Family in the time of Covid-19

Hello there. Goodness, aren’t these strange times. Here’s something I wrote for SBS on managing Covid-19 and families. 

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Can Dad come to visit us? Suddenly, with coronavirus swirling about, this is a question that we need to ask. He wants to drop off a food package and some much-needed baby wipes that he managed to source at the seniors’ shopping slot this morning. He’ll be on public transport too, and that’s not ideal. Plus Mum’s just returned from Egypt and, while she’s assured us she maintained her social distance from all camels and virtually mummified herself in protective gear, this adds to the complexity of the situation.

So we have to think about our response. After some back-and-forthing on email, we conclude that, as we have a baby, it’s best that Dad drops the package off at our front door and doesn’t come in. When he arrives, there’s no hugging, handshaking or coochie-cooing. Instead, he keeps a 1.5-metre distance and says a cheery hello.

“How are you, Dad?”

“Good! I don’t have coronavirus… yet,” he quips, before waving goodbye. As my partner and I watch him disappear, it all seems so weird, and a little sad. But of course, weird is the new normal.

I peek into the bag. He’s lugged 13 homegrown cucumbers (so we’ll be right for tzatziki in the event of a lockdown), kale leaves, homemade baby food, vegetable soup and those precious baby wipes.

“Why didn’t Goung Goung stay?” our 3-year-old demands. “I want to play soccer with him!”

We’ve explained to her that there’s a ‘nasty cold’ going around – and that the toilet paper makers, silly sausages that they are, have gone on holiday – and if she doesn’t wash her hands she could catch it and wouldn’t be able to play. We’ve also banned her from making her toilet paper scarves, bridges and streamers. It’s tricky, but we’re trying to find the right balance between keeping our young girls safe (and clean) without alarming them. Especially after our toddler has only just calmed down about the “fire bushes”.

Like so many people, we’re trying to navigate unfamiliar territory, including what to do about the older members of our extended family. I am part of a multi-generational clan that extends all the way from my 92-year-old grandmother to my 9-month-old youngest daughter. The sudden advent of the coronavirus has made something as simple as a family catch-up potentially dangerous.

My grandmother is obviously our most vulnerable relative. In addition to her age, she also has pre-existing chronic health conditions, and has even stopped visiting her beloved church and choir in an attempt to protect herself. So, in a time when she could do with some company, we’re not likely to be visiting – especially with our small children who are still going to childcare.

And then again there’s my mum and dad, who are nobody’s idea of frail grandparents. They’re active and robust… but they’re also in their late sixties/early seventies, which means they’re more vulnerable. Any of the activities they so enthusiastically pursue – visiting grandchildren, hitting the gym, playing tennis, attending art class and movies – could lead to them contracting the virus and passing it on.

Compromise will have to come and Mum is wondering whether she and dad should curtail some of their activities. To protect herself from the virus, Mum is relying on a facemask, head-to-toe sanitising and the dissemination of regular e-bulletins on proper handwashing to the family. By contrast, Dad says Mum is “over cautious”. He is hesitant to pull back from his cracking social calendar, saying that it’s only the oldies who will be most affected.

“We are the oldies,” Mum says wryly.

She is also keen to babysit for us as I head back to work (or now, back to work but from home) after maternity leave. “Yes, I’d love to. I have NOTHING to do!” she unconvincingly assures me. “NOTHING!”. We would love her help with the two tiny terrors, but that would mean exposing her to danger on a regular basis simply through the now-hazardous activities of using public transport and collecting her granddaughters from child care. And if she visits us, she should probably isolate herself from her own mother.

There are so many decisions to make. Do we FaceTime our loved ones for the next few months? Will we be able to call on them for help if childcare centres close down? Does my Grandmother have to learn how to use TikTok? The situation is changing at great speed and it seems we have to take things one day at a time.

Happily we’ve all agreed on something important – the family handwashing protocol. Thanks to Boris Johnson, we all sing a lusty two verses of Happy Birthday while lathering up at the sink. And we make sure to wash between our fingers and up our wrists too.

Dad and Holly ball

Dad playing ball with Holly in less pandemicy times!

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