Lockdown Lessons from a Big Sister

Mohammad Hussain 

Mohammad Hussain (right) and his big sister, Madeha, whose parenting skills inspired his lockdown lessons. Family photo

Mirrors can really suck. You’ll just be cleaning your room, listening to a podcast, trying to forget the global pandemic that haunts your every waking moment and then BAM—you catch a glimpse of yourself. 

Gone is the young, carefree guy and in his place is someone who just looks tired. 

In the span of a few short weeks in 2020, we had to give up seeing our colleagues, friends, and family. We lost many of our distractions. What we were left with was a lot of uncertainty and the crushing weight of our thoughts and anxieties. 

Personally, this past year has been tough. Early in the pandemic, my dad passed away and it was challenging to grieve at a time when I couldn’t hug my friends and family. Not long after, I started a master’s degree. Not long after that, I took on a new job. Everything around me was changing and I couldn’t find a moment to catch my breath. 

My accidental confrontation with my mirror was a wakeup call: I needed to be taking better care of myself.

Often, in our difficult moments we turn to our role models for inspiration. Beyonce’s Homecoming always reminds me that success comes with hard work. A phone call with an old colleague of mine always helps when I have a case of imposter syndrome.

In this case, I knew the wisdom I sought was with my older sister, Madeha. I have always been in awe of her parenting skills. Even on the days her toddler clings to her leg as she chases after her kindergartner who is trying to get away with eating paint, she manages to find time to do everything.

From her I took the following three lessons: 

Keep Yourself Busy: My sister encourages her daughter to explore her interests, a task my niece takes very seriously. Last time we spoke, she was an aspiring rock collector. 

When people ask me what my hobbies are, I say I like to read and that I enjoy nature. This is a lie. 

My actual favourite hobby has always been my work. As someone who has followed politics from a young age, living and working in Ottawa has been a dream come true. 

Before, when I would walk by the Parliament Buildings on my way to the office, even on the most challenging days, it inspired me to stay positive. 

When we started having to work from home, the only things I walked by were the dirty dishes and laundry I was trying to ignore. It quickly became very clear that I would need to find some real interests.

I started with origami. My goal was to learn to fold different animals and use that time to focus on my wellness. Although this failed miserably, I learned that finding hobbies you like takes time. My attempts to learn to ice skate were also unsuccessful but eventually I made my way to video games.

Sometimes, at the end of a long day when you feel tired, there’s nothing as fulfilling as catching a Pokémon.   

Get Yourself Outside: My nephew has this one specific bad mood. My sister perceives it as him having pent up energy. I perceive it as him summoning a demon. Call it what you want, her solution to this is to get him to a park as quickly as possible.

“Now, when I catch myself mumbling angrily, I put on my helmet, hop on my bike, and go on an adventure,” writes parliamentary aide Mohammad Hussain. Mohammad Hussain photo

Everyone has a “tell.” Some people pace around the house looking for something to be angry about. Other people rearrange their furniture. My “tell” is that I get into imaginary arguments with people who don’t know I am angry at them. It all generally means the same thing: it’s time to get outside the house.

Like many people, I prefer the comfort of being indoors to going outside. There is nothing better than a comfy couch and some strong air conditioning. But when indoors is the only place you are allowed to be, home can start to feel suffocating. 

So, now, when I catch myself mumbling angrily, I put on my helmet, hop on my bike, and go on an adventure. 

Don’t Eat Paint: A toddler with a bottle of paint is not a good thing. Inevitably, they will eat the paint—it’s in their nature. They don’t understand that paint is not good for them. That’s when a grown-up steps in and saves the day. 

I have a theory. Even as we become adults, the instinct to eat paint stays with us. It evolves and changes, but it’s always there, lurking in the shadows. When left alone for long enough with my thoughts, I undoubtedly start spiraling as I question all my life choices. This is my version of eating paint.

There is no handbook on this stuff and being stuck at home with few distractions only amplifies every negative feeling. This is the point at which I have to step in and stop myself from catastrophizing. This often just looks like me reminding myself that I am trying to do my best during a very hard time.

This pandemic will end at some point. As we get closer and closer to the other side, I am realizing that my stress and worries will not magically disappear with it. Those are not things I can control. 

What I can control is how I deal with these stresses. I can also control whether I am being kind to people and taking care of myself. 

There is one thing I know for sure. No matter how old I get, when I look in the mirror, I’ll still want to see a young carefree guy staring back.  

Mohammad Hussain is a political staffer who is the author of no books but many Tweets, most notably, a fun little thread about his first Christmas.