Our days revolve around my husband’s work-at-home schedule and our new pandemic puppy’s need to pee or poop. Mike (the husband) disappears into his windowless office, Abby (the 11-week old puppy) cycles through sleeping on the couch, digging through her toy box, wistfully thinking she’s going to get two breakfasts and acting like she’s the shark from Jaws.
We wake up on puppy schedule at 6:30 am. Mike gets up first and puts the kettle on to make coffee. A pandemic perk: we finally got rid of our Keurig (an addiction fueled by rushed mornings) and switched to French press coffee instead.
One thing we have now is time – time to boil water, time to let the coffee steep. It seems ridiculous we were in such a hurry that we needed our coffee in 30 seconds. What were we in a hurry for? To get in our cars and commute to make money for the man? (Yes).
We take our coffees on the couch and play spa music for the puppy to hopefully keep her calm. For the past two years, this morning time has been a no-electronics zone and we sip our coffee in peace, away from the din of the relentless Twitter news feed.
Mike and I used to rail about the pandemic and the government, but lately my rage is so severe that these topics are off-limits first thing in the morning. All that happens is that I get agitated and that’s a hell of a way to start the day.
Since it is February, the sun comes up at coffee time and if we are lucky and it isn’t cloudy, we can witness the morning colours in the sky. We talk about the weather. Dream of a future trip to visit our adult children. Scheme a local get-away when it is safe again.
Aaron (age 17) sleeps in, since his school call isn’t until the afternoon. I wake him up by 9 am to avoid extreme slothfulness. I often make him a custom breakfast because I feel so bad that he’s missing out on his grade 12 year. Sometimes it is scrambled eggs in a burrito, sometimes oatmeal, sometimes a fried egg sandwich. I’m happy to do this for him, as I know that he’s growing up and will one day he will leave home too, if we survive this thing.
Every morning Aaron and I go for a walk together. He thinks it’s ‘not that interesting’ to go for walks with me but he does it anyway because it is now part of our routine. The only thing we argue about is the appropriateness of wearing a t-shirt in the middle of winter. Otherwise, he accompanies me willingly, his earbuds in place – listening to music so he doesn’t have to talk to me. I don't take this personally, for he's outside and moving and that's what counts.
Today it snowed up here on the mountain, so he held my hand on the slippery bits, which was endearing. I appreciate everything about him. I’m lucky to be able to spend so much time with him now. I’ve finally stopped fighting it and accepted that I’m a full-time caregiver again.
We always walk through the forest path -- avoiding the elementary school where the kids run around screaming, mask-less at recess -- past the shops and then stop at the Terry Fox statue for a moment of silence. Then we make our way back to a covered bench and rest for a bit. We walk pretty fast, so it’s good exercise. I try to stay in the moment, but sometimes I’m all antsy and look at my phone or listen to a podcast. After our rest, we head back home. We are gone maybe 45 minutes. As I keep saying – well, it’s something; it’s not nothing.
Aaron has various Zoom activities – a speech language pathologist session, a theatre class, an improv class, a call with his friend David, a weekly FaceTime with his sister Ella. He sometimes has an audition video to record.
When it was safer he was seeing people outside, like his acting coach, but no longer. First the number of people with COVID went up, then the weather turned and now we have new variants. So outside is not truly safe for him anymore. I coordinate all of this scheduling and it is surprisingly more work than it sounds.
I’m the on-call butler for Aaron and the puppy now. Aaron: “Can I have some tea? Help me find something. I have technical troubles. Where are my clothes? Please strain the ramen noodles,” etc. I don’t mind but it is sure interruptus around here and I have finally accepted that I have no extra emotional bandwidth to do much reading, writing or paid work. I’ve had some book events here and there, which we figure out logistically, but only one of us around here can work full-time and it sure isn’t me.
We all put the kettle on for each other for tea and that’s rather sweet. What else do I do? Endless dishes. Endless preparing of meals. Endless creation of lists for online grocery shopping orders. Research new Netflix shows. Twitter scrolling. Dog walking three times a day. That’s an ordeal – rug up for the weather, get doggie supplies (treats/poop bags), catch the puppy and coax her to walk through doorways.
If I’m lucky, I have a light Netflix show to watch. Right now, Blown Away has released a second season, so I happily dole out glass-blowing competition episodes to watch by myself.
There’s very little privacy in this apartment – I can disappear into the bedroom but it seems there’s someone looking for me or a canine creature crying at the door. The neighbours upstairs drop things on their floor a lot and hammer at strange times in the night. The little kids down the hall are often yelling, which is disconcerting. We did not buy this condo to live in it 24/7, but here we are.
I used to work from home by myself, but my daytime space has been invaded by others now. I had to make room for them and it often feels like I come last, well just because I do come last. This is the way it is for women, especially women who don’t make as much money as their men and/or care for a kid and/or care for a disabled kid, which is a triple whammy for me.
None of this is my family’s fault so I try not to take it out on them. Sometimes when I’m despondent that my book author career was interrupted by the pandemic, I try to refocus on the house stuff like preparing meals and doing dishes and so I don’t get mean and bitter. (My biggest fear. I know so many women my age who are mean and bitter.)
Back to Aaron. He gets about an hour each day with his EA (Educational Assistant), which is important social time. They’ve been together for five years and know each other well. I can hear them swapping updates about what they’ve had for lunch before they embark on a research project about food or a media arts topic (the only classes Aaron has had this year). Aaron looks forward to these calls, which sometimes get cancelled if his EA has to sub for another EA – lately, more and more school staff have been calling in sick. This is ominous and reminds me why Aaron is at home.
Sometimes I can convince Aaron to watch a documentary with me. We lie on the bed and watch shows about chili eating contests or COVID anxiety or something. Mostly this takes a lot of persuading because he’d rather play Fortnite in his room all day long. I don’t mind if he’s playing with his brother-in-law or someone he knows, but otherwise I just feel guilty.
I feel guilty a lot of the time, like about 85% of the time. My husband reminds me that Aaron is a regular 17-year-old (Down syndrome and all) and that our other kids disappeared into their rooms for hours at a time at that age. Or worse, running around doing God knows what, which is off the table now with the pandemic. Poor Aaron can’t even get into the regular teenager trouble because he’s stuck with his parents all the god-damn time, being nagged to take down the recycling and going for boring walks with his mom.
Everybody knows that 4 pm is cocktail hour and Mike and I settle into the couch with a glass of wine in hand and watch an episode of Schitt’s Creek. I do not know what we will do when we’ve watched all the Schitt’s Creek shows. I will be quite distraught when this happens.
Aaron sets the table for dinner and clears the dishes. Friday nights are movie nights, complete with popcorn and we rotate who gets to choose the movie. I was on an Academy Awards movie kick, but for some reason last time I deteriorated and chose a Naked Gun movie. It reminded me that I once met Leslie Nielsen at a house party in Edmonton and we talked about the contents of the cheese plate the hosts had put out on the dining room table.
Saturdays Aaron has a Zoom call with his girlfriend, or we play Yahtzee. Sundays we’ve started watching a Disney show (just like when we were kids – Sundays were for The Wonderful World of Disney). It is good to have these routines. After last spring, which is just plain awful, we decided to set more routine in stone so we wouldn’t be wandering around 1100 sq feet in listless despair.
Evenings have never been my best time of day, but sometimes I have a bath or Aaron and I watch a cooking competition show (which often puts me to sleep). Aaron stays up late, but always comes in for a kiss from each of us. Ironically, he tucks us into bed instead of the other way around. I always do the NYT mini crossword before I go to sleep. My record is 25 seconds, but I’ve only done it that quickly once. Mike and I fall asleep around 11, until the puppy wakes us up a few hours later to be let outside to pee.
I sometimes lay awake in the middle of the night fearful of my adult children getting COVID, but there’s little I can do about that because they are far away and I can’t even visit them anymore. I miss them so much.
Then we start our day all over again. The days are all the same and vary only in how outraged I am that our government has erased my son as a human being and how they are willfully killing people by not chasing COVID zero. I dream about moving to somewhere that cares about its citizens like New Zealand or Australia, or Atlantic Canada.
I remember to unclench my jaw, a jaw which I cannot fully open anymore, a jaw that is locked due to the worry, guilt and stress that I’ve held in it the past year. We all are carrying the pandemic somewhere in our bodies and for me it is my jaw. My head aches and once my ear started bleeding from the inside, but I’m afraid to go to the dentist because I don’t want to bring COVID home to Aaron.
All I care about is Aaron not getting COVID. I’ll do anything to keep him safe. This fear dictates every single decision we make in our small lives. I’m so tired, but he’s so worth it. If he gets sick, at least I will know that I did everything in my power to avoid it. I promise myself to mama-bear full force until the end of times, no matter what it takes.
COVID is a wolf stalking us, pacing back and forth, waiting outside the door. I’m just not sure how much longer I can keep it at bay, but I vow to keep hanging on, beating it away with any stick I can find, until it is safe for my boy to go out and fully live his life again.