But now that schools and gyms are closed because of the virus, it’s family time.
Italy is experiencing the biggest coronavirus outbreak outside Asia, and authorities in the most affected regions have passed measures to contain its spread. Of course, this is nothing compared with what is happening in China, where thousands have died, and a city of 11 million is locked down. But it’s not an easy time here, either. As I am writing this, on Wednesday, Italy has seen roughly 400 (and growing) coronavirus cases, with 12 confirmed deaths. The outbreak is mostly confined to two regions — Veneto, where Venice is, and Lombardy, where we live — and even there, the lockdown is hardly stringent.
Here in Milan, for instance, schools, public offices, churches and some recreational facilities are closed. But private businesses go on almost as usual, and cafes keep serving espressos. Everyone can go where they please, although citizens are advised to avoid crowded places and stay at home as much as possible. As Red Cross official Emanuele Capobianco wrote on the news site Stati Generali, the goal is to “slow the spread of the virus in order to contain the pressure on hospitals and medical personnel.”
So as a parent, my fiance and I are quite concerned, and are doing everything within our means to keep our family contained.
But my older kid? She calls it “the coronavirus vacation.”
Well, this “vacation” is a little more challenging than a regular school break. Milanese families are struggling with practical concerns, including finding a way to care for their children while they’re at work. Some have to get creative. Francesca Rosa, who runs the family clinic Gepo and has school-aged children, is part of a WhatsApp group where stay-at-home and work-from-home parents volunteer to take care of some of their children’s classmates. “We’re trying to get two or three kids per house, because more than that would defy the purpose,” she said. Rosa’s clinic is offering discounted at-home visits: “We’re trying to avoid having people come here, but we don’t want to keep them waiting.”
I still go to an office a few times during the week. But since my fiance works from home, and we have a nanny to watch the children while we’re working, the challenge has been primarily psychological. That may change. For now, our nanny will continue to watch our children some of the time but won’t come during rush hour on public transportation.
How do you keep morale high when your kids are housebound for days? And how do you explain to them what’s going on so they understand but aren’t terrified?
Silvia Depoli, the resident psychologist at Gepo, told me not to worry about the housebound part: “When we think children are unhappy at home, we’re just projecting our grown-up frustrations.” Kids, she pointed out, don’t share our productivity anxiety. They enjoy the coziness. “This should be a time to do something special inside the house, like baking pancakes or a family masquerade.”
During the first lockdown day, my 10-year-old literally asked me if “this is going to be like the Plague.”
At first, all I could do was to mutter some words about modern medicine and hygiene. But Depoli advised me to tackle the topic head-on, in an age-appropriate way: “Tell them the truth, that this virus is scary, but humans are a great kind and have been through worse. Tell them that we’re staying at home so that we don’t get sick all at once and doctors can do their job. Tell them that we’re making sacrifices for others, and others are making sacrifices for us, because that’s what a community does.”
The psychologist was right. What my family is experiencing, with all the inconveniences, comes down to being a community and thinking of how our actions might affect others. Our lives are not a catastrophe. True, my fiance had to slow down his work with the kids at home, and our eldest had to give up her dream to parade in her brand-new Gryffindor robe for the carnival. But we finally put to use that Little Chemist set she received for Christmas, and we’re binge-watching “Anne With an E.”
This “coronavirus vacation” has become an opportunity — not only to spend time together, but also to learn something about caring for fellow humans. Sometimes, adversities are here to teach us something, and these few first days of lockdown have already taught us that even in this age of selfishness, most of us are willing to accept these small sacrifices to keep our neighbors healthy. So far, we’re just incredibly lucky.
Anna Momigliano is a mom and a writer based in Milan. She has two daughters, Giulia (10) and Rea (1). Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Atlantic.
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