Representations of Home Creative Journal

ROAM - Winter/Spring 2022 - ROAM 2

”Take My kids, Please:” Claiming Other People’s Children during the Pandemic

Jane Arsenault



I don’t know why the pandemic isolation of 2020 and 2021 caused me to have periodic manic episodes, or masked my stress as a heart attack, or pushed my loneliness to its extreme. I have always been an isolated person, even when I was a child -- although to a lesser degree than now. In fact, the only time I didn’t experience the ache of loneliness was when my three sons were young. As they approached high school, they naturally began to spend more and more time out of the house with friends, in sports, at work and school. I felt a sort of empty nest syndrome before they actually moved away from home. After my divorce in 2010,  my children disowned me -- my husband and I had been emotionally separated for several years by that point. I moved across Canada and in with my septuagenarian parents. What I’m trying to say, rather clumsily, is that I have experienced a lot of alone time in my life -- some of which was productive, some happy -- feeling lonely while both wanting and not wanting companionship. That is why I was so surprised when the Covid isolation created such strong negative reactions in my mind and body...  if anyone should have been able, easily, to withstand being at home alone for long periods...


But, as strange circumstances usually do, Covid isolation brought a particular strength to my being from a surprising source: other people’s children. This began when one of my friends asked me to provide on-line Language Arts classes for her ten-year-old granddaughter Nicole while schools were closed. Nicole and I “officially” met on-line twice a week from January to the end of June, with a few missed and rearranged dates. We had never met each other in person -- when I left the city to live with my parents, Nicole had not yet been born. Being in an unstable state of mental illness, I initially refused. My wise friend, however, assured me that this was going to be beneficial to Nicole and to me as well. At the time I didn’t understand how this exercise could help me, but I conceded and began tutoring Nicole.

Nicole, as it turned out, was very shy. In fact, they were so shy that during our first few classes, they moved the camera or their body so that I could only see the top of their head.[1] Not realizing they were doing this on purpose, I asked their mother to ensure the computer and chair were aligned so that I could see Nicole’s face. It took a few more lessons, and my gentle reassurance that I liked their face, before Nicole started to consistently show me their lovely face... and once in a while, in profile, I could see what a beautiful adult they would become.

At about three months into our lessons, I was no longer able to tutor Nicole in Language Arts. Their focus had drifted away from school lessons and more into asking me questions about myself and telling me about themself. And that is when it occurred to me: I was benefitting from our meetings. When they were talking, I could hear their old soul soothing my loneliness. When they were talking, I could feel the loss of my sons healing ever so slightly. When they were talking, I could see their spirit of hope and optimism. They were teaching me how to be happy again. And I realized that I loved them as much as I loved my own three children.

When our lessons ended at the end of June, I reassured them that they could contact me whenever they wanted. I sent them a little package of items I had picked up on the rare occasions I went to a store. To my delight, they sent me a little package, matching item by item the things I had sent them, as well as a lovely handwritten letter. They are in my heart forever now, and I hope I am in theirs.

But my pandemic child collecting did not end with Nicole. I became reacquainted with their mother, who, in thanking me for tutoring, cheekily said I could adopt her if I was lonely. Then one of my former students with whom I am close told me I could be grandmother to her three daughters, then her step-daughter, and, in August 2021, her gorgeous little boy Blaze. Indeed, she took me entirely through her pregnancy from the time she thought she might be pregnant right to the birth and onward through on-line communication. And I knew that even if I was two thousand kilometers away, I would always love and care for these children. Or as Blaze’s mama says, “at least until I get him through university.” As an Acadian descendant, my grandmother name would be “Mamie,” but these children call me “Mimi” (although the older kids call me names such as “that crazy English prof” or “mamma bear”).[2]

Finally, at the end of August I received a phone call from my oldest son -- for the first time in ten years. And not only did he contact me, he contacted me to tell me that I was going to be a Mamie early in 2022. (I now know it will be a little girl.)[3] Of course, I was overjoyed, but unbeknownst to my son, this was not going to be my first grandchild...


As parents tried coping with working at home -- or indeed losing their jobs -- having their children at home all day and having to home-school them -- they were often exhausted and overwhelmed, stressed to near breaking point in 2021. But it is in trying times such as these that surrogate grandparents can step in to help (as a kind woman did for my children) and in return receive the joyous gift of a child’s love.


[1] Nicole chooses to use the third person plural pronouns for themself.

[2] Acadians are descendants of French immigrants who, in the sixteenth century, settled/invaded eastern Canada in what are now known as the provinces of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. When England gained control of eastern Canada, they deported most Acadians during the “Great Upheaval” between 1755 and 1763. My ancestors, the Arsenaults, remained on Prince Edward Island because the British did not consider the relatively small island population as a threat.

[3] As it turned out, I received a beautiful granddaughter in January 2022.


Jane Arsenault

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