October 9, 2020
Video by: Andy Tay | Photos by: Caroline Chia and Stacey Rodrigues | Words by: Marcus Khoo and Zann Ling

(Video above) To commemorate Children’s Day 2020, we spoke to littles one whose parents are healthcare workers to find out how they feel about their parents’ work, and what they really think of Covid-19.

When you’re a child dealing with the upheavals of the year, you have questions.

Like, why are there suddenly no more family holidays? Why do mum and dad seem more anxious than usual? Why did everyone have to suddenly stop swimming for months? Why can’t I go outside and play as much? And why does going to school suddenly mean getting in front of a screen to see my teacher over video calls? 

But when your parents are at the frontlines of the Covid-19 battle, you don’t always get to tell them how you feel, even if you are worried. 

WhatAreYouDoing.sg spoke with children and their parents about how they are coping with the pandemic.

Managing tempers and frustrations of being stuck at home
The Circuit Breaker was tough for Stephanie Lau, 8, but through patience and understanding, her mum Madam Lee Pei Ling, a senior staff nurse, supported her and kept her occupied with baking and gardening when Madam Lee wasn’t working.

(Above) The Circuit Breaker was tough for Stephanie Lau, eight, but through patience and understanding, her mum Madam Lee Pei Ling, a senior staff nurse, supported her and kept her occupied with baking and gardening when Madam Lee wasn’t working. CAROLINE CHIA

Mood swings were a common sight in the Lau household, as it was eight-year-old Stephanie Lau’s way of venting her frustration of not being able to go outdoors. When home-based learning (HBL) was introduced, Stephanie would refuse to do her homework. This was a struggle for her mother, Madam Lee Pei Ling, who is a senior staff nurse at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH). 

Stephanie had to come to terms with not being able to travel for holidays or meet up with friends in person. This had a negative effect on her progress in school. Madam Lee, 37, admits that her daughter had a tough time coping with the Circuit Breaker measures and so she had to be patient with her mood swings.

“She just wanted to stay home and play,” said Madam Lee. Her only outlet, keeping in contact with her ballet school friends over Zoom. 

The mother-daughter duo had difficulty managing HBL as Madam Lee could only assist with Stephanie’s homework after her shift work. Madam Lee’s day doesn’t end after she returns home from her night shift, which usually ends at 7am. She would assist Stephanie’s HBL till 12pm before she could officially get some shut-eye.

To help shape Stephanie’s understanding of Covid-19 and its severity, Madam Lee used the “panic buying” of groceries, masks and hand sanitisers as a chance to explain to her daughter about the ongoing pandemic. This was also coupled with the hygiene practices and safe distancing measures taught in school.

Being stuck at home for two months, Madam Lee knew she had to occupy Stephanie with activities. During this time, the mother-daughter duo tried baking and gardening, which gave them a different avenue to learn more about each other.

“As a parent, I had a better understanding of what she learns in school and understand how she’s coping in terms of her school work, while she recently started to understand my job scope better.”
Madam Lee Pei Ling, senior staff nurse

“As a parent, I had a better understanding of what she learns in school and understand how she’s coping in terms of her school work, while she recently started to understand my job scope better,” said Madam Lee.

For now, Madam Lee occasionally brings Stephanie out to shop for groceries on her days off. She can tell that her daughter enjoys being out even for that brief moment. They recently gathered with a group of friends to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival as well.

Madam Lee believes that things will slowly get back to normal for Stephanie but it will require time.

Dealing with younger siblings during home-based learning

Meshanth Ganesh Das, seven, (second from left) just entered primary school this year, adapting quickly to the expectations of home-based learning. During the Circuit Breaker, he stayed home with his younger siblings, Sajay and Sametha, while his mum, Madam Jayaletchumi Anbalagan, a senior staff nurse, tended to Covid-19 patients in hospital

(Above) Meshanth Ganesh Das, seven, (second from left) just entered primary school this year, adapting quickly to the expectations of home-based learning. During the Circuit Breaker, he stayed home with his younger siblings, Sajay and Sametha, while his mum, Madam Jayaletchumi Anbalagan, a senior staff nurse, tended to Covid-19 patients in hospital. STACEY RODRIGUES

Seven-year-old Meshanth Ganesh Das just started primary school. Just as he was adjusting to classroom dynamics, he quickly had to adjust to learning at home alone with a computer. 

During the Circuit Breaker, he not only had to figure out how to manage the school load, but he also had to deal with less than accommodating neighbours. “My younger kids have yet to go to childcare, so they’re a bit noisy,” said Meshanth’s mum, Madam Jayaletchumi Anbalagan, 36. Meshanth’s younger siblings, Sajay, three, and Sametha, two, were often restless from being stuck at home. “I had issues with my neighbour, and they shouted at my eldest son, saying to please close the door because it’s too noisy.”  

The incident forced Meshanth to learn the hard way that things were not quite the same as before.

While the children stayed home, Madam Jaya donned her uniform and set off to work as a senior staff nurse at Sengkang General Hospital.

Before Sengkang General, Madam Jaya worked directly with Covid-19 patients at KKH, which had its challenges for the family.

After coming in contact with a Covid-19 patient at work, Madam Jaya had to be isolated in her room until she received her test results. The mother of three found it a challenge as her children would constantly call out for her and attempt to open her bedroom door. Fortunately, she had a domestic helper to look after her children while she could only communicate with them over the phone despite being in the same household.

 “I was very fearful that I’ll spread it (Covid-19) to my kids,” said Madam Jaya.

She was relieved when her test results came back negative and she could be with her children again. However, she did notice how the Circuit Breaker had affected her family.

“They’ve been throwing more tantrums and are much noisier,” shared Madam Jaya. However, she understands that this is an unusual period and she can only be patient with her children.

Prior to the pandemic, the family would usually spend their weekends taking a drive around Singapore, going to the nearby playground, or swimming at the public pool.

On days that Madam Jaya had shift work, she would feel a tinge of sadness whenever her son asks: “Mummy, going to work again?” 

While it may be difficult for her younger children to understand the severity of the current situation, she did use the self-isolation scare to explain to Meshanth about the pandemic and its complications.

While she still feels heartbroken by the fact that she is not able to spend more time with her children, she tries to find ways to bring back activities they enjoy. She recently bought a mini inflatable pool for them to splash around in. One of the things that Meshanth misses the most is swimming and is looking forward to the day he can jump into a proper pool again.

Taking advantage of time spent indoors

Zachariah, Layla and Ameera Stacey, the older children of Dr Suraya Zainul Abidin and Matthew Stacey, have rediscovered their love for the outdoors because they always recall the time when they could not go to the beach or a park

(Above) Layla, Zachariah and Ameera Stacey, the older children of Dr Suraya Zainul Abidin and her husband, Mr Matthew Stacey, have rediscovered their love for the outdoors because they always recall the time when they could not go to the beach or a park because of movement restrictions and venue closures. STACEY RODRIGUES

“Hello World!” exclaimed seven-year-old Layla Stacey when she had the chance to appreciate her time outdoors once the Circuit Breaker was lifted. 

It was only when orthopaedic surgeon Dr Suraya Zainul Abidin, 37, heard this that she realised how much being stuck indoors affected her children. 

While a typical weekend for the family of six usually includes going to the beach and having family lunches, during lockdown they turned to movie nights and indoor activities like painting at home or playing in their courtyard.

While Dr Suraya’s older children, Ameera, nine, Layla, and Zachariah, five, found ways to entertain themselves indoors, the restrictions were especially felt during the Hari Raya Puasa season in May.

The family was not able to visit Dr Suraya’s parents or go visiting because of the Circuit Breaker measures, and so she asked the children to come up with different ways to celebrate the festivities. This included dressing up in new Hari Raya clothes, and celebrating over video call with their extended family.

“I’ve noticed that the family spends a lot more time together at home. This period has given Matthew and I the luxury of movie nights in, sharing our appreciation of old movies with the children.”
Dr Suraya Zainul Abidin, orthopaedic surgeon

During lockdown, Dr Suraya continued to work at Singapore General Hospital, while her husband, Mr Matthew Stacey, a banker, worked from home and supported the children in their home-based learning.

At the time, many medical staff had to turn their focus to Covid-19-related work. As Dr Suraya was pregnant with their fourth child, Lily, she was not directly involved in the frontline care of Covid-19 patients. 

However, in April, she was exposed to a potential Covid-19 patient and as a precaution, Dr Suraya decided to self-isolate from her family for two weeks, as she was fearful of not only contracting the virus, but also passing it to the family.

“In those two weeks I had to stay away from the children. I quickly ate my meals alone and retreated quickly to the guest room to avoid exposing the virus to the family,” she said.

Dr Suraya gave birth to Lily in July, and has been on maternity leave since. 

With everyone spending more time at home, there has been a lot more family time.

“I’ve noticed that the family spends a lot more time together at home. This period has given Matthew and I the luxury of movie nights in, sharing our appreciation of old movies with the children,” she added. “It was a good chance for us to sit down and bond together as a family.”


 

The Storytellers

  • An idiosyncratic individual with the mind to learn and the heart to serve. Andy loves jokes. He would tell you a font joke but he's not bold enough.

  • Caroline loves photography and trekking, and never turns down a trip to the mountains.

  • Stacey’s two favourite things are telling stories and cooking. Her philosophy for tackling both is imagination, immersion, and a dash of her special sauce.

  • A hardcore tea lover with a burning passion for content creation that you can say he’s overflowing with creativi-tea.

  • Zann is a non-essential worker who thinks coffee and alcohol are essentials. When she’s not indulging in these vices, you can find her finding trouble and fun in creating content.

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