05 Nov Chaos, the new normal
Working from home has been my ‘normal’ for almost a decade. So when lockdown hit I didn’t experience the same anxiety and excitement as most of my friends and family. For a long time, the silence and solitude of my empty house was a familiar friend. Of course, the sanctity of my workspace was thoroughly destroyed and unscrupulously violated every school holidays when my two young boys were home from school – ALL day, EVERY day. Don’t get me wrong, I love having my babies home and I relish the honour and privilege of being present for every milestone, moment of learning, and being able to participate in their learning and growing – and yes, even the opportunity to play referee and nurse when necessary. But there can be something said for having dedicated time to get focus work done without the 4 million interruptions or seventeenth “Mom, I’m hungry”.
And then lockdown hit. Suddenly my two boys and my husband were in my space 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We did not even have the luxury of telling the kids to go ride their bikes and get some fresh air to give mom and dad some relief, even for ten minutes. For 5 weeks it was us 4, 5 if you include the cat, in our house, with no escape. I’m not gonna lie, I was thrilled to have my hubby and best friend around all the time. However, he took a bit longer to adjust to the house full of people. As a strong A-type personality, the familiar routine of going to the office and working at a desk was replaced with managing people remotely, Zoom meetings every hour and boundaries that became very blurred. He was considered ‘essential’ because he works for a bank, however, he is a very very clever man and did not leave me to manage, baby-sit and home-school two kids alone while trying to run my business and household. He stuck around to help and took an active role in our kids’ schooling and I was very happy to have a back-up referee when needed. He is a wonderful dad and an amazing husband – which I, of course, have known all along – lockdown just reminded me of this every day.
But the change, this 'new normal', this chaotic, loud, messy state we have found ourselves in for the last 6 months has led to some amazing and exciting changes that I would not want to trade for anything.
In the beginning, the hardest thing I had to deal with was jealousy. Yup, jealousy. All the people telling me they don’t know what they are going to do with their time, the puzzles they will be building and the paintings they will be completing…. as a freelancer I have not had a ‘holiday’ or public holiday since 2011. The reality of being a business owner and freelancer is that if you don’t work you don’t get paid. And suddenly all my clients had a lot more time on their hands to give me briefs and new projects that had been ‘in limbo’. I was certainly NOT going to complain, especially seeing the people around me not being able to earn an income or losing their jobs.
Where the difference did come in was when I finally took leave and went on a week’s holiday with my family, every one of my clients and friends was more supportive and eager to ‘allow’ me the time to rest. I think we as humans have realised we need to cut each other so much more slack. Where before I would get contacted while I was on leave, the apologies and emails did not seem that sincere, almost as if my being on leave was an inconvenience to them. But this time it was different. It felt like everyone was cheering me on and telling me how much I deserved the rest, and the best part, I actually believed them. I rested, I swam and for the first time in almost 10 years, I had a holiday. So thank you COVID. People have realised that ‘working from home’ does not mean you sleep till 9, catch up on Netflix until 12 and sit around in your pyjamas drinking cocktails. It requires discipline and the ability to ‘separate’ your work life from your home life.
This pandemic that has caused so much chaos and mayhem in our country and the world has, in fact, lead to a lot to be grateful for. I have listened as friends have told me their marriages have been made stronger and I have made new friends who regardless of a retrenchment, are excited and looking forward to what the future holds. The time with family and friends has made my heart happy. We have been forced to slow down and remember what is really important. The fewer chores, errands and mindless visits to a mall every weekend have meant more time to spend making friends. I suppose it is a lot easier with young kids, especially ones who see any new person as a potential ‘maatjie’.
As adults and as parents we have been required to ‘pull our big girl panties up’ and deal with the hand we have been dealt. Home school your kids. Okay. Do the laundry, dishes and cleaning every day. Okay. Stop drinking your Friday beer. Okay. That is part of our mandate, to be the responsible, level-headed ones. But my kids. Oh boy, my kids. They have adapted and fitted in with all of this with such incredible tenacity and resilience. To say that I am proud of them is an understatement. We have asked them to wear uncomfortable, sometimes itchy masks and they have. We have asked them to sit and do homework for 2 hours with someone who is NOT a teacher, and who clearly does not have the patience nor love for the vocation. They have done it. We have asked (and told) them not to leave the confines of their house and yard for 5 weeks and they obliged. My 6 year old cried when we told him the first time that the lockdown was going to be extended. But from that point on, they went with the flow. They have been superheroes. Maybe I am going to embrace their childlike attitude and wonder a bit more in how I ‘deal’ with challenges. Things get tough, sometimes they down-right suck but don’t dwell on it. Move on. Find a way to make it fun. I would not trade the evening card games with my family for anything. Those first 5 weeks our ritual after supper time was a round or 6 of cards and it is the laughter and joy we had as a family that is something I will never forget.
COVID may have come in to destroy lives, kill hope and leave a trail of destruction. But not in my business. Not in my family and certainly not in my life. It has only brought laughter, joy, quality time, memories and moments to cherish. The chaos that is my life – my messy house, my never-ending to-do list and my noisy neighbourhood – are all evidence of life and resilience and hope.