On March 9, Qatar announced that all schools will remain closed until further notice. After hearing the news, I took leave from the clinic, since my kids would be at home.
I am a dentist. I can either volunteer in the front line in any way I can support or I can stay home. I cannot bring my work home. Tele-dentistry can be limited only to prescribing painkillers or at the maximum, some antibiotics.
The next few days and few weeks were a scramble to find the new normal and the new routine in our house. When pushed into unknown territories or uncertain situations, humans tend to freeze or become numb for a while before finding a way out. A split fight or flight decision.
Slowly, we carved out a routine for us. The initial part of the day was assigned to do some educational activities for the children. We also started with Arabic alphabets for my elder daughter. I did not want my children to associate lockdown with fear and uncertainty but a long joyful vacation at home – learning new things, doing art and craft, playing with each other, making forts with blanket and pillow or just cuddle more than usual.
I felt helpless every time my two-year-old wore her shoes and asked me for a new dress because she wanted to ‘go out’. How do we make a two-year-old understand we cannot go out anywhere? Or that the beach and play area are all dangerous places now? How can I gently let my four-year-old know she will not be having school anymore? Or that she won’t be having the annual day and the dance program she was practising for since months? How can I tell them, maybe, just maybe our lives won’t be the same anymore?
Kids in the age group of 2 to 6 might be the hardest hit by the lockdown. They do not understand why their daily routines have changed or stopped “just because of some germs”. But they are also little heroes, in their own ways.
My four year old started her online classes. She has learnt how to navigate a zoom session. How to switch on and off the laptop (I had avoided introducing games, phones, laptop, tab to her until now) How to go to Oxford Owl website and read the free e-books. She has also learnt how to make dough for bread, clean and peel garlic, fold clothes and just actually ‘be bored’, Being bored and not being continually entertained does immense benefit to young kids in terms of enhancing their creativity and ideas.
My two year old has picked words and habits from her elder one. She has also learnt to hold the crayons and paintbrushes. To put the dress in laundry bag and papers in the dustbin. She too sits with her sister for her Zoom classes. She tells me to wear the ‘thattam’/ hijab before I sit for Zoom 😀
When I talk about young kids being locked at home 24/7, I should also speak about the “elephant in the room”. The increased screen time! I do not know if, in another 20 years, we will have a study of the impact of increased screen time on children, during this lockdown.
Staying at home has also made me introspect of the inequalities of even the place we call “home”. On social media, I see palatial bungalows of celebrities with spacious swimming pools and hi-tech gyms. At the same time, social media shows me the migrants walking 1000 of kilometres to reach their homes in India. Or the homeless people on the streets. Or of the people who live in congested slums of Dharavi, Mumbai, India. Or the people living in houses with an abusive spouse. Or those in a house with no windows and a balcony or in a house with no toilets. Staying at home is not the same for everyone. It is a different experience for every individual and we should accept the fact it is not an ‘easy task for all’.
Social distancing is a privilege, I understand now. Washing hands with soap for 20 seconds in clean running water is a privilege. Having a roof over your head is a blessing. Having a fully laden fridge and money to buy utilities is a blessing. Having a supportive spouse and healthy kids is a blessing. In the constant fast-paced life of the 21st century, we often overlook our privileges and forget to remember our blessings. May this slowing down due the lockdown create empathy within us to extends our hands to the people who are in need and facing hunger.
The people in need are not only those who are homeless but also those who lost their jobs recently or the ones being abused by their spouse or the children being tortured by their own parents/caregivers or the ones who lost a loved one due to COVID. The list is endless. May we have the insight and understanding to find such people even amongst ourselves.
I was also thinking of the fact that just being able to go out is also a blessing. People who are suffering from terminal diseases, mental health issues or those who are disabled. Or those bedridden and have been staying at home for months and years. How difficult and depressing it must have been for them? We would never have understood how difficult it is for them to just “stay at home” if not for this experience.
May we come out of this lockdown wise and kind. Mostly kind.