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THE MOM SCENE: With ever-changing rules, parents and kids are struggling to adapt to new normal

Heather Laura Clarke's 10-year-old son, left, and eight-year-old daughter are navigating a summer where nothing is normal.
Heather Laura Clarke's 10-year-old son, left, and eight-year-old daughter are navigating a summer where nothing is normal.

Hot summer streets

And the masks overheat me

I stand in line

Trying to smile but

This mask is so heavy and hot

Muffled voices are saying

(“Stay six feet away!”)

Things I can't understand

You’re too close for comfort

Please back up

Don’t touch my hand

It's a COVID, (COVID), COVID summer

(Leaving me) leaving me here in my home

It's a COVID, (it’s a COVID), COVID summer

When will it be gone?

I cringed when my kids ran up to a family of strangers on the beach the other day, asking if they wanted to see their bucket full of hermit crabs. Then the dad coughed, basically right on them, while I watched from across the sand, horrified.

“But we don’t have to social distance anymore?” they argued when I called them over and told them, in no uncertain terms, not to run up to strangers and be coughed on.

“Oh yes, you do still have to social distance!”

I keep telling them that, but it’s not easy to explain the vague, ever-changing rules of the moment — that it’s OK for people to hug when it’s a group of 10, but not 11. That the group of 10 should be exclusive if possible, but it’s not mandatory. That crowds of up to 50 are OK, but you have to social distance. That there are no bubbles anymore, but if you’re already in a group of 10 and your former bubble arrives on the scene, then ...  oh, I don’t even know.

It is a strange time for all of us, but especially for kids. We’re basically in a holding pattern this summer. We’re not as restricted as we were for nearly three long months, but we’re also not back in “real life.” Everything is different ...  and weird.

We’re in the last week of June, in what normally would be the last week of school. But school’s been out since March Break, and the last day of “at-home learning” was almost three weeks ago. Report cards have arrived via email, but without any grades. (Don’t tell my kids that part — the only reason I got them on most of those video calls was because I said they’d be graded.) Teachers for next year won’t be announced because no one knows what’s going to happen in September.

Canada Day is coming up. The kids can dress in red and white, but there won’t be any parades or special activities. Other years, we’ve had a membership to the local pool, but pools are still closed. It’s hot as heck, but blow-up backyard pools are all we have for now.

My kids used to be well-dressed in mostly hand-sewn outfits, but our son has come downstairs dressed in winter clothes, a Christmas pajamas top paired with paint-covered pants, and his old school band uniform. Our daughter — once dressed in crisp custom dresses, glittery leggings and matching hair bows — now looks homeless most of the time, wearing too-small booty shorts and various muddy shirts.

We can go for a rousing hike in the park, but we need to press to one side of the path if someone else is about to walk by. Anyone, anywhere, could be infected and asymptomatic. We smile at strangers, but we’re wary of each other. The kids see friends from school, but they mostly remember not to rush right up to them.

We can go to our favourite local ice cream place, but it’s been converted into a drive-thru and my truck’s side mirrors block part of the menu. Who knows when we’ll ever see the inside of a McDonald’s Play Place again — maybe when Happy Meal boxes come with single-use hazmat suits printed with the Hamburglar?

The kids sometimes go along with my husband on his errands, eager for even the dullest trip to a hardware store to get a new part for the lawnmower. The bowling alley is closed because we can’t touch the balls, and there’s talk of the movie theatre requiring masks when it reopens.

Most places have reopened but there are new rules for everything, like wearing masks and calling ahead. We dropped our dog in the empty vestibule of the veterinarian’s office like she was about to enter Hannibal Lector’s chamber.

Playgrounds were only just reopened, and we have yet to go to one. The kids have asked how they’re supposed to social distance from other kids on the swings and the monkey bars, and I tell them I honestly don’t know. It’s true for just about everything right now — I just don’t know. Parenting in general right now is a tired, uneasy combination of “do your best” and “whatever.”

Summer camps are allowed, but I’m still waiting for a local one to materialize. My husband and I each went through a lay-off so far during the pandemic, but now we’re both back to work full-force and there is no childcare. There are just more long, hot days here at home, telling them to please make themselves a peanut-butter sandwich for lunch and, no, I don’t know what’s for supper yet.

We can bake together with the flour I’ve managed to stockpile, except I’m mostly too busy trying to work. We can do crafts together with my lifetime supply of felt and paint, but — again — I have a job and it needs to be done during many of the kids’ waking hours. I can now invite friends over to entertain them (yay!) but it’s a trade-off for anxiety that somebody passed COVID along with the plate of cookies.

Screens are allowed until they’re not. Screens are a relief until they’re a huge source of guilt. The screen time that seemed necessary while I was hopping on a conference call is suddenly too much once I realize it’s a nice day and they should be outside, so put your devices away and put on some sunscreen.

It’s no wonder that kids are fuzzy on the rules, because adults are, too. We can talk all day long about how these are “unprecedented” times, but that’s just a polite way of saying that nobody could have seen this crap coming and it’s mostly unpleasant. It’s a COVID, COVID summer indeed.

Heather Laura Clarke is a freelance journalist who married her high-school sweetheart. They moved from the city to the country, where they spend their days making messes and memories with their 10-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter. Follow their family’s adventures over at www.HeathersHandmadeLife.com.

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