Dubai virus diary: Confessions of a pandemic ‘Momster’ | #parenting

Confessions of a pandemic Momster
Image Credit: Melany Demetillo-Reyes
It’s been a relentless year, 2020. Just when we think it must have done its worst, it comes back to pack another punch, one blow after another.

And although it is tempting to throw in the towel and admit defeat, I can’t. Firstly, because I am the mother of two boys, aged 2 and 5 (and a third who is working from home, whom I lovingly call ‘the husband’). And secondly, because I know this is not the end of the COVID-19 show.

Lockdown learnings

When schools shut down in March, we had no idea what we were dealing with. Almost overnight everything became surreal. We stopped meeting family and friends, we stopped going to playgrounds. Suddenly everyone was a potential carrier of the virus. Uncertainty about jobs, salaries, and the social environment gripped us all.

And then came online learning.

My son hated it. He hated being away from friends. He hated the fact that he’d got an iPad for the first time in his life but he could only use it to do online classes and not to watch Spider-Man videos like he wanted to. I had always kept him away from screens as much as possible, thinking it was for his own good, but now I realized he was way behind his peers in terms of using gadgets and I was to blame. He hated that he had to unmute himself on the video chats and then talk – he preferred to not talk at all, or just to be angry at everyone.

And then, as if social isolation wasn’t enough, I started pushing him to ‘finish’ everything that was on his school to-do list.

There came a point when the whole day would have slipped by and all we’d achieved was hours of arguments over him doing even a little bit of school work.

It was a disaster. Meltdowns – the kind we’ve never seen – blew up out of the blue. Things which really interested him before, like writing, turned into a power struggle. Getting him to do maths was like managing a high-stakes negotiation. There were so many ‘no’s’ and ‘I don’t want to do this’, and I could see him becoming more and more stubborn as the days turned into weeks and then months.

And it was then that I realized – I had morphed into a pandemic Momster.

My own terrible need for perfection in everything was sapping my energy and patience, and my little boy was bearing the brunt of it.

I didn’t like that version of myself. I never imagined myself as a Tiger Mum, and yet here I was, driving my child to his limit under these weird circumstances.

Fabiha Khalid
Fabiha realised that home learning was turning her into a ‘Momster’

Summer succor

Thankfully, the home learning sessions ended for the summer vacation and I was more relieved than I ever was when I had been in school.

We decided we would just take a break. We slept late and woke up late in the mornings. We watched movies and ate ice creams and just read in bed most days.

By then, the lockdowns were easing and malls and entertainment venues were starting to open up. Donned with masks and loaded with sanitizers we stepped out into the world once again. Such sweet relief.

We still didn’t do any socializing but we did start going to the playgrounds and the aquarium and fun places. It lifted our spirits and the kids were able to burn off their energy in a more productive way. There weren’t as many ‘nos’ anymore and there were fewer power struggles, and more laughs and giggles and ‘I love you’s instead.

As we were nearing the end of the summer break I was certain that my son would go to school in the new session. But, with the COVID cases rising once again, and much to my chagrin, we took the difficult choice to keep my son at home.

The balance between head and heart

This time my son saw all his friends learning at school while he was still at home and he was so sad about it. I had learnt from my previous experience however. We did whatever he wanted to do – even if it meant starting the day with reading our library book followed by art. I let him decide the order of lessons for the day. I let him feel that he is in charge (he is a little power hungry like his mother), and I managed to get him to do his reading and numbers and writing. It seemed like we had it sorted and our days were calmer.

And then, one afternoon, I found him in his room, mixing glue and colours and glitter and making something, I asked him what it was and he said “This is the antidote of coronavirus. I will drink this and go to school and then I won’t get the virus!”

My heart fell. I knew immediately I couldn’t keep him away from his friends, his life and his “normal” any longer.

I know some people might call me selfish for risking the health of my family by sending my child to school, but so be it

– Fabiha Khalid

I sent him back to school on his fifth birthday. I don’t think we could’ve given him a better birthday present. He was beyond delighted. And he has been going ever since.

Things are better at home too. I am finally reading age-appropriate books to my 2-year-old and taking him to the playground to play with kids his own age. I even manage to sneak a reading break for myself and enjoy a coffee sometimes too.

I know some people might call me selfish for risking the health of my family by sending my child to school, but so be it. I understand there is a risk, but I also know the schools have put all possible measures in place to stop the spread of the virus.

I am still scared every morning I go for drop-off. But it’s totally worth the happiness I see on my son’s face when he sees his friends and when he’s home gushing about all that he did during the day at school.

We might not see the end of the coronavirus for months to come, and we also don’t know the efficacy of the vaccine either. But is it really worth stopping our kids from living their lives? Every family will be different. For us, this is what is working at the moment. And, for now at least, the Momster is nowhere to be seen.

Fabiha Khalid and family
Fabiha Khalid is a mum of two boys from India who lived in the US for four years before moving to Dubai in 2019

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