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Parenting in the Time of COVID-19

By Shirin Azad

“Imagine if there are many worms outside our houses and you can’t go out because they hold a scary virus. That is why our family doctor always reminds us to be safe and stay home with our parents.”

While I am explaining this to my little son, his eyes widen and his lips purse: he is thinking and wondering about an abundance of cute questions that spring into is mind. The sweet reactions on his face fade quickly and suddenly a barrage of “why?” questions begin.

Normally, I think it’s so smart when kids ask many questions and it forces parents to prepare answers. But there are limits. I must know what to say to two-and-a-half-year-old about COVID-19 and staying at home as much as possible. How can I explain this to a two-and-a-half-year-old while I still have so many unanswered questions myself? How hard it is to teach him to wash hands frequently and especially when ever we come home from just walking outside, without being in a playground or grocery store.

I am looking at the gorgeous and sunny day from my big bright patio door and think of how I need this sun. Waiting for it every Lower Mainland winter during these long, rainy days since my husband and I migrated from the Middle East has been trying. Not to mention leaving our parents, becoming parents ourselves and feeling the loss of their traditional parenting skills. But COVID-19 has changed some aspects of parenting for everyone: Canadian-born, immigrants and refugees.

My eyes follow the downward drops of the rain to land on the tiny handprint on my patio’s window. This hand hasn’t been held by someone called grandma or grandpa to walk or to learn how to hold the swing rope properly at the playground. I miss this presence that my child has never been able to experience in the same every-day way that I did.

“Why?” My son’s question brings me back from these thoughts.

“What, Honey?” I say, “What are you asking about?”

He answers me in his Kurdish-Canadian language that only his dad and I as his parents understand. “Why can’t we go to the playground?”

“Because there is some kind of little sick worm that can harm us,” I answer.

“But why? Why they are here? Where are they? Its a sunny day, I like to play outside”.

“We can go just go for a walk,” I relent.

“Ok, shokiya, Mommy.” “Shokiya” means I love you in his linguistic language.

As we start walking, he stops abruptly and starts yelling, “Mom, Mom…., look, there’s worms out!” A light yellow snail with a beautiful brown shell has surprised him. I was sure there were some types of worms out there, but I was lucky he saw the snail. It feels like the best day ever because I can prove what I told him earlier.

We are still looking at the snail; he’s asking “Why are you not going back to stay with your mom? Why aren’t you going to sleep with your mom and dad? Hi Snail, why are you here? Why are you not moving? Are you sick? What are you doing?” Many other why questions that no one can answer! “Ok, I’m going to play at the playground. Bye.”

We arrive at the park to find yellow caution tape around all the colourful equipment. His questions resume with another big why and face full of wonder. Without any understanding he asked with big shock on his face “Why is it like that? I want to play! Why did the worms come here?”

I say, “Sorry, we can walk here and run, but we can’t use the equipment. When the doctors decide to reopen it, we’ll come again.” He puts his head down, disappointed. Just as heartbreaking for me, I think.

He persists to enter the small red train. For a second, I consider removing all the tape and surrounding the whole playground with it to make a private playground just for my son. Just to see his smile again for a second!

Another child sees him, and says to her mom, “See! We can go to the playground!” That made me stop these thoughts and speak more firmly about staying out of the train.

He starts crying and it breaks my heart, again. We return home, clearly without having had enough fun. Close to home, we see the “worm” again and a big, beautiful smile moves across my son’s face.

He loves seeing the snail again and asks very gently, “Please go to your parents, but don’t go to the playground because I want to go there.”

We arrive home and finish all the usual cleaning after being out. In the meantime, my partner has gone out for groceries. My son asks, “Where are you daddy?”

“Daddy went to the grocery store.” I tell him.

“Why can Daddy go out; there are many worms outside.” In a rush, he asks me to call daddy and tell him “Be careful, the worm is in front of our door. Come home safely.”

It’s like this anytime we go out to walk or cycle. Day by day, he seems to get the idea and understand why we can’t do all the fun things we used to. And we can do many different activities at home. We have been busier than ever during this pandemic while we were all together, all-day

Parenting during the time of COVID-19 requires new skills and we are all learning together.  But nothing is impossible; with love, we survive and stay safe and push through to whatever the new normal will look like.