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Where to Begin…Global Pandemic perhaps?

January 6, 2021

4.5 years of neglect later, it is nice to come back to still familiar territory of a blog that, for all practical purposes, has been well and truly dead. Is it that I have had nothing to say on anything these past few years, or that the quotidian business of working and parenting while keeping up with the cacophony of life left little room for rumination and, then, writing? I have to admit that the lure of ‘micro-blogging’ a la Twitter proved to be the easy way out. Why bother thinking and writing in long form when one can flippantly make a snarky observation and curate content on the go?

But, as I pondered upon the exceptional year that 2020 was, I felt, now here is something worth expounding in further detail on. After all, this blog does claim to be a log of all pandemonium within and without, and by God, was there pandemonium indeed. What an era-defining and life resetting year it was. Although many people go into 2021 with unbridled optimism, I am a bit more cautious about expecting 2021 to be significantly better than 2020. Let’s be honest, at least we had the benefit of ignorance at the start of 2020 – now I am simply exhausted, drained…and this shit ain’t over yet, baby!

Everyone has been through an exceptional year in 2020 but it’s foolish to think that all of us have been in the same boat as we navigated these choppy waters. It may have been the same storm but every demographic went through its own set of challenges – single person households, lonely retirees, the digitally disconnected, the economically disadvantaged and I cannot speak to their pains and experience but I can say, being dual career parents of little ones during this pandemic was a special kind of madness I do not romanticise for even a minute. I have legit pandemic rage towards anyone who sings paeans to the wonders of ‘slowing down’ in 2020, no such luck for parents of needy, clingy, diaper-clad kids cut off from their usual sources of socialising and fun!

Having to work from home on a seemingly permanent basis was already draining the joy out of life for a compulsively extroverted person like myself, but then came the school and nurseries closures from Mar 23rd. Gosh, I dreaded and panicked and planned and prepared, and yet, it was more intense than anything I have ever lived through. Juggling work (which obviously got busier in light of the pandemic), interminable housework with no help, homeschooling a 5year old who couldn’t read instructions on a screen yet, providing full time childcare for a clingy, noisy, unreasonable and fully dependent 2 year old, dealing with Covid @ home when spouse fell ill – it was the perfect storm indeed. My usual princess-level support system of full time nursery (at a pretty penny), full time school, live-in au pair for wraparound childcare, weekly Indian cook, fortnightly cleaner – all come to naught once our Spanish au pair fled back to her country in a tizzy and we paused all live-out help (paying them a retainer meanwhile) – oh and did I mention I was still breastfeeding my 2-yr old who adopted a new level of clinginess and was literally latched onto me through some of my work calls? Let’s just say I will never again take for granted the privilege of being sat upright at a desk, fully clothed, without another human being latched onto me for dear life, while I do my work. Perfect timing, but I also happen to be in a very intense, visible role so ‘dialling down’ at work just when digital payments space was absolutely exploding wasn’t exactly an option… I simply had to sometimes facilitate those 4hour Leadership Team calls while also multitasking at home, like changing the dirty diaper of a wrestling octopus, aka my toddler.

It was not that I did not try so desperately to rectify this situation, I scoured the interwebs for hours at night, looked for au pairs, bent over backwards for some of them, and one decided to fly back to their home country last minute before joining us, one realised after moving in that they don’t deal well with little kids (!!), one had to be quarantined in their own room due to my spouse feeling ill and, I shit you not dear reader, one’s mum passed away 2 days after she started working at our home. It beggars belief, the amount of drama our family and household went through during that period, all the while negotiating with little terrorists on the agenda for the day, driving around to put a stubborn 2yr old to sleep and cooking at midnight to be ready for the next day.

My 5 year old showed immense resilience and flexibility and really thrived in her own way – her reading came along leaps and bounds, she figured out multiplication on her own sitting on the toilet, she attended lessons in origami, British Sign Language, Ballet, Yoga, make-up, astronomy, self-driving cars, speedy mental mathematics (like a super power!), arts, crafts, pasta making, bagel making etc and did 1:1 lessons in Spanish, Hindi, Maths and so much more. My husband and I planned and plotted unto the n-th degree each night, comparing work diaries to ensure tag teaming to the extent possible and saving screen time for the periods of overlap. Despite planning for 5 meals (breakfast, mid morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner), the eternally grazing kids would need constant feeding in between and cleaning after. Our emotional rollercoaster went through the entire spectrum…we were so grateful for the little patch of garden space and, when weather allowed, let the kids run riot in swimsuits from 10am, splashing in paddling pool all day and munching on ice cream, we laughed and cried as the toddler painted the cream sofa pink and scribbled on the walls – heck, I even threw in the towel and bought blackboard paint and chalk for the walls and fences! Everything is game in the time of pandemic as all is fair in love and war.

In the end, we somehow survived that lockdown to live the tales but the scars will always remain. We certainly have some lockdown PTSD when I think of the constant stream of panicked moments and impossible decisions & tradeoffs we had to keep making on the fly to prioritise both kids and work everyday. I normally am pretty good at multi-tasking but this was spreading myself thin to the point of burnout. I truly do not want to go back to that again and looking back, I would advise myself to throw a lot more money at the problem and get a lot more help even if it meant ‘flex-ing’ the rules a bit. I am furious now when I hear of stay-at-home-mums (with grown up kids independently remote learning) who continued to get daily help from their housekeepers who lived 4 zones away because they couldn’t be bothered with the safety restrictions in place, while we went through this nonsense to comply with lockdown guidelines.

My proudest achievement is certainly that we did not turn my kids into screen zombies – even if it involved tantrums, headaches, frustration and exhaustion, we protected our kids from the temptation to just hand them to digital babysitters, aka, TV, iPad, mobile, Youtube et al, beyond 20mins a day and never beyond an hour a day even when I was single parenting due to my husband being ill (I exclude in this definition of screen time the duration spent in communicating with family, friends or teachers for online lessons, so actually it was a lot of screen time really). Second achievement – adopting and sticking to an exercise regimen, I was probably doing 4-5 workouts a week at one point which has literally never happened in my life before. And lastly, we cooked, we baked, we rolled, we kneaded and heck, we served up some excellent delicacies – handmade pasta, hand-rolled gnocchi, rainbow bagels, baklava, Turkish revani cake, banana bread by the kilos, homemade breads, fruit cakes, various new recipes from across the global spectrum. We literally did not order any takeout through the lockdown 1, I think? Oh, and we did not turn into complete alcoholics, which counts for something I guess!

I learnt to count our blessings many times over – we could safely do our jobs at home, we could keep our kids safe even if it drove us mad doing so, our house had plenty of space to accommodate every whim, what we considered the bane of our home – the multiple floors – turned out to be an unexpected boon when we needed to all live and work and play and scream simultaneously, our little garden was everything, (especially when for 5 weeks we did not even step out of our front door), I embraced all the clutter and mess and STUFF at home as suddenly, everything found purpose and use. All the arts and crafts supplies we had no time for, all the tinned foods I mysteriously felt the need to stock up on (war provisions, I used to call them), all the toys and games and books – we thanked our stars for not having adopted some idiotic minimalist trend or ‘Marie-Kondo’d’ our place.

Summer was a relief but we remained cautious, did not go anywhere at all for a holiday, opting for a very local staycation instead and felt grateful to be able to meet some folks in person even if in a very measured manner – we never met more than 1 family at a time and a lot of it was outdoors. As a family, we relished the experience of going back to restaurants during the holidays. And then the weather got cooler and the consequences of excesses of summer started catching up. Lockdown no. 2 came along but felt the right balance in that all the optional activities were put on hold but kids could continue in their routines at nursery and school and remain somewhat oblivious of the larger forces at play.

We are now into a stricter lockdown no. 3 with schools shut down again (but nurseries/daycare open, phew) and this is getting old, folks. We somehow managed to keep ourselves motivated and positive even through our recent bout no. 2 of Covid in our household when both husband and I fell ill. Having both kids at home with zero help felt so hard but all things considered, it was a mild version so we felt quite relieved really. We celebrated Christmas like never before – not just an elaborately decorated Christmas tree and constantly blasting carols, but streamers, stars, indoor and outdoor lights, gingerbread house made from scratch, batches upon batches of iced cookies, turkey meal with gazillion sides; husband’s birthday was celebrated with Fortnum & Mason hamper and Paul baked goodies, and NYE celebration with a fancy takeout…gosh, we kept ourselves busy and well-fed. But now, increasingly it feels like our enthusiasm has run dry, real fatigue has set in and yet, the end is still far despite the vaccine’s arrival. I hope we can hold onto some positivity and hope but I worry about the impact on kids’ mental health as this thing goes on and on. We have suffered the triple whammy of

1) complying to the rules and avoiding socialising and travel to the significant detriment of our quality of life – we didn’t even leave London through 2020! With literally all our family in India or the US, we truly felt the immense distance from everyone. The kids really missed out on time with extended family, especially paternal grandparents who would normally spend a few months with them every summer.

2) Falling sick anyway – my husband fell quite severely ill in Mar/Apr and then both of us fell ill in Dec just before Xmas – the time we had been looking forward longingly to finally recharge after a tough year, good Lord! No respite for the weary, it would seem.

3) And then dealing with the consequences of Cov-idiots refusing to comply to rules – my next door neighbours partied unto the wee hours of NY eve with squealing crowds, our acquaintances jetsetted and globetrotted as if there’s no pandemic and then my daughter has to deal with the isolation and loneliness of homeschooling now – so furious about the asymmetry of this equation!

I am fuming and ranting and raging at the sheer incompetence of our leadership at such a time, but here I am, wondrous at how we have somehow managed to retain some sense of sanity through this. I am also unsure if we will succeed to survive with our wits still intact by the end of this. I wondered if I was being pessimistic when I entered 2021 as I wasn’t gushing about this being the excellent year everyone expected to be, but 6 days into it, I feel like I was probably just being realistic! I wait with bated breath to be proven wrong.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Tan Khim Nyang permalink
    January 6, 2021 11:47 pm

    I’m still subscribed! 😀

    You and your husband are amazing. I definitely can’t imagine 2020 there, and you and your family have been through hell and back. And you still kept to your screen time rule! How did you do it??? I caved within the first few days of home-care + working from home, and I can’t imagine parenting without a screen, even though we still limit the time but it’s a 2-3 hours a day still.

    Things will get better, slowly. Once the vaccine finishes it’s rollout things will slowly go back to normal, for a given value of normal heh.

    • January 7, 2021 12:28 am

      OMG Greenlamb, I am just amazed you’re still a loyal subscriber ha!! Thanks for making me feel good 🙂

      Gosh I should make it clear that in my definition of screen time as I mentioned above, I have not included screen time necessary for communicating with family, friends or teachers for lessons so in reality it was a LOT of screen time so we had to be strict about random screen time involving just playing on iPad or watching TV as my kids turn into little unreasonable monsters after a certain amount of screen time. I should make my definition of screen time clearer in my post lest I unintentionally send parents on guilt trips, yikes

      • Tan Khim Nyang permalink
        January 7, 2021 12:34 am

        Lol oh yes my definition of screen time includes TV and games… fortunately since my 10-year-old iPad crapped out, there’s one less screen… BUT we did get a Nintendo Switch in Mar 2020, and we gave him Minecraft for Christmas 😅 But my wife is really good at limiting his gaming hours: strictly only 1 hour per day for games, and only on weekends. (of course daddy gets to play along with him…)

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