It's been more than a month, and I've been feeling more and more like the inventive father, Guido, in the 1997 film Life is Beautiful, as I try and shield my almost-eight-year-old a little from the unprecedented reality we are living through. I try and create games through the positive spins I put on everything, from rationed chocolates and ice creams to the short-masked cycling excursions I allow her for filtered mouthfuls of the freshest air that Gurgaon has experienced in the last 20 years.
Everyone across the world is living their own strange reality these days, but parents of under-10s are perhaps going through their most puzzling and challenging parenting phase yet. While kids these days are more aware of the impact of climate change, can navigate a Zoom class easily, and put together a complicated puzzle faster than our generation could, they are still emotionally fragile and processing this time as a very significant part of their childhood. It is what it is, we say, as we grapple with the bleak financial forecasts and the rising numbers of casualties across the world. Every parent has their own unique coping mechanism, but here's what I feel has worked for me.
1) Tell them Age-Appropriate Truths: If you have a curious one (and I think 99% of us do!), you will need to explain the impact of COVID-19 and what the foreseeable future holds for them in small easy-to-digest nuggets. By now, they are probably on auto-pilot as far as scrubbing their hands, slapping on masks, keeping an arm's-length distance are concerned - but how do you tell kids that school as they knew it may not happen till July? September? Who knows? Or birthdays? Or playtime in the park? Or that the pool may not be open all summer? I try and stick to weekly silver linings...next week, we may be able to hit some tennis balls downstairs or let's fill the splash pool so that you can enjoy a pretend swim. Let's do a four-way video call with your pals so that we can simulate some school girlie chatter. We even did a video birthday cake-cutting where they sang Happy Birthday for a friend. It's my way of showing her that we will inch back to normal slowly when it's safe to do so.
2) Revel in Nature: Since our kids are already little eco-warriors, this is the best part of the narrative to emphasise at this time. Wouldn't it be wonderful if they remember this time as the phase when dolphins and flamingos returned to Mumbai's waters, or nilgai and peacocks roamed unfettered on Gurgaon's streets, or the Ganga and Yamuna sparkled with clean waters and the snow-capped Himalayas were visible from Ludhiana? I make sure I show her all the WhatsApp forwards I receive that highlight these wonders from across the world so that she can feel good about the Earth rebooting itself and animals having their day.
3) Family First: This is the biggest and most obvious plus. How long has it been since Mom, Dad and in some cases, Nana-Nani/Dada-Dadi, have all been home all day, day after day? My daughter has discovered that Dad is a mean cook and has the patience to complete a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle over a week; Nana and Nani rock at Ludo and Snakes and Ladders, and Mamma can dust the whole house, tidy every cupboard and play word games with her. We've all cribbed about the lack of quality time and missing our children's milestones, so now is the time to get the most of these trying days. Believe me, we will miss this the most when it's over, so let's create some family rituals that we can carry into life post-COVID.
4) Less is More: I've put together squared notebooks from empty pages of three older ones for her math homework, diluted paint in half-dried poster colour bottles so that she can paint watercolours, sharpened every colour pencil (we have far too many as a blister on my finger can testify!), taken out every single Lego set stashed away in drawers to. Suddenly, every toy bought over the last five years is that much more valuable as is every piece of clothing! She has enough summer clothes without me having had an opportunity to step out to replenish her wardrobe even though she's grown more than a few inches over the last year! Involving her in making bagfuls of food, clothes and toys for charity also helps her empathise with what the world is going through.
5) Touchy Feely Time: My day starts with cuddles with the dog who is on Cloud Nine having all of us home 24-7, followed by at least 15 minutes of having my sleepy child draped all over me, hugging, just being, and sharing her night of dreams (both fantastic and fearful) and plans for the day. Such a far cry from the rushed school mornings we are all missing, right? All of us have stashes of handmade cards proclaiming her love for us with her ridiculous spellings and her adorable illustrations. Virtual goodnight kisses are shared with grandparents and lots of love, hugs and kisses are being dispensed on FaceTime, Zoom and every other possible medium.
Kids are much more resilient than us, but as parents we are going through another learning phase through this lockdown!
(Payal Kohli is a mother, former editor-in-chief of several magazines and co-founder of Booked Bespoke!, a boutique venture specialising in bespoke content.)
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