‘I will not get sick. I will stay well and healthy for her.’ A mother and daughter in Spain navigate the coronavirus lockdown — and create their own New Normal

‘I will not get sick. I will stay well and healthy for her.’ A mother and daughter in Spain navigate the coronavirus lockdown — and create their own New Normal

MADRID, Spain — I ordered face masks months ago. My friends here laughed and teased me when I told them. They claimed that I had lived in China for too long.

Who’s laughing now? Well none of us, actually.

I grew up in Ireland and lived in China for five years. My daughter and I moved to Madrid five and a half years ago. It’s really strange around here, at the moment. But we are safe because unlike many others we listened to the early warnings.


‘Having my coffee in the morning I listen to the dawn chorus from my kitchen window. I haven’t been able to hear that since I lived in Ireland nearly 11 years ago.’

There isn’t much noise in Madrid. We hear the birds. Over coffee in the morning, I listen to the dawn chorus from my kitchen window. I haven’t been able to hear that since I lived in Ireland nearly 11 years ago. But the most beautiful sound of all is my daughter singing “Frozen” songs out of tune with her ear phones on.

Add to that the sound of the applause every night at 8 p.m. when the people of Madrid stand on their balconies, thanking all the workers who have to carry on working, possibly putting them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

As of Thursday morning, there were 15,014 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Spain and 640 deaths. Worldwide, there were 220,691 confirmed cases and 8,957 deaths. Spain became the second government after Italy to introduce a nationwide lockdown a week ago by closing all businesses, except essential services such as, pharmacies, grocery stores, tobacconists and banks. The central government also took control of the regional police forces.

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But Kate and I are inside, and we are safe, and have created our own New Normal.

Nor is this the first time my seven-year-old daughter has had to wear a mask. After we adopted Kate from Ethiopia, she spent her first year as my daughter living in China with her dad and me. That was during what was affectionately known as “airpocalypse,” the air quality index went over 900 for a week. That’s considered hazardous.

We needed them in China, but health authorities in the U.S. say they won’t prevent healthy people from getting coronavirus, but they make us feel safer. They remind us that there is an unseen menace that we need to avoid.


‘My heart was breaking for my students, they are living through a terrifying event. I was afraid of nuclear war growing up, is this their nuclear war?’

So here we are facing our next crisis together, but this time it’s us — Kate and I together. Around two weeks ago in school we stopped shaking hands, kissing and hugging, and that was really hard.

As a teacher, it’s hard not to hug the children, especially when they are scared. We got used to it. We started greeting each other with our feet and blowing kisses.

One girl said to me, “Kate’s so lucky, she can still hug you!” I had to hold back my tears.

When school was shut down last week some children cried, and some cheered, but all of them said, “I’ll miss you!” I miss them too. As we left, some children shouted, “Happy Virus Vacation, see you soon!” I sent a short email with suggested work for my students, thinking we’d all be together in a couple of weeks.

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Marie Donnelly and her daughter, Kate.

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I work in a Montessori School so our students can’t be taught remotely. We also have a full elementary and middle school. My students are the upper elementary, between the ages of 9 and 12, so they understood what was going on, on a variety of levels.


‘I sent a short email with suggested work for my students, thinking we’d all be together in a couple of weeks.’

They all have a developing sense of justice. Fairness is massive in their lives: How is it fair that this is happening? They used to visit the retirement home next door every Friday. They chatted, read to or knitted with them. But when the children went two weeks ago, they were sent back to school. They were not allowed visit.

They came back really upset and worried.

“Has someone died?” they asked.

“Will we ever be allowed visit again?”

“What if Pilar dies, she’s had a really sad life!”

My heart was breaking for my students. They are living through a terrifying event. I was afraid of nuclear war growing up, is this their nuclear war?


Kate came running into the kitchen pulling on her wellies, ‘Come on, mum! It’s raining, let’s go!’

On the first night of the lockdown it rained. Proper Irish rain! It doesn’t rain often in Madrid, especially not downpours like this one. It was lashing, Kate came running into the kitchen pulling on her wellies, “Come on, mum! It’s raining, let’s go!”

Normally when it rains here, as the Spaniards run in, we run out! We splash and jump in the puddles, get wet, twirl in the rain and go on “wet adventures” as we call them. But the government had told us to stay inside.

How could I say no to my little Ethiopian beauty? So we did. We ran outside into the empty courtyard and, for five precious minutes, we danced, splashed and sang in the rain all by ourselves. When windows started opening to see what was going on, we ran back inside as quickly as we had run out.

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It’s been one week now since I have seen my 27 students. But I am having so much fun with my No. 1 child: my sweet, loving, charming, cheeky girl. These days, it’s just Kate and me. We have no family here, but we have good friends who are checking in on us regularly, by phone of course.

l love this little girl so much. I will not get sick. I will stay well and healthy for her. Just in case, I have a back-up plan. If I do get sick, my friends and their two kids will take care of Kate until my sister arrives to take her home or back to Ireland.

Kate knows there is a virus that’s dangerous, but she’s not worried because she’s with her mama. She told me the other night, “We’ll be just fine mama, as long as we stick together.”

Marie Donnelly is a teacher and mother living in Madrid, Spain.

Dispatches from the front lines of a pandemic: Spain may be a week ahead of the U.S. in its coronavirus quarantine: Here’s what you can learn from its experience

This is essay is part of a MarketWatch series, ‘Dispatches from the front lines of a pandemic.’

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MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto

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