By Susanne Wieners
I’m so glad it’s Saturday! It means a break from work and a break from our first home schooling attempts. Today is the first Saturday after a week of self-isolation and I realize only now how exhausting the past week has been. Things we deemed impossible just a week ago have become a reality in these last few days and the adjustment process has been exhausting, both physically and emotionally. At times it felt like being in a movie. Everything suddenly happened so fast: The nation-wide shutdown of schools and kindergartens, the instruction for all employees to work from home who are not required to keep essential infrastructure running, the constant call for social distancing, the rapid increase of reported Covid cases close to us, reports of people hoarding food and toilet paper, a TV speech of the Chancellor addressing the German people and explaining the seriousness of the situation. All this information demanded to be processed while at the same time we faced the challenge of working from home and simultaneously taking care of two kids, aged 6 and 9. It felt like we were constantly torn between ‘business as usual’ and a state that was everything but usual.
For now, I still have projects at work that need to be finished and deadlines that need to be met. This may soon change but for now the work has to be done. My husband pretty much handled his usual crazy workload from our home this week and I must praise our children who managed these first days of being at home quite well. They, too, are torn between feeling that they got unexpected “Corona holidays” while sensing that the reason for this is a serious one. They’ve kept themselves busy with schoolwork, audio books and lego play and so far only little television. (I’m sensing that the amount of television watched in this household will increase over the weeks to come.) Whenever the kids demanded our attention – because a math assignment required explanation for our daughter, or our son was bored or the two had a quarrel they couldn’t settle alone – I could sense the potential for parental conflict: Which one of us was to interrupt their work? Whose work was more urgent in that instant? It was tense at times. I ask myself how we will we manage as a family when this goes on for an indistinct period of time. Minor considerations when you think of what others have to face these days: self-employed who have no income, people who have already lost a loved one, medical staff working into exhaustion, to name just a few.
My thoughts today also revolve around my shopping experience yesterday when I went out for grocery shopping. I buy our week’s supplies every Friday. Yesterday was the first time I actually saw the empty-swept store shelves, the marks on the ground conveying the distance to keep to other customers while waiting in line, the glass shields put up between cashier and customers, cashiers wearing gloves and a few people wearing face masks (something completely exceptional in Germany). It seemed like stepping out into a different world than a week ago when I last did my grocery shopping. Again, I found myself torn between feeling reassured that necessary and important measures were being taken and the disbelief that all this is really happening.
The wonderful spring weather we’ve had these past few days in Germany further reinforced the feeling of disbelief: It’s that time of year in Europe where trees and flowers are starting to bloom, ice cream parlors are opening up again and people are keen to be outside to catch the first warm rays of spring sun. After a dull and grey winter, nature is showing us its beautiful side and everything seems so peaceful when you listen to bees humming in the garden. The next moment, you read the news that make you feel you’re living in a war-like situation. I find the use of war terminology rather unsettling but I guess it is a kind of war. What makes me hopeful is seeing how many (unfortunately not all) people have started looking out for each other. The most obvious concern we all have is for our parents and grandparents whom we all avoid to see now, as hard as that is for all parties. Interestingly, this protective instinct is extended to all elderly people at the moment. In relation to others, it seems like people feel connected in a new and special way: strangers are suddenly exchanging encouraging smiles while standing 2m apart in the supermarket line, sales staff in supermarkets receive spontaneous signs of appreciation from customers who normally barely even take notice of the staff, and the line “stay healthy” has become a standard goodbye these days. Lately I feel the constant urge to reach out to friends and family to find out how they are doing and what their coping strategies are. Today, for example, I called my aunt – I take far too little time for calls like that in my hectic everyday life. It occurred to me that what has been labelled as ‘social distancing’ is really more ‘physical distancing’ as it appears that these exceptional circumstances are actually bringing many of us closer together. Finally, in the midst of writing this, I learned today that a friends’ father passed away – the first Covid death to affect us personally. Although we all know that we need to be prepared for such news, actually getting them is quite another story. It makes you dread what else we will have to deal with in the weeks and months to come. I then grabbed my kids and we baked scones – I’ve always found baking very calming. We’ll see how much baking I’ll be doing in the near future.