EVEN if the recent GCQ began at the beginning of February 2021, I feel like I’ve been on strict quarantine since December. First, both parents-in-law came down with a mild case of Covid (thankfully, both have made a full recovery!). Even though all our households tested negative, I kept the kids at home just as a precaution. I thought, perhaps it was a blessing in disguise because we avoided being part of the second wave (or is it the third?) of infections, plus the highly infectious UK variant that was just coming in over the holidays.
After Christmas, we remained at home because I knew my sister, her husband and four children were coming to visit from Manila by the end of January. After ten months of being apart, I wanted to make sure that we would all be safe within our “bubble”. I turned down play dates and coffee dates and was eternally grateful that my next-door neighbor, my brother-in-law, and his girlfriend, have a veritable menagerie my children love to play with—ten dogs of varying sizes and temperaments, two cats, and a pig called Hakaw. Living on a private road with a pine forest as a backyard also gives my children the freedom to run around and enjoy nature. By the 5th month in quarantine, my five-year-old daughter had taught herself how to ride a bicycle without guide wheels.
The reason it took us ten months to schedule this reunion is that we were trying to keep our parents safe. With so much new information coming out about the coronavirus, it was hard for my sister to decide to come because she didn’t want to risk giving the virus to our 70-something parents. But since she and her family live in strict quarantine anyway, plus they were willing to take PCR tests before arrival, they decided the risk could be managed.
By January 19 of this year, the city government announced that children below 15 and seniors above 60 would not be allowed outside the home. When my sister and her family arrived, they landed straight into GCQ, which sort of suited them just fine. We entered that bubble of safety with them and did not emerge until they left on February 21.
For nearly a month, our collective children were in cousin heaven. We came over nearly every day for afternoon play and dinner. My children slept over from Friday night until Sunday (for the first time in seven-and-a-half years, my husband and I had a childless house on the weekend—for an entire month!). The kids rode their bikes around my parents’ condominium premises, painted, baked, played way too many video games and watched too many episodes of Sharko and Zig. The Waldorf parent in me decided to relax and just let it be. Ten months of pent-up frustration at being apart had to be released.
As for us grown-ups, we also relaxed. Every sunset was greeted with wine and sangria or scotch. My brother-in-law Dondon is an excellent cook, and we enjoyed his creations to the detriment of our waistbands. We taught my brother and sister mahjong, and I finally achieved the lifelong dream of playing mahjong with the entire family, learning Dad’s tricks and actually sometimes winning without guidance.
When the ban on children was finally lifted in mid-February, we were finally able to schedule a long-overdue private session at Vivistop. Vivistop is a creativity accelerator for eight to 14 year-olds, located at #1 Yangco Hub. Also home to Mt. Cloud Bookshop, Hot Cat Coffee and Behind Bars bike shop, this Hub is one of our happy places in Baguio. Vivistop is non-profit and completely free, all you have to do is make sure you book a session through their website to secure a two-hour slot for your child/children (each two-hour slot is limited to three to five children only). Activities are child-led, with adults playing only a supporting role in the child’s creative project. Aside from craft materials, there are 3D printers, laser cutters, pin makers, t-shirt design printers, two high-powered computers. Before they left, the cousins were able to fit in two sessions, and they created designs for t-shirts (which were actually printed and taken home), made charms out of resin and other objects, created slime, played with the 3D printer and 3D pen.
This month of family togetherness showed me that as much as we appreciate Zoom and other video calling platforms, it just does not come close to the fullness of human interaction.
It is especially evident in the field of education. No matter how caring and creative my children’s teachers are, we all know how limited the experience is because interaction occurs via video call. It’s difficult to be spontaneous, some children feel shy, others have to be unnecessarily reined in because the audio setup cannot handle more than one person talking at a time.
My best friend Mari has been a teacher these past 25 years in a British school in Madrid. They have been having face-to-face classes since last September. Before opening, they created smaller class sizes, 10-student bubbles with one teacher (they had to hire more teachers). Each bubble goes to the same dining table, and they even have seat assignments. Dining times and playground times are staggered. Everyone wears a mask at all times. Hands are sanitized before and after touching anything to be given to or received from a student. Even if it is still winter, all doors and windows in the classroom are kept open (they are all attending class in their overcoats!). If one teacher or student tests positive for Covid, the whole bubble goes into quarantine for two weeks (even if their tests come out negative).
By following all these protocols, they have experienced zero transmissions within the school—all the infections have occurred outside school.
I have heard people say that this model is impossible to adopt in our country with overpopulated public schools, but I feel we need to be willing to think things further and be creative in our solutions. Certainly, smaller private schools with enough classrooms can institute these protocols (or we can create satellite classrooms for those willing to volunteer their gardens or well-ventilated houses). For public schools, perhaps smaller class sizes can be accommodated if classes are divided into M-W-F and T-Th-S face-to-face class schedules (ultimately, more classrooms need to be built for densely populated areas). Not all schools have the same issues, and so each school has to consider their unique challenges and find solutions for them. Also, perhaps DepEd needs to reconsider some of their policies in order to evolve with the requirements of the situation. Projections by scientists and statisticians show that with the slow roll-out of vaccines (and their varying efficacy), we are stuck in this situation for the next seven-and-a-half years.
In two weeks, we will be marking an entire year since the declaration of ECQ. We need to take stock of the lessons of the pandemic and realize that we all still have the freedom to use our God-given gifts of coming up with creative solutions. Human beings have survived pandemics before and learned a thing or two because of them. As the virus mutates, we must realize that our own evolution is being called forth.