When family is everything (week one)

There are a lot of photos in this post. Apologies for slow loading times. I want to remember the story these photos tell.

We came out of the woods last Friday. Damien and I had been gone for two nights on a winter trip into one of Quebec's national parks.

Before we left to go to the woods there had been daily articles about COVID-19 in the local newspaper, which I read regularly. Canadian cruise ship passengers were in quarantine, first on ships and then upon arrival back to Canada. Italy was in lockdown. And Costco was out of toilet paper.

How things change in a couple days with no cell service or newspapers. In the parking lot, as we changed our clothes and stashed our backpacks into the car, we downloaded our email to discover the situation. Our prime minister was in self-isolation, parliament was suspended, the government was urging people to work from home if possible, and all Quebec schools were closed till March 30.

And just like that an opportunity opened for our family to visit my parents in Nova Scotia. I had been looking at the calendar now for weeks, thinking ahead to summer travel, talking with the kids about their schedules, wondering if there would any chance in the next 8 months that we could all take one week and go to Nova Scotia for a family vacation.

Trying to coordinate the school, work, and social schedules of three teenager/young adult people is challenging. There was a slight chance we could visit late July, if the stars aligned with their schedules and mine.

Then, in the surreal reality of a pandemic, all the schedules cleared. Effective immediately.

While driving home from the mountains we made all the necessary phone calls. At home we did laundry and re-packed. 36 hours later our whole family - cat, guitar, and art supplies included - was en route to Nova Scotia. Making the very familiar 14 hour journey along the Trans Canada highway, headed east.

We've been here for a week, week one of Canada's COVID crisis, social distancing with my parents on their country-property, literally called the "Sanctuary". Staying in the house my dad built, tucked into the woods and along the river that leads to the ocean.

Am I allowed to say I'm loving this?

This is a weird, weird time. But it doesn't feel so weird at my parents. It feels a bit like a homecoming to an earlier time of family life.

When we moved back to Canada after living in the States for 11 years we lived with my parents for about six months as we got our feet under us. With our household goods stored in a trailer, we moved right in to my parents' home. The kids shared a room, Damien and I slept in a camper on the property (the same one my parents lived in while building their house), and we made my parents home our home.

My parents made it really easy to do so, welcoming us with open arms and hearts. I said it before, I'll say it again, I won the parent lottery.

This first week of social distancing at my parents reminds me a bit of that time, but without all the stress of moving and rebooting our life. This is simpler.

That was the first time we had lived with my parents and that experience taught us some tricks about how to do that successfully. Of course in the years since those 6 months we've spent many weeks at my parents' house on working vacations and family trips, usually staying 8 to 10 days.

When we come to Nova Scotia the kids all bunk together in the guest room, the same one they shared all those years ago. Damien and I set up our working space in Mom's office (which she graciously vacates during our visits) and sleep in that same room on the Murphy bed my dad built.

Over the years we've established routines and ways of being together and we fall back into that familiar comfort each time we visit. Even our cat Pippin has his own routine here though we're not sure he remembers it from trip-to-trip.

This trip is like others but different, because the world is in crisis.

As a family we've done crisis together before. In the earlier days of our marriage Damien and I lived in New Jersey, part of our stint in the States.

My parents were visiting on vacation, in late summer 2001. They were at the airport ready to fly out on Tuesday morning, September 11th. They watched the towers fall from the Newark airport windows. Their departure was delayed until they could make the necessary travel arrangements to return to their home in Alberta. We shared another surreal week together in our 2 bedroom apartment, my parents sleeping on the futon bed in the living room.

That was a very difficult and stressful week. And what made it more difficult was that our homes were on different sides of an international border. A border that in our present crisis is closed to all non-essential traffic.

This is a different crisis and a different season in our family life. And I'm glad we're not all hunkered down in our Montreal apartment.

It feels strange to say this but there is no sense of "crisis" in my personal life right now, only the slowing down of everything and simplifying of our days.

Unlike our usual trips to Nova Scotia, we're not going out for coffee, or to the bakery, or to socialize with the farmers and producers at the market. We're not doing our usual Frenchys (Atlantic Canada's second-hand store) shopping trip. We are social distancing, more to the end of self-isolating.

But because most of the things we love to do here are non-public related - hanging out together at my parents' house, hiking, visiting the ocean, walking in the woods - our days our graced with nature, beauty, and connection; not fear, crisis, and worry. (The kids might be tempted to add boredom to this list. I haven't asked them.)

This is why we came. To weather a crisis together in a beautiful and naturally more isolated place.

At so many points in time during my normal life I want it all to stop, I want it to slow down. I want the appointments to stop. I want a blank calendar. I constantly question our societal pace of life. Is this really how we want to live? So busy? This was a big factor in choosing to homeschool our kids and to seek remote employment, to distance ourselves a bit from the crazy-making of modern school/work/family life schedules.

But now a huge disruption is requiring a large majority of the population to slow down. We're all supposed to stay home, take care of our families, and unbelievably, homeschool our kids. (I'm just going to say one thing about that, if I was still homeschooling young kids this would be a barebones learning time, if that. We lived through many non-crisis barebones homeschool seasons and everyone turned out ok, post-secondary ready, and employable - go figure!)

This all feels kind of normal to me, but better in some ways, because my normal still includes all the outside the home obligations and societal expectations, which I don't usually appreciate.

In the context of a world crisis it feels almost obscene to say I'm enjoying myself and this pace. But it's true, at least for now. I'm loving being at my parents house with my kids, no one anxious to return the city because there is nothing happening there. No one is missing out on anything.

And this is true for me because of an inordinate amount of privilege and lucky life circumstance.

I have generous parents who live in a beautiful house in the woods, naturally distanced from neighbors but connected to a strong community network (whom we are not seeing in person these days). I live in a country of wealth and strong societal supports. My husband has salaried, location-independent work that enables him to continue working, without interruption. My own part-time work is online. (I just started a new job before this all hit.)

We are all healthy and don't have compromised immune systems or underlying issues. My kids normally live at home and aren't stuck on the other side of a border or being evicted from a dorm residence. We have a car and a mobility-friendly lifestyle allowing us to pick up and get out of the city with a day's notice.

This week I've been sharing photos and video of my experience with social distancing on IG stories. And at the beginning of this week I wrote this,

Most of my days in life I feel middle of the road in terms of what "I have". Right now I feel on the upper end of the curve. And globally speaking this is more true, even though I have a modest life.

I have a modest life. I live in a rented apartment. We make payments on our one car. We can't afford to fly our family to vacation destinations or pay for our children's post-secondary schooling. After homeschooling our kids through high school and living off one income for many years we don't have retirement savings or a significant emergency fund. We are not wealthy.

In some ways, all it would take is a big crisis to knock us down, hard.

Will this crisis knock us down? I don't know. This one week is not representative of what's to come. We don't know what's to come. But right now I'm too far removed from any front-line suffering of loneliness, sickness, or significant financial strain to feel anxiety or fear.

I'm a normally uptight and kind of anxious person but right now, I'm not. There's nothing we can do in this crisis but hunker down, distance ourselves, and take care of each other, and that's what we're doing. And I'm enjoying this time together. Am I allowed to say that?

I'm not ignorant of what's going on. I'm reading, watching, listening to the news every day. But it's so removed from my reality.

In large part because there are legions of people and systems keeping society functioning: the people who grow, deliver, and sell food; all the health and community care workers; our provincial and federal government leaders; all the infrastructure and people who manage it. I salute you. I thank you. I am indebted to you.

I feel almost stinkingly, disgustingly rich and privileged. Not something I normally feel since my life is financially modest and middle class.

In a crisis like this, which is hasn't reached "crisis" proportions for our family, my privilege and lucky circumstance become glaringly, embarrassingly, obvious.

watching Indigo Girls concert livestream on FB

Family means everything to me. And I am nested deep in a caring and loving family.

There is great comfort for me in all of this familial connection but there is also a discomfort. I'm not into quoting bible verses these days but one verse from the book of Luke keeps cycling through my head.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

or as the Message says,

Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!

Good Lord, this scares me more right now than COVID-19.

How can I fulfill these responsibilities hunkered down in safety? Who am I responsible for, and to? How much do my responsibilities extend beyond my own kin? And what am I doing, what can I do, to meet those?

In this situation I'm supposed to distance and isolate myself and my family. (For the record, my Gen Z kids are not gathering irresponsibly in part because they have no choice out here in the country.)

flattening the curve and cleaning Nana's house

In isolating ourselves we've moved into a very comfy and cloistered position. I feel safe and protected and surrounded by beauty. This is unfair.

Am I allowed to treasure and cherish this time with my family? Does this make me a bad person in a time of global crisis?

I am aware that the shit is hitting the fan, world-wide and closer at hand. I'm reading and watching the news more than ever. Even if my family and I remain healthy, the losses are significant and the economic impacts are hard to comprehend. These will affect my own life and my loved one's lives. I'm not sure how to process that. I'm not sure how to prepare for it.

I am reminded here of one of Richard Rohr's core teachings that people become aware of God, come into relationship with God, through either great love or great suffering.

I've had some suffering in my life but the door I've walked through most has been love, specifically the love built and nurtured in familial relationships. Which is why love and relationship have been key in my own parenting (and homeschooling). It's the pathway, the portal for deeper truth and knowing. For me, Love is the meaning of life.

The love and care of family life has been an archway, kind of like the ones festooned with flowers that lovers get married under, into knowing Divine love and care. And the love and care of family life has been an arc, the trajectory of my life - from family, in family, for family.

Here's the kicker.

The Christian message, ultimately the human message, is that everyone is family. Jesus' teaching challenges us to extend the belonging outside the tribe, and to risk and sacrifice ourselves doing so. I don't know how to do this at the best of times, never mind during a self-isolating crisis.

But when I see how health care workers, grocery store clerks, and truck drivers are working to keep people healthy and our society functioning I see love, I see family, I see Christ. I see the arc of care extended beyond one's own needs to the needs of others. I am challenged and humbled by their work, their sacrifice.

And then I go for another walk in the woods and deeply appreciate the quiet and the distance from society. And how these two realities co-exist I can't explain.

I'm not going to make pronouncements about how this crisis will change everything. I have no idea what will or won't come out of this or how my life will be changed.

I am living in a bubble of love and care right now which feels like a burden as much as a blessing. I don't know what it will look like to re-pay this debt, to fulfill my responsibility, but that reality niggles at the back of mind while I am nested in connection, beauty, and love. While I'm (happily) hunkered down in a Sanctuary.

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