My daughter, for all the glitter and love of butterflies and unicorns, is a pragmatic being. She carries worry, yes, but is open to talking about her thoughts, doesn’t let it dwell in her spirit, and she moves on once we figure out a solution that works for her. I’ve never been more thankful for this as we shift through our new normal, practicing self-isolation and staying home. We’ve been spending our days together with a bit of reading, lots of movement – she takes online ballet classes, and we walk – and a bit of art. It suits her. As an only child, she has learned the ability to entertain herself – colouring, drawing, texting her many cousins, playing with dolls, fashion shows, and the list goes on. This survival skill means that she will lay beside me, content in the silence, reading her graphic novels as I ponder a poetry book. Sometimes I worry she will feed off the nervous energy that seems to run across my skin every time there is yet another depressing but realistic update passing through my social media, but Aerie is a wise old soul, and sits strong in her own bubble.
Three weeks ago, when I took her out of school and she came to the very factual understanding that this was her last ‘day of school’ in Grade Three, she asked me how she would celebrate her birthday without her classmates. It would have been the first time her birthday would have fallen during the official Last Day of School, and she had been excited to bring desserts and treats to class. Yes, she had been planning this since January. I didn’t have an answer for her yet but promised that we would still find a way to celebrate her birthday, and that we would make sure some of her friends also had that chance. I’m still not sure what that will look like, but I have ideas.
As for me, March was my birthday month. I turned thirty-six on the 11th and had been scheduled for a year to speak at Write Out Loud in Swift Current, SK. I went amidst talk of the Coronavirus but knowing that Saskatchewan was currently low risk. My mom came from the North to watch my daughter, and off I went, knowing they were already going to have a good time, as usual, together. I had an amazing time myself, reading poetry and sharing stories with the community, being surprised with a birthday song by the old-time country band and with some amazing cake. It was the best birthday mood, ending with laughter and beers at the local casino with a new friend. Then on my way home on the 12th, driving through the wide-open prairie, the world as I knew it started showing the cracks. I heard about the first case of Covid-19 in Saskatchewan. I immediately called my mom, and she made plans to return North as soon as I got home. I was thankful she was worried enough to leave the city, but also in that head space of ‘maybe I’m overreacting.’
Then we got notice that the University would be moving classes online. As a new teacher who was teaching a smaller class of twenty students, moving my content online wasn’t unattainable, but it was an unsettling confrontation that this – whatever it was becoming – was serious. And then people were being encouraged to self-isolate. That non-essential businesses were closing until end of month. That elementary schools were being closed, kids were passing their grades, and hopefully school would start again in the Fall. That graduation ceremonies were being cancelled. That larger gatherings were banned. That smaller gatherings were banned. This was happening daily, new rules for existing being posted online and over the news, and still – all we could is sit through it.
We’ve currently made the choice not to go North for now, as I was teaching and Aerie has online dance classes and, really, I don’t want to chance bringing anything up North to my community. My parents are Elder/ly, and even though I think they have better survival skills than me, they fit the statistics of those who would not survive the disease.
It’s a sobering reality.
I’m not an expert on the Coronavirus and I don’t have a medical background. That being said, I am listening to the experts. We are self-isolating. We are washing hands. We are keeping our distance when we must go out for groceries and our daily walks. We don’t hoard the necessities, but we are slowly stocking up on canned goods, pastas, rice. We order in when I refuse to cook yet another meal and we tip our delivery people very well.
I’ve learned to limit my time online though, as existing in a space where conspiracy theories, the doubt-ists, and doomsday preppers exist is exhausting. Living in fear and doubt is exhausting. Living in the What If is not living at all, not for me. I’ve learned to continue my day with a good cup of coffee and a few chapters of a book, like before. When I feel the world caving in, and my head starts to feel heavy, and my heart starts to ache, I let myself cry. It’s okay to cry, to let go. It’s okay to be afraid. And then I dry my tears, say a quick prayer, and do a smudge. And continue on.
Sometimes it’s hard to breathe through it all, and I take my daughter’s hand, and we throw on our favorite jackets, and we make ourselves a coffee and a hot chocolate, and we go for a drive. I tell her silly stories of growing up in hockey rinks in Saskatchewan, and she is amazed that I used to play hockey. We drive to the wide-open fields and go for walks amidst early springtime winds, snow still crackling underneath out boots. I tell her stories of Mama growing up on a farm, chasing horses and hauling hay.
She asks how many boyfriends Mama had. I tell her thousands and her laughter echoes over the Prairie.
I tell her stories of when I was young and how me and all my cousins would run around on our reserve, visiting all the aunts, picking up food and messages for our parents as we passed through. How we would play Hide and Seek on the entire rez until sun went down. I tell her stories of how my cousin Jade and I used to fight over everything – including who got to use what plastic container for blueberry picking – but she was still my favorite person.
The wind gets colder, and we walk back to the car, laughing, feet dragging a bit more. We’re tired now and will sleep well. I hold her hand in mine and realize that in a few years, she will be taller than me. I wonder how she will remember this time – what she will take away from it. Will she remember how scared I was, or would she remember how, for the first time in years, I could spend hours upon hours with her and not have to work?
I don’t have any answers for anyone reading on what to do, how to get through; I can only share what I do to stay grounded. Breathe. Smudge. Read. Write. I go to the land, which I know is a privilege in itself. I make Facetime calls. I drive around. I sing, loudly and badly. I make playlists. I avoid end of the world movies. I make French press coffee and foam milk and make fluffy latte’s because we have the time. I check in with my parents.
Little things, but little things matter.
– tenille k campbell