Yo me quedo en casa

We are currently in a stage of ‘lock-down’ in Madrid, the only permitted travel out of the house being for medical care or food. People are using the hashtag ‘ Yo me quedo en casa’ (translates as ‘I’m staying at home’). We all know why so I won’t dwell on that. Actually I think it would be better not to use the term lock-down, instead we should call it ‘period of hygge’ and feel cosy about it (if we can).

Instead some reflections as I’m thinking a lot about people with anxiety in our current situation, I’m worried situations like this are huge triggers. I’m also concerned for those who can’t work from home for whatever reason and who will face unmanageable situations based on loss of income. I’m thinking about the elderly and people with underlying health conditions who are becoming invisible as they retreat indoors and have better things to do than vocalise through social media.

Sharing my thoughts so far as there’s time to reflect at times like this.

Firstly it’s not the first time myself or my partner have been in lock-down. We both individually have experienced this for security reasons. My partner whilst on operations and myself whilst based in the Central African Republic. The country experienced a coup, pretty much overnight a curfew was enforced and soon after a lock-down. In this country there was no clean water from the taps, electricity was intermittent and I shared my tiny flat with a flock of cockroaches. Every night I would calculate how many bottles of water I had left, I pretty much ate plain pasta 3 times a day. I had to listen to what news I could (mostly received via text message) to understand how the situation was unfolding. Villages around the city where I lived were being burnt to the ground and all we could do was watch the plumes of smoke in the distance gradually get closer and closer. It was the most stressful time of my life, my hair started falling out in chunks and I had awful insomnia. Eventually I was evacuated from this situation but many of my colleagues and friends in that country couldn’t leave, the violence that followed claimed many lives. This is not a post about that, but it gives me perspective on our current situation.

This time the situation is so different. We are healthy and we are not in a violent situation. We are also parents to a 3 month old so our decision making has taken on new dynamic, we want to minimise risk for her first and foremost. Our responsibility is to our family and to the wider community. Whilst we are healthy day to day many others are not. We don’t want to be responsible for spreading a virus to someone with a weaker immune system.

In someways the decision by the Spanish Government and Community of Madrid to put a lock-down in place apart from essential activity brings clarity. We are now allowed out of the house in a car for hospital visits, visit to relatives to help them, travel to work for businesses allowed to remain open and food shopping. Travel on foot is less restricted so you can take the dog out however all parks are shut so we’re limited to roads for dog exercise.

At all times we’re expected to practice social distancing, it’s a bit weird as you have to actively avoid people which goes against human nature but everyone is doing it so at least you don’t feel rude! Before the lock-down, with less clarity, we felt worried about leaving the house and unsure about upcoming trips away. As a result of the situation we cancelled a trip to San Sebastián (this weekend) and a ski trip (week after next). The Government decision means we didn’t have to debate whether to go in these trips or not.

We had a good idea that this situation was coming so here’s what we did to prepare:

2 weeks before lock-down

⁃ Stocked up for 2 weeks

⁃ Made any necessary appointments – for example we had to register Carmen with our local municipality, we did things like that more quickly to make sure it was done

⁃ Looked at the diary at upcoming commitments to see what we could bring forward, postpone or cancel

⁃ Limited people coming to the house but our dog walker and cleaner came as normal

⁃ Everywhere we sat for lunch or a coffee we used wipes (baby wipes) to clean the table and hands. We couldn’t get hold of sanitiser or alcohol wipes in shops and online orders had a month or more lead in.

1 week before lock-down

Nursery’s closed so the lady in place to support childcare couldn’t come as has little ones at home. My husbands place of work closed for 2 weeks but his lectures will continue virtually. As we both work (me from home mostly) childcare was a bit tricky. Here’s what we did:

⁃ Reached out to a good friend to help out on days where my schedule was busy. We trusted she would let us know if she felt or suspected she was sick

⁃ Chunked up our time so one of us could work for a few hours while the other looked after the little one

⁃ At this time we could still move around freely so we got out to the park with the dog but avoided gatherings

⁃ We continued to visit bars and cafes but felt a bit uneasy about it

⁃ We found a shop selling sanitiser, I paid 9 euros for 2 of the smallest bottles you’ve ever seen

⁃ Our WhatsApp groups were going bonkers. So much fake news and this is the first time I’ve realised I can’t tell what is true or not. I am part of a mums in Madrid group which I love for peer support and advice, as well as a military spouse group. After receiving a deluge of confusing information I decided to not read news related updates on WhatsApp and instead rely on official updates from the government

1 day before lock-down

⁃ We started to suspect a lock-down was coming. At around 10pm we received a message indicating it was likely we’d be confined to our houses soon. We did a quick stock take of food in the house and my husband did another shop at 11pm. He said it was so busy, exactly not where you want to be. The only meat available was rabbit and giblets (no thanks!).

⁃ Before lock-down was confirmed we cancelled our cleaner and dog walker. I will continue to pay our cleaner even though she can’t come as she’s in a really vulnerable situation and I’m worried about people like her.

⁃ We went through all the things we could possibly think of that we might need. We think we’ll be ok in terms of supplies but it brings peace of mind to know we can go food shopping.

⁃ We checked on our elderly neighbour and told him to call us if he needs us to do his shopping. We also spoke to Isaac, a lovely man who lives on the street who stands outside the supermarket everyday. We wanted to make sure he knows what’s going on. We’ll continue to buy him something each time we do our shopping, he never asks for anything and he’s helped us out on more than one occasion (like telling my husband to look for me when I ventured out 3 weeks post birth with baby and dog and a freak thunderstorm happened)

Day of lock-down

Lock-down started on Saturday, but there was no specific restriction on travel by car or foot to start with. The parks were really busy, everyone with the same idea to get out in the open. In Madrid most people live in flats and parks are the centre of the community as, for those without a garden, they are a haven. We went for a walk in the morning, I felt quite uneasy and tried to keep my distance from others but it was hard as there were quite a few people. We then went to buy fresh meat to put in our freezer, weirdly chicken has been consistently sold out. I guess it’s the cheapest meat so people have snapped it up.

At around 2.30pm we found out the parks were likely to close so my husband took the dog out to let off some steam and enjoy the green space before it shut. At 4pm it was confirmed that we were to stay inside and parks would close.

We decided to spring clean the house and have thrown ourselves into doing this the last couple of days. We feel it’s important we feel we’re in a relaxing space so we’ve cleaned and tidied quite intensely! The house needed it, we’d been so focused on getting prepared for this that the house was a real mess.

What I’ve learnt so far

Two days in and I’ve learnt the following:

1. There is so much unknown that it is quite overwhelming to try and second guess what might happen. So for now we are concentrating on what we do know and focusing on that. We’ll be in this situation for definite for 2 weeks, after that who knows, we’ll deal with that when it comes.

2. It’s eery to be outside. Madrid is like a ghost town. Usually our area is lively and social. Madrileños (people who live in Madrid) are warm and welcoming. Now there’s hardly anyone on the street. When we do spot someone we keep our distance but we’re still saying hi as we pass people which is really common in Spain. It’s a bit freaky being out of the house when you do need to go out, I don’t like it very much.

3. After the initial rush the supermarkets are quiet and for the most part well stocked. We have two supermarkets in walking distance.

4. I continue to avoid reading news I receive on WhatsApp and have asked on more than one occasion for people to check their sources and if they can’t verify refrain from circulating news from unofficial channels. It’s causing people to feel unnecessarily upset and overwhelmed.

5. There’s lots to do! I’ve made a list of things we need to do, the things that always fall to the bottom of your to-do list. This is keeping us busy and focused. We also have a 3 month old so she’s keeping us busy and happy with her constant smiling.

6. Setting a routine is important, I know this already from working from home. I’m getting up early as usual, getting showered and dressed as if I would be going out for the day. I find this helps with mindset.

7. Finding a good box set is good! I learnt this during my lock-down in CAR. We’ve just started a Handmaids Tale, a bit apocalyptic true but also a great distraction.

8. Exercise is important, I’ve been getting my exercise mostly from dog walking and postpartum Pilates (which is SO GOOD) so now I need a new routine. I also have post pregnancy weight to loose so don’t want to turn into a potato.

9. Make a meal of it. Enjoy the mealtimes, take time over that coffee. Time is moving in a weird way, sometimes fast sometimes slow. There’s an opportunity to reconnect and let things move at a slower pace…embrace that!

10. I wish we had more board games and jigsaws! We have a few games but would be nice to have more! I really wish we’d bought a chess set, we’ve been saying for ages we should.

11. Now is the time for reflection, there’s a lot we could worry about but our health is most important so that’s what I’m focusing on. I’m making sure I’m taking my vitamin pills and that me and my daughter are taking our vitamin D supplement. This is the type of thing that’s easy to forget to stock up on so get some in! I’m also regularly cleaning things like my phone, keys, door knobs, pram handles and dog lead. Things I touch when I’m out and about.

12. Generally being eco conscious is paying off – using cloth nappies, reusable cotton wool pads and small things like that means stocking up is much easier as we don’t need to worry about those things.

13. Being empathetic to others is important. For example we struggled with breast feeding at first but now we are able to do it. In the process we feed both formula and Brest milk, but if we needed to I could feed exclusively breast milk. So I just bought 2 weeks of formula supply because some people can’t or don’t breastfeed, I would be really anxious if that was me so I don’t want to hoard vital supplies I don’t really need.

14. We’re also preparing for the start of a working week where we both work from home without external childcare support. We are going to define ‘working hours’ and when one of us is working the other will look after our daughter. Lock-down is family time. My husband had 5 days of paternity leave and that was spent in the hospital as we recovered, so this is a good bonding opportunity for us all.

15. Spain is awesome, Madrid rocks. Everyone is looking out for each other. At 10pm on the first day of lock-down people took to their balconies to applaud hospital staff. At 8pm daily the Community of Madrid (kind of like the council) will live stream a yoga class for people to get involved with at home. As an aside free exercise classes take place in parks under normal circumstances and they are particularly focused on keeping older people active. I love this city.

Things I wished we’d thought of:

1. Fitting in a trip to the garden centre. We’d been saying for ages we wanted to get some plants for our outside spaces and now the garden centres are shut. Nothing to worry about of course but would have been a good project.

2. Similarly there’s a few house jobs which could use some paint. I only have a tiny bit in so wish I’d bought some!

3. I had stuff to send via the post office, presents and things that require going into the post office rather than just a post office. Really trivial but now it’s annoying me.

4. I wish we had got the phone number of a particular neighbour who is quite elderly and we see walking his dogs. We didn’t see him for a few days but then yesterday I heard him outside so quickly shouted to him across the street to get in touch if he needed something and did he want our number? He was totally chill and gave the impression (with a smile) that I was a mad woman.

5. My husband wishes he’d had a hair cut, you know how much those military types love a sharp do!

6. Dog food, we forgot dog food. We probably have enough but we’ll try and get more. It’s true what they say, when you have a baby your dog stops being your first born and becomes a dog. So we sort of forgot about preparing for him (and we feel bad about it as he’s got puppy eyes going on)

7. I wish I’d bought more tonic for my gin. When last did a food shop there were only 3 cans.

So we’re fine, actually more than fine. We’re healthy at the moment, we can continue to work (but remotely) and we have a nice roof over our heads. Many are not in this privileged situation and those are the people I’m thinking about the most.