As cabin fever creeps in, families think of ways to cope

Opalyn Mok
For many parents, the challenge has been in keeping children entertained throughout the day during the movement control order. — Picture by Farhan Najib

GEORGE TOWN, March 23 — Schools are closed, so are all parks, playgrounds and malls during the movement control order (MCO) which means children are confined at home with their parents for the next two weeks.

While food supply is not an issue as all supermarkets, restaurants and markets remain open, the challenge has been in keeping children entertained throughout the day.

Some parents have drawn up schedules that include study time and playtime for their children, while some, especially those dealing with younger children, said it was an uphill battle just to prevent major meltdowns.

Azlina Akbar Ali, who has a five-year-old son and three-year-old twin daughters, purchased movies to keep the toddlers entertained while she cooks the family’s meals.

“I had to buy the latest Frozen and Ejen Ali movies to keep them occupied as I have to cook and prepare snacks for them throughout the day,” she said.

The 42-year-old was recently let go under a Voluntary Separation Scheme (VSS) and was in the midst of looking for another job when the MCO was implemented.

On a usual day, her son attends kindergarten and the twins are sent to a babysitter and she will only pick them up in the evenings.

“Now, they are home the whole day, it is very tiring. They will play with toys for a while and then they will start squabbling. The twins will gang up on the brother or the brother will bully them, or they will insist that I sit with them,” she said.

In terms of food, she usually buys one week’s supply of vegetables, chicken and fish and the last time she bought groceries was last Thursday.

She said she will probably need to replenish supplies this Sunday and since the children tend to snack a lot, they will also need to stock up on biscuits, cereals and frozen food such as ready-made roti canai.

She said the meals that she prepares are often simple ones so supplies usually last for about a week.

“I will have to stock up on colouring books and toys to keep them occupied because they get bored easily,” she said.

For families with school-going children, the children have been given revision and homework time as well as time for gadgets to keep them occupied.

K. Kavitha said her two sons, 12 and 14 years old, spend part of the time doing revision and their homework.

They will also help clean the house, play board games and then be given some “gadget time”.

“Sometimes, they help me or their grandmother cook,” she said.

She said they understood that they had to comply with the MCO and that they had to stay home to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Kavitha, who is in a home-based business in the wellness industry, said she usually cooks lunch and dinner.

“I keep three days’ supply of fresh vegetables and fruits and I have dry noodles, bread flour and eggs that can last a week,” she said.

Her husband’s elderly parents are living with them and they usually go for walks but now they have to walk around inside their house.

She said both of them, in their 70s, are diabetic and hypertensive but their condition is under control.

“They get their medication from the Air Itam clinic and I get supplements from the pharmacy for them,” she said.

Her husband is in the construction industry and so cannot go to work during the MCO.

She is not sure if he will face a pay cut, but believes they will be able to weather the cost of living for now as they live a simple lifestyle.

As for couples who work from home, like insurance agents Leo Tan and Irene Goh, it is important to draw up a schedule for their children so that they could work in peace.

Goh said she will prepare breakfast for the family in the mornings before starting work.

“We still make sure we work from 9am to 5pm; we will complete our paperwork and conduct online meetings,” she said.

She said they could still discuss insurance policies with clients through WhatsApp video calls and can even do online submission for new customers.

Their two children, a 14-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl, are assigned homework and revision in the mornings.

“In the afternoon, they will have some free time so they can play games on their gadgets and at night, we will watch movies on TV together,” she said.

To keep everyone active, she said they also follow some online exercise videos for indoor workouts.

In terms of food, they have stocked one week’s worth of supplies and Goh has methodically separated the portions for each meal to ensure there is no wastage.

“We will sometimes go out to buy hawker food such as Jawa mee or Hokkien mee to add variety to our meals,” she said.

The MCO, which started on March 18, is until March 31.

Malaysians are required to stay at home at all times during the MCO except to buy essential items and to travel to work in the essential services sectors.



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