Erin's Journals

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Just a thought… Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little things when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them it has always been big stuff. [Catherine M. Wallace]

We’ve had a glorious little getaway with our grandson this week, taking him on a short ferry ride from the Saanich Peninsula over to Mill Bay and up the Trans-Canada another two hours’ drive to get to a beach resort in a sweet little town called Parksville, BC.

Once I’ve gone through some pictures with his parents and sorted out the entire wonderful adventure in my head and heart, I’ll share some indelible moments with you on Monday; for now, let me just say I talked to the brilliant blue skies to say “thanks” plenty of times during those three days that ended yesterday.

Something happened on our first night a little bit “up island” (as we here call a trip north) that really opened my eyes to how very careful we as adults have to be with words, filtering experiences through the eyes and ears of our children in these tumultuous times.

In the car en route to our destination, I talked with Colin at length about just about everything you could imagine. Of course, the conversation turned to COVID, about which he knows plenty from nearly memorizing the TV ads from the government about health and safety and from discussions with his parents.

I asked how he’d feel if they asked him to wear a mask at school this fall; he said that they never did before, so he didn’t think that was going to happen. I explained to this boy, who will be going on a familiarization visit for 90 minutes today at his new school, that no one wore masks back in March because COVID was just beginning. But now, we all do when we go out, so it’s different from the last time he was in class. Of course, that is something he had never considered; why should a five-year-old have to? (We’ll see what the school recommends and he’ll do what they say.)

After we’d unpacked and settled into our hotel, we went to the nearby town and found a Smitty’s family restaurant in which to have dinner. We were surprised – and not in a bad way – at how amazingly they handled safety measures: a rolling cart was put across the end of our booth table, on which our cutlery, condiments and menus were placed. Once we were seated, we picked our items off the trolley; later, our food was put there as well. It was a hands-off way of ensuring that everything we touched had been sanitized and we thought it was brilliant. Kudos to Smitty’s.

Like his Grandad (or “Grandude” as Colin has been calling him since he moved here – something we laughingly suggested to him once after hearing that Paul McCartney’s kids’ offspring call him that) Colin is a leisurely diner. And so as not to surprise him, while he was eating his dinner, I looked at the time and noted that the restaurant was closing in 25 minutes at 7 pm so the staff could go home to spend the evening with their families, and suggested he’d better eat up.

Now, what I said was that the place was closing. What Colin heard was something entirely different.

His lip started to tremble, his eyes filled with tears and he quietly said, “I want to go back to our hotel to eat.” It wasn’t that he felt rushed; sitting across from him, I could clearly see on his face that this wasn’t a child acting up, he was genuinely afraid. When we asked what was wrong he responded, “I don’t want the granola virus!” (Okay, that part was cute.)

This was new. Of course, children are being exposed to different rules and strange circumstances, but Colin dons his masks like a superhero and never argues or resists; he knows he’s keeping himself and others safe from COVID. So what, exactly, was this?

I told Rob that Colin and I needed to take a walk and we put on our masks and got up and left. As we sat out on a curb in the late day sun, I held his hand and we talked about the virus. I told him we were all keeping safe together and that the restaurant was being extra careful so that we wouldn’t catch the virus.

I thought perhaps the trolley had spooked him a little. But there was a piece to the puzzle that was missing, and I didn’t find it until Rob had gotten our food to go, paid the bill and met us outside. The three of us talked some more and here’s how we think it went down:

When Colin heard me say that the restaurant was closing, he put two and two together and came up with it being shut down due to the virus: clearly it was coming to this place and we had to leave! That’s what he inferred from what we’d told him.

As I lay in bed Monday night thinking about it, I recalled doing an impromptu interview with him a few weeks earlier when he was pretending to be on TV doing “Colin’s News” from inside a cut-out Amazon delivery box. He told me, the interviewer, that COVID meant that places were closed and you had to stay outside when someone went in. This had happened countless times with his mommy and daddy; only one went into the store at a time, a request that is still made by many grocery stores, for what they term the family’s “designated shopper.”

He equated closure with COVID. Not the end of a work day, but the virus coming, which meant he wasn’t safe.

After we buckled him into the car, we sat there and talked about what the 7:00 closure actually meant. We apologized for not explaining that more clearly, even though it’s something that even an overthinker like me couldn’t have seen coming. Fortunately, Colin seemed to understand and forgot all about his upset in the five minutes it took us to find a big open park where he and Rob could fly a kite together.

The whole episode at that booth shook us. It reminded me that we often just sort of take for granted what children understand and how they process the tsunami of information – and misinformation – that surrounds them daily, oftentimes bits and pieces that we don’t even realize are getting past their chatter about LEGO superheroes and ice cream flavours.

The aftermath of these past six months, not to mention whatever lies ahead, is something that these children will likely be processing for years to come. I got an email after Tuesday’s letter from K. in which a woman said a friend who’s a teacher in Florida said her kids are adapting and that we all need to “chill.” Children are resilient. Yes, they are (as we well know), but moving on doesn’t mean sweeping half a year’s experiences – the fears, the disruptions, the uncertainly – under the rug.

As for Rob and me, we’ll be more diligent with our words and freer with our explanations from here on in with our sweet boy. As he prepares to start a new year with new lessons, we were reminded that we had some to learn as well.

Thank you for coming by this week and I’ll have a new journal for you on Monday.

Rob WhiteheadThursday, September 10, 2020