Papa’s Girl

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I were in bed and I was cruising through Facebook when I saw that my dad had posted up videos of him, my mom, and my brother Tal sitting around the campfire. The North had a power outage, so they started up the fire pit. They were singing songs, laughing, and Dad made a video of him dancing to Tal playing guitar and the dance was… something else. I laughed, missing home, and showed Aerie, who had already stopped pretending to be asleep when she heard the music. 

“Who is that?” she asked. 

“Cha, Mama and Papa and Uncle Tal. Look at Papa singing,” I laughed, and showed her the video. In seconds, she turned around and got very still. 

I nudged her. “Are you crying?” I asked. 

“No,” she replied, her voice trembling.

“Come here.” I grinned, turning towards her and opening up my arms. She scooted in as close as possible, her head resting above my heart, how it’s been since she was born, and she let loose, her chin quivering and big tears already falling from her eyes.  

“I miss Papa” she cried, sniffling and wiping her tears. “I hate this stupid apocalypse!” 

I tried not to laugh. She’s been picking up what I call it, which is kind of everything – the Virus, Corona Time, the Apocalypse, the War. It’s just funny hearing a kid say it. 

“I know, baby. I miss him too.” 

“He hasn’t seen me in forever. He must be SO lonely,” she cried still, thinking of poor Papa without his granddaughter by his side. 

Aerie loves my mom, whom we call Mama. She is Mama’s mini-me. But ever since she was born, she’s been Papa’s Girl. We lived with my parents for the first nine months after Aerie was born and we visit often, now that we live in the city. She has always been close to him. She would seek him out when he would come into a room. She used to go find him on the patio in the mornings on the rez, having his cup of coffee, listening to the birds, and she would sit and make sure he was there, before coming back in. She made sure to hug him and kiss him good night, every night, whenever we would stay over. If he went on a boat ride, she was right there by his side. She got to drive the boat before he ever let me. I’m actually not sure I ever drove the boat, come to think of it. She thinks he’s the funniest person ever and doesn’t like it when her uncles and I tease him, because that’s her Papa and no one should make fun of him. 

“Papa is okay, baby. He has Mama, and he has Uncle Tal, and he has Thunder too.” I listed off our dog as well, because that’s her dog, that Papa and Mama got for her. Even after Papa said no to keeping any more pets. 

“I miss Thunder tooooo,” she cried a little harder, and I pulled her close again. I let her cry it out, trailing my nails up and down her back, kissing her hair. I hummed the same song I had been humming since she was placed on my chest as a newborn, crying loudly even back then. She slowly settled into sniffles, and sighed. “When can we go home?” she asked, her voice wobbly still. 

Looking back, I’ve come to realize that we have never been apart from my parents this long, not since I became a single parent. Mama and Papa always make an excuse to come visit their grandchildren, so we usually see them every three weeks, if not less. Mama was also a frequent visitor at our house, as she would watch Aerie when I had to go on work trips, staying from three days to as long as two weeks, for the longer events. Aerie’s grandparents are a fundamental part of her world, and it’s being cut off from them that hurts her the most. 

When she’s older, I’ll tell her about kinship, kinship practices and how the Dene – and most Indigenous communities – practice kinship through acts of doing. Visiting. Feeding each other. Making sure we have coffee or tea ready. Telling stories. Always opening up our homes for people to sleep over, be it by giving up our bed or making sure we always have enough pillows and blankets to make beds on the floor.

I’ll tell her how this time in our history altered all that. How the way that we expressed care and community shifted instantly and, in many ways, left us in isolation and in silence.  

If it were just myself, I’d be fine. I’m an introvert, and I have bookshelves of books to read, and a thesis to complete. But I’m not by myself. I’m raising a daughter who has grown up with family around her, and how now been cut off from most that family. She may not be carrying anxiety and stress, but she is feeling the absence of the ones she holds dearest. 

The Campbell Girls, 2020

Last week, we made a stop at my brother’s house so he could fix Aerie’s bike. I went into the house to say hi to my three nieces, staying in the doorway, and they looked at me and asked me, “Can we hug yet?” Then we all looked at their mom, eyes wide and pleading. 

“Yes, you can hug your Auntie and cousin today,” she said, laughing at us. I gathered these three precious little bodies close, breathing deep and kissing the top of their heads as they giggled and screamed, already wiggling to get loose. 

“I have missed you so much, you don’t even know,” I laughed so I wouldn’t cry. They had grown so much in the eight weeks since I had last been able to touch them. They slipped out of my grip, yelling at their cousin as they swarmed around her, “Aerie, we get to HUG YOU!” 

So there’s no easy answer for us. With Northern Saskatchewan currently being on a lockdown, we can’t go home yet. This will be the first summer in a long time Aerie hasn’t gone North, and she’s side eyeing me, evaluating how much fun I’m gonna be compared to Mama and Papa. Mama was teaching her how to sew. Papa and her go on boat rides and picnics down river. She has her dog and her bike. It’s humbling, ha, but also eye opening.

It reminds me that we were never meant to parent alone – that, and I hate to be cliche here, it truly takes a community to raise a child well.

– tenille k campbell

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