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Parenting Anxiety In The Age Of COVID-19

by Jam Kotenko

A few days ago, I got a message from my cousin asking me if I had any plans of canceling our trip from Singapore, where we live, to the Philippines. Extended family members from various parts of North America and Asia are planning to fly in for our grandma’s 95th birthday, and I was looking forward to seeing everybody. I told her this, and she responded with, “I think we’re most likely postponing.” I didn’t have to ask the reason: the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

For the first couple of weeks of the outbreak, I wasn’t worried at all. My immediate family and I currently reside in Singapore, a country that takes public health seriously. When my husband contracted dengue fever a few months ago, a representative from Singapore’s National Environment Agency was ringing our doorbell the day after our doctor confirmed his diagnosis, asking where he’s been, who he’s been in contact with. They then updated their website to reflect my husband’s details. Every other dengue fever case in the country has been recorded and accurately mapped out.

The same goes for COVID-19: as of this writing, there have been 106 confirmed cases of people who have contracted the virus, according to the World Health Organization. Additionally, excellent health protocols have been put in place all over Singapore: apart from COVID-19 being very strictly monitored by the government, most establishments require the use of hand sanitizer at every entrance and perform temperature checks — this includes my husband’s office building, the yoga place I go to, and the baby gym my kids attend. Some hospitals have quarantine tents set up to accommodate patients that exhibit even the tiniest symptoms.

The author's children play in the sand. Courtesy of Jam Kotenko

As the world watched COVID-19 spread, my family and I took comfort in the fact that we were on the safer side of the spectrum of people whose health could be compromised. According to my light research, it didn’t really affect people my age (35) that badly, and we were after all healthy.

But all it took was a tiny hint of doubt from my cousin and all of a sudden, I was looking up COVID-19 rates in the Philippines, where the rest of my family and friends live. I worried that the unchanged count of infected people was a bad sign. How could they only still have three confirmed cases all this time, when other countries in Asia are experiencing a rapid increase in their case rates? There’s no way that it’s accurate! I began to worry about the family reunion, and the idea of people flying in from all over potentially carrying the disease and infecting my 95 year-old grandmother. The thought of my very young and uncontrollable children going through a busy airport, sneezing openly, touching and slobbering over everything, and putting things in their mouths started to make me feel very anxious.

There is no avoiding the collateral impact of COVID-19 in our everyday lives.

All of a sudden, I had a seedling of paranoia taking root in the pit of my stomach. As I looked up cancellation policies for our flights and Airbnb reservation, I wondered if there was anything about our trip that was salvageable. What if I went ahead just by myself, saw my parents, siblings, cousins, and grandma? Surely I could handle it better, as long as I avoided sick-looking people and washed my hands thoroughly every chance I got? Unfortunately, much like the COVID-19 virus, the fear for the unknown has entered the body: Is it safe to travel at all?

As an expatriate living in Singapore, the author is used to the complications of travel, but this is different. Courtesy of Jam Kotenko

My family and I are in the midst of relocating back to the United States; our trip to Manila was supposed to be our last hurrah in Asia, a bon voyage of sorts. Our schedule is so tight, we have about a week in between the two trips, which is less than the usual 14-day quarantine the Singapore government is implementing for people exhibiting symptoms. If for some reason we contract something in the Philippines and get detained on our way back, we wouldn't make the next trip. And if we did, what if we got detained on entry to the U.S. for coming from Southeast Asia? My grandmother, who was not told about the coronavirus when it first started spreading to spare her from unsettling news, had to be brought back to reality with the unfortunate update that the youngest members of her clan will be a no-show for her big celebration. It’s a terrible feeling, riding the line between guilt and trepidation.

There is no avoiding the collateral impact of COVID-19 in our everyday lives. Every time my 4-year-old son sneezes, I feel compelled to go over and wipe his hands and face with an antibacterial wipe. Checking everyone’s body temperature has become a daily norm. Every headache felt is a potential oncoming fever that could get so much worse.

It is exhausting, equalizing the push and pull of my two states of mind.

More than the obvious health implications, as a mother of two young kids, I find the panic induced by the novel coronavirus a little harder to deal with. As of March 2, it had reportedly reached every continent except Antarctica. It currently has an infection rate of 90,000 people and a death rate of over 3,000 people, most located in China, where extreme quarantine measures were put into place; the result is fear, "at a time when fear has already defined politics in many places," as Melissa Chan and Ethan Guillén wrote for Foreign Policy in a piece that warned there is no escaping the pandemic. The spread of the virus is proof of what I already knew as a parent and expatriate: we are all connected, for better, for worse.

It is exhausting, equalizing the push and pull of my two states of mind: One where I am confident in the level of safety and care we provide our sons and each other, confident in the ability of my current country of residence to keep the virus under control; the other freaking out internally over every negative scenario that could potentially unfold. Each day is different, with one side overpowering the other.

Courtesy of Jam Kotenko

Today, it is the more hopeful side of me that triumphs. After being on hold for 40 minutes, Singapore Airlines has granted us an automatic full refund of our flight to the Philippines for having children included in our booking, no questions asked. Our Airbnb host has graciously returned our reservation deposit. I feel like a huge burden has been lifted off my shoulders — even if, God forbid, my son’s cold turns into something more serious, I can rest assured that we now have an adequate amount of time for both healing and preparation for the next chapter in our lives.

Tomorrow is another day.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.