Are We Really Okay?

My dad is not okay. He misses us. He needs to see his grandkids and not ten feet away from us sitting in the van. He went from picking my kids up from school at least one day a week and enjoying a nice family meal together, to only seeing them a handful of times since last March. Of course, we miss my parents too. We are all in similar situations. If there is any comfort in all of this, it’s knowing we aren’t alone.

Now, we find ourselves waiting for Monday to see how our regions might lesson restrictions with Ontario’s COVID numbers decreasing steadily. We already received news yesterday that many kids in the Province will return to school, including ours here in Hamilton. With that, surely comes hope for the rest of us as to what we might be able to now do too, as we have grown more frustrated by the day of these lockdowns and the very restrictive measures that we have all lived through for too long.

As I type this, I can hear one of my daughter’s teachers talking with excitement about the return to school on Monday. While discussing the precautions kids need to take, she also recognizes how ecstatic her students will be to see their friends again as she is about seeing her friends at work too.

I’ve talked about how much I have enjoyed having my kids learning from home in past pieces, and much more so this time around with teachers actually delivering class instruction. We have kids all around us learning. I can hear their teachers delivering lessons and apologizing as they fight technology and internet issues, their friends answering questions, them laughing and screaming with excitement as they enjoy an online game with their classmates between lessons.

Online learning isn’t for everyone. I’d say one and a half of our three kids are doing well with their grades but in general, I like the way e-learning has been delivered this second time around. I appreciate the work the teachers have put into making this transformation, and the patience they have shown towards the kids struggling with technology and how they have genuinely recognized what they and their families – what we are all going through, locked in our homes missing our family and friends and strangers alike.

On one hand I am glad they are going back to school. It has nothing to do with ‘I can’t take this anymore’ because I am going to miss this. I truly believe though, that returning to school is what is best but there are caveats to that.

I have also talked about my desire in past articles to see recreation continue in some capacity as we faced the possibility of tighter restrictions later into last year. I am a firm believer that the most important education our kids can receive, especially during these difficult emotional times where we are moving a great deal less, is health and physical education. Without a strong mind and body, what capacity do we really have left for learning?

My ideal scenario would be for the kids to continue to learn from home with their school teachers and their classmates, and to be able to partake in one recreational activity. I know I can move my teens to online learning, but that wouldn’t be with their current teachers or classmates and that connection to the school that they are still afforded; albeit in a much reduced capacity.

Looking at the recreational programming my own daughter was in, I felt that the COVID safety protocols put in place for a sport like hockey, were well implemented and followed by the kiddos and parents alike. It was fun to see them get over fears, learning, exercising, and finding passion in staying fit. I even liked four on four better because it was faster and there was more opportunity for the girls to get the puck in a less crowded ice surface. In Hockey University, you learn how much ice time and interaction with the puck the kids actually have during games and practices so I wouldn’t be upset to see some of these COVID restrictions considered as permanent rules.

I’d be okay with at least grey protocols with only kids allowed into the arenas to train, but my dream of course would be for at least one guardian to be allowed into the building (preferably two), and four on four games permitted with their small cohort which was one other team – Cayuga, who had also split their team into two to create a four team bubble.

We are early into February which means that for the teams that did start a modified season (my daughter’s team was able to play four games before we moved into grey), there is only a month and a bit left in seasons that for most, end mid-March or April for girl’s hockey. As a coach I know what it’s like to go a whole spring and summer missing the kids. As a dad I know what it’s like to miss watching the girls laugh and play together, and as someone who was so much more active than our kids are these days, I worry even more about the lack of exercise and connection to the extremely valuable lessons kids learn from team sports, and the exposure to important role models in our communities like coaches.

Coaches and teachers were some of my greatest childhood inspirations, and to see them so distanced from both this past year, pains me. My daughter loves and misses her coach Shannon.

We are all scared of COVID, but the connections they are void including their elder family members and the friendships that are vital in their early development, are something we need to really sit down and consider. I want my parents, kids, my spouse, my friends and all of those in my community to be safe, but are they really safe with how all of our mental health is declining?

Let’s scrap the colors. Let’s not go back to grey or red or yellow. Let’s design a personalized bubble for everyone. Go to school. Pick one recreational activity. Let the kids spend time with their grandparents. Keep internal gatherings to around ten as an average, but do get together with a few friends in the backyard over a coffee or drink of choice. Let all establishments open based on their capacity. Stop fining people. Stop policing people. Let us all be human, get some exercise, see a movie, go to a sporting event or small performance of some kind. People need to work for some sanity, share their art, make money, feed their families, and connect with other people. Maybe with more space and freedom, practicing the safety protocols will be easier to act on whether we believe in things like distancing and wearing masks because we know what it’s like to not have access to these privilege’s and being without, is far worse than throwing on a damn mask and standing a few feet apart.

We know what lockdown is like. We know what grey and yellow entail. Some will follow the rules, and some won’t, but if we are ready to load busses and classrooms, hallways and playgrounds with our kids again because we know that online learning and the human connections between teachers and peers is important, let’s also imagine how important these elements are when comparing them with the adults in our communities as well.

As places like Brazil see new variants raising their numbers again, we are reminded of how far we are from vaccinating the planet never mind our own cities. This is of course what is really needed to see any kind of normalcy in travel and leisure, but we desperately need to have a deeper conversation on how we actual live through the next months or even years. We aren’t safe until places around the world much less fortunate than us are safe and mentally, we cannot wait for that to happen.

These are extremely difficult discussions with very serious ramifications, but have we really asked everyone from toddler to our elders, the lives they want and need to live to make seeing the other side of this pandemic something they mentally and physically are able to accomplish?

In being afraid of dying, are we really living? Have we fully considered what will be left of us when we step out into the world again, unmasked, curious and cautious after a long hibernation?

Fear. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again.

Please, let us breathe.

And that’s The Point.

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