Babysitting in Covid Times

As I sit down to the laptop to write about Covid-19 days, I think a lot about the true life figures/people on our family trees who saw and lived through times just like these, but many years ago. They watched people close to them die, and struggled with physical symptoms. They dealt with the trauma of loss and experienced the dislocation brought on by illness. One of the real-life figures on my own family tree who succumbed to the Spanish Flu was my Great Uncle, my Grampa’s Uncle John ‘Jack’ Haddow. A wrangler, working on Forster’s ranch outside of the town of Drumheller, he saw countless inhabitants of the region succumb.

I ended up on a two-hour-long search of old Calgary Herald newspapers at this point and came upon some mentions of Great Uncle Jack and so never did return to this post until 6:30 next morning. I’ll try to get back on track, but it’s amazing to note that the item about the Country Dance of Berry Creek was published in October of 1906 and the marriage announcement appeared on April 17, 1916. Five years later, Jack would be dead as the result of influenza, this one, known as the Spanish Flu.

As I write, I also think about our indigenous peoples, the world over, who suffered trauma at the impact of disease through trade and colonization. This is not the first time the world has seen these life events unfold. All the conspiracy theorists aside and all of my readers who deny the seriousness of these events, I feel differently, and I will remember this as a global pandemic that caused the death and illness of many the world over. It is like living in a science fiction movie. Each person has to find their way through these events in a way that works for them, with respect for the medical people who are making educated assessments along the way. We must never take people who are working in the front lines for granted.

And now…for the subject of this post. Through history, whether it be in the days of the Spanish Flu or in the families of our indigenous peoples, disease has had an impact on children. I am exploring this because adults have a way of processing what is going on, but what are the children feeling through all of this?

When it came down to our family’s journey, my grandson, Steven, very swiftly found himself without his daycare friends and teachers and couldn’t attend Wee Wild Ones SE. His parents, similarly, found themselves with changing work situations. Mommy, immediately, had no choice but to stay home. My grandson is almost three. When this all began, we were reeling and I stepped in to help at the very outset, but really had no intention of spending a pandemic as a child care provider. My son-in-law was still working out in the world, as a part of essential services, and so, at a point, when restrictions were becoming more clear and as we discovered that the severity of the illness seemed to be hitting seniors more than anyone, I became scared for my own health. I stopped providing babysitting and that was a very difficult decision.

I geared up for a number of different projects including the writing of a historical fiction, creating a paper barn owl and painting in the studio.

When I left my two week stint, babysitting, I agreed that I could return on the condition that my son-in-law was able to pull himself out of the ‘real-world’ workforce and remain home for fourteen days. Dr. Deena Hinshaw had already introduced the idea of adopting a cohort family for children to have at-home playmates, and so I applied the same concept to child care.

There are so many grandmas who wanted to do the same for their grandchildren, but who were keeping themselves isolated from their families, that I felt guilty at times or felt as though I was doing something wrong. I also experienced a lot of push back from some individuals as a result of my decision. But, as mentioned before, I made a decision that I felt would be okay for me and as long as everyone in our circle could respect that parameters of our cohort unit, I would do alright to take Steven under my wing.

Long-story-short, I have been babysitting Steven ever since. Is it easy? Nope. There are lots of days when my back and knees are sore. There are days I’d like to sleep a little longer and get home a little earlier. My border collie, Max, who is also aging is spending a lot of time alone. So, there are those things. But, I have to look at this time as being really very special, as well, and I work, daily, at creating magic for Steven as we have one another exclusively for all of this time.

I try to be child-like most of the time because Steven and all of his little peers are missing the natural socialization that comes with Library programs, swimming lessons, play groups and day care. Acting three years old all day can really create exhaustion and I find that when I get home, I’m mostly unproductive. Just recently, I’ve surrendered to the need to be an adult some of the time and I’ve given myself the time to ‘take breaks’ from play and exploration. I’ve done it so well that now Steven will sometimes be found sitting on the rocking chair. I’ll turn to him and ask, “What are you doing?” and he will reply, “I’m taking a break.”

I’m pouring over the photographs I’ve snapped through these months and it’s really difficult to narrow down and post just a few that represent what we’ve done together. We read a lot. We play outdoors A LOT. I’m trying to teach Steven as much as I can about the places that I love. I’m helping him to notice aspects of nature that are important to me. I’ve been leaning on the lessons my Paternal Grandfather taught me about respect for nature and understanding the gifts as well as the dangers that are a part of that respect. He has learned about ice shelves and has been learning to read the river….shallow water looks lighter….fast water can look murky and/or dark….”Let’s throw a stick into the river and see what happens to it. A stone?”

I am putting limits on how long I can sustain this, but I will look back on this time as being a bit of a gift of sorts to our beautiful boy. He is so very important to all of us. To all of my readers who have made other choices out of concerns for the safety of your circle, you are giving a tremendous sacrifice, as are those who have decided to take care of your grand babies through these most trying times. I have your backs…all of you.

Gratitude, also to Wee Wild Ones SE who have provided weekly FLOW events/colouring sheets/creative links and recipes for goo and mixtures, music videos and zoom meet ups…while we can’t do all of it, we are glad for the connection and send our love to all of the hard workers! I have continued respect and love for you!

Thank you to Miss Carlie for your wonderful music classes!

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Yoga with Ms. Chloe sometimes gleaned amazing participation and sometimes just brought the sillies out. And Steven loved seeing his little friends on Zoom calls, but Gramma mostly missed the appointments for her outside wanderings with her little boy. When the weather is nice in Calgary, a person just has to take advantage!

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Steven has been learning a lot about balance and loves to practice on logs.

Steven has been learning a lot about predators and prey. He has been learning that animals are food for one another out in nature. Here, he is pretending to be a sneaky coyote. He has observed only one coyote at the river, but knows from Gramma that there are more and that when they have their pups, they are super cranky. He’s learned to shout SHOO and to wave his arms.

He is allowed to take as many breaks as he wants. He knows that Gramma will not lift him because he’s a toddler now and can toddle. I’m happy to explore places when he takes his breaks, with my eyes, nose and ears. I tell him to let me know when he’s ready. On this day we were looking for an owls nest on the west side of the river and into Fish Creek Park.

Throwing sand at the sand beach.

North Glenmore Park and picking up plants at Wendy’s home in Lakeview.


Two Little Dickie Birds

Watching Decorah Live Eagle Cam during afternoon snack time, especially fun on wintry or bad-weather days.

Gramma’s Treasured Time

I had a couple of weeks where I had a chance to spend the days with my grandson and don’t want to be remiss in acknowledging that time.  I look back on those days with a warm and happy heart.  He is changing so fast and so much and he is just such a funny person.  I love to talk with him.  I treasure every moment.  A collection of images for our times shared will be included here…but first…

All of the poems I read on the internet…poems for grandsons…were stupid.  The intentions were lovely and they were very very sweet.  But, none of them suited my grandson.  ‘Perhaps one day I will try to write a poem for you, my wonderful magical Steven.’  For now, the poem that best suited our little boy who loves ants and lady bugs and spiders is this one, written by William Carlos Williams, for his grandson.  It is titled, The Turtle.  I apologize that these bits are unclear.

I love you, Steven.

 

Two Ladies and a Little Boy Go Tenting: July 30, 2019

The morning I took my tent over to set up in my grandson’s back yard was the last day I saw Mrs. alive at the river.  I didn’t know it then, but the female Bald Eagle’s beautiful and peaceful time with me at the Bow River’s edge would be her last and so I will always treasure the archive of photographs my readers might enjoy, here.

I kind of chuckle about that sentence as I leave it behind in my first paragraph, imagining that anyone at all might read the thoughts or passage of time shared by a 64 year old woman.  I feel some days as though I am still a young girl who marvels at the beauty and rich loam of the mysterious gully across from my home on Market Street.  I don’t feel different and yet so many years and so many places have gone by!

When in doubt about how a camping trip might be arranged between a Gramma and her Grandson, it is best not to let the logistics interfere with the experience, and so, sometimes you just have to go ahead and make things happen.

Little did I know that a tent would simply provide yet another way for trucks and diggers to be celebrated.  In the tent we went with the big yellow trucks…and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Thank you, Linda, for our tea and snacks. Steven and I headed out to a very busy construction site.   Once returned, Gramma rolled up her sleeping bags and packed up her tent and was on her way.  A call for severe thunderstorms that afternoon, made this call, the safe call.

The river is no longer silty and the clarity of the water in the morning, allowed beautiful hues of turquoise and green to shine through.  Max is always my trusted companion on these early morning walks.

First things first…the fly sheet goes down.  ‘Say fly sheet, Steven.’

‘Fly Sheet’.


There was an orangy-yellow glow to everything that evening at the river.  I watched two beaver for almost a half hour before walking north west and finding Mrs. quietly observing her world from above.  That night I confirmed that her talons on the left had damage.

 

Two Ladies and a Little Boy Go to the River: July 25, 2019

Hours spent by the river are the best hours.  I hope and pray that my grandson will love and respect nature as much as I do.  I will do my very best to instill that in him by sharing my joy and delight in the textures, colours, sights, smells and sounds of natural environments.


Snake!  Gramma touch.

What a pleasure to make observations of the juveniles.  Dad is watching closely.

Two Ladies and a Little Boy Go to the Lake July 23, 2019

As Steven’s second birthday comes around, I realize that not only is my house needing a good clean, but I’m really behind in my archives.  I’m not writing as frequently.  I’m at a stand still in a lot of ways. I’m spending hours and hours at the river’s edge.  Here it is August 9, 2019 already and summer is whizzing by!  I will always look back on this staycation with gratitude.  I’ve been through a lot this past year and even some days during summer, I have experienced hardship and sadness as traumatic events lose their crinkles in my heart and flatten out where I can see them.  One after another, the memories of dark times are, in fact, smoothed out and my life of nature, art, friendship and love are able to create a blanket over them.

So, it was a fine morning on July 23, when Linda prepared us a nice picnic lunch and we three headed to the lake.  This is a year of construction vehicles and diggers and such marvelous observations at the neighbourhood school and on every roadway.  Even the back alley holds its charm.

I am grateful for Linda’s friendship and I treasure every special moment I am able to observe the world with my grandson.  Summer 2019

At the river, the family of Bald Eagles is observed with great respect and awe.  I view these with such love and feel that the narrative of this little family fills a hole in me, a cliche maybe, but I feel it is so and I sort of understand now why people use it.  Otherwise, it’s difficult to articulate what goes on when you lose someone special.

While of very poor quality because of distance, I post the photos of the two adults side by side here because these two are the last two photographs I captured of Mr. and Mrs. together.  This is their favourite perch.

In Search of Buffalo

It was when Steven’s Great Grampa and Auntie Val made a trip out to Calgary to say good-bye to his Uncle John that our family gathered at Fish Creek on a very rainy day, to take family photographs.  This is something that daughter, Erin, really wanted for her birthday.  It was important to her.  I think that most of us whined about it, but in the end, it was really very fun!  Many laughs as we shivered and got wet, taking our turns hiding in the entrance to the visitor center, closed at this particular time.  We did press our noses against the glass, however, and it was then that Steven spotted the buffalo!

There is only one thing that delights Steven almost as much as trucks and emergency vehicles and that is buffalo!!

So, this morning, Nanny, Steven and I headed to the same location in the hopes of finding the buffalo and we saw him…and so much more!  A beautiful morning…a beautiful place, one of the most wonderful spaces in south Calgary.

No touch!

“Touch, Nanny.”

Campfire!

Tee Pee!

Beaver! Awe!

Touch.

River

In Tee Pee.

Campfire!

Wolf

Berries

Poet Tree Benches

Chickens

Awe.

Wow.

Ice-e-cream

Nature Walk

What? A goldfinch and NO CAMERA!! Lifer with Nanny and Steven

Looking for Trout in the river. “Hold on, Steven!”

Grass!

Splinter…a first.

Back home, in Gramma’s garden.

Another beautiful adventure!

Gramma Goes to the Lake

I’m skirting around the subject for now. I sit at my brand new computer, feeling like I’m recreating everything. In my vulnerability, I’m going forward, after a long period of sitting in what felt like dampness.

I had booked myself in to be with Steven that week. My body felt nothing but exhaustion, but when I had the chance to hold him in my arms and then watch him, giddy, ‘running running running’, I felt as though I had levitated somewhat into another world, some place above. The mire of wet mud that had been pulling my legs downward, suddenly let go and I was connected to other aspects of life and living. Most importantly, I was connected with my grandson, a personality who has more than once, shared with me the powerful innate sense of ‘being’, fully being, apart from everything but the sensory core of wonder. In a strange way, this is the exact same wonder I had been present to with my brother.

After breakfast and teeth-brushing, we loaded up the stroller with the big yellow truck and headed out on our adventure. It was with an openness to the world that we examined a pile of old leaves pressed up against the protection of a stair well, felt sand under our feet, threw sand into the water (stoop, back over head, release, stoop, back over head, release, a rhythm again and again…a series of new mechanical actions, each time followed with a laugh) and made observations of geese. While Steven wasn’t aware, Gramma was also silently moaning that she didn’t bring her Canon, as a male loon drifted by on the silky smooth lake water.

My own drifting movement through the muted spring background kept me present, concerned and in keen observation. “These are important times,” I thought to myself. “This grandson of yours is learning and practicing and discovering all of these moments and making new connections. You had better not miss out on any of it.” Morning was a gift.

This morning is a gift. I will be brave today.

Gramma Builds a Puppet Theater

It came to me like a dream…a waking dream. For weeks I had, during daytime hours, pondered what to do for my grandson for Christmas morning 2019. For some reason, I thought that this decision would lay down the tracks for every other decision I would make on his behalf for his entire lifetime. (Crazy, I know.) I don’t take my place as Gramma lightly, exemplified in my willingness to put myself out there as a bumble bee.  Isn’t my grandson handsome?

My mother had such a talent for sewing that for every Christmas and birthday, there were sure to be homemade gifts arrive in the mail or delivered, personally. They were tagged and finished beautifully, “To my Grand Daughter, with Love!” I follow in impressive footsteps. 

So, it was on a morning in October, that a waking dream came to me. I sleep in the deepest darkest lowest level of the house and it’s pretty cold at times. I was curled in snug under the covers, when ‘it’ came to me in half-sleep. “I could build my grandson a puppet theater!” I imagined him as he is now, watching his Mommy and Daddy being funny and laughing behind the stage…and then, with little friends, growing up…and then making hilarious fun as an upper elementary student…and then, possibly, with his life marked by all sorts of little stories that Mommy made up…and stories that he performed for evening entertainment, he might even take the puppet theater with him, after a long and probably painful storage dilemma between his Mom and Dad and him. Yes, I conjured all of this up in the rumblings of a dark morning in October.

When I woke and got up that morning, shuffling to the kitchen to make my first cup of coffee, I said aloud, “Gramma is going to make a puppet theater!”

It began with a plan.  I scoured Amazon, Ebay, Kijiji and puppet companies the world over.  Finally, I came up with a plan that I wanted to work with, a little homemade theater that I spotted on Kijiji.  If I had an interest in driving to the city of Lacombe to pick this one up for 100.00, it would have been easily revised.

But, nah…I would create something amazing, at least I would be the one with the vision!  In terms of tools, I just don’t have what it takes.  I needed to track down Santa’s helper, and quick!

After my communications with a high school shop teacher came up empty, I went to my go-to guy, Len, a neighbour who helps me with all sorts of odd jobs when I don’t have the tools necessary.  He works independently and I like to support him in his various efforts.

I took in account Steven’s height and the fact that I wanted at least one little friend to be able to participate with him during his childhood productions and so I drew up this plan.  Now, this wee sheet that was sketched out in my day timer was not so simple as it might appear!  Lots of thought went into this, so please, readers, don’t think that this came fleetingly!

Within a week or so…Len came up with some ideas of his own.  I talked to him about a concept of design that would align itself with Steven’s birthing songs and art…something to do with ‘Under the Sea’ or ‘An Octopus’s Garden’.  Insert music here.

I was pretty darned happy when Len and James brought the puppet theater off the truck and into the studio, even though the weight of this beast certainly didn’t mean that I would be moving it around a lot.  It would have to find itself a space and it was at this stage that I first became concerned that it might never really find its way into a forever-home.

Safe in my studio, I was able to begin measuring and planning for curtains, backdrops and decoration.  I began by applying two coats of primer.

In the evenings, I was bopping in and out of shops, planning and scheming a system that would work for the draperies.  I wanted them to mimic the velvet curtains I imagined in the grand theaters.  In the end, the installation of curtains ended up being so darned challenging.  This lady became one of my friends on this mission…taking several different exchanges as I would return rods…experiment…ask for help.

In the end I settled on these velour panels…and now, to seek out someone who might hem them up for me.

I won’t go into details (is this a detail?)…but, at one point, these small bits of hardware were purchased as a bit of an experiment.  I feature them here simply because the man who helped me in this department of the big box store, Home Depot, was such an angel and was seriously the greatest guy to talk to.  He was so excited about my ‘Gramma Builds a Puppet Theater’ project, that my problem-solving ended up being a huge conversation.  I just really treasure people like him and only regret that I didn’t ask his name.

I solicited a lovely high school student, Emmanuella, to sew the draperies, under the supervision of her Fashions teacher, Fierina.  Emmanuella has excelled in this area and advanced beyond all of the projects assigned.  It was a great idea for the both of us and I really enjoyed getting to know such a conscientious and beautiful person.

Rooting through my basement storage cupboard, I located some old tins of house paint and selected a colour that would help me achieve my underwater theme.

While pursuing the painting and project, I began to search out puppets.  Late into my evenings, I would explore on-line sites and finally decided to write a story about an Eagle Walk.  Ikea is the only store to have an eagle puppet, and ironically enough, I never did get myself to the store to purchase the puppet.  One day, perhaps. The eagle, therefore, was represented by a sound effect…very very cool!

Basically, I ended up purchasing puppets that I fell in love with, after exploring so many toy shops in town.  For the sake of this post, I have spared you archives for several locations.  It was actually Scholastic, on Macleod, where I tracked down chicken and monkey in a barrel, both two of my favourites.

I found a perfect stuffie border collie at the Goodwill store and at home, washed and dried it, gutted it, inserted a glove and created our Maxman character.  Thanks, James, for exploring so many stores with me, looking for the perfect puppet collection.

I began to decorate the puppet theater, first locating a dry erase board for puppet show announcements, at the Dollarama…hmmm…or did it end up being Staples? While at the dollar store, I picked up some rolls of ribbon, thinking I could create a celebratory effect by placing some of that here and there.  I am really NO DECORATOR!  Let’s face it, the greatest problem of them all was the curtain.  It was getting close to the wire, by this point, and while really wanting to pain scene backdrops for the theater, I let go of that project, thinking that this would be an idea for later gifts.

I painted a few bits onto the outside panels and opted to leave the front of the theater plane.  Embellishments definitely made a difference!

I think it was only a short time before the actual performance when I solicited the help of friends, Angela and Nigel, to create puppet figures for Doug, Erin, Gramma and Steven.  They came to our Christmas feast, with felt puppet figures in tow…and while Christmas went remarkably long due to an unforeseen crash by young Steven and a trip to the hospital so that his forehead might be taped back together…THE SHOW DID GO ON!  But…I get ‘A HEAD’ of myself here.

The puppet theater, at completion…

It was at the pre-function on Christmas day that the screenplay came to be created in a very collaborative way and with many laughs…all directed by our writer/editor in residence, my sister-friend, Karen.  The traditional big feast happened and then, interspersed with the drive to hospital and back, the $10 gift steal that happened incorrectly this year (and did I listen to the five people who tried to tell me?….next time, don’t be so polite), under my direction, the puppet show was set, complete with eagle sound effects provided by Tyler (mind you…the timing might have been a little off) and narration delivered, confidently, by Shawn (you are such a good sport!).

A small capture of that…

Sending love to all who helped this dream happen…

Somewhere out there, there is a video from this debut, but I don’t know where it is or if I have permission to share.  I just am grateful for Christmas magic.