GRACE UNDER PRESSURE

My dad calls me every day, usually during his meal breaks. He works as a welder in a big factory and for the most part, his work is solitary. There might be a few words here or there with a passing coworker, but everyone mostly keeps to their own work section. I guess he gets lonely. He has a phone list of people he calls while he has lunch – mum, me (not my brother as he never picks up), his brother, his other brother … and another four or five brothers to choose from.

The phone calls are the same every day. How are the kids? What are you doing? Have you heard the gossip about so and so? As much as my dad’s calls can be annoying, they are comforting in their regularity. These days we talk a lot about the pandemic, which is to be expected. He doesn’t understand my concern with food or toilet paper shortages. His response to having no toilet paper? Ah, just go wash your bottom, like the old days. And to food? I have a stockpile of coffee. And lots of liver pâté and two-minute noodles to spare. Uh, thanks Dad.

Yesterday, my mum lost her second part-time job. She’s now jobless and not eligible for government assistance as my dad makes just above the family threshold for support. So now, my brother and I are supplementing her with a small income to help support my elderly grandma overseas. With spare time on her hands, my mum is now also calling me daily. My phone calls with my mum are slightly different than with my dad. Like today, my mum spent fifty-eight minutes giving me advice on wearing masks in public, cooking meals that the kids will definitely like, what foods to buy in a pandemic and what other measures I should undertake. My mum thinks I should be filling old milk bottles with boiled water in case the water gets infected. A bit drastic methinks.

After my talk with the parents, I felt unnerved and conflicted. I had one parent unaffected by the pandemic and another prepping like it was a zombie apocalypse. Fuelled on heightened anxiety, I went to the supermarket to restock on fresh vegetables and meat. I didn’t wear the mask, feeling self-conscious, and rushed through the grocery list in an effort to reduce exposure in the community. Staff were sanitising baskets; customers were wearing masks; there were no children accompanying their parents. Everyone was complying with rules about social distancing. There were green lines marking safe distancing for queuing. Fortunately, the shelves were looking less bare and there was toilet paper!

In my frazzled state, I didn’t check prices for anything. I just grabbed my listed items, chucked them into the basket and bolted to the cash register. It wasn’t until I got home and was reviewing the bill that I realised two heads of broccoli cost me ten buckaroos! We can’t afford luxury goods in this climate! Broccoli will have to go. I’m sure the children will agree.

We are heading into influenza season with winter and this COVID pandemic could last six months. If I can’t keep my wits about me during this time, I might be forced to take up my dad’s offer of pâté and noodles after all.

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