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‘Where’s Mommy?’: Pandemic parenting from Dubai

By GLAIZA GODINEZ Published Feb 06, 2021 10:57 pm Updated Feb 07, 2021 12:17 am

While I was waiting for my turn in the queue going into the big white tent, where I would receive the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, I just kept thinking about Tala, my four-year-old daughter, in the Philippines. I haven’t seen her and my parents since September 2019.

The last time I kissed her cheeks was an early Tuesday morning while she was still sleeping in bed. We didn’t wake her up because saying goodbye never got any easier, and I didn’t want her lingering memory of me to be my back leaving the door.

In February 2020, I hugged my husband goodbye at the cold and crowded Dubai International Airport. He resigned from his job here in the UAE and was flying to Manila to be with our daughter, with plans of both of them coming back.

A few weeks later, the pandemic and global lockdowns hit.

Now, it’s been a year of Zoom chats, Facebook messages, sending packages, and tears in between.  

"Waiting for my COVID-19 jab." Photo by Glaiza Seguia-Godinez
Waiting for my COVID-19 jab in Dubai. Photos by Glaiza Seguia-Godinez

I’ve been working in Dubai for 10 years and I try to go home once or twice every year. Last year is the only time I wasn’t able to and that lies heavily in my heart. I always plan my annual leave around her birthday. But as the world stopped and the virus continued to spread, everyone’s small and grand plans just felt so inconsequential.

At first, I was adamant about going home and was closely monitoring travel regulations and flight advisories. But with all the risks and quarantine stories, I felt it was a responsible decision to stay put. All the while watching the worsening news and doomscrolling on social media.

Parenting as an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) is hard, and the pandemic just furthered the distance and amplified my parental guilt even more. I thought: “I should be the one helping with her online classes. She’s so big now, what if I can’t carry her anymore? Why didn’t I just wake her up that morning and said goodbye properly?”

I burst into tears every now and then at home, in the office, while doing the grocery—believing I’m a terrible mother.

Mardy Dizon, a clinical psychologist at the Cambridge for Family Counseling and Training Center in Ras Al Khaimah, says the pandemic has affected OFWs on a deeper emotional level. “The usual worry that you have about the safety of your children every time you are away from them has been added with a health scare. And not being able to travel as you normally would prefer does not help at all lessen your worries as a parent.”

Good thing we have technology on our side today. My husband and I try to work around the four-hour time difference and schedule (in the UAE, the workweek is from Sunday to Thursday) to create a semblance of normal family activities. We blew our birthday cakes together via Zoom. We have storytelling sessions. We exercise together. We had an art day, tea party, and online staring contests.

This is not ideal or easy. My timeline is filled with precious moments of parents with their children both enjoying and struggling together during this time, and I’m a little envious. But if there’s anything I learned from all of this, it’s to do what’s best for you right now.  

Tala would send me random keyboard smash messages, emojis, and videos of her pretending to be a YouTuber. I learned how to bake banana bread to impress her. My husband would recount what she did in school that day or how she asked, pouting: “Where’s mommy?”

This is not ideal or easy. My timeline is filled with precious moments of parents with their children both enjoying and struggling together during this time, and I’m a little envious. But if there’s anything I learned from all of this, it’s to do what’s best for you right now.

Dizon advises us to talk to our children: “We should take time to listen and answer all their questions as much as possible. We should be open and patient in explaining to them what the pandemic is and why these things are happening. It is best to take some time to talk to your child and encourage them to ask you about COVID-19 and how to prevent it, and the reason for staying at home.”

A street sign in Dubai, UAE, reminding us to be responsible amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Rommel Sergio, a university professor at the Abu Dhabi School of Management and psychologist who provides free counseling programs to distressed OFWs, says distance should not be a barrier. “Constant communication creates openness, belongingness, derails doubt and distrust. The designated time and days create a feeling of excitement and longing to bond with family, and this must be prioritized.”

He adds that mental health is a balance of physical, mental, and emotional states. His tips for OFWs to help during these hard times: “Get involved: there are things you cannot control. Instead of worrying, be part of somebody else’s support system. Reflect: self-compassion and self-care are important. Ask for help; do creative things; have a good diet and boost your immune system; exercise; and sleep.”

UAE’s free nationwide vaccination drive started in December with the aim of inoculating half of the population by the first quarter of 2021. The COVID-19 cases are currently on the rise in the country. But as of this writing, over 3.8 million vaccine doses have already been administered. The same way we completed Tala’s immunization schedule, it was an easy choice for me to also get vaccinated. rust this is a step towards healing the world and, if anything, just makes it possible to hug my kid again.

I received the Sinopharm jab that Saturday afternoon. The entire process was less than 30 minutes and, thankfully, I didn’t experience any side effects. Before going to the venue, I was on a Zoom chat with her. We were reading a book and telling her I was about to get an injection—like the ones she gets from her pediatrician. When I got home later, she asked, “Did mommy cry? Did you have a great shot? You were very brave, mommy.”

It’s hard and exhausting to be brave these days. But I’m trying, kid.

This pandemic has been unsettling and tragic for many Filipinos, and I can only hope for better days and efficient vaccination rollout in the Philippines to begin.