VIRUS DIARY: A pandemic, a layoff & a suddenly stay-home dad

In this April 22, 2020, photo, Associated Press journalist Lindsay Whitehurst's husband, Dave Watson walks with their two children, 3, left, and 5, on a trail in suburban Salt Lake City. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Watson suddenly became a full-time dad. Outside “adventures” became the centerpieces of their days, giving him a front-row seat to the workings of their growing minds. (AP Photo/Lindsay Whitehurst)
In this April 22, 2020, photo, Associated Press journalist Lindsay Whitehurst's husband, Dave Watson walks with their two children, 3, left, and 5, on a trail in suburban Salt Lake City. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Watson suddenly became a full-time dad. Outside “adventures” became the centerpieces of their days, giving him a front-row seat to the workings of their growing minds. (AP Photo/Lindsay Whitehurst)
LINDSAY WHITEHURST

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The day his boss looked over at the TV screen and gave a forlorn nod at the plunging red lines of the stock market, my husband could feel the layoff coming.

It was a gut punch when it hit our family, like millions of others. But we didn’t have much time to ponder as he switched from his microbrewery job to being a full-time dad to our 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.

When Dave put away his steel-toed boots and safety goggles, he traded one world for another. His daily work had been linear: Water, barley, yeast and hops make a much-appreciated bubbly beverage. Raising kids is more like climbing a mountain in roller skates. It’s fun, but each day ends pretty much where it started.

In the life of a small child, 2 1/2 months is a long time. During our quarantine, Dave got the chance to watch their growing minds more closely, even as he wondered whether his own would make it through intact. With playgrounds and playdates off limits, taking them to the trail was a lifeline, and he grew his reserves of patience, creativity, and confidence in a well-stocked backpack.

Meanwhile, I set up to work at the dining room table, covering the mounting toll of the coronavirus and even an earthquake. I oversaw some math lessons and learned to stop apologizing as the kids catapulted themselves into Zoom meetings.

But it was Dave who made the cheese sandwiches and separated squabbles. It was Dave who oversaw kindergarten reading lessons, watching our daughter veer from swagger to tears at a moment’s notice. It was Dave who helped our 3-year-old wash his hands, a process that’s like wrestling a a tiny octopus 20 times a day.

And like so many parents, he took them outside. “Adventures” in the forest preserve near our suburban Salt Lake City home became the centerpieces of their days during those weeks of quarantine.

My husband is a guy who likes to be prepared. So he packed a backpack as if they’d be gone for weeks rather than hours.

Thirsty? Daddy has two water bottles.

Band-Aids for cuts, even those invisible to the human eye? Daddy’s got them, plus ointment.

Need a way to carry the decade-old camera you found in the basement? Daddy’s got some paracord and knows where to find it.

Provisioned, they trailed a pale-yellow butterfly our daughter named Butter as it fluttered ahead in the sunshine. They dubbed one spot The Enchanted Forest and delighted at dramatic splashes created by throwing stones into the creek. Dave saw them thinking through the basics of a compass or following a falcon tracing circles in the sky.

They stepped in anthills, complained vocally when socks got wet and screamed over forgotten granola bars.

I pitched in as much as I could. During walks on my lunch break, I learned it was worth seeing the flush of pride on my daughter's face as she rode her bike down a big hill, even if she fought hard when it was time to go home. I learned that sometimes it's OK if the kids eat mac and cheese straight from the pan while I finish a breaking news story.

We’re hoping they remember the beauty of those days with Dad, and how to cope with a strange time of small discomforts and big uncertainties. And there is still plenty of uncertainty, even as they return to daycare and Dave gets back to work at a reopening brewery.

There are fewer midday walks following butterflies now, and less screaming over wet socks. But Daddy’s backpack will always be packed for them, ready for uncertainty and adventure. On Father's Day and every day.

___

Virus Diary, an occasional feature, showcases the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. See previous entries here. Follow Salt Lake City-based AP journalist Lindsay Whitehurst on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lwhitehurst

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