Finally, after two months of working from home, I found the time to write some notes on the whirlwind that has thrown the whole world upside down. Millions of jobs have been lost. Millions of people have been infected. Thousands have died. Billions have been impacted, one way or another. People have called it the worst crisis of the century, and the havoc is still ongoing, with waves upon waves of infections hitting every corner of the Earth, some more than once. Trillions of dollars have been spent to fight the virus, but there is still no end in sight, and researchers are still working day and night to find a cure, a vaccine, a treatment, whatever that can work, and slow down its infection. As for normal folks like us, there is not much to do except to heed the government’s warning and advice, and try to stay at home as much as possible, to reduce the exposure to the virus, wash hands regularly, wear masks and pray that the sneaky virus will not find a blindspot to hit and strike us down.
Singapore seemed to have been spared the brunt of the impact initially. The number of cases in January, February, and March was quite manageable, and there was no widespread infection within the community. Everything seemed to be well under control, and each arising case was traced and reported carefully. I still could remember the Singapore map with each pin for an infected case, which showed how few cases we had then. Unfortunately, right when we thought we would escape unscathed, we were hit by a sucker punch. No, we were hit by a one-two punch, and we were brought down on our knees. A sudden flare of cases in the foreign worker dormitories, coupled with the quick increase in the number of community cases bought about by returning residents from the epicenters of the disease, Europe and America, sent everyone to a frenzy. The government increased the warning level from DORSCON Yellow to DORSCON Orange and rolled in a bunch of restrictions. However, the situation did not seem to improve, and shortly after that, we were faced with a partial lockdown, or in the official language, a Circuit Breaker, which was supposed to start on April 7th, and end on May 4th, but then extended until June 1st. Most of the businesses were closed, the economy went to a sudden halt, almost everybody was kept at home, leaving the streets empty of people.
Even though it seems to be all gloom and doom, I must admit that I was very grateful that our family was more fortunate than others. Both of us were allowed to work at home full time, even before the Circuit Breaker period. We had enough resources to tide us through, and we had enough manpower support to take care of our 2 children when they started staying at home full time after school was closed. Despite all that, it was not easy at all, to juggle full-time work and child-rearing, since both our kids had home-based learning. Our older boy, aged 8, was quite independent in his learning, although we still had to check on him now and then since he was still young and easily distracted. Our younger girl, aged 4, was a totally different matter altogether. She could not navigate the classes and learning materials on her own, and she got bored after a few minutes if left unattended, so one of us had to sit beside her for the good part of the morning until she finished all the classes of the day. Imagine having to keep one eye on your own screen, and the other eye on her screen, trying to follow what her teacher was teaching her, and at the same time, doing your work. It was distracting to the max, especially if we had to attend an online call or discussion. It was a daily battle, and I only felt a sense of relief when I logged out of her Zoom session for the last class of the day. In that kind of atmosphere, it was inevitable that tension flared up now and then between us, but we tried to keep it down, knowing full well that it was no good for anyone, and it would only make things worse. Work stacked up due to lack of focus, and we were often exhausted by the end of the working day. Sometimes I wondered how long we could continue like this, and when we would break down mentally, from stress and exhaustion. I dreaded it, and I tried to push that thought away, but it still came back, especially in my moments of weakness, when work overwhelmed us or our children misbehaved.
Fortunately again, when our energy was depleted and our patient was wearing thin, the government brought forward the school holiday from June to May. Although our younger kid still had classes until 15th May, it was a silver lining, something to look forward to. At least we only had to worry about the schoolwork of 1 kid for the 2 weeks of May instead of 2. We felt like a heavy stone being lifted from our chess, and the tension eased a little. However, it was only on the morning of 18th May, sitting at the dining table, savoring our breakfast in a relaxing way, that we could finally breathe a sigh of relief. No more morning rush to get the kids ready for online classes. No more distraction and constant muting and unmuting during meetings and calls to attend to the kids in between. Life was much better even though we were still locked up at home. The air seemed to be lighter, and the tension was almost gone inside the house. Work flowed much more smoothly, and as we could focus better, we managed to finish work faster and even had enough time before dinner to have a round of Just Dance with the kids to burn off some energy and get some much-needed exercise, which was a luxury due to all the restrictions in place, as well as family time to watch some movies after dinner. So far, only 3 days have passed since we had our “freedom” back, and we already managed to watch 2 movies at night. We watched Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on Monday, and Kung Fu Panda 3 on Tuesday, and the kids were very happy since they did not have to worry much about schoolwork, and could play with each other during a major part of the day, even though we still gave them some assignments to keep them occupied and also to keep their minds sharp and maintain the pace of their learning to prevent them from getting shocked when they go back to school later.
I know this situation will not last forever, and kids will need to start learning again soon, but for now, let me just forget about that hard truth for a while, to savor the time we have and make as much use of it as possible, to work, to play, to entertain ourselves, to enjoy family time, and maybe to learn something new. People keep talking about the new normal. I don’t really know what it is, and how it will be, but if it means we will have to become teacher’s assistants again, then thanks but no thanks. It’s a real struggle, and we can do it for a short while, run a short sprint of a few weeks, but we cannot run that marathon forever. It’s too exhausting, too energy-sapping, and every day is a pain. But if the new normal means more flexibility to choose where to work, and more safety measures in place to ensure that we can work safely, we can get out of the house safely, and we can live and socialize safely, then I welcome it with open arms and embrace it wholeheartedly. Let’s wait and see.
P.S. With the just-announced 3 phase approach to opening up the country, it seems we will have to relive the nightmare for some more time in June at least. Our boy will have lessons at home on alternate weeks, and it is not clear how the schedule will be for our girl. June will be tough unless my daughter’s school can open again from June 2nd onwards. Let’s wait and see, and until then, enjoy distraction-free work from home and recharge ourselves, mentally, physically, and spiritually, for the war is far from over, and many battles lie ahead.