Let’s have a Social Distancing Day


  • Metro News
  • Saturday, 23 May 2020

The writer’s mother, Susiela Arumugam, feeding the koi in her well-tended garden.

I HAVE had several tiffs with my mother ever since the movement control order (MCO) was implemented on March 18.

She has been living with me since 2002. So, a fact that I have had to accept since she moved in with me and my husband was that when it came to the kitchen and garden, we must be prepared to take a back seat.

And I will not lie, we were happy to oblige.

My mother runs the household, and a big part of that is ensuring that there is enough food in the house and the fridge is well stocked up.

Shopping for groceries was something that she took charge of and she was happy to do it.

She often refers to the kitchen and the garden as her “departments” and I know well enough not to interfere with things that are not in my jurisdiction.

But with the MCO, all the rules and habits of our household went out the window.

Change was imminent, but we never expected how something as insignificant as cabbage and coconut could get one into serious trouble.

At the start of the MCO, when the bulk buying was at its peak and only the head of the household was allowed to do the shopping, the job fell on my husband’s shoulders.

It was his first time shopping for groceries solo, and he had no clue what to get even though he had a list with him.

Most of what was on the list was sold out anyway.

So he came back with items that my mother had never used or would not even consider. But she understood as we were facing a pandemic after all, and it was not the time to be fussy.

As the weeks wore on and we entered the second month of the MCO, restrictions were eased which allowed me to accompany my husband when shopping.

We would pick up whatever vegetables they had in stock and these were still not the right ones where my mother was concerned.

Her face would drop the moment she saw the bags of grocery we bought.

“This is not the brand I wanted” or “have you ever seen me cooking this” or “when I said fresh coconut, I meant grated coconut and not a whole one,” she would say in a disapproving tone.

The thing is, my mother has every right to be annoyed.

She has single-handedly run the household for years and made sure that we come home from work to hot, nutritious and delicious food on the table.

I never took interest in the food she prepared or the type of vegetables she chose to cook or the brand of oil she used.

I just ate. So yes, I took things my mother did for us for granted.

Another thing I took for granted was the garden.

My small garden is a place I go to recharge – body, mind and soul.

You have no idea how thankful I am to have this little nook when many people have been stuck in cramped conditions during the MCO.

But thanks to my mother, the garden is always neat, pruned and a delight to spend time in.

Like everyone else, I too have been working from home. But I have been lucky to be able to go out on the field to cover stories from time to time, thereby stretching my legs and getting some fresh air.

To be honest, it has kept me sane. But my mother has been housebound.

At 74, she is at the highest risk of contracting Covid-19, and has been in lockdown for more than two months.

Imagine what she must be going through both mentally and physically.

My mother is right, I should have known better than to buy purple cabbage, because I do not remember ever eating it.

Also, we eat chutney every other day, so we should have known that she wanted grated coconut.

This MCO has shown me just how little I have taken interest in what she does for us.

Over the course of several months, we have watched the world change and how much people have adapted to the new way of life, embracing social distancing and appreciating life more.

This MCO has made me and my husband evaluate our relationship with family and re-prioritise that relationship, especially with my mother.

Work has always consumed me to the point that I have failed to appreciate the things that she does for us.

Which is why I would like to propose to the powers that be that once we have come out of this trying time, let’s make March 18, the day the MCO was first implemented, as Social Distancing Day.

And every year on this date, we should celebrate the day to remind ourselves that life is precious and our loved ones are even more precious.

So do take time to prune the rose bush or do the grocery shopping.

Because I only noticed what my mother did when she stopped doing it.

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