Jax Jacki Brown
‘I feel sad… like the trees,’ my two-year-old says to me, looking mournfully out the window into another gusty, cold winter’s day, clouds looming overhead, threatening rain.
‘Why do the trees feel sad, honey?’ I ask.
‘Don’t know. They just sad’ she replies.
‘Maybe they need us to go out there and give them a hug, hey? People don’t hug trees enough. Let’s put our jumpers on and go give one a quick cuddle before the rain. Come on, quick, quick, they are waiting!’
I help her get her arms into her jacket and bend over in my wheelchair to zip it up. It’s always a challenge for my hands to hold the zipper in place with her excited wiggling but we manage. She insists on putting on her golden sparkly gumboots and races out into our front yard to the orange tree near the front gate. Throwing her little arms around its trunk and pressing her face into it, she kisses it, softly.
‘It too windy!’ she yells towards me as I wheel across the lawn, my front small wheels pressing into the soggy grass, making progress slower than usual. ‘I know,’ I say ‘I think it’s going to rain, there might be puddles soon!’ She loves puddles. Hunting for puddles is one of her favourite things to do, one of the few adventures we can have together in this long, seemingly never-ending Covid 19 winter.
The rain starts to spit and it’s time to ‘Take cover!’ she yells, so we retreat to sing songs to the rain under the porch and watch as her favourite puddle slowly forms at the base of my ramp.
Winter has felt different this year, or maybe I have felt it differently, experienced it less, been shielded from it. I haven’t had to wheel from home to the train station hoping to make it in between downpours only to be caught out and arrive at work soggy and bedraggled.
Time has felt different too. Covid time has stretched on, and on and on… The usual markers of time, the things we look forward to, like little holidays or weekend getaways, catch-ups with friends or family, just haven’t happened. Birthdays have come and gone marked only by Zoom celebrations and trying to remember to send presents in the mail weeks in advance in the hope that Australia Post will be able to deliver them in time. My partner had her birthday and we celebrated, just us three, our kid’s soft toys marking the spaces on our dining chairs where our friends and family would usually gather. We promised to have real birthday parties with everyone we’ve missed as soon as we could and wondered how long that would be.
We wait for the train, excitedly watching it approach and come to a stop. We haven’t been on a train since March and it feels wild, risky and thrilling to be going somewhere that isn’t on foot. I tell kiddo that we are lucky because we get to say hello to the train driver as they have to get the ramp out to enable me to board. ‘Hello! We are just going three stops, sorry.’ I tell them as they get the ramp out and place it across the gap from the platform to the train. ‘I’m sorry it’s such a short trip, we need to stay in our 5km, but we are very excited to be on this train!’ My kid beams at the driver, and they say ‘No worries, have a great trip!’ as I roll on. There’s only one other passenger in our carriage and they are up the far end. It’s strange to see a train this empty and be hyper aware of the proximity of other people even though we are all diligently wearing masks. As we disembark, I remark to my partner ‘Who would have thought at the start of this year that going three stops on a train would have felt like the biggest adventure?’
I wonder how long it will take me, or all of us for that matter, to not be overly cautious. If what’s happening in other parts of the world is any indication, people will be so desperate to reconnect, to gain some sense of their former lives and de-stress that they will throw caution to the wind and hope they are lucky and don’t catch Covid. The increased risk of serious illness or worse for many people with disabilities if they contract it means that many are really fearful of coming back out into the world as restrictions ease. Connection was found online. No one could go out, everyone was stuck at home, temporarily we were all experiencing a lack of access, a restriction of movement.
We need to be mindful that a return to ‘normal life’, to a ‘Covid normal’ privileges those who do not routinely experience barriers to accessing buildings, transport, employment and education, and presumes we all have the same degree of access to everyday society. This is not true for people with disabilities. We experience access barriers every day and greater risks from Covid than many non-disabled people. We need to be mindful of the ways normative ideas of health which centre non-disabled bodies and minds creep into the language which is captured in the phrase ‘Covid normal’.
We walk and wheel to kiddo’s favourite playground just within our 5km boundary. It has a model train and a slippery dip and, as luck would have it, a big puddle on the edge of the playground. We’ve stowed kiddos’ golden gumboots under the pram and manage to contain her long enough to wiggle them on her before she makes a run for it and a massive splash! I worry, like many parents, about the impact this strange and challenging time has had on my kid but we are lucky that she’s of the age where she throws her whole self into things, boots and all, and happiness can be found in small moments of puddle jumping!
As we tentatively begin to emerge from our houses, catch up with friends and family and reconnect, I am both excited and nervous making that awkward transition from months spent on phone or video calls, conversations cutting in and out with bad connections, to an in-person, real-life space where there is no buffer of a screen. I notice my social anxiety has ramped back up, as I’m sure it has with many others, and I wonder how long it will take before a socially distanced picnic in a park doesn’t feel exhilarating but just something low key to do on a nice spring day.
The trees are no longer sad according to my kid. ‘They dancing’ she says as the wind sways them. The trees are filled with the fresh hope of a new spring season, all green and lush, busting with life, glad that winter is over and spring has finally arrived. I wheel around our neighbourhood with kiddo on my lap peering up into their leaves trying to spot hatchlings, plucking new flowers from fence lines and breathing their scents in. Spring, with its temperamental weather and its frequent downpours is a great season for puddle hunting!