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Clichés, Compassion, Creativity and that other C-word

by Sharon Halliday

I was having a serious sense of déjà vu. My kids had begun asking me if I would make them French toast like I did for six days straight on the barbeque when we had no electricity and only bread, milk and eggs. It had only been 12 weeks since our region had been ravaged by bushfires as part of what will be known as Black Summer. And now we were in the grips of another crisis.     

“We’re all in this together” I keep hearing, which I find ironic since we’re meant to be social distancing. One thing that’s for certain is we’re now all in information overload. Trying to keep your family safe while keeping up with the latest information has become a full-time job. 

Despite the seriousness of the situation, I’m desperately looking for opportunities to keep things light. I can’t help but smile every time I do that crazy indecisive dance when I’m about to leave a shop and someone is about to enter and we both step back at the same time, then we both step forward, and so it goes. Awkies. But I think that’s the least of our problems. I now make light of these moments by singing, “M-m-m-my Carona!” It seems to work for those who have a sense of humour. For some, I suspect any jokes are lost on them at this time. They are the ones with the long road ahead of them.

Thankfully, my kids have been unexpectedly content through all of this. Go figure. Our school was still open, and while the State Government had encouraged us to keep our children at home where possible, there was a recognition that some parents who were employed in essential services would need to keep sending their children to school. I had recently started a new job at a local childcare centre, and suddenly I was also classified as essential. I happily took on extra shifts to help my boss attempt to get on top of the overwhelming situation we had been plunged into. As I commented to her, “We had a mountain of work to do before COVID-19 and now we are climbing Everest.”

One morning, as I drove my kids to school, a knot formed in the pit of my stomach. Apart from staff cars, ours was the only one around; an unusual scene at 8:30 on a school day. As I looked into the grounds, where I was about to send my kids, I couldn’t see a single soul. Suddenly, continuing to work didn’t feel so right. The kids must have sensed my anxiety and assured me they would be just fine, and in fact, that they were happy to be there with a few mates who were also still attending. 10-year-old Leo was especially pleased about having his own desk and laptop. Six-year-old Eva felt special that she was about to become the only one in her class or “the last person standing” as we had been referring to it in jest. She indicated that the year one classes would be combined together and seemed especially proud of herself that she had “made it to merge!” Eva’s a big a Survivor fan. So I took that as a win.  

I wasn’t so naïve, knowing that home schooling was looking more imminent. On one hand, I was envious of the parents who could focus on home schooling, on the other hand I was grateful that I still had a job and could work from home, even if it meant my juggling skills would need to go to the next level. First, I would have to use my creative skills to complete the workplace and safety checklist so I could work from home. It seems while these are crazy times, there’s still room for onerous bureaucratic paperwork. My apologies, that’s the cynic in me…another c-word I can’t escape.  

My inner cynic raised its ugly head rather prematurely the other day when I came home from work to see a series of cloths flapping in the wind on my patio clothesline. At first glance they looked like Tibetan prayer flags and I thought my husband was really pulling out the big guns to get us through this! While pointing at the different coloured cloths, he proudly announced, “This one is for the kitchen, this one is for surfaces, this one is for the toilet, this one is for the bathroom, this one is for…” Before I had a chance to keep my right brain in check, I said, “I’ll need to draw up a legend to remind us which one is which. God forbid should we mix up one of the others for the toilet one!” I was mindful of not taking the wind out of his cloths and quickly responded with, “I’m really impressed by how serious you’re taking this.” I’ve learned throughout my marriage (and here’s some free relationship advice), that it is important to acknowledge and appreciate when your spouse has made an effort. While I had done this outwardly, that inner cynic was commenting, “Suddenly, he has developed a passion for cleaning?!” I couldn’t help but wonder if this new behaviour would stick around post Carona.  

Cynicism aside, I was beginning to recognise a common theme through all of this, and it was fast becoming paradoxical. That what COVID-19 has done for most of us was to shine a spotlight on the things that really matter in life. And while for many of us that comes back to people–our family, friends and colleagues–we’re also missing precious moments with those people we care about. My mum was due to arrive from Queensland in a few days, a scheduled trip, and her first one since the fires. We were all excited that she would spend time with us and help celebrate my daughter’s 7th birthday. Interestingly, my son’s 10th birthday was one to remember for all the wrong reasons because of the bushfires and now my daughter’s birthday was shaping up to be the same because of Coronavirus. To some people, birthdays are no big deal (my husband is still flabbergasted each year when my birthday rolls around and I expect a celebration that would rival that of any child). I like to think it keeps me young at heart. Along with Mother’s Day, I also see it as my opportunity for a proper day off where I’m not at the beck and call of others. My neighbour’s daughter will become a mother for the first time in a few months and I can’t help but think that what would usually be a beautiful, momentous occasion will be tainted by a world in turmoil. 

Maybe this is the moment we belt out R.E.M.’s, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” It’s either that or “Eve of Destruction”…I guess it depends how half full your glass is! As I keep seeing online, it’s a case of “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.”

VIDEO: Barry McGuire - Eve Of Destruction (1965) I’m using this same approach to meal prep. Now when my family enquires what’s for dinner (and they are quickly discovering that this is not the best time to be asking such questions), I respond with our faithful family saying, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” I’ve restrained myself from dropping the “beggars can’t be choosers” phrase…I’ll keep it in my kit bag for when I need that extra emphasis. I’m finding there’s many a teaching moment through this experience. It doesn’t hurt for kids (or partners) to realise how good we have it.  

Along with a renewed sense of gratitude, what we’re definitely seeing is more compassion for others. Yes, there are a few who haven’t yet found their hearts but we won’t dwell on them. When I was grocery shopping recently, an older gentleman took a fall right near me. With no one else around, I instinctively rushed to his side to help him. While I was checking if he’d banged his head on the shelves, it occurred to me that the supermarket staff, who had now surrounded us, were all wearing gloves and masks. Taking such precautions was the last thing on my mind when I saw another human in need. And I’d like to think that we’d all act that way and deal with the consequences later. Ironically, as a reward for my good deed, one of the staff members smuggled me some toilet paper that was hot off the back of a truck…literally. 

While ever we can keep adapting and taking care of ourselves and each other, for the most part we’ll be ok. It occurred to me the other day that there are many things I don't do now thanks to COVID-19: the little things that don't matter, like whistling as I shop for groceries, to the big things like not being able to give people hugs. One thing I’m noticing is that we’re certainly becoming creative with how we can still cultivate a sense of community, with groups popping up all over Facebook and online courses and webinars skyrocketing. Some of my friends have even started having dinner by Skype! That’s up there for thinking. 

Even though it looks like we might be in this for the long haul, we all instinctively know "This too shall pass." Now, there's a cliché that might instill a sense of hope and optimism. Only time will tell how we will fare once we're on the other side. What I do know is that just like during the bushfires, I will not let this define me, instead I choose to let it build my character–now there’s one c-word worth mentioning–and I can only hope others will do the same. 

Sharon Halliday is a mother, author and copywriter. Also known as columnist "Ask Sharon" and one half of the podcast, Kris and Shaz in The Mother of All Roles.

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