Drinking on credit
Your Christas party was brought to you by....
Early November I promised a post on teenagers and trust and I swear it’s coming. But first they sent the kids in isolation, then they closed the school. Then I got the kids shot. My youngest child fought it and won. The last two months have been exhausting. I started writing this rant before the new round of pandemic restrictions hit Ontario. Some of the details might no longer be accurate but the feeling remains the same: we’re asking more from our children than we are willing to give ourselves. We are funding our freedom to eat and drink using our kids’ credit. There will come a time to pay.
Listen, it’s not that I don’t take omicron seriously. But 10 days ago they closed my kids’ school due to an outbreak and that would be ok if I didn’t live 5 minutes away from the pro hockey arena in Ottawa.
A week before the kids were sent home to isolate by a high risk contact at school, 4 of them went to a hockey game. I was their taxi and I watched, waiting, while throngs of people poured out of the arena — capacity 20,000 — in various states of maskedness. It’s ok though because proof of vaccination had been required from anyone over age 12. It was an efficient operation: when I dropped off the kids, hundreds of people huddled outside the arena waiting to be checked in. Once I got home 7 minutes later, I texted them to make sure they weren’t too cold. They were already in their seats with their giant foam hat and shit-eating grins. The Senators won and the mood as the arena let out had the same whiff of « what pandemic? » felt at the Carp Fair (capacity 35,000) last September.
I have a son who receives speech and language therapy services at school. I had to sign a release allowing him to remove his mask for parts of therapy. My eyes popped out a little: you mean there are parts of speech and language therapy you can do with a mask?? It’s not ideal they said, but it can be done. The child is almost 8 and unintelligible but let’s have less-than-ideal speech therapy, we have all the time in the world. What’s almost two years in the life of a child who can’t talk properly? ¼ or 25% of his life, that’s what. His language delay is causing a range of somatic symptoms that are unpleasant for us and compromising for him but at least it’s not COVID right? In Ontario, you can die of anything but COVID.
You can’t take off your mask at school for speech therapy but you can take it off at a hockey game if you’re eating popcorn or drinking beer. As I learned when I took the train to Montreal with my kids last August, you can make a bag of skittles last 2h if you are deliberate about it. I asked my 10 year-old what he was looking forward to the most once the pandemic was over. He said “talk to my friends during lunch.” In school, when you take off your mask to eat, you can’t talk to anyone. I attended a networking breakfast recently where we didn’t expect that much of adults.
A few weeks ago, I went downtown on a taco date with a friend. We wore our masks to walk 3 steps from the door to our table. It felt a little performative but hey, we can do public health for 20 seconds if that’s what it takes to keep eating and talking at the same time. We took off our masks to eat because of course, COVID can’t come out of your mouth while you’re stuffing it with carnitas. Unfortunately it can if you’re 10 and eating a sandwich out of a lunch box.
We all like to talk and eat, it’s a pretty basic human inclination: family suppers, holidays, celebrations. All our milestone events have an element of sharing a meal with others. You can’t deny people some basic tenets of humanity for too long, it would be inhumane. Thankfully, children are not humans. Humans pay taxes and spend money. Early in the pandemic, the Ontario government realized that school children threatened the safety of humans who pay taxes and spend money. And I’m not talking about teachers, who need a safe workplace as much as anyone else.
In May 2021, after 2 months of school closures — preceded by 3 months of on-and-off schooling — preceded by a 6 week Christmas break — preceded by 3 months of on-and-off schooling — preceded by 6 months of lockdown — the government of Ontario crafted its « safe reopening plan ». Businesses were to reopen gradually based on case count and vaccination thresholds. Strained, burned out, and despairing parents asked “what about schools?” Crickets. As an afterthought, the Science Table ran its usual modelling and came out with two approximative timelines: one that kept children in lockdown and one that didn’t. The option that factored school outbreaks delayed the first threshold by a theoretical period of time just as the weather was turning nice. Ontarians spoke with one voice saying: fuck children, reopen patios and golf courses, we have endured enough. And so the government proceeded to reopen bars and keep schools closed until September. Not to keep children safe. Not to keep teachers and staff safe. As it were, mid-August rolled around with no school reopening plan anyone could discern, let alone reductions in class sizes and improvement in ventilation school staff had been asking for. But everyone needed a drink in May.
«Vero », you say, « Aren’t you a human who pays taxes and spends money? Surely you can enjoy the fruits of the safe reopening plan to cope with the anxiety and despair caused by school closures?» Thank you, but no. I tried to take my children out for a haircut and it took three calls to find a hair salon that took (unvaccinated) children under 12. Some even argued against letting them eat in restaurants and patios. The Ontario government has done a phenomenal job of putting the blame for repeated waves of COVID 19 on school children. A recent Facebook post by my City Councillor calling the Province to do more to keep kids in schools was called “disgusting” and “irresponsible”. In a masterful show of populist obfuscation, the government managed to roll out its vaccination campaign based on age – rather than exposure – due to the low risk of severe infection among the the young, combined with the relatively low rate of transmission in schools – WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY making children the biggest threat to the Province’s healthcare system. So pardon me while I hunker down with my vectors while you exercise your God-given right to shop and talk to someone while you eat.
Last week the Province made rapid tests available at selected LCBO (the liquor store) locations for people of liquor-buying age (full vaccination rate: >80%) but not in elementary schools (partial vaccination rate: whatever could be achieved in the last month). My first thought was “that’s the ‘Fuck You’ every parent and teacher needed right now” . Sure, I can go wait in line at the liquor store like all the other humans who are desperate to attend their Christmas parties. My kids are home from school and I don’t have childcare but we’re all in this together right? Who am I to say that my children’s need for special education and in-school services, and teachers’ need for a safe workplace, should trump everyone else’s need to attend a hockey game or a Holiday party? But it sure says something about your government’s priorities when the only way to safely send your kids to school involves buying a 40-ouncer.
You think you need a break from isolation and business closures after 20 months? Remember that your break is given to you by the nation’s children, who are still waiting for theirs.