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Career Focus

A year of living with COVID:

By MINA WONG - April 19 2021
A year of living with COVID:

Four Toronto Stories Told to
Mina Wong in March 2021

Angie Cheng:
home together 24 hours a day.

My name is Angie. I live in Flemingdon Park with my husband and three children.

My husband, Steve is an IT trainer. My children are Sammy, 12, Lilli, 9, and Billy, 5.

COVID has been stressful because it’s now a whole year for all of us to be at home, together, 24 hours a day.

Before COVID, I was a support worker for the visually impaired. I was also transferring from bridging courses to a Gerontology certificate. I decided to take a leave of absence from work to care for my family, beginning April 2020.

A year ago, Billy was in junior kindergarten, but he hasn’t attended school regularly because his school opted for home learning a few times.
Since March 2020, both Sammy and Lilli have gone to school, stopped because of lockdowns, and then gone back last fall. Since Christmas, I have kept them home because their schools have had outbreaks and closures.
Before COVID, Lilli complained that our apartment was too small. With no idea of lockdowns soon, I said, “My dear, we already have one of the biggest units in the building. You have your own room. Your brothers have to share one.”

Now that our home is Steve’s office plus classrooms for three kids and for me, Lilli is partly right that we are squished together.

For everyone to be on computers, we have added two laptops, but the rules are that the living room is Steve’s office. The boys’ room is Sammy’s Grade 7 classroom; Lily’s room is her Grade 4 classroom. Billy stays with me in our bedroom and that’s his kindergarten classroom.
I have Billy all morning, but I can go to Sammy and Lilli if they need help with their lessons.

Steve works in the living room, but because it’s connected to the kitchen, the rest of us tiptoe around using impromptu sign language!
For the kids, school finishes around noon. Steve will take a break if he can, and all of us will have lunch in the kitchen.

When my studies switched to online learning in April 2020, I only had another month that semester. With all final exams cancelled, I basically just finished up major assignments.

Since then, I have taken all courses online because that’s my only option.
However, I am reduced to Zoom lectures and endless downloads. I feel I have sacrificed a real-life education on campus, like use the library, volunteer at school, join seminars, and interact with people. I am doing assignments alone, and talking with no one. Instead of two-way discussions with professors and peers, we now have shorter classes using one-way lectures.

I am basically prepared to continue with my education online, but I wonder when we can be real students again in real classrooms.
Meanwhile, while our three kids will be in virtual classrooms until further notice, Steve may be going back to his office soon. Fingers crossed.

Jeff Martin:
goodbye to so much we took for granted.

I am Jeff, and I live on my own in St. James Town.
I am in the final semester of an Accounting diploma, and hope to graduate in two months.

Before COVID, I worked as a ticket agent for arts and culture, including concerts and theatre performances. I was laid off almost immediately during the first lockdown.

That day, I thought I would be off work for just a few weeks.
Neighbors in my Ontario Housing building circulated “Keep Your Rent” petitions, but I didn’t sign because our housing was already subsidized. I would honor my rent until I couldn’t do so anymore.
Starting April, I got 12 weeks of CERB before looking for work again.
In March and April, all my classes either went online or became “independent study”. Suddenly, direct contact with professors and school administrators became difficult. From then on, I have been staring at computers by myself all day long.

Out of four courses, I had only two final exams. The other two classes finished abruptly with pro-rated final grades.

I had the option of attending summer school to graduate sooner, but knowing there were only online courses, I took a breather.

I signed up for school in the fall, and this winter is my final semester if I get a decent GPA. It’s been monotonous with online classes and background static; I also miss daily walks through Allan Gardens to and from school.
In short, school’s been dull, but online learning has been our lifeline.
Before COVID, I hung out with buddies every week, and their parents would have me over for Sunday dinners. During self-isolation, we only texted each other sadly:
“So long to eating out.”
“Bye-bye to buffets, coffee shops, diners”
“Goodbye to our favorite sushi joint”
“No more hanging out, no more Cineplex”
“No more gym, ball games, Sunday dinners”

But I decided to beat COVID by at least eating right. I learned to make simple meals, and I can cook very well for myself now.
Last August, I applied for accounting jobs without much success. Then came a job taking retail orders by working nine-hour shifts from home.
It’s weird that I can actually work as much as I like – around the clock if I want to.

However, I hardly do anything without staring at computer screens. COVID has made them indispensible, and in turn, they control my life, just as they rule my classes, professors, assignments and exams – if I still want an education.

At this point, I want nothing more than shoot the breeze with buddies, eat with their parents, and just hang out. It’s been twelve months of self-isolation with only computers as companions.

That’s my experience with COVID so far.
Will we beat the virus and be healthy again? I hope so.

Kaitlyn Peartree:
shock waves in slow motion.

My name is Kate, a lawyer’s assistant in Scarborough’s Agincourt.
I live close to my office, and take evening classes just a few bus stops away.
COVID has shaken me up like shock waves in slow motion, with a new tremor each day since the first infections in Toronto.
A year later, I don’t know what the next jolt may bring, but I know when COVID is over — if that will ever happen — I may be a mess because I am getting frayed, one rip at a time.

I never thought of myself that way. I was always calm and happy. I had a good job. I did well in college.

But my life needs order. COVID has been total disorder. As more infections got confirmed, I was shocked each time with new back pain and headaches. I started to worry about dying from COVID. I couldn’t sleep. I became irritable and depressed.

Back tracking to last March, I was taking advanced Litigation and Family Law. I was also planning to study for LSAT. Toronto had a brand new law school that I really wanted to get into.

My plan was to attend summer LSAT preparation at one of our law schools. But because of COVID, all tutorials, including private ones, went online.
When I tried to register, only private schools were available, but their training was less comprehensive and also more expensive than law schools’ programs.

Such a miserable disappointment, but my options were limited.
I tried calling my family doctor about insomnia, but only got voicemail to leave a message, or go to emergency for urgent matters.
Meanwhile, COVID dispersed like silent, uncontrollable fractures, one crack at a time.

My boss decided in May that we would work with clients only by phone, email and deliveries, but we would keep office hours. After all, even a small law firm still had to function no matter what.
Telling my parents in December that I couldn’t be in Cape Breton for the holidays, I sounded sluggish and listless. 2020 was to be my first Christmas ever without family.

December was a month of more restrictions, but we heard that vaccines were on their way.

This is three months after Christmas. Vaccines have started, but also in slow motion. For people under 30 like me, we may need to wait for half a year.
I am still working full-time, but I never started LSAT preparation.
Luckily, my boss has been a great source of inspiration. She gives me new responsibilities, introduces me to her colleagues, and encourages me to try LSAT again soon.

But she doesn’t know about my backaches, headaches, insomnia, or anxiety.
I haven’t told anyone that COVID is my bête noire.
Everyone’s life has been turned upside down.
I wonder if life will ever go back to normal.

Cecil Sattari:
a “remote” existence.

My name is Cecil. I live with my family in Parkdale.

I am a new immigrant from a part of India called Margao.
I came to Toronto in April 2019 with my wife, Mara, and our son Joseph was born in February 2020, just a few weeks before the first COVID lockdown.
In January 2020, I started a college certificate in Marketing, but I was taking only one course because I wanted time at home with Mara and the baby.
My classes were great, and totally different from business courses in India. Our professor treated us like professionals using working teams and team leaders. I had school one evening a week, and lots of time to study and look after my family.

One day when getting ready for class in March, I got an email from school that all classes would switch to online because of COVID. Soon, I got ready for “remote” classes. After that, everything we did was online, but we could leave phone messages for professors.

In the online classroom, things always looked so small and far away. Some classmates had trouble joining because of computer problems, and one class in April was cancelled because the professor had technical issues.
I got exhausted quickly in the online classroom. Our professor seemed anxious to just finish a lecture, and not interested in discussions. Each class was also cut down to half the time so we could work on assignments.
For me, the worst class was the final exam with online multiple-choice questions. We were watched for ninety minutes by the professor, and no talking was allowed.

During my exam, Joseph was crying so Mara took him outside our apartment for a little walk. But they came back soon because it was the baby’s bath time.

After the exam, I just fell asleep on the couch until midnight or so. Mara and the baby were already sleeping. Then I realized, “Oh, I haven’t had dinner yet”.

We finished that semester the last week of April, but I was more frustrated each day doing everything “remote”. Our school announced that all summer and fall classes would also be online.

I dropped out because learning online was much less than the real classroom, but it cost the same. Besides, Mara and I have a small place, with a lot of distraction for her and me. If I had a class in the kitchen/living room, Mara would stay in the bedroom. To not disturb my class, she and Joseph could not make a sound, not even when he played or had a bath.
COVID has created a frustrating beginning for my education, but I really want to go back to the classroom for more courses. Meanwhile, Mara and I will probably find jobs. If we work different shifts, one of us will always be home with Joseph. Right now, his health is the most important thing to both of us.


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