I'm in lockdown in a Perth heatwave with six kids and no air conditioning

For nearly the past year, the world has been ravaged by COVID-19. Well, everywhere except Western Australia, really, where I live.

Yes, we did have a small lockdown in March/April last year. Yes, we’ve had some anxiety about ships at port with COVID cases. Yes, we even ran out of toilet paper for a bit here in the West. And sadly, there have been deaths from COVID in WA. But really, since midway through 2020, life has been close to normal.

But on January 31 at about 12:30pm, I got a frantic call from my wife. She exasperatedly said, “We’re in lockdown from 6pm tonight! We have very little food. No school this week.” I quickly “pivoted”, ran to Costco, waited in line for about an hour and a half (it’s not panic buying when you have to buy food for six kids!) to sort us out for a minimum five-day lockdown.

My trip to Costco was the first time I’ve ever worn a mask.

I am an American who has lived in Perth for the past 12 years. I have watched in horror as my home nation has had seasons where bodies have been piled up outside of hospitals.

I’ve cringed at the thought of my nephews and friends kids needing to do school online for nearly a year. One of my friends remarked to me when I said my kids needed to go to bed early for school tomorrow that “you mean they go to actual face to face school?”

Just last month, I saw a picture of a friend of mine gathered with her ‘Mum’s Group’, outside the church, at night, in picnic chairs, social distanced with masks on in -4C weather.

They were desperate for any form of human connection, outside their immediate household.

This lockdown has been something of a shock to our WA systems.

And yet, for myself and my family in Perth, most of our pandemic experience has been surreal. My kids were out of school in April for about two weeks. Yes, only two weeks. I never stopped going to work as a Bible Society Australia Church and Community Relations Representative.

My job changed a bit but has been stable. Since the end of July I’ve still been able to visit churches, as well as worship in-person with my own Lifestreams Christian Church community. I’ve even been to about 10 live sporting events (AFL, Big Bash, Australian Baseball League) with thousands of fans.

So this lockdown has been something of a shock to our WA systems. Oh, and did I mention how the air conditioning in my house has been broken for the past six weeks?

Personally, my family is dealing with compounding personal stresses and our kids now are having to deal with the disappointment of normal routine being broken. They were all looking forward to a new year. Last Thursday they just found out their new class lists. My wife had just put away the school holiday books and extra crafts.

And then with less than 24 hours before school was meant to be back, the kids had their excitement and anticipation turn to disappointment. They also are feeling uncertainty about what they were hoping would be a somewhat normal year.

Add to all this, the reality of two toddlers at home (one with special needs) where a quiet day of board games and craft activities isn’t reality. Throw in the smoke from a fire nearby, which has limited the availability to play in the backyard.

This week in lockdown, we have gone through moments of lots of TV, playing with cars down on the ground, ongoing tantrums and sibling squabbles. Usually, we are a family that has lots of school activities, swimming lessons, appointments and a social life that breaks the home tension.

Lockdown week has not been a cute little extra week of school holidays for us. Instead, it’s been an unrelenting, unproductive countdown of hours (and sometimes minutes) to get to dinner and bedtimes.

When the Premier announced the lockdown restrictions, I joking posted this on Facebook: “I told the kids that from tonight at 6pm, the government has ordered them all to stay in their rooms and not talk until Friday night at 6 … while only being allowed to leave their room for essential food trips … Am I interpreting the Premier’s message correctly?”

I told the kids that from tonight at 6pm, the government has ordered them all to stay in their rooms and not talk until Friday night at 6…

Am I interpreting the messaging from the Premier correctly?

Posted by Rick Pekan on Sunday, January 31, 2021

This post has been one of my most popular posts of the past year, with many standing in solidarity with this feeling – and a few just privately checking in to make sure I haven’t actually locked the kids in their room. No, I haven’t.

We know no one is immune from the effects of the pandemic and impacts different people in different ways. For our family, the most difficult element to manage has been caring for our child with special needs and the disruption to his routine. It reminds us that the pandemic and associated lockdowns disproportionally affect the vulnerable and those who need additional supports to thrive. It can feel even more isolating and lonely when a child who needs his daycare and extra support to flourish is now forced inside without understanding why and not being able to express why.

As this week has gone on, our city has been ravaged by bushfire which has destroyed countless homes and rained smoke and ash on the city – even out to Rottnest Island (more than 70 kilometres away).

My wife remarked (in a joking manner, not her actual theological position) that it feels like God has been on a worldwide ‘smite tour’ and that somehow, he forgot about us in WA – so he is making up for it now.

While we know this isn’t true, I’m actually encouraged by parts of the Bible (like Psalms, Job and Lamentations) where the Biblical narrative tells us that it’s actually OK to wonder and ask God why.

I know my circumstances are nothing like Job’s. I know I am really dealing with “first world problems”. I’m still in one of the most privileged parts of the world. All of us in Australia are incredibly blessed, relatively speaking.

I lament with my friends in the USA, across Europe and across many less privileged nations whose past 12 months has been filled with pain, anxiety and with little light at the end of the tunnel.

So from my Mordor-like sweltering home of isolation, I’m encouraged by both the contrast of pain and hope from Psalm 77:4-15

“Because of you, Lord God, I can’t sleep. I am restless and can’t even talk. I think of times gone by, of those years long ago. Each night my mind is flooded with questions: ‘Have you rejected me forever? Won’t you be kind again? Is this the end of your love and your promises? Have you forgotten how to have pity? Do you refuse to show mercy because of your anger?’ Then I said, ‘God Most High, what hurts me most is that you no longer help us with your mighty arm.’ Our Lord, I will remember the things you have done, your miracles of long ago. I will think about each one of your mighty deeds. Everything you do is right, and no other god compares with you. You alone work miracles, and you have let nations see your mighty power. With your own arm you rescued your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.”

Rick Pekan is a Church and Community Relations Representative for Bible Society Australia.