Life in a pandemic struck reality

It has been 75 days since we took the decision to not send our toddler to daycare. Since then, life has been a bit of an emotional and physical rollercoaster. Our household consists of 5 people (me, my husband, my toddler and 2 cat babies) and somehow, we all have learned how to be professional jugglers. We all do our parts like a well-oiled machinery (at least for the most part), just as long as there is a routine to be followed.

But here’s the thing. Other than being mom, wife, home-maker, cook, cleaner, gardener, virtual (social) butterfly, a designer and a hard-working employee, I suddenly have one more key role to play — Life Manager. And that’s not just me managing my own life, but 4 other’s.

It’s tough. Really tough. So today, I’m here to talk about 9 REAL STRUGGLES that are unique to this situation.

  1. Staying productive at home and work
  2. Staying healthy (and coping with a new disease called germophobia)
  3. Keeping a 3 year old productively busy, happy and healthy
  4. Trying not to kill your partner.. err.. or shoot yourself in the head
  5. Staying optimistic about the future (and trying not to imagine a zombie apocalypse)
  6. Not becoming a complete social outcast
  7. Finding time to do the things you like
  8. Tackling all of the 10,000 different emotions and finding your ‘me’ time
  9. Living (even enjoying) the current reality

Read along to see what I do to keep my head above the water (that has worked so far), some tipping points and a modest attempt to develop a hindsight — because someday, this too shall pass.

Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash

Staying productive at home and work

The working moms lucky enough to have avoided the virus or recovered from it are juggling jobs and child care with an intensity that has never before existed. They are home-schooling while working. They’re preparing lunches while working. They’ re policing screen time while working — and dealing with the waves of guilt, stress or resignation that come with not doing any of those things particularly well.

A Working Mom’s Quarantine Life by Ellen McCarthy, Caitlin Gibson, Helena Andrews-Dyer, Amy Joyce for The Washington Post | May 6, 2020

This statement sums it all up. Yes, fathers are as overwhelmed if not more. But moms, I found, are disproportionately the preferred parent to troubleshoot a random accident, a tantrum or a sudden need to snuggle. All of which is bound to happen all at the same time, at least once a day, especially when you’re in the middle of a work call or sprint.

What is working so far

A supportive partner is key. And I am lucky to have that. But what is also needed is an intense amount of time management and routine setting. Me and my husband discuss our calendars for the next day and sync up our meeting times. We also discuss when and how much heads- down ‘work time’ is needed making sure we are getting through some work tasks. The next step is to be communicative about your availability to your colleagues. So I go and block my calendar to make sure no one’s setting up meetings at those times. I also let my manager know if I need to step away for some time. It’s not as seamless, though. There are often clashing commitments in which case, we reluctantly resort to some screen time or simply keeping the child in his room for ‘quiet time’.

Tipping Point and Hindsight

Toddler meltdowns are common. Especially in this age. Especially when you have the least amount of time or patience to deal with them. But they will happen. And they test you for your patience. In hindsight, you will probably thank them for making you a better person.

Staying healthy

There are 2 things that can keep you healthy — Exercise (mental & physical) and clean, healthy food. But in these testing times, there is another thing that will help you stay healthy — being a ‘germophobe’. With so many grey areas of where this virus could come from (surfaces, air, food, people), it’s hard not to be paranoid about keeping everything sanitized. And somehow even finding the balance between that and not accidentally poisoning your children with sanitizers and bleach. So, apart from making sure that I am keeping my house (my car, my garden and my food) germ-free by cleaning like a maniac, I also have to somehow figure how to stay inventive in creating delicious, healthy and clean food. Oh that, and making sure we all are getting our daily exercise.

What is working so far

I have to be up at 5.00am everyday to make sure I get some time to myself that I use to exercise and meditate. I also use these 2 hrs in the morning to prep breakfast and lunch. Breakfast is usually low-key, low-prep for weekdays (overnight chia pudding, boiled eggs, fruits, toast, coffee) and I cook some meals in advance on the weekend for lunch. You will always find cooked brown rice in my refrigerator so all I have to do is make some dahl (lentils) in the morning to eat in the afternoon. I prepare dinners in the afternoon after work that also consist of something simple like pasta, so I have a few hours to play and spend time with my son before he goes to sleep at 8.30pm. We usually hit the bed at 9.30pm to be up and running again at 5am again.

Keeping things clean has also become priority. Non perishable groceries stay in the car for 3 days before they are brought inside the house. Perishable groceries (including leafy greens) are washed with warm water and edible soap, dried and then stored in the refrigerator. Also, I deep clean the house every week.

This is all more than we ever did and I know it sounds like a lot, but with a little help and spacing things out through the week, it’s not as bad. We try to involve our son in cleaning chores like dusting and folding the laundry. Of course, it’s not done perfectly but simple tasks like that helps keep the child busy, while feeling accomplished. Plus, you’ll be surprised at how much time and effort it saves you to simply keep the child busy while you get some of the stuff done!

Tipping Point and Hindsight

This is a very delicate balance and a lot of times things topple out of control especially when hubby has a call in the morning (which throws off my work schedule), or child wakes up too early (that throws off my workout time). But the real tipping point is when there are unexpected meltdowns and tantrums that throws off everything. Hindsight? Well, I know at some point my son will grow up to learn that he needs to eat, play and do things on his own. Then, we will have much more free time and we will look back at these times and think — “wow, how did we ever do that!” and THAT would make us feel VERY accomplished. I live for that day.

Keeping a 3 year old productively busy & happy

I grew up in a household where my father (like many other Indian households) had minimal participation in our upbringing except for providing for the family. Naturally, I feel very lucky now that my husband is able to look after all the basic needs of my son, like brushing his teeth, bathing, feeding and putting him to sleep. But my 3 year old is much more than basic needs. He needs attention. Lots of it. He not only needs engaging activities to do, but someone to engage with. These times are especially hard for him when the only people he gets to see is his parents and his cats. So when he gets through all his toys, puzzles, books and chasing our cats around the house, he is anxious for what’s next. And that, I find, is very hard to keep up with.

In the beginning, I was determined to spend at least 30–40mins everyday trying to get him through some educational activities. But as time passed, getting through a day without a tantrum or a meltdown is considered success. Still, both me and my husband try our best to take it one day at a time and keep our eyes on the goal which is to get him physically and mentally exhausted so he gets good sleep and stays happy.

What is working so far

The onset of spring brings warmer weather which means going for long walks on a nearby trail is back on the charts. There is nothing more fun than collecting stones and wild flowers to a toddler. This gives him an opportunity to be outdoors, run around and learn on the go. Back at home, we still try to keep a 2 hr cap on ‘screen time’. He has a few TV favorites (he loves cocomelon on youtube) and his tablet has a few educational apps that help him learn alphabets, numbers and very basic geometry (Khan Academy, Monkey Preschool and Toca Boca are some of our favorites). We do art and dance sometimes and reading is an everyday bed-time activity. But other than that, we try and involve him in home chores like cleaning, laundry and even cooking. The other day he helped with tossing a salad, making an omelette and whipping up cake batter!

Tipping Point and Hindsight

We all hope for a well-behaved child who listens to instructions while you try to teach him a new activity. As curious as he may seem to learn, sometimes he just won’t be interested. It’s hard not to get frustrated when that happens. But the best way to cope is to let it go in that moment and move on to another activity. Sometimes, screen time will bleed over and a lot of times there will be a mad mess. What matters, at the end, is that just being around you, watching you doing your thing, and absorbing everything around him — is going to keep your child happy and healthy. There is no need, then, to get worked up if he doesn’t do his worksheets, or plays too much, makes a mess or doesn’t eat his meals. Just as long as we, as parents can maintain a positive, learning environment that will make the child feel safe and happy, we are all doing a fab job.

Trying not to kill your partner or err… shoot yourself in the head

When all else falls apart, love is the first thing that goes out of the window. No matter how much you love your partner, when s/he/they are the only other people around you who should partake in being ‘adults’ in a situation, things can sometimes get ugly. I gotta be honest, sometimes I just feel like dropping my daily, monotonous to-do list and just rely on another adult to take charge. I don’t want to feel obligated to think, answer questions, move or realize that if I don’t do it, it’s not going to be done. And I am sure your partner feels the same. Unfortunately, especially with this lockdown, they are also the only person who you can talk to, or vent all your frustrations to. Realizing it’s a catch 22 situation, your only option is to swallow your pride, ignore your needs and carry on being the adult.

What is working so far

I have to admit, this is definitely the most ignored and ‘taken for granted’ aspect of life these days. I am not very proud of how me and my partner are dealing with the day-to-day without feeling flustered with each other. But sometimes, very rarely, we try to empathize with each other and acknowledge the fact that we both are dealing with a lot right now. And the last thing we need, is to be each other’s punching bag. We try and have the difficult conversations that involve a lot of bickering, some fighting, a few blame games, a few tears, but ultimately, it’s important to have the realization that all we have is each other.

Tipping point and Hindsight

What doesn’t kill you (or your partner), will make you and your bond stronger. Hopefully, there will be a time, when you both will look back and reminisce about how your relationship survived some of the most difficult times. Everything else will then feel like a cake walk.

Staying optimistic about the future (and trying not to imagine a zombie apocalypse)

The world has seen pandemics before COVID 19. So why does this one seem like an end to the world? Besides the fact that this virus is sneaky as hell (it can stay undetected for a long time and is super contagious), we also live in a world where information and misinformation travels quick and easy. Literally anyone can have a theory about it without having the right credentials in front of their names. And of course, there are those that have all the right credentials and a social influence, but a brain and a social aptitude of an inappropriate teenager making up theories and spreading misinformation on national TV. With so much information available at the tip of your fingers, it’s not unlikely for people to stock up on toilet paper and guns like there is no tomorrow.

According to Maslow, humans require the security of body, family, health, and property even more than love. But to reach that second level, we need to fulfill our physiological needs first. These include involuntary behaviors like breathing and excretion. Most people don’t need supplies to help take in air. But almost everyone needs to wipe after they defecate.

The Real Reason people are hoarding Toilet paper and Guns by Debbie Millman for Fast Company | April 20, 2020

What is working so far

Besides really researching and following a credited source of information, I also think it’s critical to limit the time you spend inhaling this information. I only listen to or read the news in the first 1 hour of my day when I am working out. The 2 podcasts I listen to everyday that keep it short and meaningful is the Newsworthy and the Global News Podcast. This gives me a short synopsis of what’s happening in the US and around the world. If a piece of news is worth digging deeper into, I read up on it later in the day while taking breaks from work. I also mindfully avoid reading, watching or listening to any pandemic related or otherwise disturbing news and ideas before going to bed.

The ‘rabbit hole syndrome’ and a hindsight

Sometimes when something catches and grips your interest, it’s inevitable to go down the rabbit hole and keep reading about it. Also as humans, we feel a dire need to know and form an opinion about everything. But we must remember one thing — while it’s not wrong to form an opinion, we must also acknowledge that we live in a world where everyone thinks they are right. And sometimes, for your own sanity, it’s best to be blissfully ignorant. I, for one, love to burden my brain with the world’s problems. So while I continue to sometimes worry about the world coming to an end, I also try to remember that the time I have now will never come back. Things will change for the better or for worse. But the only thing I really have any control over is how I live my life now and how to make the best of it.

Not becoming a complete social outcast

I always thought ‘social distancing’ is a very misleading term. Just because science advices us to stay physically away from others doesn’t mean we have to become social outcasts. While we always knew that our kids are a product of a digital world, this pandemic has truly made us all digitally connected. Interestingly, we have not turned into robots yet. In fact, what keeps me hopeful is that the world now feels a little more ‘human’ than the pre-pandemic period and here’s why I say this — More and more people are reaching out to marginalized communities to offer help. More people seem to enjoy home cooked meals being forcefully quarantined with their families at home. More people are reading, walking, hiking, exercising, meditating. More people are connecting with long lost friends and family through video calls. While social gatherings are on a decline, one-on-one conversations are making a come back. And this is all great..

But not all of us feel comfortable with this change. For those who stay alone, these times are especially difficult since humans are innately social animals. And not having another human to touch, hug or simply share the same physical space with can be a bit depressing. But imagine how did people get through social distancing during the Spanish Flu back in 1917? May be then, we might consider ourselves a little bit lucky.

What is working so far

Hug yourself. Talk to yourself. Start a journal. Join a support group online. And get in touch with that friend or family member you haven’t been speaking to because you were ‘too busy’ with your life. Me and 4 of my college friends who know each other for over 2 decades and are now in different parts of the world had not spoken to each other in over 8 years. We kept a check on each other’s lives through social media, but really didn’t catchup personally for a long time. This pandemic caused us all to get back in touch and organize a weekly catch up session. I thought it would frizzle out in a few weeks, but I am proud to say that we are on Week 8 and now look forward to seeing each others’ faces every week! We all marvel over the fact that while we knew what each one of us was up to from the surface, we didn’t really know how we were all really doing. This gives us something to look forward to each week. We sometimes don’t have real updates, but we we spend an hour simply laughing and catching up over old times. And that itself is the silver-lining we all need to keep going.

Hindsight

The only hindsight I wish is that this doesn’t become a hindsight. I would love to be able to keep these rediscovered, rekindled friendships and conversations going. And hope that the world stays connected with each other in more positively human ways after all this is over.

Finding time to do the things you like

As a working parent of a hyperactive toddler, I sometimes wished there were more than 24 hrs in a day. Despite that, I am constantly adding more things to do in my day. Why? I am a person who thrives on some kind of a daily creative outlet. That’s probably why I have a list of unfinished projects that I try to keep working on. I love to draw, design, cook, grow things and then write about them. But there are things that I wished I had time to do, and then things that I need to prioritize. And somehow, I always find myself getting frustrated and ultimately in-satiated with this constant tug of war.

What is working so far

There is no way I would get any of those projects done if I never get started. So my trick has been to plan and start a few different projects and then move along as I feel. I try to keep about an hour right before bed to do something that motivates me — if I am feeling inspired, I write or draw. If I want to be inspired, I read. It helps me fall asleep feeling a little bit more accomplished. I also spend my free time during weekends to cook for the week and do some gardening.

Tipping points and hindsight

All said and done, there are days when all I want to do is nothing or sleep. I used to feel guilty about wasting my days sleeping or day dreaming. But now I actively acknowledge the fact that with all that’s going on, it’s only natural for me to feel tired. It’s ok to rest. It’s ok to forget and let go. Even if it’s for just a few minutes a day. In the hindsight, it won’t matter what all I was able to accomplish. What would matter, however, is that I was able to steer through tough times, keeping my head above the water and just breathe.

Finding your ‘me’ time

The one thing that I miss the most from my pre-child days was having so much free time. I remember loitering around town doing nothing in particular. Spending hours just sitting and thinking, singing and contemplating life’s philosophies. I loved watching the rain and sipping on my hot cup of tea and doing nothing at all. I have spent days traveling to new cities, neighborhoods and just exploring, reading, writing, drawing and really experiencing all that was there to experience. I loved being on my own. But for the past 3 years, life has become clockwork. There is no time to loose and no experiences to gain. And the one thing that makes me loose my mind, is not being able to spend some time by myself.

What is working so far

Even though I don’t get to spend days and hours by myself anymore, I do try to use the first 2 and the last 1 hour of my day alone. I don’t necessarily day dream in that time. In fact, quite the opposite. But I do enjoy a walk and my first cup of coffee on my own. Whenever possible, I sneak in 30 mins for an afternoon cuppa just before my son wakes up from his nap. It’s probably not much, but it definitely helps to clear out my mind and get me prepared for another few hours of madness.

Tipping Points and Hindsight

Of course there are days when I don’t even get a minute to myself. Those days are tough. But I do remind myself every now and then that soon this crisis will be over and we will all return to work. My daily 3 hr work commute will resume and that’s when I will truly miss being home. Right now, at least I can spend those 3 hrs not concentrating on the road. I can sit or walk comfortably around my house. In the distant future, my son will grow up freeing up some of my time but then I may not know what to do with it. I think of all this, and gladly acknowledge the fact that I will never be 20 again and embrace what I have for now.

Living (even enjoying) the current reality

Some of you might think — “Easy for you to say this. You have a job that pays your bills, a house that shelters you, a family that loves you and a steady supply of essentials.” But what if you just lost a job as a result of which you are struggling to make ends meet? What if you live alone and have no one to talk to but your own reflection? What if you live in a place where it’s a struggle to get access to the basics? What if you have lost someone to the virus? How do you then live or enjoy the current reality?

I don’t have an answer to this. And my heart truly goes out to everyone who have been affected in any capacity by this crisis. But I know one thing for sure. Humans have survived thousands of years fighting adversities of varied intensities. From war, to famine, to pandemics and more — some of us continue to live in a harsh reality where life is anything but livable. While the more fortunate of us can and should help in a variety of ways, the important thing is to acknowledge the people and be grateful to those who are working round the clock on the frontlines helping the diseased, delivering supplies and making policies. The least we can do is follow what is advised and do what is right for the greater good.

What is sort of working so far

To wind up, I have compiled a list of things, I think, one should and shouldn’t do that will make it easier for everyone to live through this harsh reality. Me and my family is trying to adhere to this as honestly as possible and if we all do, I am sure we will all come out of this stronger, wiser and as better humans.

DO’s

  • Help in whatever way you can (donate, volunteer)
  • Stay positive and know that like everything else, this too shall pass
  • Acknowledge that you are not indispensable and no matter where you live and how much you earn, this virus does not discriminate
  • Be grateful to be alive in this unstable, unpredictable world
  • Be grateful to those who are making it possible
  • Stay informed and be socially vigilant to make sure you follow what experts and science recommends
  • Connect with friends and family even if it’s virtual
  • Cook, Sing, Dance and be nice to the Earth and your neighbor

DONT’s

  • Hoard sanitizers, toilet papers, masks and other things that are probably needed more by others than you
  • Spread misinformation and instigate misconduct in the name of freedom
  • Discriminate against people on the basis of their ethnicity

Hindsight

I truly believe that this is nature’s way of ‘cleaning up’. Humans have caused enough harm to the earth and society in the form of pollution, war and unjust systems. This virus has instigated an unprecedented ripple effect at a global level. While there are some unfortunate casualties, the world has never before come together to fight a common enemy.

To wind things up, here’s video by Tom Foolery that has been making the rounds on the internet and gives us all some food for thought. I hope we all get an opportunity to learn from this unprecedented reality and are able to narrate a story of hopefulness, and the great realization to our children and grand children some day.

Until then, hang in there, my friend.

Storyteller • Designer • What ‘if’ Enthusiast www.anujasinghal.com

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