Imagine worrying that your job could put your child’s life at risk. It’s unthinkable really. But for frontline workers, COVID-19 isn’t just putting their own health at risk, it’s actually forcing some of them to literally tear their families apart to protect their children.
Sean Skinner and his wife Chloe are one such Ottawa couple who felt forced to make the gut wrenching decision to have their three-year-old son Keegan move in with Sean’s parents to keep their son safe.
He’s a produce manager, his wife Chloe is a nurse. Initially the couple talked about doing what others are doing – taking off their clothes immediately after getting home and heading to the shower. (Having returned from a trip south, the family was in isolation when they had to decide what to do to keep Keegan safe. And while he theoretically could have gone to his grandparents in the day, Sean and Chloe had to consider both Keegan’s health and the health of Sean’s parents, particularly his father.)
His mother Jill Skinner told her son and daughter-in-law that young Keegan could come live with her and husband Tony Skinner (And if those names sound familiar to you, they’re both retired members with the Ottawa Police Services).
“It’s been awful, it’s probably one of the worst decisions I’ve had to make, it’s just terrible,” Sean Skinner told On the City, From the Burbs. “He is so young.”
His pain, his tears, were obvious during the phone interview. As a mom, as a human being, it certainly was one of the more difficult interviews I’ve ever done. While some of us get frustrated with the restrictions this pandemic has placed on us, that’s absolutely nothing compared to what the Skinners have felt forced to do. Mom Chloe was too emotional to take part in the interview.
The couple FaceTime with Keegan everyday, but some conversations are better than others. At three-years-old, the young boy clearly doesn’t understand exactly what’s going on or why. He’s been told there’s a bad cold that he needs to be protected from, he seems to accept that.
“But he doesn’t really understand and sometimes he just gets mad,” Sean Skinner said. Jill said there are also times Keegan just seems to get upset during the FaceTiming.
Son Ryan 11, (Sean’s stepson) spends every other week with them, But he’s able to understand the importance of social distancing and the ramifications of the virus.
Jill Skinner said she immediately told her son and daughter-in-law that she and her husband Tony would take Keegan if it would help.
“It’s heartbreaking for them,” she said. “They FaceTime, but it’s all very difficult. And it can sometimes set Mom and Dad off. But they know (Keegan) will be safe. But they can’t stop thinking about how much they’re missing, so much is changing for a child when they’re just three.”
Despite the very difficult situation, Jill said she feels very fortunate to be in a position as a grandmother to help, and knows not everyone can do that.
“A lot of people don’t have options, all they can do is worry, and given what’s going on, that’s a real stress people don’t need,” she said.
And as much as Keegan and his parents have seen their lives disrupted, so too have Sean’s parents undergone a huge lifestyle adjustment. They’ve gone from retirement to full-time caregivers. She retired mid-2018, Tony retired in 1995.
“It’s taking some getting used to, we’re not used to having a three-year-old with us all the time. We’ve needed to find out what schedule works best for him, his nap times, for his grandfather and him,” she said.
She now spends time making sure her grandson has nutritious snacks, limits his screen time and gets outside. And with a large, extended family, they’re all finding it hard not to be getting together.
“We’re a pretty large family, and we usually had people in and out of here all the time. We had someone dropping off groceries recently, but they couldn’t come in. Keegan asked, “Do they have a cold too? And he’s a hugger, so it’s all very hard to understand. But again, I can’t stress enough that I know how fortunate we are.”
Sean is anxiously waiting for the day his son returns home – and they can be a family able to live in the same house once again.