It’s been just over a month, six weeks, in fact, since I packed up the kids, separated my family (temporarily!) and left Hong Kong. I’m still not sure whether it was the right decision…
Like many of you, the final straw for our family came during the last week of February. The announcement that summer holidays were being moved from July to March (off the back of our coldest week ever no less), coupled with the heartbreaking story of the young, COVID positive baby separated from her parents sent us into a spin. I truly believe Hong Kong will get better and we will get through it this year, maybe even by the summer, but the prospect of the upcoming months with more social distancing, home learning (shout out to our wonderful teachers – you are all doing an absolutely phenomenal job) and closed playgrounds, not to mention the genuine fear of getting sick; it was time to act.
A Tough Decision
Early on in the pandemic, my husband and I said that whatever happened, we would not split our family. Off the back of border closures, both in Hong Kong and also in our home country, Australia, we’d seen too many families separated for what they thought would be weeks, only to have it turn into months and even years. But this time was different. My son has now spent over half of his life with social disruptions. My daughter was born the day Hong Kong entered the third wave in 2020, a true COVID baby.
We tossed up the idea of moving over to a Thai villa (like many Hong Kong families have done), but desperately wanted to get home, particularly to introduce our baby to her family. So, after ringing around childcare centres, securing places for the kids and being afforded the luxury of working remotely, the decision was made. The kids and I were going to Cairns, Queensland.
What was to follow has been possibly the mentally toughest few weeks of my life.
Flying With Kids During COVID — Two kids, three flights, two layovers and three days later…
With the ongoing flight bans, seats were limited. I flew with the kids via Singapore to Sydney (with a 10-hour layover), and spent the night, before heading north to Cairns. You might recognise our main article image, you lovely, supportive Mamas had an overwhelming response to my travelling tips on Instagram.
I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers on how to fly with kids. All I can say is, we got through it.
Driving through Cairns after landing felt like I could breathe again. It helps that it is possibly the most beautiful city on the planet (yes, I’m biassed), but not needing to wear a mask also helped!
Week 1 – All the tantrums
That feeling wasn’t to last long. The reality of uprooting your kids from the only life they’ve ever known is challenging to put it mildly. We all know that kids thrive off routine. Well, every aspect of that was gone. Different food, a different bedroom, different toys and different people – even if they are family, they were also strangers to our little people. I quickly realised the only constant for them was me.
It wasn’t all bad, the look of pure joy when we went to a playground, it’s something I just can’t wait for all Hong Kong kids to experience again soon.
Week 2 – New schools
The turning point for my son was in our second week, getting back to preschool. We enrolled in a local kindy program, and with ever the love of learning, he slipped straight into the routine of school. Two days in and the teachers commented that you’d never know he was the new kid. Perfect.
Unfortunately, for my daughter, it wasn’t quite the same. The pandemic has meant we never got to go to playgroups, our beloved music classes were stopped and started again. She had barely left the house in the six weeks before we left so you can imagine the overwhelm at the thought of being left at daycare with strangers.
By the end of the week, things were looking up. We were settling in, and getting to our new normal.
Seeing my kids playing with others, making new friends and interacting mask-free, was a feeling like no other. I still get emotional thinking about it.
Week 3 – Help! We’ve caught COVID
As we arrived in Australia, restrictions were easing all over the country. There’s no requirement to check-in and you really only have to wear masks in medical facilities. Looking around daycare on Monday I saw quite a few snotty noses and coughs but didn’t think too much of it.
Then my Dad got sick. He had major medical complications not too long ago so we were on high alert. When I stopped in to pick up his medication the pharmacist told him to take a COVID test. Despite being triple vaxxed, it immediately came back positive. So did mine. When I picked the kids up, my youngest looked awful. A runny nose, cough, and just generally unwell. My heart sank. That evening both the kids also returned positive tests. Thankfully, my eldest barely had so much as a sneeze.
Week 4 – Home quarantine and isolation
Hong Kongers are more well versed than most in the art of isolation so I don’t need to go into details. Let’s just say it was a week I’d rather put behind me. Tempers were tested and there wasn’t a lot of rest to be had. Thank goodness my symptoms were only mild, and my Dad and youngest bounced back relatively quickly. I really don’t know how we would have gotten through if I’d also been bedridden.
Week 5 – Lingering COVID symptoms and missed family milestones
Quarantine seemed to put all our progress back to the beginning. We had to resettle into school and would all seem to get random symptoms at odd times. My daughter woke up from a nap with an extremely high fever, despite never having fevers while sick. My son would get odd bouts of an upset stomach and I seem to have a throat tickle that just won’t clear.
This week was also the first major milestone that my husband missed. Our son’s fourth birthday. Striking the balance between wanting to celebrate, but also not emphasising what he was missing is a tough act. Next was Easter and then it’ll be Mother’s Day in a few week’s time. It’s the first of many missed milestones and hopefully, we can be reunited in time for my birthday but I’m not getting my hopes up.
There have been so many tears along the way. I’ve done every nappy change, every bathtime, cooked every meal and attended every nighttime waking. I’ve dealt with every tantrum (not particularly well) and done every load of washing. All while attempting to work full time (I am so unbelievably grateful to work with such an amazing team of understanding women that’s for sure).
Most days it’s like putting band-aids on a garden hose. Jumping from one crisis to the next. At this point, I’m either looking after the kids, working or sleeping. To say I’m looking forward to the upcoming long weekends is an understatement. I never understood those people who said they would forget to eat. But I’ve somehow become that person. I know we all appreciate our helpers, but after doing all this solo, just wow – the luxury of having that extra set of trusted hands in the home truly is priceless.
This weekend the kids have come down with the next daycare bug. The doctor advised that not only would the COVID symptoms randomly reappear, but there’s gastro and another general virus going around. Similar to Hong Kong, after years of ultra sanitisation, our kids have very little immunity or resilience to any of them.
Having been solo parenting two sick kids (and a sick grandparent) on and off for the past six weeks, it’s again got me questioning the decision to leave our support network in Hong Kong. But, as hard as it is for both my husband and I, the thing I keep coming back to is the good moments. Seeing my kids thriving in school, splashing in the waves, learning to swim and forming a relationship with their grandparents. For our family, it makes it all worth it.
There’s No “Right” Way To Survive A Pandemic
In some ways it feels like that because I left, I can’t complain because this is the path I chose. But two things can be true at the same time — leaving can be the right decision for our family, but it can also be extremely challenging for all involved.
Would it have been better if the kids and I had stayed in Hong Kong? I’ll never know.
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