On a recent trip to Edmonton, probably the only trip of its kind for the foreseeable future now that Omicron is among us, there was snow. We had a few outings in it, once to the local rink by the school my grandchildren attend. Their parents don’t–won’t– own a car and they walk a lot, use buses, ride their bikes. The day we went to the rink, their mum came separately, pulling a wagon laden with folding camp chairs (for us mostly), blankets, the skates, helmets, a thermos of coffee laced with Baileys. There were other parents with similar baggage, all of them lacing up their kids’ skates, helping small ones make their way on the ice, though to be honest, I didn’t see a single child who wasn’t far more capable on skates than I am. Cookies were offered around. Equipment was shared. A lot of work was being done. By parents. Hard work, to make sure their children were having as normal a life as possible given the circumstances we all find ourselves living within. The community building by the rink was closed, because of Covid. So there wasn’t a warm place to sit after the skating, or during. (Luckily we had Baileys in our coffee and the chairs Cristen brought in the wagon.) The kids also skate on the creek in the ravine near their house and use the wagon to lug down their skates, hockey sticks, and equipment for clearing the ice. (I don’t know who owns the goal posts but someone lugs those too.)
About this pandemic, we say to ourselves, John and I, that we are lucky in so many ways because we have space, a house filled with books, enough to eat, the means to order cases of nice wine to brighten our dinners. We had a few social encounters this fall, before Omicron arrived and maybe they’ll sustain us through the lonely dark months. (Though as John pointed out this morning as we drank our coffee, as of 7:58, the days are getting longer.) But what about children? What has this pandemic done to them, what is it doing to them, as the shape of their lives changes by degree in response to the spread of Covid-19 and its difficult protocols? School from home, by screen. Then in classrooms, wearing masks. Swimming lessons cancelled. Art classes by screen, a child sitting at a table, alone, with paints and paper, listening to a bright voice explaining the process. Our Edmonton family and our Ottawa family have made good use of the local parks. The Ottawa family has a vehicle and they regularly go for hikes and other adventures a bit further afield.
Last night moonlight filled our bedroom, which was why I was awake at 3, thinking about children and how this pandemic has irrevocably changed their apprehension of the world. While some adults complain about their rights and privileges vis a vis the vaccine, the loss of attending concerts, movies, dancing on New Years Eve, etc (and yes, I miss concerts, movies, though I am entirely willing to receive as many vaccines as I am offered, for my own health and because I am part of a social contract with my fellow citizens), I wonder how these months will shape the future of our children and grandchildren. University students balanced between actual and virtual seminars, field work, engaged in discussions about texts and fractals and historical events; orchestral players without an audience; darkened theatres; the dead going to earth almost alone, their obituaries declaring no service because of Covid.
John sent me a poem to read the other morning, one that spoke so clearly and powerfully about this point in our collective lives. It’s Jorie Graham’s “Are we”, and here are the first few lines (with the read-in title):
extinct yet. Who owns
the map. May I
look. Where is my
claim. Is my history
verifiable. Have I
included the memory
of the animals.
And are we? That’s what I was thinking as the moonlight filled our bedroom. Are we extinct? Is the life we knew and perhaps didn’t cherish enough, the one where our children entered each other’s homes, where our tables were laid for 10 or 20, where we celebrated our events in the company of all those we loved, where we shivered with anticipation as the stage lights dimmed and the curtain went up at the beginning of the grand new show, where we sighed as we realized we had to pack up the swimming gear for lessons and sit in the lobby by the pool, watching 20 kids splash and stroke their clumsy lengths, breathing, breathing, while someone leaned close to confide and we didn’t clench in fear because neither of us was wearing a mask.
PS — another image of troopers in the quest for safe winter fun.