From 17 March, they would have to share our study room; a 24 m²space that we have since used as a study area. We would have to fit two more reading tables with a computer each. Our situation seems more complicated because on the other hand, our 10 and 8-year-olds who attend a four-term school will be on holiday with no words on any take home tasks from their school. Come the 17th, I would be travelling to Pretoria to finalise my company’s final training session for this quarter that ends on 20 March. Thereafter, my working life would become bleak for a period unknown to myself and the South African government.
In the new set-up, our children studied each day by logging into the Google classroom at 7:40. After the 20th, a weekend of uncertainly pursued before the President’s announcement on national lockdown. In no time, I found out that I am falling behind on my work. This is because when I got home, I spent more time finding out how homeschooling went. We spent more time talking as I sought more details than I would during mainstream schooling when I had to help with assignments and tasks only.
News of panic and bulk buying was trending on social media, and as soon as the President announced that the country was going into lockdown, the duration of the lockdown did not matter to me. Going to work did not matter. How much money I had was not an issue. All that took over my thoughts was what we needed to survive; or precisely, what our children needed. Milk, bread, meat, rice, flour, mealie meal, tomatoes and more. Then the frenzies on toilet paper, canned food, perishables and non-perishables alike. I was not worried by space to store what I would buy. I worried about time to buy and the safety of my children while I run from one shop to another.
On his part, my husband worried about hand sanitiser and hygiene. He bought soap, snacks, and other hygiene and leisure items. He bought movies as listed by the children, called in handy people to fix the pool, to check on CCTV cameras and even reconnect our television in a household that has gone without television since 2013.
It is Monday. The lockdown takes effect on Thursday at mid-night. It is a must to pay my staff. The dilemma of the company not having money was overpowered by the fact that all my seven permanent employees and their dependents will depend on my leadership to get through these times. They also have to panic buy. We had asked them to stop coming to work earlier because Profounder Intelligence’s outstanding businesses had been cancelled indefinitely.
Our helper was not left out in our preparations. Auntie Rose has been with us for over six years and because her husband and younger children live in the East of Johannesburg, we decided that locking her down with us would be torture. We asked her to go home. But how? We made a plan; we had to pay her early also. Worse still, Rose does not have a fridge; how will she survive? We offered her a fridge. She organised a bakkie to come fetch the fridge and take her home. We took advantage of this arrangement and offered her some flour, tomatoes, maize flour and what we could share from our panic buying. We had the gardener get some avocados from the tree for her.
Rose, the helper, is gone. Office is shut down. No gardener can come around. No shopping is possible. Here we are, parents and children, stuck with each other in a free-standing house in the suburb of Waverley in Johannesburg. We are left with a pure middle-class worry – chores…, bills …, luxury. We have to decide on turns to make food, clean, do laundry, man the yard and do the vegetable garden. We have to think of how to consume milk and portions to last us for the lockdown period. We have to think of who would have to go to shop for necessities should need arise. We thought of what games to indulge in. While locked in, life seemed normal. No difference between father and mother. Hubby and I are making sure that after every few minutes, we ask the children to wash their hands.
One of the reasons I write this article is because I worry. I worry whether this lockdown will last only 21 days. I worry for family members and my friends. I worry for my colleagues and complete strangers. I worry about schools shutting down. Before now, my worry was schools not shutting down. I worry that Covid-19 may invade our lives and change every single habit that we have spent so much time to cultivate. How about our disappearing finances? I just worry.
Our household is not your typical one. My husband and I are both self-employed in the same industry. We are lucky in the sense that we can both be there for our children. Or should I say we were lucky before Covid-19 came to fore? Unfortunately, now we are both held up with not a single option on how to earn our next cent. We have never had a taste of paid leave. Now stuck at home and no way to conduct our training and hospitality businesses from home, we spend our days between everything else including viewing and reading everything we could find about the Coronavirus. We can no longer be uninformed. We quickly got nervous. By day three of the lockdown, we collectively decided to not panic any longer and to boycott information overload.
This meant that we had to start responding to unending questions from the children. Some we gladly did, others we suffered from full disclosure, either because of their ages, or simply because we had little knowledge on that topic. I tell you, parenting has become even more physically, emotionally, psychologically and mentally demanding. But guess what? I have learnt a huge lesson of gratitude and I will leave that with you the readers, my children and many others.
My husband has been the hero in it all. However, it still seems like as a working mother, the threat of Covid-19 gives me a new view of domestic and emotional labour. I have to be a psychologist to make sure that I gauge and manage fears and anxieties. But I am not managing my family well because my own fear and anxiety keep featuring as I think of how long the items we bought will last.
How many children out there have no food? How many women are held up and being abused by their children and partners? How many men have abandoned women with children? How many women are locked up with and are meant to look after stepchildren that they have never met? How many parents seem to be strangers in looking after their children because they paid helpers to do so all their lives? How long will working and schooling from home last? Where will our next household income come from? How will our bills look like in the next weeks? What will banks say? What will the government do? How about my employees?
I worry about how parents in private employment feed their children if their salaries do not go through? How will people survive psychologically? How many grownups are now locked down with and have to look after and feed parents who abused them all their childhood? And the old people, can they stand for themselves? The mentally disturbed, where are they? I worry about who can hear the silence. The burden is huge. It is real. But it can be lightened by us all.
It is clear that many of us will survive. It seems certain that Covid-19 is a stress test for societies. Even experts’ understanding on the Coronavirus and how it functions seems to be extremely limited. Worse yet, we are bombarded with new findings every day. We know that it is now an Airborne virus, right? Scary as the world may be right now, let me emphasis that it is important for parents to protect themselves from stress and anxiety. Children pick up clues very easily and they can be traumatised if they notice that their parents are acting weird.
Do not over- or under-compromise. Try to keep a balance. Maintain a routine as per schools or instil some structure and order to avoid chaos. Please find humour in any and everything, eat together, exercise and practice me-time, watch television, read a book, make phone calls, participate in chat groups, play family games, eat out of routine now and then, make your own rules, reward yourself and your family for committing. Celebrate milestones with simple meals, involve everyone in anticipating the needs of the family and plan what’s next. It is a no brainer that school closure is a wake-up call for many, if not all families.
It is sad that some men have demanded personal space. Some have set-up private offices in rooms with controlled access in order to keep the wife away who also has to work, and the children who need supervision from their working parents. Some have started to abuse substances. I appreciate all men who, like my husband, are shouldering this uncertainty with fortitude, for their families. My husband commented on day three, that the lockdown felt like a normal weekend. His job as the chef for all three meals each day got us all overfed and left him exhausted. He has made the rules that he and I each cook every after two days while the children clean up. However, he cheated and this has left the children calling themselves his kitchen army. This is after they each had to chop, fry, boil or at least do something when it is his turn to cook. In between living each day, all four children rely on our support to do their best at homeschooling.
South Africa is on day 12 and survival beyond the Coronavirus pandemic will leave many of us with lessons learned. It does not matter whether you stay in a village, township, suburb or a hotel. It does not matter whether you are wealthy, of the working class, single, married or a beggar. It does not matter whether you live in Europe, America, Africa, Asia or Australia. Nothing matters much after Covid-19. What will mater will be the fact that we depend on each other to survive. So, maybe. Just maybe, Covid-19 has come to show the real meaning of Involved Parenting, Involved Caregiving and provide a revision in policies.
By Victorine Mbong Shu
Image by Enrique Lopez Garre/Pixabay