From Egypt To Canada — A Diary Of Quarantine With My Toddler
By Katharine Hagerman
PHOTO © crystalmariesing/Twenty20
Sep 29, 2020
Preparing for a solo flight with my nearly three-year-old son, a wise friend reminded me: "There’s no parenting on a plane, only survival." But could I extend that approach to the two-week solo-parenting quarantine I was about to face? Only time would tell.
I grew up in rural Ontario; my husband in Cairo, Egypt. The last four years, we've spent the greater part of the year in Cairo, with some very, very long summers in Canada. When the pandemic hit, spring became a "wait and see" decision as to whether we would go back to Canada, but eventually we decided it was best for everyone’s mental health for us to make the trip.
But before we could be relaxing lakeside with my family, I would have to make it through a flight and quarantine with a toddler.
The pandemic has changed things for a lot of people. But this family decided they would still celebrate their son's bar mitzvah — just over Zoom.
Getting to Canada
My son amazes me. Maybe it's the late-night flight, maybe it's the excitement of the airport after five months at home, but he keeps his mask on the entire time inside the airport, and stays close to me as instructed. It helps that he has been asking to go and visit Nana Dianne in Canada for months and that his dad has been coaching him on how to help Mommy in the airport.
"[My mom] has stocked the kitchen and found a sandbox — and in these acts of generosity, I am reminded of the lifelong nature of motherhood."
He is, just like me, so happy to be out of the house and doing something different that he does what I ask. We depart at 2 a.m. so he does actually sleep for most of it, waking up to eat, watch Shaun the Sheep and have only one somewhat explosive airplane diaper change. When we land at Pearson International, I exhale a little longer just looking out the window.
After clearing customs and finding our bags, we're on our way. Three hours later, we arrive at my childhood home in the woods on a central Ontario lake. I breathe a little deeper again. Masked, we have our long-awaited reunion with Nana, our excitement dampened only by our caution of not getting too close. My mom won't be quarantining with us, so she's generously opted to stay elsewhere while we settle in.
She has stocked the kitchen and found a sandbox — and in these acts of generosity, I am reminded of the lifelong nature of motherhood.
I am both happy to be here and apprehensive about how we will manage quarantine. I have luckily managed to book our flight so that the end of quarantine falls on Zayn’s third birthday, and he seems to accept that things will be like this until his birthday because of the virus. He holds on to the notion that on his birthday, he will be able to see and hug everyone, and this is enough.
"It is only at bedtime that the reality of our isolation rears its head."
The days pass surprisingly quickly. The last five months have trained us for this, and he seems content to be here with his toys. It is only at bedtime that the reality of our isolation rears its head. He misses Daddy and he doesn’t understand why Nana can’t be in the house with us. We’ve travelled across the ocean to be here and then she left us all alone. Like children do, he expresses the emotions we're all feeling under the surface: that we are so very tired of COVID-19, and the ways it has turned our world upside down.
Quarantine brings me the gift of unscripted, zero-expectation, one-on-one time with my son. I had been caught up in the never-ending flow of life these past five months, days blurring one into the other, work interspersed with playtime, screen time, mealtime, crazy time. These days are not that different, but they are quieter and simpler, it's easier to just be us each day.
"We’ve got this, I think. And we do. Until we hit day eight."
We play in the field and garden, delighting in the freedom of lush green space after nearly a year in Egypt. One afternoon while he is napping peacefully, I find the space to come to my yoga mat with my whole self, and as I practice, rain starts to fall outside and I breathe in the smell of summer in the forest. One evening after dinner I sit down and play Chopin on the piano as he plays quietly on the floor at my feet.
We’ve got this, I think. And we do.
Until we hit day eight.
This mom has been surprised by how well her daughters have handled all the disappoinment brought on by the pandemic. Read about it here.
Survival, Not Parenting
Things start to go a little downhill for me and a little feral for him. From then on it is survival, not parenting — just like the flight over. My birthday passes. On day eight, I have a job interview at 6:30 a.m. on Zoom and at 6:25 a.m., he is still wailing for me to come back to bed. I get him set up with Youtube videos just in time, but I don’t think I got the job.
"I have to let go of expectations that I will get any work done and try to relax into being completely present with [my son]."
Anxiety starts to creep in. Although the one silver lining of quarantine is that we are safe from COVID exposure, the flipside is that we are patiently waiting to see if we are infected. I don’t let my mind consider all of the worst-case scenarios if we get sick.
Zayn’s excitement about being here starts wearing off, and the toys he was so joyously reunited with a week ago are now thrown across the floor alongside his breakfast.
But eventually we ride out this rough patch and come out the other side. My mom drops off dinner. I manage to walk laps on the driveway with him riding his balance bike, and we stop to pick raspberries growing alongside. I have to let go of expectations that I will get any work done and try to relax into being completely present with him.
We creep into a habit of mid-morning TV time and pre-dinner TV time, and it works for us.
Ending With A Birthday
We make it through our two weeks, and the morning we are free and clear, my dear boy wakes up as a three-year-old.
He immediately asks for his Nana, for his cousin and to go camping. We spend the day opening gifts, video calling his dad in Egypt, eating cake and blueberries and fiercely hugging each family member over and over again because we finally can. It was worth the wait.
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