The Days of our Quarantine Christmas
According to what is objectively the worst Christmas song, there are 12 days of Christmas. 2020 has given our family a Covid bonus: for us, there are 14 days of Christmas quarantine. A pandemic dozen, if you will.
On the first day of Christmas, quarantine gave to me: a swab of my nasal cavity.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. My wife and I had undergone the same procedure in Paris two days earlier, as a condition of boarding the first direct flight from France to Australia in 18 years. The 15 hour flight with three children under eight, after the drama of a rushed repatriation from Europe, had given me the impression that things were on the up-and-up. The chocolates handed out by a jolly Ambassador Bird at the departure gate were a nice touch.
But I definitely should have prepared our three year old, who boldly volunteered to be the first of our family to face the PCR test in arrivals hall of Darwin airport. I won’t soon forget the look of utter betrayal on his face as he realized this procedure wasn’t the fleeting jab and hit of sugar he was used to at the pediatrician.
On the second day of Christmas, quarantine gave to me: two mozzies biting and an appreciation for the Northern Territory.
Howard Springs Quarantine Facility is in a part of Australia where Ross River Fever is endemic, and it seems the local mosquitos are able to weave between RiD-smeared regions of skin to find their own Christmas dinner in the unlikeliest of spots. The third knuckle of my left hand. My 5 year old’s right eyebrow. My 7 year old’s middle toe. I went to the internet to check which was worse: ‘long Covid’ or an incurable, tropical disease. Still not sure.
On the third day of Christmas, quarantine gave to me: three special meals, two upset tummies and a pregnant Korean Bibimbap.
Kudos to the Howard Springs caterers who have to feed 500 folk in sweltering heat with minimal contact between staff and us ‘inmates’. But day three was when we started to really miss cooking for ourselves. The kids struggled with the richness of the prepared dinners. The Covid- and food-safe packaging piled up in our room, revealing the waste we were creating. And the dietary requirement system had clearly been hacked by malicious actors. My eco-oriented, fitness-focused and definitely-not-with-child wife was suddenly designated “pregnant — needs extra food”, meaning all her meals were doubled up. Thanks for all the Bibimbap, chef, it was great. Wife not happy, however.
On the fourth day of Christmas, quarantine gave to me: four dropped zoom calls, three jet lagged kids, two pissed-off clients and a deep existential crisis.
Moving continents is hard. I was attempting to keep my work contracts going, but they were spread across Europe and the US and my shift in timezone threw out every careful schedule I’d crafted to suit clients without detracting too much from family time. My calls from 6pm to midnight Darwin time intersected perfectly with the spontaneous awakening and endless antics of the two little ones from 12.30 to 5.00 am. The act of pouring rice bubbles into a paper cup for my eldest at 6.00 am led me to question not just the whether we had made the right choice in coming home, but to realize that we are all nothing more than crispy puffs of wheat, isolated pockets of low-entropy matter waiting to be crushed into the linoleum floor of the universe.
On the fifth day of Christmas, quarantine gave to me: five single rooms, four angry words, three temp checks, two rescheduled flights and an outbreak in greater Sydney.
Each morning in quarantine starts with me figuring out which of our five identical rooms I’m in, which of my children is trying to push me off the single bed, and which overnight email is most urgent for me to address before breakfast. On day five the answers were ‘B, number 3 and the one from Jetstar’. Our flight from Darwin to Sydney, scheduled for the afternoon we were due to be released, had been cancelled. I admit, I swore a bit. And again when, later that evening, our replacement flight via Adelaide was also canned.
On the sixth day of Christmas, quarantine gave to me: six snakes a slithering, five Coles bags, four calling aunts, three French friends, two sunburnt arms and double shot of instant coffee.
Christmas Eve was upon us and the authorized supermarket deliveries had included a variety of Christmas treats. Bubble wands and chocolates had been ordered by friends in Sydney, and the mince pies and cream had survived the 40 degree heat. The Parisians further down the row yelled that the Howard Springs teams were preparing a slap up Christmas Day feast and that Santa might even deliver gifts to all the children.
The problem was that I couldn’t find our youngest. His disappearance naturally coincided with a text.
“Dear Howard Springs Residents. Please be aware that snakes have been sighted on the grounds. For your safety and that of your children, please remain vigilant.”
Merry Christmas all!