged his grandma after nearly three months without physical contact. He poked her first, just to make sure it was OK.

That poke marked the end of an era — a really long, rather painful, super strange era.

Arthur's grandma pulling him in for a big hug
Reunited and it feels so good

That night, this blog post spilled out. I was sad and angry at what felt like three lost months. I needed to change my thinking.

The reality is COVID parenting is freaking hard. Caring for two small children is difficult in normal times. Take away all supports and it’s sheer insanity. Still, there are so many reasons for gratitude in these socially distanced times. Here are my top 10.

  1. Time slowed down.

Every morning we walk through the same forest. We pass the same trees, rocks, and stumps. Over three months, Arthur watched that forest transform as the snow melted, buds formed, and leaves busted open. I’ve also been able to observe slow changes in my children. With each week, Arthur gets a little better at pulling on his own underwear and riding his bike. Flo has carefully built up the strength to stand on her own two feet. It’s all rather magnificent when you take a moment to think about it.

Two kids in a stroller, with a trail and dog ahead of them, in the woods.
This is our regular walking trail.
  1. We’ve learned how to exist as a family of five.

I know what you’re thinking. Hadn’t we already figured this out? The truth is no, we had not established how to just be two parents, two kids, and a dog. We had sorted out how to be a family of about 50 – with our parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends, kennel, and daycare providers. Since mid-March JF and I have been managing non-stop feeding, teaching, soothing, cleaning, and corralling. It’s a grind. But we have become so much better at it. There is a rhythm to our days that wasn’t there before. And now I know we can manage (and some days even enjoy!) an insular life.

Me and my kids in a pile of laundry.
This is us “doing laundry.” Productivity isn’t always our forte.
  1. The little things matter more.

The most exciting moments in our coronavirus lives were once mundane: trucks loading yard waste, mail hitting the front stoop, unpacking groceries, popsicles on the porch, and filling the kiddie pool. Those things feel special now. Which is probably how humdrum life should feel. Because how lucky are we to live a safe, stable, middle-class life?

Arthur staring at his popsicle with pure love
May you find someone who looks at you the way Arthur is looking at this blue popsicle.
  1. We started a vegetable garden.

I’ve been talking about growing my own vegetables for years. It was in my original vision for country living. Well, the pandemic made it possible. JF built a modest cedar box. We filled it with dirt. Arthur helped me plant and water seeds until they turned into little green things. And finally, we put them in the soil. Who knows whether I’ll be able to keep them alive long enough to produce food, but the whole exercise has made my heart sing. Next year, we’ll grow even more.

  1. We’re saving money. Kinda.

Without Arthur in full-time daycare, we’re managing to save a few pennies. Plus I never realized just how social I am — and how often I went out for lunch. My credit card adores this staying home thing. Our only growing expense is groceries. I never thought I’d spend $400 at Loblaws, but between kid snacks and chocolate chips, I’ve done it twice.

Arthur eating cupcakes gleefully
No birthday party = no expense = no problem!
  1. I’ve learned to appreciate my neighbourhood.

Until COVID, our sleepy village was just a quiet place to be between trips to work, friends and family. But I can probably count on two hands the number of times I’ve left Wyevale since mid-March. Being here all the time has shown me just how strong a community we have. Our neighbours have brought us food. They’ve posted hearts in their windows for children to find. They’ve wrapped their trees in blue cloth to celebrate healthcare workers. There are more smiles and waves than ever before. I feel so lucky to be in just this spot, at just this time.

Arthur staring at our friends, who are at the end of our walkway during a socially distanced visit.
The Myles are our neighbours and friends. We’ve really appreciated their socially-distanced visits during this pandemic.
  1. Our yard has never looked better.

Our best pandemic days are spent in our yard. When the sun is shining, we play in the dirt. It’s that simple. As Florence and Arthur dig around independently — as they are learning to do — Jean-François and I can tackle some long-neglected projects. My flower gardens have never had so few weeds. Our fence is straighter. I’ve re-organized the garage. These are small victories, but they feel good.

A garden bed along a white brick house.
Two years ago this was a patch of half-dead grass and dirt. This relatively weed-free garden feels like a win.
  1. We appreciate our support network so much more.

I’ve always been grateful for my “love army,” as I call them. But I don’t think I truly grasped how lucky I am until I couldn’t rely on them for help. When we left the kids with JF’s mom a few nights back, the relief was immense. The whole Big Yellow Taxi thing is true. You really don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

Florence standing in the surf, with her hands being held by her grandfather Mike.
Here are the kids during a visit with grand-maman and Mike. Bliss!
  1. We’ve made time for hobbies.

To the average person, birds aren’t a big deal. But because JF is an avid birder, they’re a bit of a theme at our house. We have bird art, bird books, and bird stuffies. Our Christmas tree has about 20 bird ornaments. This year, JF set up some stellar new feeders in our yard with an effective squirrel baffle. Holy jumpin! We see a lot of action back there. In fact, we often sit in our screened-in porch to admire grosbeaks, house finches, towhees, and thrashers. Even Arthur can name a dozen or so species.

Arthur, JF, Odie and Flo on a trail
Birding at Tiny Marsh
  1. We’ve worked on our partnership.

JF and I have officially been together for 15 years. Sure some of my grandma’s pants are older than that, but to me, that’s a lot of time. This pandemic has challenged us to find new levels of solidarity in the way we parent and divide work. There is less time for us as a couple, so we have to work harder to find moments together. Love is still a project, but lately, it’s going rather well.

JF and I with Odie
As soon as our bubble grew, we left the kids with grandparents and went on a date.

So yes, pandemics suck. They really do. The world will lose more than half a million people by the time a vaccine becomes widely available. That is an unfathomable tragedy that I don’t want to minimize. For so many, this disease has meant job loss, prolonged exposure to violence, and serious mental health challenges.

Florence and JF banging on vavo's window at the nursing home. Grandma is peaking out from inside.
My grandma was in a nursing home for two months but the isolation was too much.

But I have been fortunate to do some growing (waistline included) in these difficult times. I’m aware of my privilege. I am grateful for my little house, my clever husband, my stable job, and my beautiful children. So even though some days were cry-into-soup-bowl-sized-mugs-of-coffee difficult, I believe I’ll look back on this family time with fondness — or at least gratitude.

JF, me and the kids on the front porch.
A front porch photo by my friend Kristin. Thanks KT!

The end.

Homelessness in Elmvale

It’s the coldest night so far this year, and I can’t stop thinking about the young homeless man who lives in Elmvale. He used to sleep in the post office at night. Then we got this letter.

FullSizeRenderTonight, I chatted with him in the lobby of TD Bank. He looked pretty comfortable lying by the ATM, bundled up in his worn sleeping bag and parka, but I doubt he’ll be there long because the building has cameras.

Every time I see him, I think about how desensitized I was to extreme poverty while living in Toronto. Would I have noticed him, young as he is, if he’d been tucked into some archway at Yonge and Dundas? Probably not.

I also think about the invisibility of poverty in places like Elmvale.

Friends who work in social assistance say north Simcoe County has more than its fair share of challenges — addiction, violence, teen pregnancy and hunger. My mom, a former teacher, would come home with stories of students struggling and failing to break the cycle of poverty.

As I type in my pyjamas — with my partner, my dog/furnace, and my sleepytime tea — I am so grateful for the people and things I have. We are fortunate ones.

It’s a small county after all

You know how I’ve been sorting through old stuff lately? Well, I recently found this journal my mom bought me several years ago.

Winnie the Pooh children's book cover

Here’s the front cover

Thinking I’d get to re-visit angst-ridden teenage poetry, I flipped open the first page.

Instead of a journal entry, guess what I found? A biography about Heather Smeding, our house’s former owner.

Here's Heather's bio, with our attic mentioned right in the first paragraph

Here’s Heather’s bio, with our attic mentioned right in the first paragraph

My mind was boggled. I suddenly had this feeling that the cosmos has big plans for me,  that everyone is connected and that someday, I’d find my favourite socks.

Then I remembered : Simcoe County only has 446,000 people living in it. The chances of someone from Perkinsfield meeting someone from Elmvale (15 minutes away) are pretty good.

Damn. I guess those socks really are lost.

Even though the whole thing wasn’t destiny, it was a nice reminder that like-minded people find ways to connect.

When I met Heather, I liked her instantly. She had amazing art, talked straight, and had a subtle (but sharp) sense of humour. She was part of the reason this house appealed to me.

My favourite part of the journal is the last page, where Heather tucked a little list of journal entry prompts.

These prompts came in a sweet little recycled pouch

These prompts came in a sweet little recycled pouch

I thought I’d share some of my responses:

  • Dear past me : Your poetry isn’t good
  • If I could change one thing : I’d find my favourite socks
  • Three good things : BBQ chips, snuggling and puppies
  • Things I always did with my mom: read Winnie the Pooh
  • Three things I would grab if my house was on fire : a photo album, the blanket my avò made me, and my purse
  • If I knew I couldn’t fail, I would : be a painter
  • Thing I’ve done that I didn’t think I could : sing for a crowd

I think I might use this journal to keep track of the many things I’m grateful for, starting with my mom, good food, friendly people, and happy coincidences.

One of my journal's inside pages

One of my journal’s inside pages