The second pandemic: Homeschooling

This is, in my view, a fresh new version of Hell: parents are now faced with having to homeschool their kids until the pandemic abates enough for schools to reopen. Now I assume that for older kids, the primary challenge is sitting through hour-long classes and having to WhatsApp your teachers your homework, but for preschoolers — like The Toddler — it has meant Online Playgroup and, worse, Activities to Do with Your Parent at Home while She Desperately Tries to Finish Her Work and also Find Craft Supplies and Develop Some Form of Artistic Talent. WHAT even.

Preschoolers are notoriously squirmy. They do not sit in one place for long, they eat the craft supplies they’re supposed to paste, they paint on themselves and not on the paper; the opportunities for mayhem are virtually endless. It is, of course, how they learn and explore their environment. And it’s cute, of course. Sometimes.

The Toddler has just started pre-school, and he loves it. But most of the classes are online. The first we attended was sort of a hysterical comedy of errors: one child cried silently (he was on Mute) throughout the class, one child just gaped at the screen, one kid would intermittently jump raucously on his bed and then quickly return to the screen. You could see flashes of harried parents, nannies, WFH set-ups and – in our case at least – messy living rooms strewn with the debris of toddlerhood. The Toddler was admittedly well-behaved, except for when he suddenly got the urge to pee and started yanking down his pants on camera (fortunately managed to push the laptop away in time). Or when he dropped his building blocks in a streaming waterfall on to my employer-provided laptop. Anyway, songs were sung and flying kisses were given and it was a net success.

But The Activities. Now the semi-disclaimer is that I am NOT good with handwork or any sort of crafty, handicraft making things. And it seems neither is my son. Combine this combination of lack of skill and interest with paint and you have unqualified disasters. He has a ball, but the tiles have paint on them and the stains on my leg are colourful. The walls, too, suffer.

I suppose the conclusion is that we really don’t value schools or teachers enough. This stuff is HARD. It takes commitment, dedication and so much patience. And it never fails to amaze me how much teachers are putting into making this ghastly situation work for their students. While most of us WFH while in our PJs, checking mail occasionally while watching Netflix, these people are making lesson plans, recording lectures, grading papers and, of course, taking the time to sing songs on Zoom for unruly groups of 2-4 year-olds. As COVID has made clear, not all heroes wear capes 🙂

The Sri Lankan welcome tastes of over-sweet tea

I don’t take sugar with my tea – I haven’t for a while now. It helps my body and also makes me feel a little better than everyone else in the world – opportunities for which I am constantly seeking. Once you get used to not taking sugar with your tea, it is very difficult to gulp down the general cup of tea you get outside of your own house in Sri Lanka. They’ll give you tea everywhere: at your neighbour’s if you drop in to pick up a ball your Toddler threw in through a window, at a government office you visit for work, at your distant aunt’s house when you visit for the season. Everywhere.

With Corona, going out doesn’t happen as much, so all the tea we’ve drunk has been healthy and sugar-free. But recently, as we were out visiting The Chap’s grandmother, we were asked whether we’d like tea. Now – you never say no. You don’t say no if you’re allergic to tanine, you don’t say no if the taste of tea makes you sick, you don’t say no even if you’re deathly afraid of catching Coronavirus from potentially unwashed cups. You NEVER say no to tea in Sri Lanka – it is a rhetorical question. You want tea? Yes, you want tea.

Now, some very woke people may ask if you take sugar, but the average Sri Lankan household is not woke and assumes instead that you, like every normal Sri Lankan, sweeten your tea with a cup full of sugar. Asking for less sugar is like asking the ‘bath kade’ guy to serve less rice into your rice packet – confusion and bafflement ensue. Coming back – this was an old granny’s house on a small lane in Koralawella, in Catholic country, just off the bustling, dance-loving, arrack-swilling town of Moratuwa. Nobody asks if you take sugar.

The tea when it comes is sweet and, for me, a bit difficult to drink. It is served in single glass tea cups with no saucers. It is hot, and it warms you, just as the slightly crisp Christmas air outside sets a bit of a chill in your bones. As I sip it, the sugar hits my teeth, and I don’t so much swallow the tea as sort of swill it between my teeth and filter it through so the sweet hit is less. We then move on to The Chap’s cousin’s house (social distancing? what is that, pray?), where our cousin immediately busies herself in the kitchen to make tea for everyone. Her tea is also sweeter that what I’d usually have, and flavoured with ginger. We sip on it and talk, laughing uproariously at some joke, The Toddler sipping from his own little tea cup.

Now, the whole point of this entire long post on tea is philosophical because why not.

It hits me – in the midst of the noise and the shrieking child spilling tea down his shirt – that in Sri Lanka, the flavour of welcome is over-sweet tea. This goes beyond the famous Sri Lankan hospitality and is almost ingrained in us. When we have someone coming into our home, we take the effort to make them tea. It is an invitation to stay, to chat, to catch up and commune.

At the risk of sounding maudlin, it is how we show love, how we show that we care that our home becomes your home. It is too sweet, often too warm, but it is the tiny bonfire around which we settle to warm ourselves in the company of others.

You never say no to tea.

WFH fatigue – unfortunate, self-imposed, or otherwise?

Well, here we are in November 2020 – angrily batting on through what has been a God ghastly year for the most, and even the best, of us. As I type away angrily at my computer when I should actually be editing some work, the thought crosses my mind that I woke up at 5.15am today to get some work done before The Toddler awoke. Now, any ordinary Friday (remember those?) I would have shut off by 3.30 and proceeded to engage in atrocious Friday gossip and tea with my work-mates. However, here I am – working, shrieking toddler outside, forgotten read of the week by my side, two phones charging, back hurting because this chair is not ergonomically designed, and trying to drown out the construction site noises emanating from my immediate neighbour’s house. HA. 2020 really has been fun.

Thought:

Do we now work endlessly as we do because we are seeking to fill our lives with something that this pandemic, and all of its connected terrible crap, has taken away from us? Is it comforting in some, subliminal way to know that when you check your email for the 85th time, you KNOW your cranky boss would have sent you a stinker that you can then respond to, angrily? Does it make us feel wanted and needed in a way that is important in a time when we are seeking to reconnect and just go back to living our lives?

I don’t know. But I think I am on to something.

Overworked/Busy/Sorry, I’m WFH, you know how it is hahaha *drops dead*:

Most everyone I know is now overworked. Girls who blithely escaped for Friday night drinks at 4pm now work all hours of the day, guzzling coffee and trying Nike Fitness app exercises in between. Emails at 11pm have to be answered – you’re at home, aren’t you? At the beginning of this all, the world was all groups calls with long-lost friends and Zoom Book Club – but now everyone is just busy. I am so busy.

In a way, I suspect it is a bit of a getaway mechanism in a world that now has very few options for getaways. Sinking into work, grumbling about endless Zoom calls, working around the clock to just get that document out of the way, thinking about work in the shower (just me? Ok.), all of this makes us feel in control, valuable, like we are part of a bigger picture that does not involve a life-saving vaccine or PPE. It makes us feel like we still matter. Like COVID hasn’t robbed us of our year and, in some way, ourselves.

Back to work.

Pre-Birthday Stocktaking

I am unsure from where 32 is coming, but it is on it’s way as of tomorrow. Genuinely bad with any sort of goal-setting, I had thought that I would let this birthday go as all others have: I dress in something that makes me feel happy, everyone wishes me, and my lovely family and friends are incomprehensibly good to me. Plus, I eat a lot of cake.

But this is the era of COVID, and I feel that if you are hoping to have anything like a happy birthday, you are even more in the minority that you would usually be – globally speaking. So, a stock-taking of life and the circumstances and lessons around is due I’d say. You have been warned.

  • Some of us are far, far luckier than others. Unimaginably so – unfathomably so. This year around, whenever I feel grumpy about anything related to my birthday, I need to remind myself of this fact. In a world that is essentially ravaged beyond recognition by COVID – and a world that was not equitable in any way to begin with – privilege is something that we must check, all the time.
  • Our lives are what we make of them. The same applies to the people we live with, the loved ones we need from, the friends we invest in. What you give is not always what you get, but you need be aware of that and OK with that if you want to be content with life.
  • Above lesson is sometimes paraphrased as: deal with it, bitch!
  • The cliched life gurus and wellness experts are right – mindset is everything. How you approach your problems, your frustrations, the little things that nag at you and niggle at the back of your mind – that is what will define your peach of mind.
  • Something something, self-care, something. (This is 2020, you have to talk about self-care)
  • Motherhood is hard, but, yes, as rewarding as they promise it is. If you think you have learnt what it is to love unconditionally, you will find that motherhood will redefine that for you in ways you were not even aware existed.
  • Relationships are complicated, because people are complicated. A lot of the time, it’s hard to be Zen about people because people can be really, really arsey. Nevertheless! Prevail, because these humans put up with your shit, day in day out.
  • The 30s are a weird hybrid. It’s like you’re kind of a millenial, but you also get tired after walking too fast after your kid – it’s odd. More on this as we progress.

Well, not much as else remains to say. Maybe wisdom will strike me better on the eve of 33, if I ever get there!

We leave imprints

Whenever I walk into the office, I am struck by how we leave unconscious imprints in our daily life. My desk is often messy-clean: it’s not all the way untidy, but there are papers with unfinished diagrams for our Graphic Designer, a candle I borrowed from my cubicle mate, a rules, a box of tissues, my clay elephant pen holder from Phnom Penh – and of course the Dettol spray (this more a leftover from immediate post-COVID cleanliness mania). I feel this semi-disarray reflects the Almost-Hot-Mess that I am. It is tidy enough to seem sane, but the signs of being not all there are are visible!

My cubicle mate is a remarkably organised woman, and it shows. Two pen holder, both with neatly stacked pens, a notebook, and her water bottle adorn her clean desk.

All around the office, these little aspects of personality (a dog calendar), idiosyncrasies (a massive stick-on calendar with birthdays penned in neatly), hobbies (cacti, duh), and dubious interests (a half-eaten bag of tiny LSD-laced gummies). We leave imprints wherever we go, often unconsciously, and these are far more accurate representations of who we are – really – than the facades we put on for work, for home, for friends. It is in the casual moments, the little things, that unexpected truths break through.

Back to work.

Do a lot of people have their lives in order?

Do as many people have their lives in order as much as they say they do? This is an understandably vague and wide-ranging question. But, I consume a lot of media (perhaps too much to maintain sanity, I feel) and this media is inundated almost with people who have figured it out all out.

Is this true?

Podcasts of famous people who have well-thought-out daily routines (which always include meditation, yoga, ‘setting intentions’, and “really reflecting on what you want for the day”), YouTube gurus who peddle the notions of taking control and living your most fruitful life. But worst of all, ordinary people on social media who are seemingly so fucking in tune with the universe – they have their daily meditation practices and reflections on self, they often cleanse themselves (always internally) and go for long runs to really connect with nature.

Ah.

Who are these people, I ask. And are they for real? Because then, where does that leave the majority of people I know who lead messy, uncoordinated, barely-together lives? Where does that leave the likes of me, basically?!

I find messy people very easy to connect with. Perhaps it is a drawing-to of chaos. With people who are so very good at and with life, I feel a lack of connecting, which I sometimes hide with derision, jokes, a light mockery of “are you for real?”

My innate sense of superiority, led by my pre-frontal cortex probably, tells me that this is because I am right and life is messy, so these people are essentially charlatans. But there is a niggling though (awareness?) at the back of my brain that tells me that perhaps…this is man’s natural awe, or deference, towards ‘higher’ beings or beings that are seemingly higher. Hmm.

I do love messy people, though. And not just those who are physically messy, but the chaotic, the all-over-the-place, the erratic dreamers, the outspoken woman ranting against the world, the precocious Facebooker provoking the masses, the mother of 3 who loves her kids but hell she NEEDS her morning coffee to have an extra shot of whiskey to get through the day. I love these people, they are my messy, wonderful tribe.

Back to blogging, but this time as an angrier person

Is this my quarter-life crisis?

I am coming back to this strange blog-sphere thing after a while. Have resurrected this blog almost accidentally, as I had assumed it was lost forever (forgot my password, forgot the name of the blog, etc). Turns out (I went back to the About section and cringed HARD but also realised that I’d started this when I was basically an impressionable child) that I last wrote anything in 2013!!! That is LITERALLY seven years and a lifetime ago. It is now 2020, we’re in the midst of a global health crisis and the world is going to shit, wherever you look.

I am not entirely sure what I will blog about. Seven years ago, it had seemed simple enough (judging by cringeworthy About section). I would talk about Colombo, it seems; my city of quirky delights. I have mentioned BATA slippers and kottu – CUTE!

Now I think this will merely be a place for me to write out my frustrations, with the world and the misguided, terrible things that happen. It may even be a place to talk about what it’s like to be 2020 me – the working mother of the naughtiest toddler in town, wife, colleague.

This is likely to be random musings, nothing extraordinary can I promise, nor is there likely to be groundbreaking insight. You have been warned.