Summer may not have marked the end of the pandemic, but it did give us some hard-earned respite

As case numbers have risen again and the province continues to burn, there's not just a hint of fall in the air, but also a feeling of unease that it's not over yet. At the same time, there's also gratitude for the freedoms we've experienced over the summer that might be taken away again. 

Regaining the freedom to meet family and friends, to have sleepovers and attend camps has been a huge boost

Overnight camps made it possible for kids to experience a break from the some of the COVID-19 stress. (Jean Vaillancourt)

This story is part of Amy Bell's Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

Months ago, thoughts of a "post-pandemic summer" meant a welcome return to normal after more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions.

And, sporting the hottest summer accessory of a double-vax status along with plenty of sunscreen, it turned out many were finally able to see friends they hadn't seen since the pandemic became a way of life, while kids spent time sleeping over and catching up with friends face to face instead of on Facetime.

But as case numbers have risen again, and the province continues to burn, there's not just a hint of fall in the air, but also a feeling of unease that it's not over yet.

At the same time, there's also gratitude for the freedoms we've experienced over the summer that might be taken away again. 

Families reunited

Though there were a lot family reunions across the country, they weren't always easy. People are still cautious and there are still varying levels of comfort not just across provinces, but across families as well.

North Vancouver's Ainsley Thor hadn't seen her northern Ontario family for more than two years. Her grandmother had passed away just prior to the pandemic, and so there had been no chance to gather and grieve together.

Once the travel restrictions were eased, she was anxious to reconnect. Her two sons, aged 12 and 9, were still very cautious and nervous about flying, so she made the bold choice to pack both of them and their nine-month-old puppy into the car and drive across the country.

She says she has no regrets about their choice to travel, but as the fires and case numbers increased in their absence, she is now concerned about their journey home. 

"It felt nice to be able to hug my mom ... it's so special to have that," says Thor. "It was definitely worth it. I'm just nervous coming back now." 

Ainsley Thor and her two sons drove for nine days so they could finally hug family in Ontario again. (Ainsley Thor)

But plenty of people stuck close to home this summer. For many families who have spent the past 17 months relatively isolated, just being able to have friends over for dinner or let the kids go wild at a play date was a monumental experience.

Michael Kwan has a seven-year-old and at 10-month-old, meaning his youngest has virtually spent his entire life with just his immediate family. Kwan had been worried about how that might affect his socialisation — so to see him enjoying the company of other "pandemic babies" was amazing. 

"To not have that level of connection that our first-born did, it was odd," says Kwan. "It was great to get together with other families and have kids of similar ages together." 

Even if extended family was nearby, during the height of the pandemic a few kilometres might as well have been a few time zones. Kwan's entire family was very concerned about keeping his elderly grandmother safe and healthy and so that meant she wasn't able to meet the newest member of the family until everyone was double vaccinated.

A few weeks ago, Kwan's young son was finally placed in the arms of his great-grandmother at a dim sum restaurant. 

"That was that was the first time that they actually saw each other in person," says Kwan. "My grandma lit up with the biggest smile, which was great." 

Time away from school — and strict COVID rules

Summer is always a chance for kids to be a bit more free and adventurous after months of school. After the past academic year they really needed a break — not just from school but from the daily grind of COVID-19 rules.

When Provincial Healh Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced in late May that sleep-away camps were able operate this summer, thousand of parents raced to enrol their kids.

For decades, Camp Qkanoes on Vancouver Island has provided a place for kids to safely explore and embrace natureand just feel accepted and supported — and that was especially helpful this year, says executive director Scott Bayley. 

"It's been a tough year for many kids," Bayley says. "They've been told over and over, 'you can't do that, you can't do this,' and so here at camp all these possibilities open up."

Since we have asked our children to take on some pretty huge responsibilities since the pandemic started, Bayley feels it was especially important for kids to just be kids. 

"Especially with COVID ... they're worried about things they didn't have to worry about. You don't have to be a young adult when you are 10." 

The pandemic has kept us on our toes and constantly changed the rules, and it's been exhausting. This summer gave so many of us a chance to catch our breath, catch up with loved ones and catch a break from the constant stress.

But unlike the summer heat, COVID-19 doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon. There could be dark days ahead both figuratively and literally — but hopefully we can remember the brightness this summer brought and carry it with us for a while longer. 


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