From Ruby Princess to fake CFMEU protest superspreading events, long COVID, loved ones dying, and social chasms splitting between antivax and vaccinated, it has been a tough 22 months. Here in the ACT businesses are under enormous pressure, families are juggling working from home while distance educating their kids, mental health services are struggling to keep up with demand, and the up-until-now daily 11:45am Chief Minister’s Delta briefing has come to feel like wartime bulletins from the bunker. Even Australia Post and courier services are not keeping up with online shopping fulfillment.

And yet…with the looming October 15 deadline for lifting current strict lockdown, one can see the silver linings in the Canberra Covid playbook. From our friends’ and family’s experiences here are our Top 6 Pandemic Silver Linings:

Happy Lockdown teen cooking covid lockdown cake with icing frogs

1. We are all Kids in the Kitchen

There is nothing like day-after-day relying on your own cooking skills to kill your love of kitchen work. The first stage was shock: not being able to book one’s favourite restaurant, or pop into the local cafe for a weekend breakfast after a mountain walk. Then the exciting re-discovery of take away. Then as stay-at-home dragged on and on the boredom really set in…until from the ashes of yet another round of stir fry or spag bol arose: The Culinary Challenge! I’ve heard of daily biscuit competitions complete with scorecards, recreating favourite meals from dim memories of eating from the past, meals inspired by international country cultural cuisine, cooking one’s way from front to back of a favourite cookbook – no cheating now! New sourdough projects, kombucha on the go, fermentation neighborhood drop offs for kefir and yoghurts, re-discovering the joy of jam making, and my personal favourite: teens baking sweet treats.

2. The hour/2 hours/4 hours of power: fitness freedom outside

I’m not sure of the view from your window, but from mine over the last 22 months it has been a revolution. From last year’s predominant lonely dog walkers huddled over their phones walking the canine with a brisk head-down efficiency has grown a full family extravaganza of bikes and scooters and walking and running all together now. Spoon families in greenways, fairy knells, teddy bears in windows. I love seeing the adolescents and parents strolling and chatting – imagining the cajoling and gentle dragging from teen rooms that precedes these daily promenades. Tiny squealing kids on balance bikes, groups of dads wearing babies in front packs, and mamas pushing prams, catching up on phone calls and sipping coffee. Two years ago I would have said it was impossible for more Canberrans to be out on bikes and walking up Mt Majura: this year has proven me wrong. And the picnics! Or possibly the ”pissnics”? It was so good to catch up at last, with 4 others, outside in the spring weather. We sit in cul-de-sacs in puffers, socially distanced around firepits. And the gardening – a riot of mulch and pruned shrubs like never before.

3. Smiling eyes

Masks are uncomfortable and make one sound muffled, deadening the top tones of the voice and making everyone into a miming thumbs-up kinda person. But as we have transitioned to this COVID 19 necessity accessory, I have noticed the gradual adaptation of Canberrans to the eye smile. From the initial unintended grimace to the eventual twinkle, it is difficult to master but practice makes perfect. These days I have seen some wonderful eye smiles: creasy joyfulness, often paired with the enthusiastic encouraging thumbs up. Let’s keep those smiling eyes going after the masks have gone too.

4. We are all in this together

Working from home is hard. Distance education (online school) is hard. Trying to do both well at the same time is impossible. Take it from a retired home educator: it cannot be done without changing your ideas about both. If work absolutely takes priority – particularly if it is time sensitive – encouraging younger kids to independently read, make art, make music, and watch actual educational shows and documentaries (I do not mean open slather YouTube) is good enough, truly. Make morning and afternoon teas an extravaganza of yumminess or bouncing on the trampoline. Spending more time together is a blessing: as a parent you are gaining insight into what your kids are learning at school, just as your kids are getting to see what working is like for you. Go gently and be kind and nurture each other: this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for kids and parents alike…and school is returning any day now in the ACT.

5. I am not a cat, your honour: video inventiveness

The power of the video call. From court cases, work meetings, training, health appointments of all kinds, school briefings and classes, we have become Zoomers. But as the pandemic continues to drag on human creativity has forged new ways to communicate and connect. Our family and friends have done video dinners, video drinks, video karate, video biology and chem labs, video board games, video watching parties, video 18th birthday celebrations, and video choir. Even video cooking classes for kids. Video falling in love and surely video proposals are happening too? I do like the idea of video calls being just like a ouji board seance “is that you Joan?” “I can’t hear you Mike” “is there anybody there?” “where are you now – it looks all blurry” ”help me help me I can’t hear you!” ”I can hear you but I can’t see you”. Human ingenuity and creativity has triumphed, and maybe you’ve realised you can work from home after all, or from the South Coast (once we are allowed to leave the Territory, naturally).

6. Growing a tighter, more cohesive, more grateful community

Here in the ACT bubble, surrounded by NSW, and with some of neighbouring NSW actually inside our bubble, COVID-19 has brought us closer. We cannot escape! In typical Canberran fashion this has forged a new cohesiveness. We are all Ken Behrens! Whatever your politics, we all love our COVID briefing Auslan signers. Essential workers are our new heroes. This month I have heard countless “thanks for keeping on working”, “thank you for doing what you do”, “thanks for keeping us safe” to health staff, supermarket workers, couriers, police officers, pizza deliverers, COVID testing staff, and all of those amazing Canberrans that have kept us going.

We need to extend this appreciation to ourselves and our closest friends and family…and seem to be doing so in one particular area – the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest figures on the causes of death in 2020, which showed that the pandemic actually led to a significant reduction in mortality in Australia, including in the suicide rate. I think it is because for most of us we are spending more time together, caring for each other, looking out for each other, and being empathic – this lockdown business is hard for all of us. Happy Lockdown easing to you and yours 💚

#ResilienceAndRecovery National Mental Health Month 2021 https://www.mhfa.org.au/cms/national-mental-health-month-2021