Straddling Two Communities During COVID-19: A Global Pandemic
How do you communicate to your two and a half year old that it’s currently May of 2020, and we are in the throes of a global pandemic? What if anything does one relay to a toddler? Does he need to know anything if it’s not on his radar at all? How are parents communicating the good reason they aren’t seeing their friends at school? How are caregivers talking to little ones about why they can’t ride the train or go on the bus? Attempting to find a rhythm or cadence to a week or day is almost impossible. Just like most of the world, my family has restructured and reconfigured how we are working, living, schooling, and participating in the community. The constant sense of an unstable global foundation continues to transmit tension and stress in almost every aspect of life. Being abroad during this global crisis is a whole different can of worms because there is a constant straddle of information consumption for two diverse landscapes.
In Japan, it is and has been for the most part business as usual. People young and old band a mask across their face and head out for the day. Sure, trains and buses have been lighter in terms of occupancy and restaurant hours are slightly different, but not much has changed. There are still children playing at parks, commuters biking to and from, and elderly shopping at the local Ito Yakado grocery store. There has been an emergency declaration across Japan, yet I don’t feel a constant tension.
At home in the United States, it feels like a very different story. States were appalled that they were being asked to quarantine. People across the entire country have decided they are bored with taking care of the community and one another. Government and corporate leaders have agreed that the economic bottom line is what matters and is the priority. Leaders designed it this way. It’s working as it was designed. Sad armed white men have attempted to storm government buildings to demand the country reopen. Communities in the United States blatantly mock the situation and gather in large groups as if taunting the pandemic and the science that backs it up. There is something so selfish and sad about this behavior. It feels similar to how Americans refer to the United States as America while forgetting that all of Central America and South America exist.
Yet, how are children coping with this new lifestyle? At the moment, my son Milo seems unfazed by it. Occasionally he will mention his friends from nursery and talks about activities with his teachers, but there doesn’t appear to be any different behavioral changes. Days consist of legos, coloring, sandbox science, biking the perimeter of our apartment complex, and a slight bump in Daniel Tiger consumption. At times there are spikes of frustration when it comes to having everyone occupying the same room at all times.
From a parent’s perspective, much has changed. My wife is teaching at home full-time, which means her home is now her office and her office is her home. There is no longer a delineation of space. What was once easy for Crystal to leave work and walk into her home with her parent hat on has become more challenging. Similar to when we first arrived in Tokyo, I’ve taken on the primary caregiver role for Milo. While I understand that it’s a great privilege to be in a position where this is possible, it is still exhausting from a physical, emotional, and mental health perspective. I’m grateful that my job allows me the flexibility to be in this position.
I’m not sure when things will begin to feel as if they have found a new groove. What was once normal wasn’t working as a society, so I am appreciative that we won’t be returning to that, yet it is daunting to think of what we are returning to next. While I am optimistic, I am still realistic in terms of what comes next.
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