After the virus pushed the office and the school into the house and locked the door, life has been rather strange. Imagine having to live every minute of the day with people like husband, wife, children, parents, in-laws and some combination of the above, without a break.
Yet, despite the horror stories and jokes, surely something positive must be happening on the bonding front?
So, I went hunting for positive stories. Nobody opened the door for me but some friends (mainly counsellors) had some snippets to share. Of ordinary people working magic. Of cracks healing over. Of I and mine giving way to we and ours.
They had major differences. Age and culture were just two. After prolonged therapy, they had decided to go on a holiday. For the first time in three years, they spent a few days together without arguing and fighting. When they came back home, it was back to the boxing ring. Until the lockdown happened. Soon they realized they were stuck together. First the husband learnt to say, “we’ll stop now” and walk away whenever an argument threatened to get out of hand. Then, she, the more abrasive of the two, learnt it too. They learnt to adjust. They are managing well now. Who knows, they may even go on another holiday, whenever they can.
They are into their 50s. They had a good, healthy arrangement of living in the same house efficiently for decades. Then the children left home. Suddenly, they were all by themselves day and night. No servants, either. So, they decided to do some spring cleaning. In the process, they came across a bunch of letters they had written to each other after their engagement. “We rediscovered our romance,” she said. “We continue to do things together like cleaning and gardening. Nowadays, we also watch a lot of TV together. Will things change after? I don’t know. For now, we are enjoying our time together. We are happy all by ourselves. That’s all that matters.”
Imagine a father and son duo, both victims of bipolar disorder. Imagine the plight of the wife and mother caught between the two. So, when she called up the counsellor after more than a year, the counsellor feared the worst. “I called up to thank you. My husband is so lost in the board game you gifted us so long ago. No violence. No abuse. There is so much peace at home now and all of us are together. He wanted to know from where we got the game. So, I thought of speaking to you.” Ironically, it was The Game of Life that had brought about the transformation.
The TV has been pushed away in many homes. Limited viewing. Definitely no news. Only a few serials that the whole family can watch together. Board games and home-made games are the new favorite. No more adults doing their adult things leaving the children to do theirs. Now the family does family things together. Like the activity-laden custom-made snake and ladder. Or word dominoes (some would call it word antakshari).
Grandma’s version of the musical chair for her two grandchildren requires just one chair. She uses a spoon and plate to create the music. Ever played lagori (seven tiles) in the house? You just need some paper cups and a small ball. You will soon discover that the size of the house has nothing to do with the fun you can have. What matters is that all are in it together. Everyone knows surya namaskar is good for health. It works even better when you have three generations prostrating before the sun at one time, keeping a healthy distance from one another of course.
It was difficult for the teacher, a single parent, to accept that her son was suffering from clinical depression. The counsellor gave her a list of things to observe. The mother always went alone to the counselling sessions. It was as if she wanted to shield the son. Then one day she agreed to visit a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist confirmed the counsellor’s diagnosis. The mother was reluctant to give him the medicines. The counsellor suggested: “Don’t keep telling your son what to do. Don’t ask him questions. You do the talking. Just share what you feel. Accept your emotions. Be honest with him. There is nothing either of you can do about it. But you are happy that you have him.” Many days of conversations followed and continued through the lockdown. A few days after being homebound, the mother saw something the son had written: “My mother is a good person. It’s okay if my father is not there with us.”
As a counsellor, I am amazed when my young friends, 18 to 22 age range, call up at random just to talk. I know some of them were almost lost to the world, caught in drugs, drinking and what not. But now, after days at home they want to talk about spirituality. They want to analyze. They want to introspect. They want to make others happy. And for that they accept that they have to be happy first. They have had enough of TV and the social media. They are bored. For the first time, I realize that boredom is healthy, if it makes you think and look inward.
It is strange to see parents without mobile phones in their hands. Instead, they have the handlebar or the seat of the bicycle their son or daughter is learning to ride. Or a badminton racket. They are scrupulously maintaining the rules of distancing. They are distant from their neighbors, their normal partners. They are now with their new playmates, their children.
In all the years she has been working from home, her husband was a presence she took care of in the mornings and the evenings. Now, I am surprised to see what a hands-on househusband he has become. She is so relaxed. That’s not all. They are at times in the same room with her in-laws. They talk. Believe it or not, they all laugh so much. Together.
At 53, he was the epitome of brand consciousness. Super rich. He bought what he fancied, and that meant only the big names. His cupboards were overflowing with the best he could buy from all over the world. Until the lockdown, the closed shops and the panic buying. “For the first time, I realize that it matters more to have milk at home than all these silly things. I have been such a fool, a hoarder of the worthless.” I laughed. Told him he would go back to who he was as soon the virus allowed. “No, I don’t think so. This is a life lesson. My only regret is I took so long to learn this. And a virus had to teach me.”
Reading a story to your little one? Many are also recording it. So that other parents and children can enjoy it too. There can be no better time for story-swapping! Your child can speak your mother tongue, but can an English-medium student also learn to read and write it? Just ask you resourceful neighborhood parent for flash cards. Earlier, junior could not boil water. Now he has a video that will teach you how to microwave a delicious cake in a jiffy. An IT father developed digital worksheets and shared it with the school principal. Now they have a whole range for different grades. There is a surge in creativity and the wonderful urge to share. Our social intimacy appears to be peaking (and not just to show off) at a time when we are expected to maintain personal distance.
This lockdown has finally made me realize that the radical decision I took about two years ago was so right. After he cleared his eighth grade, we decided to homeschool our son. He was afraid of mathematics to the extent that it was damaging his self-esteem. He also wanted more time to pursue his passion: music.He was taking lessons in tabla, drums and guitar even while in school. So, after he left school, we enrolled him at a music academy for a good four hours in the evening. He now had his open school subjects keeping him busy during the morning and the music in the evening. Then my guilt, my working woman’s guilt, kicked in. I was only getting time with my son when I was ferrying him to and fro the music school. He would be asleep when I left for work. At night after dinner I would be too tired to talk or spend time with him. Even on Sundays, we would just get time together in the evening as he had classes right through the morning. Except when he went off to be with his cousins. Then came the lockdown and now we are so happy. I am getting to spend the entire day with him. There are so many things we do together like cleaning the house, gardening, cooking, watching and discussing news, enjoying movies, and reading books. Above all, I am with him during his music practice sessions. I am so grateful for these days.