For all those months, we had stay indoors and go nowhere with no human contact apart from each other. The hardest part was just staying motivated. I’ve got two girls and I tried so hard to keep them both happy, busy and learning, but for so long, there was nobody else in their lives, just me and my husband.
To begin with, the girls didn’t have devices of their own so I let them play with an old iPad. Trying to keep them enthusiastic about lessons was very stressful. At first, I had everything organized with many different activities lined up. Each day included lessons and games and they help me with cooking and cleaning. The pandemic taught me lessons too, about how important hand-washing and hygiene are, and how quickly a fast-circulating virus can bring the whole world to a standstill.
But soon I got the feeling that I wasn’t doing enough. I kept thinking that they were missing out on important education. I couldn’t help them concentrate on lessons. Georgia, the younger one, could manage better but my older daughter, Molly, got very sad and lonely. When she got upset, I’d let her play video games with her friends. I couldn’t force her stick to a timetable, there was no point. She was used to lessons with lots of people and imagination and interaction. Online learning at home was so new and Molly struggled. It worried me.
Basically, I was feeling ‘mum guilt’.
When all the children wanted was to get out of the house, it broke my heart. I had to say ‘no.’
Basically, I was feeling “mum guilt.” I had to try to make sure they were happy and not scared of the outside world at a time when we couldn’t let them go out. It didn’t work. I couldn’t control what happened. When all the children wanted was to get out of the house, it broke my heart. I had to say “no.” They were so upset.I realize that I have lost closeness with my friends. I am a very tactile person and many people feel awkward about physical contact now. Even with my dad, it was months before we managed to have a hug. Although meeting up is possible now, I am conscious of preferring to do things outdoors. My attitude to physical closeness with friends has changed. There is a pause while each of us tries to find out what feels right about closeness and ask that awkward question “are you ok for a hug?”
I do believe in time this will return to normal but for the present I accept that it will be different. The fear, of variants coming back, of the vaccine not working, it hasn’t gone away.
Many parents were very afraid of Covid in the first year and did not allow their children to go out at all, Some families broke down, parents got divorced. Perhaps this would have happened without Covid – but I think the pandemic sped things up and amplified everything. I know of many teenagers who were quite fragile and suffered from depression or self-harm, one feeling suicidal. They are all receiving various forms of counselling and are managing.
For me, the hardest part has been the loss of the freedom to travel. Hong Kong has some of the strictest quarantine rules in the world. It’s impossible to plan ahead, as government policies change at a few days’ notice when new Covid variants emerge. On the positive side, we’ve learnt that you don’t need much: a roof over your head, food on your plate, love from your family, warmth from a small number of friends. We are lucky that Hong Kong never had a hard lockdown like Australia or Europe. it’s been quite safe, even on crowded public transport, and it’s great to hike up the mountains, away from crowds – the great outdoors is one of the safest places to be.
However, each time there’s a new wave of Covid, parents, it’s very stressful, especially for parents with young kids. It’s terrifying to know that families could be split up between hospital and quarantine for lengthy periods. Hong Kong has world-class health facilities that are almost free but most people are more afraid of the cure than the disease. You basically no longer feel safe in your own home. Even if you take great care to avoid crowded indoor spaces, you never know when you are going to receive a compulsory testing order and get carted off to hospital or quarantine for weeks, possibly months.
It’s terrifying to know that families could be split up between hospital and quarantine for lengthy periods.
Constant changes in Education Bureau policies were quite disruptive too. One month, all students at home, another month, on 1/3 time, another on half time. Children do better with routine, and that went out of the window. Nevertheless, they are a lot more adaptable than adults and the switch to online learning at very short notice went well for my son. He enjoyed getting an extra hour’s sleep and figured out ways with his friends of keeping in touch. But studying at home is lonely. You can learn a lot on Zoom, but you miss out on fun with friends and human warmth. Spending a whole day in front of a screen is bad for posture and the eyes.
I expect the world will be swept by wave after wave of Covid variants in the coming years. It’s great that vaccines were developed at breakneck speed, but they are no magic bullet. HK is in a sense a victim of its own success keeping the virus at bay. However, very low vaccination rates among the elderly leave them very vulnerable if the Delta variant breaches strict quarantine measures for overseas arrivals. Vaccination is the only way out, coupled with public health measures, mask-wearing, extensive testing and contact tracing.
There’s no going back to the way it used to be.
I don’t see any end in sight right now. Sometimes, I despair and think the world has gone mad. There’s no going back to the way it used to be before December 2019. COVID-19 is here to stay. We have to adapt and live with it.
I lived through several wars and dramatic social upheavals in my own childhood and teenage years. Together with my fellow countrymen, I survived and this pandemic seems miniscule to those events. Resilience and adaptiveness are the two skills which, together with my family members, I tested, exercised and enhanced and I think they will serve us well in the future. I also learned more about my limits and appreciated even more the value of family support in stressful situations like the pandemic.
The most stressful aspect of staying at home was having too much to do. Chaotic public policies throughout the world, although less so in Hong Kong, the inconsistent news and public relations campaigns about the pandemic, all these made me upset. More importantly and sadly, I saw how easily manipulated most citizens are everywhere.
The pandemic taught me more about my elder son, his character and daily life, as well as class dynamics and academic weaknesses. Probably, I’ve become more patient and engaged with him too. His school was very forthcoming in planning for and introducing online learning and I could check regularly that he was doing online classes. Because I use IT quite extensively, I could be a de facto teacher assistant but that meant I could do nothing else until late afternoon.
Initially, I had ‘apocalyptic’ expectations about home schooling, but my son proved quite resilient and adaptive.
Initially, I had “apocalyptic” expectations about home schooling, but my son proved quite resilient and adaptive. He joined various e-groups to do group-work and to play and although nothing can replace actual schooling, especially in sports, for a limited period of time, I don’t think loss of development was dramatic.
As the pandemic subsides, I will respect restrictions that others may have, but personally, I and many of my friends already seem to be back to the “old normal.
What I fear most about the end of restrictions is human stupidity coupled with political power, regardless of time and place. What I welcome most is the opportunity for kids to go back to actual schools and take part in sports.
I have worried more about my son’s learning than anything else during the pandemic. I suppose I am a rather greedy, tiger mom and but I’m not alone. My neighbour enrolled her daughter in online English classes with teachers in America and Putonghua classes with teachers in China. She even had violin practice classes where the teacher practised with the child.
Christian has had four hours of Zoom lessons every school day but the teaching was only half as effective as face-to-face lessons. The teachers needed to spend time solving Wi-Fi problems, calling out those not sitting in front of the camera or turning their mics on and off. Still, what he lost most was the valuable experience of ordinary school life and the good memories that go with it.
So, after work and during my time off, I spent much more time with him than usual, checking his homework and going through the textbook in case he missed something important. I also gave him supplementary exercises to kill time and helped him improve his language skills.
Nevertheless, Christian is an only child and I wanted him to have a social life so I let him go to the playground every day during the pandemic when other parents forbade their children to go out at all. This has greatly affected their language and interaction skills. Moreover, children who have little chance to observe facial expressions fail to develop skills related to feelings and reactions so when they meet people they don’t know face-to-face they lack social skills such as politeness and good manners.
In the coming year, I don’t think Christian will find it too difficult to readapt to the old patterns. He is an attentive, adaptive and obedient student and we have made sure his routine stayed the same, but I guess children who have been allowed to run around at home during online lessons will need some time to adjust and readapt to the hectic homework of ordinary routine. Some of them also will have to learn again how to play fairly with other children at school.
Readapting will take time for adults too. I have noticed that some of my friends are much more cautious than me when we go out for meals, they eat more quickly, minimizing the “mask-off” time. However, I admit that when restrictions end, what I fear most is that people will reduce their alertness and there may be another totally different pandemic.
I look forward to the day when we can all take off our face masks. With masks on for nearly two years, I guess some teachers at school don’t even know what Christian looks like, and vice versa. In the past this was unimaginable. Confined to our small home for a long time without social activities was a huge challenge but we got through it. I cannot imagine a worse time than this and it has proved to me that we human beings are quite adaptable.
I cannot imagine a worse time than this but it has proved to me that we human beings are quite adaptable.