"I've been preparing my whole life for this," Mum laughs on the phone. She's referring to the ability she, my siblings and I have, to devour large portions of food - on many an occasion. Not the genetic gift I hoped for.
But she wasn't just talking about large stomachs. My mother is an innovator in crisis. She knows how to ration, to budget and which cloth to wash and reuse for number twos when panic shoppers have taken the last roll.
I've never been great at that. It's a mission not to blow the budget on pay day; every day, in fact. A great weaknesses of mine is self-control. But in 2020, my habits have begun to change.
My housemate has returned from overseas so, as the government has directed, is self-isolating. I, along with many others, have also shut myself off to the world. I am particularly cautious because my region has a higher proportion of vulnerable people. Thirty per cent of the Eurobodalla Shire is over 65 years old. There is a 5.6 per cent Indigenous population (compared to 2.9 per cent in NSW). The largest industry is aged care. We have no intensive care beds. It's a week's wait to see a GP.
I fear health services won't cope. I don't want 30 per cent of our population to die. I don't anyone to die. People on immunosuppressent drugs are vulnerable. Ten years ago, my mum had chemotherapy and radiotherapy after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and infection-fighting lymph nodes were removed. We feared what a bluebottle sting could do to her, let alone a deadly incurable virus.
I fear we may lose parents, grandparents, siblings and children. Yes, I am a millennial and I am taking it seriously. I am avoiding contact. I am working from home (I don't mind at all). I don't shop unless desperate. I didn't go to our SES meeting or the running group. I can run around the block or walk to the beach, without meeting a soul.
Supermarkets are rationing, so I am paying attention to what I eat. I used to binge then go without because of poor preparation. I threw out left-overs, let food go off. Now, I plan each meal to include fruit, veggies, protein and dairy. I eat veggies before they go off. I don't eat more than I need.
Without toilet paper, tissues or hand towels on sale, I am restricting myself. I indulge in the booty "shake" method for number ones, once reserved for bushwalking (preferably with a breeze). When I worked at a nursing home during my university studies, thrifty residents astonished me. Carol always had a handkerchief and wanted me to reuse tea bags. Ray would drink tea without milk because it "lasted longer". Doris, 96, wanted only two sheets of toilet paper which she folded for number twos. This is a lot of poo talk but bear with me!
Historical events shaped that generation - to take care of the precious items they were lucky enough to have, and be resourceful. My mum was inspired by her dad, my Papa Keith: "His first memory was losing his mum to the Spanish flu in 1920, then lived through the rest of what the century threw at him. Knew about kindness through which came resilience. Understood poverty and the need to make hay whilst the sun shone, because there will be many times when the sun won't. Lost all his mates in the war. Was exposed to asbestos. Lost siblings to scarlet fever and an accident. Was blinded in one eye as a child, yet I discovered this when he was 87 because he always spoke of his 20/20 vision in his 'good' eye. He had his limitations, but always did his best."
He faced many trials and so did my mum. I had everything I needed: a beautiful home, a brother and sister and parents who loved me, sport, education, musical instruments, university, good friends and overseas experiences. I was encouraged to chase my dreams.
The closest thing I've come to a crisis was the 2019/2020 bushfires. The fear of fire will haunt me forever. Not knowing if we might wake up looking at flames. The 6am text message telling us to leave. The sky turning black then red. The wind hot and fierce. Gas bottles and cars exploding and sirens. Helicopters. Traffic lights out, power down. Homes and businesses burning, adults crying. Knowing people, pets and wildlife died. Sleeping on my boss' floor because I had nowhere else. Roads, shops closed, no fuel, no fresh air. I felt it would never end.
I didn't cry then and didn't stop working, but day by day, I began to react. I had regrets: why didn't I grab my violin and boyfriend's guitar? Visit the pottery studio before it burnt? Get to know my neighbours? I thought about what a privilege it was to live near friends or family - neither of which I have down here - when the phones were down and your home was at risk.
Career goals became clearer. I made amends with those I had ignored. I claimed leave after the fires, and camped with my boyfriend. I digested what had happened. We flew away from the smoke to South Australia. We cooked on a trangia stove, washed in the ocean, bushwalked, talked excessively and listened to crime podcasts on road trips. We stayed away from news and social media.
Returning, I felt calm and in touch with what was important: relationships, discussions, the natural environment, exercising, good food and fun. The real world, not the online version. I was more confident, clear-headed and empowered. My colleagues and I worked on a schedule to manage our workloads better. My work is more meaningful than ever.
Since the coronavirus crisis started, a friend also called someone who had hurt her. Is it strange that, during a crisis, it is our instinct to repair relationships? With family, ex-partners, neighbours, even local business owners. Being surrounded by death, were we afraid it would reach us too? I'm sorry things ended badly, I'm sorry I don't talk to you, I'm sorry I didn't acknowledge or support you.
During the bushfires, roads were closed. We were trapped. Food ran low. Supermarkets let in few people at a time. Now, we are trapped in our houses for fear of spreading disease, and those who dare go outside anxiously find their place in the queue.
I have learnt about what should be standard in a home. My boss has solar power and satellite internet at her rural property, which is the only reason we could work. If I had these plus chickens, a small food garden and fruit trees, I would be more self-sufficient. I still adhere to the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" method I began in the bushfires when we were short of water. My boss saves water by washing up in a tub in the sink and watering the garden. If I had compost, I could reuse kitchen scraps. I vow to have these things.
If the coronavirus crisis closes enough businesses, my job might be at risk. In a recession, I have no clue what will happen. Some fear the apocalypse, but it's better to do the research. I am not afraid. I am doing all I can with the knowledge I have.
The world continued after the 1918 Spanish flu, the 1968 Hong Kong flu, the AIDS crisis, the 2002 SARS outbreak, the 2009 Swine flu, the 2013 Ebola epidemic and 2015 MERS. A crisis can reveal what is important. I've always known I was ignorant to real suffering, and knew I was lucky. Now I feel even more lucky.
My papa said bad things always come to an end. My mum says it now and so do I: "Everything turns good in the end". I am counting my blessings. I have a home, a job, friends and family, the beach, bush and blue sky. I can work from home and look at a beautiful labrador called Boo. I can water my plants and smell fresh herbs on my balcony. I can eat baked beans on toast in the sun.
I turn off social media at 4pm and sparingly log in during the day. I have returned to art, flowers, playing the violin and reading. I call loved ones and spend quality time with them when I can.
The most important lesson is to be kind to one another. Nothing else feels better.
Share positivity every way you can. Leave the (bad) news to the journalists.