‘Smile bags,’ sports and other sweet ideas keep kids active during COVID-19 closures

How are coastal families dealing with the ongoing pandemic? | Part Three

COVID-19 closures have been hard for everyone, but what has it been like for kids who are missing out on their social groups, sports activities and freedom? And how are families meeting the need for connection and physical activity in this time?

Klahoose and Tla’amin are sister Nations in the Salish Sea. On a map, this is the east central coast of Vancouver Island, and the adjacent mainland. 

In October, Tla’amin First Nation experienced an outbreak of 37 COVID-19 cases, leading to a community lockdown for 10 days. For Sosan Blaney’s family, the Tla’amin lockdown was extended another 24 days when COVID-19 passed through the family home. 

Blaney is a Tla’amin mother of two, daughter Mekwan and a son Menat’they. Her daughter tested positive for the virus, forcing the family into 10 days of isolation, followed by another 14 days for the rest of the family. 

“Seeing everyone else going about their lives, while we couldn’t leave our yard was hard,” says Blaney. The lockdown came just when schools were re-opening, and children were able to return to classes, sports, and recreational activities. 

“They were all in school, but Tla’amin kids were in lock down,” says Blaney.

Her kids’ school dropped off books, lego, and even a computer monitor. Blaney appreciated the creative gestures by the community.

“It really helped that people were thinking about us,” she says. 

A local school made ‘smile bags’ for every kid in Tla’amin, Blaney says, which really lifted her kids’ spirits.

“It was super sweet and the kids loved it. Meeks said she would like to meet the girl who made her drawing and say thank you when she’s allowed,” Blaney says.

Even when the Nation’s state of emergency expired on Oct. 6, social connection didn’t fully return for her children, Blaney says. 

“Things are happening, but it’s all still not pre-covid normal,” Blaney explains. “The social part — like in the locker room, or waiting in the hallway before dance — doesn’t happen at all, which is a big part of creating those communities.”

The constant monitoring of the situation means uncertainty every week for her children, but she does her best to keep them busy and motivated.

Identify and community

Blaney’s kids returned to school after the COVID-19 outbreak passed, but she doesn’t know if there will be more closures. Like many parents, she has done her best to explain this time of uncertainty, she says.

“I told them that we will enjoy hockey and dance while we have them, but we need to be flexible and know that they might get shut down again,” she explains. 

For Menat’they and Mekwan Blaney, hockey is back on, with safety protocols in place. Photo by Sosan Blaney

“It sucks being the bearer of bad news weekly. I feel like I’m constantly having to let them down about one thing or another.”

They’re handling it as best they can, she says. But kids need physical activity, not just for their physical wellbeing, but for their mental and emotional wellbeing, she says.

“It’s a big part of how the kids see themselves,” says Blaney. “The self esteem boost when Menat’they started to have something that was his, was huge. For him, being a part of a hockey team gave him a sense of identity and community.”

The need for social connection may not be met as fully as it used to be, but families are also finding physical activity through outdoor play.

Grateful to connect with the land

Melissa Campbell is mother to three children in Tla’amin’s sister Nation, Klahoose First Nation, just across the water on Cortes Island.  

Klahoose Nation is currently under a new lockdown, due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak last week. The road to Klahoose will be closed to all but essential travel, such as medical appointments, until Dec. 27. 

Campbell lives off reserve, but other members of their tight-knit family are under lockdown and won’t be visiting until the closure lifts. 

“A lot has changed and a lot hasn’t,” says Campbell. Her oldest daughter Emma is homeschooled, and so the three children are happily playing together. They are staying healthy and active with lots of outdoor time with rabbits and chickens, Campbell explains.

Closures create more time for playing with siblings and animals. Photo by Melissa Campbell

While there are difficulties living in a remote community and “being so far from a hospital freaks me out,” Campbell says, there are many important benefits as well, like the ability to roam and be out on the land.

“I just keep reflecting on how much harder it could be,” she says, referring specifically to the fact that her family has a yard, access to forests and beaches. 

Marshes to play in help families entering the fourth season of the pandemic. Photo by Melissa Campbell

Having the chance to reflect on this year, Campbell says the COVID-19 closures have brought her family closer to their values. Having less social obligations has meant she could focus on her garden, and not feel like she “should be busy doing things.”

“It gave me the strength and piece of mind that I could homeschool and it’s okay to stay home, not visit with people everyday. I was always doing too much, afraid to disappoint others if I didn’t show up,” she says. “Now I can get the garden weeded and not feel like I should be somewhere else.”

“Keeping your hands in the dirt is the most grounding thing you could be doing,” says Campbell. She’s happy to watch her son playing outside, pretending to chop firewood like his dad. 

There is a strength gained, in passing along skills and knowledge through the generations, Campbell says. 

“I’m so glad my mom taught me all this. I have her garden now, and it was my great grandmothers too. And now our kids are learning it.”


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