ALTERED STATES

Ups and downs of circuit breaker life

ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Before Covid-19, morning rush hour in our household revolved around breakfasts to be eaten, lunches to be packed and MRT rides to our respective destinations.

Not anymore.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, weekdays look a lot like Sundays, but with a twist.

Time normally spent binge-watching Netflix is devoted to online classes for the kids and video calls for the working parents.

In our altered universe, family members with laptops in hand, and earphones plugged in, purposefully move around the home in search of bandwidth.

With long charging cables that trip us up and short tempers that are quick to ignite, we all suffer from various degrees of cabin fever.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. We responded by finding new ways to cope.

NERD ALERT

My husband's weekly routine involves gym visits, squash games and a trek up Bukit Timah Hill. Being stuck at home is hard for a trivia-loving, sports-obsessed extrovert. Being home-bound with three women is outright punishment.

Once a month, my husband and I join a group of quiz enthusiasts (aptly named Qui-Sing) for a casual trivia night. Led by a different but enthusiastic quizmaster at each session, participants split into teams and compete good-naturedly to score points. There are no prizes. There's an assortment of crowd-sourced desserts, however, and the opportunity to engage in some nerdy fun.

Unwilling to cancel the quiz planned for last month, the team switched to a remote meeting via Zoom using the breakout rooms function to maintain team integrity, proving that where there is a will, there is a way. Quiz aficionados agreed that it was a success, except for the desserts round. The virtual world lacks the ability to engage taste, one of our most important senses.

FOR GREATER GOOD AND SANITY

As an ambivalent ambivert, I vacillate between seeking solitude and craving the company of others. My office routine provides a framework for daily discipline, an opportunity to socialise and a welcome break from the monotony of household responsibilities. Remote meetings, at best, serve as unsatisfactory substitutes.

 
 

Isolation breeds discontent and anxiety. Unsurprisingly, many like me gravitate towards religious or spiritual practices to allay fears.

When I received a Zoom link via WhatsApp to join a group session for chanting healing prayers, I enthusiastically added my voice (albeit with my microphone muted) from the safety of my home.

For half an hour each day, I helped amplify positive sentiments, instead of spreading rumours or adding to the anxiety that occupied much of my news feed.

TIME AWAY FROM PARENTS

The girls missed the freedom of movement that they take for granted. With birthday parties, music concerts and school trips being cancelled, they chafed at being stuck indoors, unable to meet friends for impromptu get-togethers to satisfy cravings for pizza and mala.

Our elder daughter used the Netflix party option to watch movies with friends across continents. The younger one, although immersed in online classes during the day, took a break by setting up a combined guitar practice session with a friend on a video call and then relaxed with an online game of Pictionary.

It is strange to see them live through a time when the term "grounded" is not a parental edict, but something they voluntarily exercised, from an internal sense of responsibility towards the external situation.

 
 

FAMILY THAT LAUGHS TOGETHER

As with most unexpected turns in life, this situation had some positives. With all meals consumed at home, we had more conversations and more laughter across the dining table. Yes, we grumbled and complained, but we also found ourselves sharing a lot more than pandemic statistics.

One evening, our older daughter, a trained yoga teacher, taught a hatha yoga class at home. Our bodies, twisted into uncomfortable poses, seemed to mirror the way our lives were getting bent out of shape by the current restrictions.

Like yoga, which is not merely physical exercise but one path towards a holistic healthy life, our present situation is not simply an imposition, but an introduction to a more mindful and deliberate way of living.

 

I was reminded that our individual good is embedded in the greater good. To fare better in the long run, we need to stand together - just as long as we maintain the prescribed social distance.

• Ranjani Rao is a pharmaceutical scientist originally from Mumbai, India. She spent many years in the United States before moving to Singapore six years ago with her family.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 12, 2020, with the headline 'Ups and downs of circuit breaker life'. Print Edition | Subscribe