by Heather Atkinson
Future historians will look back on the COVID era and wonder what life was like for the average Canadian. What were we all thinking during the seemingly endless winter of our discontent? According to a recent news item on CBC Ottawa, these historians will be looking for anything that gives them a sense of our experiences as individuals.
Of course, we will leave them our diaries and journals to sift through, along with a superfluity of news footage and social media fluff. Most of this will have been written by adults, a one-sided account of this unique point in history.
But what about the youngsters? Who will record what they think about a global catastrophe that at best interferes with the most intimate aspects of their young lives and at worst frightens the dickens out of them? Kids don’t blog, and they aren’t partial to keeping daily diaries. Someone needs to ask them what they think and write it all down.
So I decided to ask.
What follows is the transcript of a wide-ranging interview with my 12-year-old granddaughter, Kaylah Fassbender. We could have used Facetime; instead we chose to spend a few hours together biking and talking under sunny skies. Keeping our social distance of course.
Me: What do you miss most about your old life before COVID?
Kaylah: Shopping. I miss going to the grocery store. I miss picking out food. I didn’t realize how much l like shopping until I wasn’t allowed to go anymore. I miss seeing real people in real life.
Me: Can you think of anything you like about social distancing?
Kaylah: Not having people I don’t know very well touching me. Shaking my hand, or hugging me without my permission.
Me: So you hope people keep up the “approach but don’t touch” rule when this is all over.
Me: While we’re thinking positive, what else is good about social distancing?
Kaylah: I don’t have to deal with all the drama at school.
Me: Drama? COVID is pretty dramatic.
Kaylah: I mean at recess. All the silly little fights we’d get into. It’s kinda relaxing not to have to deal with that. We’re all nice to each other when we’re on our phones.
Me: What apps do you use to talk to your friends now?
Kaylah: Instagram is my favourite. You should get it. You can do anything, send photos, chat. Facetime is good too. And Snapchat.
Me: Your mom is a front-line worker in a local long-term care home. Are you worried about her?
Kaylah: Of course. It makes me scared sometimes. I know where my mom works is where a lot of people are dying.
Me: Do you trust what you hear on the news?
Kaylah: Yes. The news people keep it real, at least the ones I watch. I watch CTV news. They don’t try to scare people. They just report what’s happening. The news is always on in our house.
Me: What kind of news interests you most?
Kaylah: News that tells me when this will stop. Whether things are getting better. I want to know that stuff. Otherwise I feel a little nervous not knowing how long this will go on.
Me: Do you feel that things are getting better?
Kaylah: I think so. I see on the news that the numbers of people dying in nursing homes and other places are going down. That makes me feel better.
Me: Do you know how life has changed for your mom when she is at work?
Kaylah: Yes, she tells me. So many people have died where she works and in so many other homes. She said it is the saddest thing she ever saw in her whole life, all the empty beds where the old people were. She showed me a picture of herself on her phone in her new outfit. She has to wear a yellow smock over her scrubs and goggles and she has to wear a hat with buttons on the back so she can hook on her mask. It’s easier to take on and off.
Me: She is very protected.
Kaylah: Yes, that makes me worry less.
Me: Do you think window visits are okay? The medical authorities were going to stop them at long-term care homes but then changed their minds.
Kaylah: I think window visits are fine. The doctor on the news said so. As long as only one person at a time is outside the person’s window. My nanny [great-grandmother] lives where my mom works. My nini [other grandmother] stands outside her window and talks to her on the phone to make sure she’s okay. She told me some people have decorated the little yards outside the windows and pasted up pictures that face inside so the person can see them.
Me: I hope your mom is being tested for COVID.
Kaylah: Yes. They use a different test now. The old one that went down the throat caused false negatives. The new test goes up the nose. She says it hurts but it gets better results. Some of the people living in the home have tested positive but they got better.
Me: You must be relieved knowing that.
Kaylah: Yes. It makes me feel better knowing that even very old people can get better.
Me: Do you want to be tested?
Kaylah: No way. It hurts! I’ll wear a mask if they say I have to and keep my distance but I don’t want to be tested!
Me: Tell me a bit about how life has changed for you during COVID especially since your mom works at the long-term care home.
Kaylah: The weeks my mom doesn’t work we’re all on 14-day quarantine. We take it seriously. None of us is allowed to go into another building. And no one else is allowed to come into our house.
Me: No exceptions?
Kaylah: Nope. My nini brings our groceries every two weeks and she stands out by her car and talks to us while we stand on the porch. I haven’t stayed with my dad in almost two months, and my step-dad hasn’t had his kids over here either.
Me: Do you miss everyone?
Kaylah: Of course. At first it was okay, but it’s not now. I don’t even really hug my mom. I am cautious around her. I keep my distance. I want to keep her safe. And the old people. It’s hard not to hug my mom. There’s a whole bunch of things we have to do when she gets home from work.
Me: Like what?
Kaylah: She was always super careful with her clothes when she came home but now she’s extra careful. First, we meet her at the back door with a new garbage bag and a fresh towel. She takes all her clothes off there, puts them in the garbage bag and puts on the towel. She goes into the shower right away. She’s always done her own laundry separate from ours.
Me: What do you do at meal time? How can you keep a safe distance?
Kaylah: We do our best. I asked to do all the cooking. I do it all by myself so no one needs to be in the kitchen with me. I’ve been doing it from the start.
Me: Really? You’re the cook?
Kaylah: Of course. Why are you surprised? I’m a good cook!
Me: What’s a typical weekly menu?
Kaylah: My speciality is buttered chicken. But I also make burgers with lots of spices, three layer pasta, chicken fingers. And I love steamed broccoli and cauliflower with cheese.
Me: What kind of cheese?
Kaylah: Hey, we’re in quarantine, whatever cheese is in the fridge! I use what ingredients I have. I made a lot of banana bread one week, which I don’t really like, but that’s what we had in the house. Bananas. Lots of bananas.
Me: I don’t recall you eating any of that when you were younger! You were a very picky eater!
Kaylah: Well I do now! I want to stay healthy. I also exercise most days. Lift weights and do squats.
Me: I noticed you’re in pretty good shape. The better to fight off disease?
Kaylah: Can’t hurt.
Me: What would you say if I told you that people aren’t travelling on cruise ships now or taking airplanes and that scientists are saying parts of the planet are looking healthier?
Kaylah: I’d say “good”. I did a presentation on the plastic garbage that’s polluting the ocean last year. If there’s not as much of that then that’s one really good thing about social distancing.
Me: Which brings me around to ‘how do you keep busy?’ Television? Your phone?
Kaylah: Ugg. I’m sick of television. I don’t even like Netflix anymore. Everything is boring, so my mom got me three books and I’m reading those. But I use my phone to talk to my friends. We can’t get together for real anymore so it’s the only way.
Me: You’re kidding about the books.
Kaylah: Nope. Actually reading and sort of liking it.
Me: Which brings me to another big question. You told me last week you were very busy with homework. A lot of parents are frustrated with the new online learning that’s available. How is online learning working for you?
Kaylah: Not good. It’s not my teachers’ fault. We get to choose the topics we want to work on each week. I like that part. It’s just that we weren’t prepared with the right apps to do our work. I had to get a new computer. I had to download different apps for different subjects, Readwords for science, Prodigy for math then I had to download OneNote and Teams, apps that let you send in your work and your teacher marks it. But they don’t always work properly or even load. I want to do well, I really care about my school work and I like the subjects and my three teachers but sometimes I can’t get my homework back to them. I wonder what kids without Internet do.
Me: Can’t you simply email your homework back?
Kaylah: Yes, sometimes, but these apps let you do a lot of extra things like work with math games that teach you lessons that you couldn’t email. Like meeting each other for a discussion. Like last week I tried to send in my homework on coyotes, which I was really interested in, but it wouldn’t send through Teams. My teacher sent me a video stepping me through it but I still couldn’t get it to work. My friend tried to help me on Facetime but I still couldn’t get it to work. Then Readwords wouldn’t load. It’s great when it works, you get your own assignments and get to pick your favorite topics. But last week I just got a white screen. I almost cried I was so frustrated. My mom tried them on her computer and they didn’t work there either. So it’s not just me. Honestly I want to keep up. I don’t want to give up.
Me: I believe you. You’re doing your best. I think things will get better once they work all the bugs out. This is new for most everyone.
Kaylah: I get where people are trying to go with this. I just don’t think they’re going in the right direction.
Me: I like your analysis. One last question: What’s the first thing you’ll do when restrictions are lifted?
Kaylah: Go grocery shopping.
I dropped Kaylah off at her house. She smiled and said, “kiss noise,” then blew me a big noisy kiss.
Kaylah’s tips for a Pandemic Kitchen
Buttered chicken: Follow the instructions on the package. Don’t overcook the chicken.
Steamed broccoli and cauliflower: use frozen veggies and just a tiny bit of water in the pan
Chicken fingers: put 2 eggs in one bowl, flour in a second bowl and bread crumbs in a third bowl. Fry chicken lightly in olive oil (don’t overcook it) then dip into the stuff in each of the three bowls then bake.
Layered pasta: cook pasta until it’s still chewy, put a thin layer on the bottom of a baking pan, then a layer of pasta sauce then whatever cheese you have in the fridge and keep layering till you reach the top of the pan.
BBQ hamburgers: mix ground beef with two eggs, breadcrumbs and lots of spices, shape into patties then get an adult to BBQ them.