The organised chaos

The rituals that the pandemic stole from us

I have an M.O when it comes to getting my hair done.

It usually takes place during the term break, so once every three months or so. I will take a day off from work, and it is typically a week day, and the earliest appointment the salon can arrange for me. I drop the kids off at school and park the car at home before taking the bus into town for the appointment.

After the usual works – greys get touched up, a trim to keep the shape neat and tidy – I’ll head over to an eatery for my coffee and meal. There, I’ll linger for a while, enjoying the quiet sips of my coffee as music wafts into my ears through my noise cancelling AirPods. There, I am shut off from the world, immersed only in my book and my music. There, I am my own, and I am gentle, and I am silent.

A cup of coffee on a table in a cafe
Always a cup of flat white

Time, however still it seems, doesn’t stop. Before I know it, the cup is empty, the aftertaste of coffee lingers in my mouth and a glance at my watch tells me that it’s time to head home so that I can pick my littles up. A quick check of the app shows me that the bus will arrive in eight minutes – I pay for my meal, pack up and slip out of the place to walk to the bus stop.

This process emerged, initially, because of a lack of time. Weekends are for spending with the kids and husband, and I needed to be home in time so as to pick the boys up from school. As time went by, it became a block of time that I carved out for me.

Over time, it became a ritual that I followed unconsciously. But for the past couple of months, and perhaps even the year, there were times when COVID guidelines meant that I could only zip and out for a haircut. The ritual that I had built so carefully over the past decade had been systematically and ruthlessly dismantled because of the pandemic.

The past two months of living under the shadow of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) has shown me just how much the pandemic has robbed us of. I never thought I would miss dining in at an eatery so much and so when we weren’t allowed to do so, it felt like something was missing. When the rule was finally lifted, the first thing I did was to book a dinner date with the husband. And our first meal out was a piping hot bowl of bak chor mee, post gym.

Over the past year of working from home and ordering food in, we have had many bowls of noodles, obviously. But somehow nothing beats waiting for the food to be cooked, and then to tuck into the freshly made noodles.

And then it hit me: it was a ritual in itself. The process of us heading to the gym together, deciding what to eat, queueing up to order, and sitting at the table while devouring our food. Having a date night is also a ritual – me deciding what to wear, dolling up, driving down the expressway with the moon roof opened and pretending that we are doing a road trip, holding hands and walking to the restaurant, conversing with no worry or care.

Maybe that’s why there is always something heavy weighing inside of me. (Granted, I tend towards the melancholy more than the usual.) But there’s always a sense of grief – at times teeny tiny, at times an avalanche – of what we have lost and given up, of what our kids have had to let go of. I am grateful that we, as a whole, have emerged relatively unscathed but I also recognise that my anxiety and grief are valid too.

Perhaps the underlying lesson to be learnt is this: to treasure the little moments of what we have, and to never take anything for granted. On some days, truthfully, the lesson can be a bitter pill to swallow. But you know, time does not stop for us. Summer is here, it’s hot and bloody humid, and before you know it, the kids will be out of school and it’s time to celebrate Christmas. We just have to focus on putting one foot in front of us at a time, shed some tears and laugh out loud along the way, and we will be where we are meant to be in due time.

Cocktails at a restaurant
Date night with the man, Spanish food this time (and most of the time!)

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