The pizza dough on the kitchen counter has doubled in size; it’s doughy flesh begging to be beaten down and rolled out on a greased pan ready for it’s trimming. The kids have washed their hands, little bowls of sauce and meat, and veggies laid out before them on a cleared kitchen table.
Today they are learning how to make homemade pizza. Yesterday, we germinated seeds for May planting. My husband, Jamie, now laid off from his train conductor job, is planning to build a dog house with them this afternoon. Our homeschooling materials are set up neatly in the office and ready to be worked on during our dedicated schooling time each day.
The reports from China trickled in slowly. Mostly it started with memes plastered on Facebook walls joking about the lack of toilet paper. I brushed it away, scoffed at the few friends who were worried about the virus.
“Oh God, it will blow over just like all of these things do.” To say I didn’t care would have been an understatement. The thing wasn’t even on my radar. Then it hit Canada, just a few cases to start. A tiny inkling of fear began to sprout in the pit of my gut. Overnight we were given word that the schools had closed down and talk of closing all nonessential businesses were pending. Jamie got laid off. Then I did.
I used to think that losing our business the previous year was the worst thing that could have ever happened. The humiliation that sticks to our failures tends to become a part of us. For months after, I would ask myself, why didn’t I try harder? Why couldn’t I make it work? A bakery doesn’t seem like a complicated business to keep alive. I should have simply baked more. Now, losing the company back in the spring seemed like a blessing in disguise as I watched how my fellow entrapanuers struggle with the government shutdowns.
For weeks, we sat idle. We were involved in nothing more than watching the live updates from our provincial and federal governments. Each report was making the situation more surreal. Direr. We had not received any school material from the education board or the school itself for a few weeks. So the kids enjoyed a two week free-for-all, all the screen time they could ask for. We were too busy glued to our own devices. We were hoping for some breakthrough. Fingers crossed, they would figure out how to nip this thing before it got going.
By March’s end, we were told by our provincial health minister, that this would be our new normal. This living at home. This pinching pennies because there is no work to be had. This getting to know the people you call family — this video messaging everyone else in lieu of real-time visitation. This “new normal” it sounded too dystopian. Too fictional. It was this update that made it click for me. It meant that we couldn’t continue floating. We needed to take action with the kids. Start a routine. Get back on track. Whatever that involved in the grand scheme of things.
“You don’t got anything, if you don’t got common sense.” A famous saying from my dad. It was something he would bark at my brother and I on cold November mornings as we hauled wood from the back shed into the house and stoked the wood-burning stove. At the time, I resented it. I was thirteen and wondering why we needed a wood-burning stove in the first place. We had electric heating; this was ludicrous.
Now, I find myself saying the same thing to my children. They grunt and complain as I show them how to work up the earth in the back garden. They ask why we can’t just put the seedlings into the ground as is, and I explain that working the soil first achieves the best growing conditions. My husband teaches them how to safely use a gas oven. Make dinner. Use a knife. They can now do laundry, sans color-coding the loads, but I know full-grown adults who can’t seen to figure this out.
We are teaching our children about kindness too. Part of their writing and literature class is using chalk to write uplifting messages on our driveway for those walking by to read.
I don’t want to use the term “in the before times” because it’s too much. Overkill in this already surreal world of which we must adapt. However, at that time, before our social distancing and isolation, we didn’t think much about the children’s life skills. We kept thinking that there would be time for that later. It was faster to do it ourselves — the cooking, the cleaning, the gardening, the survival. There would be time later, to learn all of the skills that we, as children of the ’90s, took for granted.
We were so focused on the money troubles, on getting ahead, on growing our wealth and finding a comfortable place to hang our hat at the end of a long day that we forgot about the kids. We forgot that it was our duty to give them these gifts of knowledge. Perhaps we figured the school would do it. Or their friends. Or maybe we assumed that they would pick it up on their own through online tutorials.
What had slipped our minds is the lack of memories to be made with this sort of approach. Of course, they would eventually learn how to cook an egg and plant a seed. They would probably even figure out how to grease the chain on their bike when it started to stick. The human brain is capable of learning so many things when pressed. But we forgot about the feeling it gives an elder to look at their protege and see the understanding of a task click home. We forgot about the smiles and laughter over a few failed attempts. We forgot about the bond two brains create when working together to achieve a goal.
For a while, I thought that losing the material things in my life was the worst thing. Then a pandemic blew in, and I realized how much I had forgotten about my kids. But now we are starting to remember.