Dad embarks on pandemic-inspired hobby, kid rolls eyes

In October 2020, the pandemic was clearly not going to end anytime soon, and it was wearing us down.

My three children were taking lessons remotely from home — Flannery, a freshman who was taking lessons from her bedroom; Faith, a sophomore high school student experiencing the trials of distance learning as part of the special education community; and Fiona, our eighth grader, who was able to rely on her group of friends thanks to Minecraft and Roblox.

It was not a happy time in our house. Everyone was stressed and our wifi signal was inconsistent. We were heading into Thanksgiving and it looked like our vacation was going to be pushed aside. It was.

To disconnect after long days of Teams video calls, I started watching YouTube videos of watercolor artists. After watching some interesting videos, I pulled out the watercolor paper and paints I had bought years ago and rarely used. After a few dabbling sessions at my kitchen table, my interest was piqued. I started experimenting seriously, observing how water and pigment flowed through and onto different types of paper.

One day, I painted some maple leaves which had taken on a beautiful orange-red color. The painting was boring and uninspired. I used the bottom of my cup of water to draw a few circles on the paper. Use a YouTube trick, I painted the circles to look like spheres. I decorated them with red triangles – my impression of the coronavirus and its oppressive presence. I didn’t like this painting, but something about the “planetary” aspect of the spheres appealed to me. I started using this pattern as a way to experiment with different types of paint and more expensive grades of paper.

Before too long I was on a roll and my “corona cloud” paintings were piling up on the kitchen table. I started giving away some of my paintings to friends and colleagues with the friendly warning to put them in a prominent place in the house to “scare away” the virus. A “COVID-fear”, if you will.

Between this lonely Thanksgiving and lonely Christmas, I spilled some of my favorite COVID-cloud paintings in the kitchen and living room. There was one, in particular, that I liked with a red cast in planetary COVID shapes.

I called it “Angry COVID Cloud”. Mysteriously, he disappeared for days. I turned the house upside down, looking for him. Finally, my wife asked Faith, the kind and funny kid with Down syndrome, if she had seen the painting. She crossed the room, reached behind the TV, pulled out the painting and said simply, “Here it is.”

Maura asked Faith why she hid it. “Your father looked for him everywhere!”

“I hate the coronavirus,” Faith said, looking at me with a combination of irritation and rolling her eyes.

My daughter was dealing with the pandemic in her own way. I was also experiencing my own pandemic fatigue.

So, on December 20, 2020, I painted my last COVID cloud. Or so I thought.

I started 2021 with the optimistic idea that the availability of vaccines would lead us to the disappearance of the coronavirus from the news and not spoil our travel plans or limit our socializing.

Because Faith has an extra chromosome, her immune response is such that she is considered high risk. We were grateful that she was able to get vaccinated early, even before many of her contemporaries

From spring to early summer, we have carefully moved away from wearing masks indoors. I started painting landscapes and clouds – endlessly fun and frustrating subjects in watercolor.

Paints, papers and brushes would be left in piles on the kitchen table. Sometimes Fiona would quietly sit next to me and knock out a fantasy landscape or quirky illustration in 15 minutes and then disappear. Faith only painted under duress and as part of schoolwork. His singular COVID painting captures the mood of the past two years.

The summer trip we managed took me to different subjects – mountain scenes, beach scenes, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool at night

Summer’s optimism began to erode as reports on the delta variant became more frequent in August. The COVID statistics in the United States and the rest of the world have started to get really grim. Fall felt a bit like a repeat of 2020. As we headed into the holidays, we looked for reminders, wore masks out of caution, and hoped for the best.

A week before Christmas, COVID broke into our house. Flannery, back from college, had a headache and a fever. The next day, she tested positive for COVID-19. Within days, friends from separated families told us that their college-aged daughters had also tested positive.

We have canceled travel plans to visit extended family. With a girl in isolation in the basement, the virus threatening the rest of us, and the tension rising, I had to find a way to shed some light on the situation. I picked up my paintings and revisited my COVID clouds.

Recognizing that Faith wasn’t keen on the subject, I decided to mix in one of our little jokes. For weeks I had teased Faith, a chocolate ice cream fan, about a jar of pickles for dessert. I know, a lame dad joke.

It somehow seemed apt to include a pickle in the new paints. The painting was titled: COVID Christmas with a pickle on the side.

When I showed Faith my new painting and asked her what she thought of it, she answered with characteristic understatement: “I’m not crazy about the coronavirus.” When I showed her the pickle added just for her, she rolled her eyes at the ceiling and said in an exasperated voice, “Aww, damn it, Dad!”

Faith still doesn’t like the coronavirus. She also doesn’t like pickles. I commemorate them both, and our pandemic journey, in water and pigments.

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