27 March, Cincinnati, USA

By Ainsley Cameron

A few nights ago my mother said on the phone “They’re closing the border between Canada and the US soon.”  I heard words coming from my mouth that I never thought I’d say. “Good,” I replied. “They should close the border. They should have closed it already.” I’ve lived abroad for most of my adult life, but I’ve never been faced with a reality in which I’m unable to travel home. I’ve never felt so grounded before. I look around my house, our home for the last two of three years spent in Cincinnati, Ohio, and think that it’s not a bad place to be stuck. There is a decent backyard to run around in, birds in the budding trees, and kind neighbors to speak to from a socially acceptable distance.

Today was spent not fretting about travel, work deadlines, or the disruptions caused to my self-consciously privileged life by this virus, but instead focused on my family. It’s my son’s fourth birthday. The party has been postponed until August and will instead be a 4 years, 4 months, and 6 days party. Presents have been delivered and quickly stashed away. They are wrapped and ready for today’s festivities. So far I’ve channeled the majority of my anxiety towards this one moment. I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking about ways to salvage this birthday. This singular day sandwiched between so many similar yet insignificant days. These days, weeks, and likely months spent at home will inevitably be some of the kid’s earliest memories, and I wonder how he’ll process that as he gets older. We speak openly about “the germ” and why his preschool is closed. He misses his teachers, playgrounds, petting the neighbour’s dog and his friends. He’s tired of washing his hands but can be encouraged with a little competition “I bet I can make bigger bubbles than you!” I say, scrubbing vigorously. “No no no, look at me, look at these big bubbles!” He wins. He always wins.

We started the day with extra cuddles before breakfast, and then a morning spent creating crafts, reading books and playing outside. A picnic in the yard followed by cupcakes punctuated our midday, and I took a break from smiling and pretending everything was fine while he napped. I needed a chance to breathe. Attempting to appear calm and composed for your child as the realities of a global pandemic wash over you and your life is really quite draining. The afternoon included a videoconference with both sets of grandparents at once to participate in opening the presents. Once the new toys and books proved too great a distraction, I turned the screens to face each other to give the grandparents a chance to catch up among themselves and walked to the kitchen to prepare dinner.

Dinner was hard. My inquisitive, talkative, and stubborn kid whom I adore had a lot of questions about why he couldn’t see his friends and what they were doing and when “the germ” would go away. For a few minutes the kid, his father and I all unconsciously leaned in to the frustration while we cleared the dishes and put the leftover food away. A somber mood descended, even while the early evening sun peaked back out from behind a rain cloud. It’s hard not to settle into each other’s moods. We share so much as a family.

I had one surprise left for this day, and it involved the coordination of our kind neighbours and friends. Earlier in the afternoon I delivered cupcakes to three separate families on our block. I sent texts in advance and ran to place the treats on the front porch of each before retreating to mine. At the appointed time I moved the kid’s small craft table and chair to the front walk. We blew up balloons and tied them to the table and chairs. I brought his cake outside and lit the candle. Three separate groups of people, all standing a respectful distance apart, stood on the sidewalk before our house with their cupcakes and sang a loud and joyful rendition of Happy Birthday. The kid squealed with delight, licked the cake server, and dug in.