Party can wait, cake wouldn't

·3 min read

If any silver lining can be found in turning nine years old at a time when birthday parties are illegal, it’s in the Milne-Karn family’s fridge — an abundance of leftovers from a four-storey Funfetti cake.

Heather Milne and Luanne Karn surprised their daughter with a gigantic gateau decorated in pink, purple and orange fondant flowers Tuesday to celebrate the special occasion sans friends and group party games.

Since the first COVID-19 lockdown, Anna Milne-Karn has expressed concern about the pandemic interfering with the celebration.

“This is going to screw up my birthday party,” she told her mothers about 10 months ago.

Since then, Anna has attended Zoom and park celebrations for her friends’ birthdays, and accepted the postponement of her party until summer.

The plan is to meet friends at Kildonan Park and have a pool party there, she says, adding that despite the change in plans, she still welcomed her birthday this year — “because I get cake!”

Sharing treats at school, however, isn’t currently permitted. Public-health directives also ban indoor singing, silencing schoolchildren who would typically belt out Happy Birthday to honour a classmate.

In music class, Anna has been working on percussion with Boomwhackers — colour-coded hollow plastic tubes that produce different tones — and learning Do, Re, Mi and the rest of the tonal scale by humming the sounds aloud with her peers.

“I am amazed at what teachers do to find a compromise,” Karn says.

When given the choice to learn remotely or have Anna return to school after the holidays, the Milne-Karns stuck to their regular routine.

The constant change in her class, which has expanded to two rooms and collapsed again as other families have opted in and out of remote learning, has been confusing for Anna, Milne says.

She adds that it’s difficult for the third-grader to understand why some of her friends are in school and others are not.

A total of 3,433 students between kindergarten and Grade 6, approximately 21 per cent of the K-6 student population in the Winnipeg School Division, enrolled in the two-week distance-learning option to start the new year. It was mandated for the province’s Grade 7-12 students.

The Ecole Laura Secord family made the decision after taking into account daily COVID-19 case counts had started to drop, Anna’s ability to socialize at school, and Milne’s hectic work as a university professor preparing and delivering remote lessons.

“It’s hard to work when there’s a kid in the house. The energy changes,” Milne says.

Even though Anna enjoyed playing Harry Potter-themed Clue with her mothers and going on walks with their new puppy throughout the break, she welcomed the return.

She is a big fan of her teacher, her teacher’s five stuffed sloth toys and art class, in which she is currently tracing, drawing and painting landscapes.

In other subjects, all of which are taught in French, she is studying fractions, changing seasons and world geography. Anna has also been setting goals for herself as part of the school’s home-reading program.

Her mothers share in their belief that Anna wouldn’t be thriving as much in French immersion this year were she doing it remotely. Neither Karn nor Milne speaks French.

A self-declared perfectionist, Milne says she felt like she was “failing as a parent” because she couldn’t help Anna at all with her French schoolwork.

One of the things the mothers miss most about pre-pandemic schooling days is the ability to visit the school and meet Anna’s teacher in person.

In autumn, a video-call replaced the typical introductory conversation that happens on meet-the-teacher night at Laura Secord.

“There’s something about seeing other kids and seeing other families and being in the building,” Karn says. “You get a better handle of what’s going on.”

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press