I sit here at my home, listening to some music while crying my eyes out. It’s the second day when schools have closed down here in the UK. I picked up my daughter Friday for her last day in year two; she was devastated and told me, “Mommy, I want to go back to school.” How do you explain to a six year old that schools are getting shut? That she can’t visit her grandparents in Holland? That she can’t have the greatly-anticipated birthday party with her friends when she turns seven?
I have been following the news about the coronavirus since it landed in Beijing—my home before we moved back to the UK last year. Beijing is a city very close to my heart; I thrived in the expat community. I had amazing jobs working at a parenting magazine and in the marketing department of a hospital. I set up companies Pauline’s Cuisine, Pauline’s Wardrobe, and together with my partner Women’s Retreat Beijing. Creating communities like the Beijing Mothers Guild and starring at clothing auctions were my biggest joys. Leaving Beijing a year ago has broken my heart in many ways: I lost my community, my career, and my friends. My husband gained a better job; my daughter gained free school and new friends; my dog gained a forest to run in; I gained another depression. I took a major hit for the team, my dear family.
I thought creating a new community in Fleet would be easy; everybody surely wants to do new fun things with a new fun person? Boy was I wrong! In the year here I made one good friend. What a stark difference with the huge community of women I left behind always ready for a lunch, coffee, or a party. I have been watching closely how these ladies, mothers, and friends went into quarantine and how they sacrificed their lives for the greater good. These women, my community cooped up in their homes for over eight weeks.
People around me and on social media were joking about the virus. I did not think it was funny; as we walked around in freedom, people fought for their lives in China. Things turned even darker when one of my dear friends passed away in Beijing.She was one of the first mothers who I met when we moved to China. I was devastated to learn of her passing and wished more than ever that I was still in Beijing.
Friends have put their lives on hold and lost probably loads of money. I have seen companies close down and friends lose their livelihood. I have seen friends displaced all over the world as it was Chinese New Year when things became grim in China—at a time when most locals travel to see their families.
But one of the things that I have seen is that my community in China pulled together even more than they already did when I lived there. Groups on social media were created and lifestyle challenges were done:Getting dressed despite the self-isolation? Sure! Tidying of homes, why not? Staying fit and working out? They did it.
Two weeks ago, I had enough.I cried as cases popped up all over the UK,while nothing was being done. The government seemed to think that herd immunity would be a good solution. After I saw what kind of measures China took, I got very scared. My good old friend anxiety showed up. Schools did not close down, people were still running around town. Then the hoarding started, I have never seen anything like it before! Luckily, I have always been a hoarder and have always back up stock.
We are here now, we have arrived. Schools are empty, restaurants are shuttered. We are not sure about anything since rules are not clear. People are still wandering around and running down the shops like they are going out of style. There is no more toilet paper or soap in the stores. I am feeling sick reading the news of all the people dying while others are cozying up at parks or basking in on beaches. There is no security; we don’t know if we will lose jobs nor how long our savings will keep us afloat. But we are here now and we can’t change a thing. I am going to make sure my child does not get too scared and that I don’t fall into a new depression.
I am getting ready to launch Pauline’s Wardrobe on the internet here and travel back to Beijing in May for another retreat. These plans are on hold, indefinitely.
I have a feeling our social distancing will last much longer than the situation in China, just because the UK government has a very different approach. We are here now, good luck to all and may we come out of this with renewed energy, health, and maybe a new community here in Fleet.