As we see the end approaching the judgement starts. Is it too fast? Or too slow? Are people too careful? Or too careless? It is hard not to judge for each of us with preconceived ideas. But it is also hard to judge when each of us also sits in such different shoes from one another. I stop to try and reflect on how I feel about the end of the shelter in place orders. From stay at home to stay alert. What does this return mean in practice?
The Return to School
In the UK, schools re-opened last Monday for some school years. One of those years is Nursery, which captures Baby S. In the beginning, I was not worried. First, I was banking on immunity (not so sure now). Also, I thought it was good for him to get back to routine and we would only send him for half days.
We made it a joke each time he pretended a cough (seriously) every single Sunday night of the lock-down saying he could not go to school on Monday. The play-pretend cough intensified during the last few weeks as we started talking more about the return to school. He wanted none of it. Why would he – Mummy, Daddy, Big Sister and Nanny are at home. Why does he have to go to school? He knows things are not normal as each time he asks to go to the airport we say we are not allowed. So why go to school then?
A tough walk
As I walked him to school on Monday, I had a serious knot on my stomach. I wondered if I should have read more, asked more people, investigated more about immunity. I wondered why I was taking him without us even having discussed the possibility of him staying home. Was this how we were going to approach normality? If it opens, we just go? Will everything return to what it was? I fought hard the tears (until I dropped him off).
But I also recognised this was the end of an era. A magical time of being so present in his life, of being almost the only person in his life. It was almost like going back from maternity leave, but now he was the one leaving.
When he came back at lunch time, he was happy. I was relieved and proud. He was much better at adjusting than his Mummy. No wonder. I put the bad thoughts at bay, even when I heard a documentary about how it was too early to open schools in the UK. There are 3 students and 2 teachers in total in his classroom. He will be OK for the 3 hours that he gets an extended play-date in school. And he still comes back home with a hug.
The Return to the Street
In some countries, shelter in place was a soft word. The real word was lock-down. You could not go out for anything at all. You needed a time allocation to go to the supermarket. Or an official letter to be able to walk the streets. In the UK, lock-down was, despite much need, always on the soft side. I spent more than 4 weeks without setting my foot outside the door only to see people passing by on the streets at random times. We did not take the children out on walks for the first 2 months, even though we were allowed, as indeed the streets were busy to walk in the weekends. The first time we went to a park it was the Old Brompton Cemetery and it was so packed that I had a hard time figuring out how we were going to socially distance.
So, the same way as you had people softening the hard lock-down, you also have people completely on the lose as lock-down is still sort of in place. You can meet with a family in the park? Well let’s meet with 5 families. You can do sports with another person? Let’s all do sports together. We can go to restaurants now? Let’s all go and share a selfie. And really, who can blame them (or us)? Being deprived from most activities that constitute a social life is not something anyone came prepared for. I may be suffering from some anxiety in the fear of seeing my life being taken over by social demands. But I recognise it is quite nice to finally be able to host friends for a BBQ rather than eating the picanha all by ourselves.
The Return to Work
This one still feels like a mirage to me. Remote working is working so well for me, that I have a hard time imagining a different picture. I know I have to, but at the moment, I have no plans of returning. The reason central London is doing well in terms of cases is most likely because financial institutions that occupy a large part of the London population shut down early and are keeping a minimum in the office, having made huge efforts to ensure the technology works for those at home.
However, you see the return on the streets. Construction workers are filling the sidewalks, rushing to set up the scaffolding that always fills the London streets in the Summer. More shops are starting to open their doors or putting signs that they will open soon. There are just more people on the streets. As we considered taking the car to bring Baby S to Nursery yesterday, I quickly left Hubby B stuck in a busy side street and walked him myself. The rush hour is back and people are keen to avoid public transportation. Traffic is likely to be worse than ever. In some countries, used car sales are soaring. This is a quick protection mechanism.
The Return to the Air
before lock-down, you would sit outside for a barbecue and have a plane going over your head every minute or so. It was a common sound blended in with the trees and the noises of the ambulances. Now, the noises of the ambulances seem more prevalent. Or maybe it is the absence of the airplanes. A few weeks ago, Baby S has finally stopped asking if we can go to the airport. Especially now that he is going to school, he seems to understand that we are no longer “on holiday”. But whenever we go outside, he will point out any airplane or any bus, almost showing me that they are working again. I explain that they are but we can’t go on them, not yet.
This has been the longest period I have been unable to go home to Portugal. I know it is a luxury that we are expats that get to go home every 2 months to be with family. But it is in times like this that you are, in fact, an expat. And you are away for as long as it takes. Little Girl C says it has been a year as she whines. I tell her it has only been 4.5 months, but in my mind I am thinking “Gosh, it does feel like a year”. I can barely remember that we were skiing this year at this point. That is one end of lock-down that I have little doubts about – we will take to the air as soon as we practically can.
Why do I go through all this with no conclusion? In the beginning of this crisis, I wrote about the divisive paranoia of coronavirus. About how the fear was making us be more divided than ever, more judgmental of each other’s attitude. We criticized those that isolated and those that didn’t. And we criticized those that took their kids from school early and those that didn’t. We also criticized those that admitted they came from risk countries and those that didn’t. There was no way to win. This is usually the case in any crisis. It is typically a lose-lose situation.
It is the same as the first wave of this crisis seems to approach the horizon. We can judge those that don’t wear masks “what, in the UK it is not mandatory to wear masks in shops?”. And we can judge those that do so without it being mandatory “are you going to live in fear forever?”. We can judge those that meet with friends “Do you have no parents to protect, have you not heard of social distancing?”. And they can judge your own fear “Why are you not getting herd immunity if you are not high risk?”. We can judge those that complained they lived alone because we have 3 kids climbing the walls. And we can judge those that almost went crazy living on their own and no, they no longer have any living parents.
Judging is so easy
I am guilty as charged and every day that I feel judgement, I stop and try and see the other side. In times of darkness, this will be even more important. We need to make our own choices about what we believe in, and they will not always be in accordance with what others believe in. But we can only respect it and do what is best for us and our families.
Yes, we would like that everyone would have just a little bit more of social conscious. But that is only according to our beliefs. What about theirs?
Photo by Gary Butterfield on Unsplash