First person: Savouring 'bubble' baby's second Christmas

Leader-Post digital editor Austin Davis reflects on the holiday season as his daughter Evelyn grows from infant to toddler in a pandemic.

Leader Post 5 minute read December 24, 2021

Austin Davis, his wife Melanie Metcalf and their daughter Evelyn and dog Bermie gather in their family room on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Regina. TROY FLEECE / Regina Leader-Post

It is some cursed hour in the morning on a day after March 2020 and the house wakes to the sounds of two new residents: a baby (welcome, despite the crying) and a mouse (decidedly unwelcome).

Suddenly my wife Mel and I were worried about hantavirus as much as coronavirus. Neither one was covered in the training manuals. This was our isolating introduction to parenthood.

We were warned about the sleep deprivation but there was no prediction it would coincide with a pandemic. Even the late, great Sally Elliott’s prenatal class only gets you so far.

Evelyn was born in February 2020, the cusp of the before times and a new, uncertain reality.

If Christmas and New Year’s are a time of reflection and anticipation, then entering this season with a child amplifies sentimentality for simpler times and optimism for a better future.

When Evy was born, we spent five nights in hospital as mom recovered. But our stay was otherwise normal in ways that now seem very distant: No masks, no nasal swabs and no visitation limits.

Evy was happy and healthy, which made everything else bearable. And we needed all the peace of mind we could muster when the world changed through COVID-19.

Our hopes and expectations for the first year of her life were thrust against the reality of a virus we were struggling to understand while navigating evolving policies that, at times, meant our parents couldn’t see their new granddaughter. When we needed help the most, it was deemed unsafe to have anyone in our home.

If there’s no way to truly prepare for the challenges of parenthood, then I was doubly unready in those early pandemic days to be cleaning the outside of baby wipes packages with disinfecting wipes.

When the province’s top doctor Saqib Shahab started referring to multi-household “bubbles,” I christened Evy our bubble baby.

I’ve learned a bubble is like a cocoon that keeps you safe; but it’s also a closed window that let’s you see but not touch.

We were contending with new fears and the instinct to protect our small family at all costs. When that eventually meant foregoing traditional gatherings for Evy’s first Christmas, we obliged.

A close friend’s dad was hospitalized with COVID-19 for weeks until he died on Boxing Day 2020. I could not, and still cannot, fathom the pain of going through that experience over the holidays. Every sacrifice my family made was small in the shadow of their grief.

We would continue to do the right thing — for Murray Logan, his family and all other people suffering in Saskatchewan.

There was no way around but through. Despite the widening public division, we needed unity in a time of isolation.

We knew by then that kids were not the highest risk. We had to limit contacts while waiting for vaccines to protect the most vulnerable in our society. Doctors and politicians urged us to “flatten the curve” and with all the nobility two burnt-out, new parents could gather, we answered the call. This meant staying home, a place we now shared with uninvited mice guests that could potentially bring a different virus to us and our daughter. It felt like we had invented a new kind of dread.

I am not a hunter, nor is our friendly mutt Bermie. But the responsibility to rid our house of mice fell to me, not him.

And so, after delaying efforts for too many days, I finally located their hot spots, laid traps and waited for results. It was a gruesome process but got results. We had to purge the basement of almost everything in the urgency to protect Evy.

As we close in on her second birthday, we know we have done everything possible to keep her safe, through pandemic and infestation.

When people asked how we were doing in that first year, I had a stock answer: “We can’t tell what part of this is pandemic and what part of this is parenthood.” The two life-changing events combined into a singular experience, overlapping in ways impossible to separate.

By the second year, people had just stopped asking.

Ultimately it became less important to identify the stressors than to manage their effects. What mattered most was being with my daughter and making her feel safe and loved.

I read an article that said early in a child’s life, bonding with parents is more essential than outside socialization. It took away some of the sting from not being able to do play-dates. I had to let go of the bitterness about what we didn’t get. I must be grateful for what we have.

This Christmas, Evy will open gifts in our mouse-free home, knock on wood. My goal is to be present — not depressed about the past or anxious about the future.

As our deadly and preventable fourth wave started to decline, I was optimistic about re-embracing some Christmas traditions. Maybe we would get to open the door a bit wider into Evy’s bubble.

Omicron is dashing those hopes, even without household gathering restrictions in Saskatchewan. Again, we will follow the best expert advice, not because we are brainless sheep, but for our daughter, family, friends, neighbours and community.

We are back at a new cusp, not far from 2020, deciding what this new variant means to family gatherings. Our decisions are much bigger than us now and the evidence grows each day.

In place of the old traditions, we will continue to fill Evy’s bubble with love, even as our little girl starts to bounce off its walls in her desire to explore more of the world around her.

— Austin Davis is the Leader-Post’s digital editor

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