Hard to believe September has come and almost gone already. Am I the only one whose sense of time is still completely distorted? What a strange summer it’s been, tacked onto the end of many tumultuous months of pandemic. I haven’t written anything reflective here yet this year, which I guess is par for the course these last many years.
Last summer, we didn’t know how good we had it. We never even really had a first wave, but even though we were “allowed” to do a lot last summer, I never felt completely at ease. Last October I wrote that we’d be lucky if we had a normal-ish Christmas 2021, but that seems up the air now too. It feels like a good time to capture the experiences of the last couple months. So voila: a semi-stream of consciousness recap of Summer 2021, not necessarily in any particular order.
The kids start remote school in early May. This necessary evil was announced on Mother’s Day; I listened to the presser in the car after I’d received my first jab. I feel relief and dread at once. They say it will go until May 30 but does anyone actually believe that?? I give the lunch kits a deep clean and put them away.
Getting the shot is the real gift on Mother’s Day. (That, alongside the brand new tablet I open that morning, which turns out to be immensely helpful for a household with two kids in remote school and two parents who work at home.) I am not expecting to get emotional – I’m just impatient by this point – but in the moments that follow the jab, I blink back tears as I stare at a tree outside the window and think about how I’ll probably remember this moment for the rest of my life.
Thankfully, “school from home” goes really well, beyond expectations, really. The teachers at my kids’ school are on it like a bonnet, total pros, adapting quickly and beautifully to the new format, so the kids do, too. Still, during those last few days of school at the end of June, when you’d just be watching movies and going on field trips anyway, it feels so good to turn off all the reminders and put the devices away.
I get my 2nd dose the day before my 40th birthday. Summer begins with a sliver of optimism. Things are starting to reopen but it feels like society has forgotten that there’s a huge demographic (kids under 12) who can’t be vaxxed yet therefore life can’t be “normal” for many families. We debate whether to go to Alberta to see my family, something we didn’t do last summer. We haven’t seen my brother and his family since summer of 2019. We decide to wait to see how things go post-Stampede, and book off the last two weeks of August as a placeholder. It feels very strange to be contemplating a trip to stay with family in another province when we are not even allowed to be inside anyone else’s house here in Manitoba.
Climate change has never been on my mind more. You can literally see and feel that it’s real. It adds an extra layer of worry and hopelessness onto the pandemic. It feels particularly real because we are doing all socializing outdoors, at least in the first part of the summer. You can’t escape the heat or the smoke or the bugs.
The late spring/early summer kicks off with frost warnings and extreme heat warnings within a week of each other. I will lose my mind if I heard one more jovial discussion on the radio about how darn crazy this weather is, without citing climate change.
Then at long last, after months of various stages of social restrictions, we are finally allowed to see people outside, but it is literally too hot to do so. Thanks, heat dome. A town in BC sets a Canadian heat record and then days later literally burns to the ground. What is happening?
The aphids are far and away the worst I’ve ever seen them since I moved to Winnipeg in 2008. There are times where it literally seems like it’s raining. The ground stays sticky and smelly for weeks because there’s been NO RAIN. At least there are basically no cankerworms, or mosquitoes.
By mid-summer, it’s the smoke from forest fires keeping us inside. When the heat breaks suddenly, mercifully, it’s only because there is so much smoke in the air. The thick, cool, quiet air feels feels vaguely apocalyptic.
Then the desperately-needed rain arrives. This is great, but also crappy because it ruins various much-anticipated summer plans.
Eventually, temperatures become bearable, the rain chills out, and air quality is okay. Time to enjoy the last few weeks of summer. But wait! Now wasps ruin every meal or drink we have outside. They are the worst I can remember them ever being. But maybe I’m only noticing because we are eating and drinking more often now than we ever did before.
My sourdough starter, Bill, is somewhere at the back of the fridge, just waiting.
I’m not turning the stove on much in the heat, anyway.
At the end of July, I take a quick solo trip to see my family in Alberta. In a touristy gift shop in Waterton I’m agog seeing throngs of children walking around maskless in close quarters. I tell my family that after the distinction of being the worst pandemic hotspot in North America, I can’t believe believe Manitoba is being so careful and restrained with its reopening. (The cringey “4-3-2-One Great Summer Reopening Plan”.)
A few day later I eat my words when Manitoba goes “full Alberta”, abandoning masking and rendering vaccine cards useless unless you care about going to a Bombers game (not me!). The province says school will be nearly normal this fall.
Disbelief and discomfort rise. Why would we throw away all the progress we’ve made? It is patently obvious to me, a college grad who got Cs in biology, that in the face of the delta variant, abandoning masks and restrictions is a terrible, terrible idea. Universities, school divisions and institutions scramble to devise their own policies to protect the public and particularly children, when the province fails to do so. There are many days when it is hard to focus, just waiting for the public health update at 12:30pm.
We look at Alberta’s rapidly rising numbers and decide to stay put. Now that our case numbers are down and our vax rates are good, we can socialize more freely here. We enjoy BBQs with friends, long nights on the porch, go tubing in Pinawa, see planetarium shows, go swimming and to the zoo. We ride our bikes a lot, and have an awesome time doing some group rides. The kids all go to art camp, and sleepovers at my in-laws. We spend our travel dollars on lots of restaurant meals and local beer deliveries. My oldest remarks, “The summer is actually turning out to be a lot funner than I was expecting.” Music to my ears. I have never had any length of vacation time off here at home until now, and my two-week staycation is relaxing and enjoyable.
Having forced said employers/institutions to make the hard choices they perceive to be politically unpopular (but are they??) the government reverses course three weeks later, bringing back masking mandates and requiring vaccines or ongoing testing for many employers and venues. Hurrah? Relief?
We keep up with our Friday night take-out tradition to support local restaurants, dubbed “Commandredi” in our bilingual household. My pantry overfloweth with resuable takeout containers that I imagine someday having the energy to fill with baking for friends and neighbours.
We discover the show Manifest. It is gloriously addictive, mindless garbo-tainment. The script is so trite and predictable, we consistently beat the characters to delivering their own lines. Perhaps this is why we love it so much. It feels like soothing certainty during a time that feels out of our control.
We binge Line of Duty on Netflix and then take a free Britbox trial to watch the last season. Bent coppers and amazing accents: what more distraction could anyone want?
The first day that vax passports take effect, we go on a double date night. We ride bikes to the Exchange and drink fancy cocktails at Patent 5 then eat supper INSIDE WITH NO MASKS at Nonsuch. Feels like normal, and also like a dream.
At the same time as most of us are celebrating a return to some normal, the privileges we have because we’ve been able to get vaccinated, anti-vax/anti-science lunatics mob cancer patients and healthcare workers entering or leaving hospitals. In Canada. Big Apocalypse Energy.
I am so thankful that everyone I know is on board with vaccines–no divisions or rifts in my family or social circle and I don’t take this for granted.
My neighbourhood is full of orange t-shirts and other expression of recognition for the growing number of unmarked graves identified at residential “school” sites across the country. At first, seeing the shirts and teddy bears gives me a good feeling, but then I wonder if they really accomplish anything.
Our awful premier, the one whose likeness appears on street art around town with the words “Winnipeg Variant” beneath it, resigns. I debate buying a PC membership so I can vote on our next premier, hoping to perhaps tip the scales to someone less dangerous. My finger hovers over the “purchase” button for a long time before I take the advice of a wise friend and decide it’s better to let the PCs self-destruct.
September comes. Five days into the new school year, I already know two people who’ve already had to take their kids for Covid tests. Thankfully both come back negative. Of the testing site, one friend reports that it was very sad: mostly little kids, a lot of crying. I am so angry that Manitoba doesn’t have the gargle test for children like they’ve had in BC for a year already. I have first-hand experience with how awful it is to take a scared and resisting child for testing with the nasal swab. I have been the parent taking up one station at the test site for 45 minutes. The crying and screaming coming from our cube. I can’t be the only parent who struggles with this.
I watch as Alberta, my home province, where several of my loved ones are teachers and health care workers, descends into chaos. Surgeries cancelled, morgues exceeding capacity. I feel sick just thinking about it. Yet I have trouble turning away from the news.
I request a mail-in ballot for the dumb federal election because I know the polling place will not be at the neighbourhood school and it might be a hassle to get to wherever they choose instead. The next day they announce it will be at the church on my street–even closer than the school! On election day I watch the line-up with a pang of envy. I love the act of voting and am sorry to be missing out on that experience. Even in a pandemic.
Pfizer announces the vaccine for 5-11s is almost ready to go. Surprisingly, Manitoba is doing pretty well with vax uptake, but geographic pockets with low rates keep the virus active. The longer we drag out vaccination, the more the virus mutates.
I read a thread from a pastor in Steinbach who points out how we’ve crushed the vaccination targets and more people are getting their first shot every day. The vaccine mandates and passports are working. Folks in other provinces on Twitter are pointing to Manitoba’s QR code/app setup as something to emulate!
So this was our second pandemic summer. On any given day, my mood oscillates between despondent malaise to cautious optimism with gratitude for how things could be so much worse, but aren’t. There are moments I realize I have forgotten momentarily about Covid. There are others when I can’t turn my mind off of the horrors that could still unfold.
We tell the big kids they might even get their shots by Christmas, and with any luck, their little sister will get hers soon after that. That maybe, just maybe, Summer 2022 might be pretty close to normal.
Strange how we can go from the envy of the continent, to worst per capita, and back to something that feels like hopeful again.