COVID-19 SPECIAL

Managing the home while hubby battles Covid-19: 3 mums and the challenges they face

(From left) Zoe, Mr Xie Jiahao, Coen and Ms Jayme Tan.
(From left) Zoe, Mr Xie Jiahao, Coen and Ms Jayme Tan.PHOTO: JAYME TAN

SINGAPORE - Ms Jayme Tan received the "best Mother's Day present" last Wednesday (May 6): her husband back home.

Mr Xie Jiahao was finally reunited with his wife and children after 51 days away battling Covid-19 - all because of a good deed.

On March 16, the 37-year-old decided to comfort his bereaved friend, who had just lost his wife, by staying over at his home for a week. His friend, who had just returned from Britain, tested positive for Covid-19 on March 22.

Mr Xie, an assistant vice-president of digital marketing, was immediately quarantined and tested positive on March 30. He was moved to D'Resort NTUC in Pasir Ris on April 5 as his mild symptoms had subsided.

It took another month before he finally scored two consecutive negative swab tests and was discharged - fortuitously, on his mother's birthday and two days after his own.

After coping on her own with two pre-schoolers, Ms Tan, who is 14 weeks pregnant with her third child, says: "I'm overwhelmed by happiness. It's been such a long journey and even though I knew this day of reunion would surely come, it still feels surreal that today is the day."

The past two months have been a "crazy journey" for the 31-year-old. During the circuit breaker period, she juggled home-based learning for their children, while working from home as a business operations lead and managing the household with the help of their maid. She also suffered from nausea, fatigue and lower back pain during her first trimester.

It was a 180-degree shift for the mum, who used to be out the door before her children awoke and relied on her in-laws living nearby to ferry the children to childcare and back.

While she treasures the daily breakfast time with Zoe, six, and Coen, four, she confesses: "I am often pulled in different directions in the day. It can be work calls, playing Lego with the kids, cooking dinner, planning activities for the kids to keep them occupied, breaking up fights, reading books to them and basically getting through the day."

Thankfully, her boss and colleagues were understanding, giving her the flexibility she needed to attend to her children.

Her in-laws, who live nearby, "remain our biggest support" as they delivered groceries and left them outside her door every week.


Zoe (centre) celebrated an emotional sixth birthday in April because her father could not be with the family. With her are mother Jayme Tan and brother Coen. PHOTO: JAYME TAN

The close bond her husband had built with their children meant that family celebrations without him were emotionally charged. They celebrated both children's birthdays in April as well as Mr Xie's via Zoom.

Even though Zoe received deliveries from friends for her birthday, as well as cakes and balloons, "she sobbed in my arms because daddy wasn't around. That broke all our hearts", Ms Tan recounts.

 
 

Still, the couple found creative ways to co-parent, even roping in Mr Xie to play Monopoly with the children via Zoom on days when Ms Tan had urgent work.

During her husband's absence, she tried to stay positive.

"My husband tells me I am a survivor, so probably that's what I learnt about myself," she says, recalling how she had to bake a cake at the last minute for Coen's birthday when dessert shops were suddenly told to close.

"As a full-time working mother, I look at this period as a gift and prayer answered, that I get to spend so much time with the kids; eating three meals a day together, seeing their faces all the time and being surrounded by their laughter."

How she will spend Mother's Day: Ms Tan says they will probably "order a good takeout, spend the entire day playing with the kids and catching up on lost time".

The family will make video calls to her mother and mother-in-law, and she has written cards for them.

"Both of them are so precious to me and I hope on this day they know how loved they are by us and the grandchildren."

IMPARTING LIFE LESSONS TO SONS WHILE KEEPING BUSINESS AFLOAT

Before the pandemic hit, things were looking rosy for Ms Dewi Imelda Wadhwa, the mum boss behind halal bakery and cafe All Things Delicious.

"Business was growing and we were having a very positive outlook; we were hiring at that time," says Ms Wadhwa, 41, who started an online bakery in 2013 after five years as a stay-at-home mother.


(From left) Gulzar, Ms Dewi Imelda Wadhwa, Mr C.J. Wadhwa and Roshan PHOTO: DEWI IMELDA WADHWA.

Word spread about her scrumptious bakes and she subsequently opened a cafe in Arab Street in 2016, expanding into catering and serving multinational companies such as Johnson & Johnson.

After Chinese New Year this year, business slumped as events were cancelled and customers started working from home. "We've never seen such numbers, ever," she says.

 
 

Anticipating the stricter measures, her husband, Mr C.J. Wadhwa, helped to develop a website which allowed them to fulfil orders within two hours. This meant they did not have to rely on food delivery firms.

Mr Wadhwa, 50, a commercial photographer whose corporate assignments has also dried up, also helps with front-of-house duties now.

"The website really took off for us," Ms Wadhwa says, adding that orders for Iftar meals to break fast during Ramadan are keeping her team busy. She is also fully booked for Mother's Day.

While fighting to keep her cafe afloat, she also had to juggle home-based learning (HBL) for her two boys, who are in Primary 3 and Primary 6.

"The first half of the day is HBL, so I would stay at home just to make sure they can log-in and all that properly. Then they have all the follow-up work that they're supposed to do within a certain time. After that, they get to play the whole day."

Weekends used to be spent cycling at East Coast Park or hiking at MacRitchie Reservoir Park. The boys also have sleepovers at their maternal grandparents' home. But that has been replaced with screen time, board games and Netflix pizza parties on Fridays and Saturdays.

Social distancing measures have also affected her weekend rest hours, as her team cannot operate at full strength. "We were given a limited number (of staff) to run the place. That's why it's become busier for me. I have to step in to assist them," she says, adding that her stress level is "quite high" now.

At the same time, she discovered she could be "nimble and flexible" with business decisions during the circuit breaker period.

"Instead of just looking at it in such a negative way, I really thought hard about it and asked what we can do to turn this into an opportunity for us," she says.

The pandemic has also brought home life lessons, which she imparts to her sons. "I tell them how much business has dropped and what we have to do in order to survive, so we talk a lot about these things. So, in a way, they can see why mummy and daddy are working so hard, so that they can be comfortable."

How she will spend Mother's Day: "Working," says Ms Wadhwa, who plans to order food in for dinner.

MAIN PRIORITY IS TO KEEP HER FRAIL CHILD SAFE

Most mothers are looking forward to schools reopening on June 2, but Ms Azleen Khamis has not decided if her daughter, Asfa, will rejoin her classmates in kindergarten.

Just a month after her second birthday in 2016, Asfa was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a type of blood cancer that affects the white blood cells.


(From left) Ms Azleen Khamis, Asfa, Mr Horis Hosri and son Haris. PHOTO: AZLEEN KHAMIS

After about three years of chemotherapy and a year of remission, her immune system is still much weaker than that of other children, which leaves the six-year-old more vulnerable to the coronavirus. A bout of flu that usually takes a few days to resolve lingers on for 1 ½ weeks in Asfa's case, Ms Azleen says.

"Even for her to step out of the house, I constantly worry, because she will be at a higher risk of getting the virus."

 
 
 

She is grateful that her daughter at least had the chance to visit the Mickey Mouse House in Hong Kong Disneyland in 2018, thanks to Make-A-Wish Singapore.

"The wish experience has given my family, and especially Asfa, the strength needed to face future challenges," says the 36-year-old secondary school teacher, who also has a three-year-old son, Haris.

Among the recent challenges was a death in the family.

Ms Azleen's 58-year-old aunt, who was suffering from lymphoma, had moved into her home together with her husband and son the weekend before the circuit breaker began. Ms Azleen's parents also live in the terrace house.

Her aunt died two weeks later and the family had to scramble to make burial arrangements amid social distancing measures.

"But with the kids around, and their laughter, shouting and screaming sometimes, the level of sadness is lowered a bit," she says.

As part of home-based learning, Ms Azleen spent the last month conducting her food and nutrition lessons online, while her husband, Mr Horis Hosri, 35, an allied educator, continued to work in school until circuit breaker measures were tightened and he was told to work from home too.

"Halfway through, my kids would join in the live lessons, like (making) a special appearance," she adds with a chuckle.

Having her extended family at home during the pandemic has its benefits, she says.

"Because there's more family presence, the kids develop better. Haris' vocabulary has increased, he knows how to express himself and he can form sentences.

"Asfa can care for Haris, shower him, dress him. I just sit outside and monitor them."

Reflecting on her multiple roles as a teacher and mum during the circuit breaker period, she says: "You are the principal, school band, canteen vendor, discipline teacher, cleaner - the one the kids run to and run from.

"You have to take care of the needs of everyone at home, making sure things are in order, then you are at ease. Being a mum and having kids, it makes me understand better the sacrifices that my mum made for me when I was younger."

How she will spend Mother's Day: It will be a "low-key" affair because of her aunt's recent death, says Ms Azleen, who plans to order food in and extend her appreciation to her mother.