On being … more than just a turn of phrase

By Ingrid Sapona

I often wonder how certain phrases catch hold. One of the key phrases of the moment, of course, is “social distancing”. Maybe it’s because each 24-hour period seems like a decade these days, but I don’t remember where or when that phrase originated. It just sort of popped up and is now part of everyone’s daily lexicon.

I realize that phrases catch on because they’re a clever, abbreviated way of referencing an idea or phenomenon. Here, the phrase relates to the idea that you can decrease the chances of catching – or spreading – COVID-19 if you put some physical space between yourself and others. But, at a time when there’s so much division in the world, I think the phrase subtly stigmatizes others. If you think I’m reading too much into it – ask yourself why Trump likes calling it the “China virus”, and why the World Health Organization early on began referring to it as COVID-19 specifically so that it doesn’t become associated with a place.

Jamil Zaki, a Stanford psychologist, has come up with a morepositive phrase that I wish would catch on: distant socializing.I prefer that phrase because it stresses the very human need we all have to maintain a social connection – especially during this extraordinary time – while still reminding us to keep a distance. I know some academics are talkingabout shifting to this phrase and I sincerely hope you’ll join me in using it instead of social distancing. 

Though it’ll remain to be seen how effective distant socializing is in terms of stopping the spread (here too there’s a pop phrase that’s caught on: “flattening the curve”), but here in Canada, the attitude toward keeping one’s distance seems positive. I think that’s because there’s a very strong sense of social responsibility. The belief that we’re all in this together is the approach Canadian leaders have taken toward both combatting the virus and toward addressing the economic crisis.

The clearest example of this came the other day in questions the press put to different Canadian officials after they announced a sweeping financial aid package. Though many of the details had yet to be ironed out, the package includes the promise of monthly relief payments for four months for workers who have lost their jobs or who are unable to go to work. Reporters immediately seized on that time frame and asked if that means that’s how long the government thinks this crisis will last. The Prime Minister and his cabinet members’ response was simple and direct: how long this lasts rests, in large part, on how well we all do heeding the advice and doing our part.

Here’s what he said on March 24, “The duration of this crisis will be determined by the choices we make right now. By decisions we take every single day. So, if you want things to get back to normal, do your part. Stay home … This is serious. The decisions you make have serious consequences not just on your community, but on the entire country. So do your part. That’s how we will keep each other safe.” I love the stress on doing this for others, not just for your own wellbeing.

In a subsequent press conference, the Deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland made essentially the same point in another, more empathetic way. She commented that she understands that when you feel trapped at home, or if you’re out of work because of this, you can feel powerless. But, she said, went on to say, that we each have to do these individual things and that in doing so, we are powerful and so we should feel hopeful. An inspiring way to re-phrase things, don’t you think?

The only thing I feel certain about these days is that truly no one knows how long this will last. But, my hope is that you continue to feel powerful and hopeful as you practice distant socializing…

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... a daughter

By Ingrid Sapona

We play a lot of different roles in our life – friend, lover, worker, student just to name a few. Today I’m writing about a role I’ve had since the moment I was born: the role of daughter. The idea’s been forefront in my mind the past couple months because in early January my mother was hospitalized, then in re-hab, and in mid-January she passed away. Dad passed away in 2004 and so now, with Mom’s death, my role as daughter has changed. Perhaps it’s died – I don’t know… To be honest, I’m kind of hoping that by the end of this column I’ll be a wee bit closer to figuring that out – or at least to coming to terms with it.

It’s funny because being someone’s child is one of the few roles in life that happens not as a result of anything we do. But – like other roles we take on in life – what we make of it is largely up to us. Like most kids, I wasn’t concerned with what kind of a daughter I was until I became and adult.  
Unlike some women who seem to have a fraught relationship with their mother, I had what I considered a very normal relationship with mine. Put another way, she was neither my best friend nor my nemesis. She was my mom.

Yes, she was sometimes critical of me but – for the most part – about things that didn’t really count. (You know the kind of thing I’m talking about: “You’re wearing THAT?” Or, “Did you forget to brush your hair this morning?”) When the criticism was about something more consequential, I know it came from a kind place. More importantly, regardless of whether I accepted or rejected the unspoken advice often contained within her critique, I knew that our relationship was strong enough to weather it.

She was supportive, but I wouldn’t describe her as a cheerleader. Instead, she supported me in ways that she was able to – in ways she felt comfortable with. Of course, there were times when I resented that she didn’t blindly cheer me on. But, her failure to do so wasn’t indicative of a lack of support – it was her way of trying to prevent me from disappointment or outright failure.

From a young age, I know she believed in me. And, as odd as it may sound, sometimes her belief in me made me uncomfortable because it felt unearned. But, whenever I said something to that effect, she seemed to double down, reminding me of past successes despite what may have been long odds. While I wish I could say her belief in me instilled in me tremendous self-confidence – it didn’t. But, it played into my “can do” approach toward challenges. (Ironically, despite her unwavering belief in my abilities – that didn’t translate to her (or anyone else in the family) – “believing me” when I offered my opinion or put in my two cents. But, that’s a topic best reserved for another column. Suffice it to say, however irksome that fact is – I chalk it up to being the youngest, which of course, is another role I was born into.)

Though I know Mom and Dad did all they did for me unconditionally, I felt the least I could give in return was to try to be a good daughter. And, though I was touched by the many people who commented to me over the years that I was a good daughter – respectfully, that never mattered much to me. Though I know Mom and Dad were proud of me, doing things that outsiders might see as a source of parental pride was the easy part.

The part I struggled more with was being the kind of daughter I thought Mom and Dad were worthy of – that they deserved. And so, the bar was high – it was based on how terrific they were to me as parents. Indeed, there were lots of times when I’d be driving back to Toronto after a visit with Mom and I’d be frustrated and angry with myself for not being the daughter I wanted to be. Why did I get impatient with her? Why did I have to argue about this or that? Why did I contradict her? Why couldn’t I have been nicer? Or sweeter? Did I do enough? Yes, there were many tear-filled, post-visit rides when I felt inadequate as a daughter.

Ironically, the last visit I had with Mom before Christmas I drove home so happy. We had had a really lovely day together. I think both of us felt that…. On that ride home I thought, “wow, maybe I’m finally getting the ‘daughter thing’.” And this past Christmas was also an exceptionally enjoyable time with Mom. The weather was mild and my sister and I managed to get Mom out to visit some friends and even out to a restaurant – rather than simply taking the dinner to go. And, when we weren’t out visiting, we played games and relaxed, simply enjoying each other’s company.

I’m grateful that Mom and I had that special day together in December – that day that made me think that maybe I was the daughter she deserved – and that her last Christmas was good. But, I miss her and – selfishly – I feel sad that there won’t be any more opportunities for me to practice being a good daughter.

So, as I end this column, I’ve come to realize that to the outside world, I’m no longer a daughter. But, because Mom and Dad are with me with every beat of my heart, on the inside I’ll always be their daughter and hopefully I’ll uphold their legacy in a way that would make them proud and happy.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona