Alicia, Bob, Johanna, and Jessie Fowler live in a heritage house at the corner of a busy residential street in Norwood. This community is the very heart of the city and sees a lot of road traffic from daily commuting, as well as plenty of foot traffic. The front yard is where the children play. Being at the centre of so much humanity was not comfortable in the midst of a pandemic.
Jessie, Alicia and Bob’s youngest daughter, was really sick at birth and required multiple stays in NICU.
Alicia Fowler said, “As a parent, it completely changed how I look at the fragility of her life. Our lives.”
In addition, this isn’t the family’s first brush with a pandemic.
In a recent visit with her grandmother, Fowler was reminded that her grandmother lost her son to polio when he was six years old. Fowler said, “It was super traumatic for her and something that we all as a family knew and understood as significant my whole life.”
An accountant, Fowler quit her job to stay home with the children during the pandemic. They took long walks in the wind, rain, and sun, picking sage and wildflowers. They learned about the healing properties of plants. They watched the complicated relationships and lives of the animals they shared their yard with, such as ground squirrels, raccoons, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, yellow finches, and robins.
Fowler wondered, “How much [did] these experiences shape our response to this pandemic?”
A week after the pandemic was declared in Alberta, their family moved to rural Saskatchewan.
Without family to help in Edmonton and no space for their children, they felt they had the “luxury and opportunity to go.” Fowler acknowledged, “I have a significant place of privilege, whereas most people could never do that.”
Bob was raised in small town Saskatchewan, home to 150 people. His parents still live there and his grandfather’s house was empty. Fowler called her in-laws “lovely people, so giving.” With only a field between them, the children could run to their grandparents while Fowler watched.
An accountant, Fowler quit her job to stay home with the children during the pandemic. They took long walks in the wind, rain, and sun, picking sage and wildflowers. They learned about the healing properties of plants. They watched the complicated relationships and lives of the animals they shared their yard with, such as ground squirrels, raccoons, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, yellow finches, and robins. Fowler said, “Each [animal] is teaching me something and I share this with my girls.”
Nearby is a Dakota reserve, and Jessie is of Dakota heritage.
Fowler said, “Connecting with the Dakota community feels serendipitous. I’ve wanted this for Jessie since her birth.”
The family felt physically safe in such a small town. The flipside was there were few children in town, and Fowler was not able to connect with a community for them. Their cohort and social circle is limited to Bob’s parents and brother. While they felt safe, rural Saskatchewan lacks the diversity that they are accustomed to in central Edmonton. With their family make up falling outside of what is considered traditional in rural Saskatchewan, Fowler said, “I was frightened about how well received me and my family would be.” She added, “I tried to make friends for myself and the kids and was unsuccessful.” This was very different from their home community in Edmonton. “Alberta Avenue is a vibrant, diverse community where we are accepted, but [rural Saskatchewan] is the opposite and it’s very lonely.”
Fowler felt the impact of depression for the first time in her life, along with significant anxiety around the social impact of Covid. “I do feel I’ve made the right decision, although I miss my community and my house. I’ve grieved losing our life, which is gone no matter where we are until Covid is gone.”
For the girls, Johanna at age seven is stoic. Fowler said, “We quit school because she was finding it too emotional. Ninety per cent of the time she is just fine. I think she’s gotten smarter. She’s exposed to more adult conversations. And her vocabulary has increased.”
Two-year-old Jessie benefited from having her parents at home. When they returned to Edmonton to do some maintenance on their house, Jessie was confused about where they were going. Fowler said, “Jessie doesn’t appear to have any memory of the house. She seems to have lost all memory of our Edmonton house as home.”
Still, Fowler considered the experience life-changing.
“Without people, the land became something we all needed to pay close attention to. I am learning about Indigenous teachings—Seven Grandfather Teachings—and using them to reflect on my own self and how I can be a better person. I studied humility and am studying honesty right now. This one is a big one and is taking me months to work through.”
She added, “Being able to spend this much time with my kids at such a transformative time has been a blessing. Although it is difficult, because we really are each other’s only company, it really is a gift.”