Columnist Chris Hunt recalls a favourite pre-COVID destination
I had a brief conversation with my son Riley recently that quietly broke my heart.
I’d been both working from home and homeschooling Riley for a few weeks, and I was cranky. I was tired of being imprisoned by a murderous virus far too easily transmitted and weary from the inherent isolation bred from such an existence.
I looked over at my boy who was slouched in front of his computer, rubbing his eyes. He was exhausted too.
Screw it, I thought. Let’s play hooky. I grabbed a soccer ball and we threw on our shoes and went outside.
We were out only a few moments when my boy looked at me oddly.
“What’s up, buddy?” I asked.
“It’s just … I feel weird without my mask.”
In my rush to just not be inside anymore I’d neglected to put one on either of us. He looked very uncomfortable.
I told him it was fine as we were the only ones outside.
He grimaced and muttered: “For now.”
That bothered me. In addition to proving my eight-year-old was more responsible than I was, that statement reinforced that wearing a mask was now part of his new normal.
COVID has taken so much from so many, but I’ve been very lucky. My family has remained safe and healthy.
But we haven’t been unscathed. My boy is an only child and we live in an area where there aren’t many kids his age. And even if there were, he wouldn’t be able to play with them due to social distancing concerns.
Long story short, my boy has spent the past year fighting loneliness.
The thing I miss the most from pre-COVID life is visiting an indoor amusement park here in Ottawa. The look of unbridled joy on his face when he slid into the ball pit for the first time was priceless.
We are good friends with two other couples, both of similar ages and both with a single child around Riley’s age.
We would meet at the facility so frequently that we developed a routine. First, the moms would claim a table. There was much thought and strategic planning put into this. It had to be near enough the restaurant for the dads to comfortably fetch the food and beverages while also being close enough to the bathrooms for the dads to bring the children on short notice.
Once the hub was chosen, the kids would then go play in the seemingly city-sized jungle gym, with the dads taking turns playing with them while the moms fiercely guarded their table by placing their worldly belongings on every spare surface space.
I had a blast playing chase or hide-and-seek with the kids. My favorite thing to do was hide behind massive bouncy balls and wait until they happened by, at which point I’d jump up and bellow.
Sure, the odd time a wayward kid might be unintentionally frightened, but what’s a little future therapy for a stranger’s child compared to my own personal amusement?
My son would often wrangle up these kids and have them join us. You know, without telling me. Having a bunch of unfamiliar kids point at you and scream before peeling away is not something one should ever get used to in a children’s park.
We’d have dinner there, the dads carefully balancing their plates on a mountain of surprisingly malleable purses. After a quick trip to the arcade the dads would quietly nod at each other.
Time to go, that nod would silently say. And then we’d leave immediately once the moms told us it was time to go.
It was a pleasant routine with some very lovely people and the best part was Riley would be peacefully asleep before we got home.
I look forward to the time when peaceful sleeps return once again.