SOCIAL DISTANCING ADVICE FROM A FAMILY ON LOCKDOWN IN CHINA
We are living in China with our children, and for the past seven and a half weeks we have been largely confined to our home, working and going to school remotely, due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
We are watching the news and talking with family and friends back in the United States and in Europe. They have had questions about what quarantine has been like for us and what to expect as the coronavirus continues to spread and things grow more restrictive country by country. We obviously can’t predict how it will play out in each different setting, and we don’t presume to have answers for what everyone should do. But we do have some experience in how to stay reasonably sane and productive through the challenges of being confined indoors for weeks on end.
We are both teachers at a school where our children are also students. Our city is hundreds of miles from Wuhan, the epicenter of the initial outbreak. Millions and millions of people live in the city, and the number of cases here is reported to be in the low hundreds. Still, the restrictions have been significant.
Early in the crisis, walls were put up around our neighborhood, and roadblocks were set up to limit who can come in or out. Curfews were established and no visitors could enter from outside the neighborhood. We were given special IDs that show we have not left the country or traveled around China. Until recently the only stores that were open were groceries and gas stations. Every time we go to buy food, we have to scan an app on our phone that tells the government where we are.
Schools have been closed all over China since the Chinese New Year in January. We started working from home at the start of February, and our children have attended school remotely sitting together at our dining room table. The initial closure was for two weeks, and then was extended into March. As of today, the return date is still uncertain. So while we have not been under formal quarantine, we have been very limited in where we can go and what we can do. In this time we have had to adjust to a life very different from what we were used to.
Set Up A Routine
We understand many people already work from home as a normal part of their jobs, but it was new for us and it took some adjustments. Teaching is typically a very face-to-face kind of work. Homeschooling is also something people do, but it was also new to us, and a challenge to keep up with while we are also working.
Early on there was a sense of “Groundhog Day,” as one day blended into another. Creating structure and routines has helped. We set an alarm and get up just a bit later than we would on a normal workday. At the start, we joked about wearing pajamas all day every day, but that soon got tiresome. So we get dressed.
We do the same with our children. It was important that they understand this is not an open-ended vacation from school. They do sleep in a little later than they would on a normal school day, but then they come downstairs, eat breakfast, and get set up in the dining room for a distinctive type of school day while we go into a spare bedroom set up as an office.
We have been taking a lunch break every day around noon. We all stop what we are doing and eat together. We have been watching “The Price is Right” or “The People’s Court” while we eat. It feels a little like the best part of staying home from school when you were sick as a kid. It’s a small pleasure, but something we couldn’t do under normal circumstances. And then we get back to work.
For the kids, it has been important to set limits on how long they work. Even though they are getting their assignments digitally from their teachers, it has been important to check in with them throughout the day. Tasks can sprawl, and more than once we have come across one of them close to tears because they worked on an assignment far longer than required. Their teachers are doing great work, but it can be difficult to estimate what an assignment looks like to a middle schooler who wants to do their best but who has no immediate feedback or classmates around to whom they can compare themselves.
We also try to stop work at a reasonable time. The kids wrap up early in the afternoon. As teachers, it has been trickier for us. Many of our students are not keeping regular hours, or they dispersed to their home countries, so they are turning in work throughout the day and into the night. Work often spreads into the evening, and we work longer hours now than we would on a normal workday. We have not found a solution to this. But getting to watch “The Price is Right” has been some consolation.
See The Value In Screen Time
Like a lot of parents, we are aware of our children’s screen time and worry about it, despite having watched vast amounts of TV when we were their age. If we left it up to them, we might not have an upper limit on how much time they played video games. And they would happily spend unbroken hours messaging friends and watching YouTube videos.
Under normal circumstances, we set limits and try to move them toward more productive pursuits. We have not given up on this, but we have become more forgiving and see the value in some of the games they play. Just Dance on the Playstation has them exercising. Minecraft can be a remarkably clever game. Even Fortnite has its value as we listen to them talking and strategizing with friends across town and around the world.
We’ve been watching more TV and Netflix than we ordinarily would. We also understand that “watch TV” is not necessarily original or helpful advice, but we have expanded into a pretty broad range of viewing habits.
In an attempt to get away from our screens, we have also broken out some of our board games. It’s been really nice to transform the dining room table from a middle school classroom back to a place to be together. And in our defense, the whole family is reading a lot . . .
Get Exercise Where You Can
Before all this started we had been very good about going to the gym and lifting weights. It made us stronger and was great for maintaining sanity. But the gym has been closed along with everything else, so that stopped being an option.
Initially, we were encouraged not to go outside at all. The virus was so new and people were scared. It was also cold and grey for a lot of January and February, so it was not such a big deal to be inside most of the time.
We tried some online workouts, doing old-fashioned calisthenics and bodyweight exercises. We found old running shoes, put on our face masks (even though they serve very little purpose when you are outdoors away from crowds) and started running.
Now that the weather is warming up and the gym is still closed, running has become a not-terrible, even pleasant, part of the routine. We have started seeing more and more of our neighbors outside with us (all of us wearing masks and keeping our distance).
Take Turns Fearing The Worst
We have each gone for stretches — sometimes a few days — feeling like things are OK and that this experience is just something we can patiently wait out. Then a sense of worry, shading into anxiety and even fear, creeps in and it all comes crashing down a little.
These fears and anxieties have ranged from simple ones related to getting work done, or concerns about doing our jobs well enough, to bigger anxieties about the effect all of this is having on our children, and onward up to crushing existential fears about worst-case scenarios. Everything feels worse when it is compounded by a sense of being trapped and isolated in your house.
So far we have done a fairly remarkable job of having these crises one at a time. One of us has a bad afternoon or whole day, while the other can be a calm voice of reason. And then a day or two later, we have to reverse roles and offer the other the same simple advice we just received. . .
Over the past week, there have been some indications of changes here in China. There have not been any new active cases being reported in our city. Some deliveries have started coming into our neighborhood and, for what it’s worth, we learned this week that Apple stores in China are opening right as they are beginning to close everywhere else.
At the same time, rumors about the date for reopening schools keep pushing it out later, and now it may not happen until the end of April. The walls and roadblocks are still up, and restrictions on people returning to China from outside the country have grown more strict recently. Fears that the virus will start up again here are significant. And we remain almost entirely in the dark about what comes next.
For now we continue to be as calm and patient as we can, as we work to keep our sanity. We wish the best to people around the world who find themselves in a similar situation.
(Excerpt from Huff Post.)
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