SINGAPORE: I read recent news about large crowds and gatherings at the beach with a mixture of disdain and worry.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve visited the beach once in Phase 2.
However, it was a weekday morning for breakfast with my husband, while the kids were in school. The beach area was quiet and while the nearby restaurants had some patrons, it was far from the level of crowding East Coast Park and Sentosa experienced last weekend.
Why so cautious, you ask?
It’s not just because I have young kids, three of them under 12. I also live with my elderly godmother who has a compromised immune system.
Everything we choose to do as a family cannot escape the caregiver filters that I’ve donned since early last year, when she was too frail to go on living on her own.
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When the daily number of new community cases in Singapore shot to the twenties in early July, alarm bells went off.
We simply cannot bear the risk of one of us bringing the virus home and infecting her. With a complex medical history that includes hypertension, the chances of her surviving the infection are far slimmer than a normal person’s.
GOING BEYOND ‘NOT BREAKING RULES’
Many Singaporeans too have said they still stay home most days despite Singapore lifting circuit breaker since June.
Since Phase 2 began, I’ve started carpooling with a neighbour whose children attend the same school as my eldest daughter.
Their mother and I discussed options and took great pains to make the most meticulous plans, such as who sends them in the morning, and who does pickup, plus etiquette in the car. She too has an elderly parent in her home, so we agreed we would all don our masks during car rides.
During the one-week term break, we haven’t made any outings to the beach, zoo, trampoline park or indoor playground.
However, we did make it up to the kids with swimming at our condo pool when few other residents are around, a picnic at the Botanic Gardens, a home-based movie night with everyone piled onto our bed, and some snack treats. Not forgetting a baking playdate with said neighbour.
Precaution has been our new normal. That means shrinking our social circle to the bare minimum.
Although house visiting is allowed in Phase 2, we’ve only brought the kids to their godparents’ house twice, compared to visiting friends every other week pre-coronavirus.
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This has also meant the kids continue to do some of their enrichment activities, such as coding and violin, via Zoom.
There are moments when we worry about the kids not getting enough socialising and play. Then again we tend to underestimate how adaptive kids can be and perhaps they in turn learn to take less for granted now.
You might think this heavy handed, even draconian, but with news the WHO acknowledged that the novel coronavirus can spread through droplets floating in the air, I’m not keen on playing Russian roulette.
It’s not a crime to head out. Most people out and about are not actively breaking the rule of fives or the rule of masks. But for families in similar situations, we have to make up our own set of stricter rules.
Visit a crowded and air-conditioned place? We’ll pass. If we really have to, then we’d try to keep the trip short and leave the kids at home.
If it’s an open and well-ventilated space with ample play opportunities for kids? Plus no crowds? Give me that slice of heaven already.
MANAGING CABIN FEVER
I get it, cabin fever can also kill (or maybe numb) our senses. Even my godmother complains of boredom every few days and asks to go out for a meal.
So recently, after her hospital checkup that was long overdue, we chanced upon a Japanese restaurant that had just opened for the day.
Since there was no one around, we took that opportunity to dine in and order a couple of her favourite dishes. It was the first proper meal that we’ve had outside since February.
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Thankfully, she attends daycare for a couple of days every week, and this helps to give structure to her days.
Every two to three weeks, we also try to arrange for visitors to come by, but it’s mostly the same one or two close friends of hers or family members.
Singapore has actually come a long way since the dreaded circuit breaker.
I remember those tiresome weeks vividly. The kids were at home all day, but that wasn’t the toughest thing for me; it was more my godmother losing a sense of routine without her usual day care arrangement.
With little to do apart from reading the papers or watching the news, the days and nights would merge into one senseless mess. At times, she even found it hard to get a good night’s rest.
We’re lucky my husband and I have steady incomes. But another circuit breaker could put more businesses, jobs and livelihoods at risk and affect loved ones already concerned with whether they’re next to get the boot.
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My hope is that Singapore will continue to move forward in this battle against COVID-19, and not be forced to backtrack, but this will require all of us to play our part.
SILVER LININGS IN EVERY SITUATION
Like everyone else, I yearn for days of relative freedom once again.
But I will think twice before diving headlong into the crowds at malls, parks, or beaches over the weekends.
It may sound like a sacrifice, but the situation has its upsides too.
With fewer activities on our schedule, we have more family playtime, less rushing around, and our level of spending has also gone down.
It has also taught me empathy. Whatever hardship I thought I was going through is nowhere near the level of an elderly person whose sense of mobility, independence, and even identity has been stolen by COVID-19.
Hopefully in doing our part to minimise crowding and infection rates, we create a safer environment for the very young and very old to emerge from their shells, and for caregivers to breathe just a little easier.
June Yong is a mother of three, an educational therapist and owner of Mama Wear Papa Shirt, a blog that discusses parenting and education in Singapore.