25 Mar 2020

Video chats: Technology saves teacher locked down in Milan

1:57 pm on 25 March 2020

A New Zealander who's spent the better part of a month in lockdown in Italy says the key to getting through is remaining connected, setting boundaries, and acknowledging there will be highs and lows.

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Caitlyn Crivelli grabs a moment outside during isolation. Photo: Supplied / Caitlyn Crivelli

Caitlyn Crivelli, originally from Hamilton, is an early childhood teacher living in northern Milan, one of the areas worst-hit by coronavirus.

As New Zealand prepares to move to level 4 lockdown tonight, Crivelli has shared her tips for surviving - including when you live with children.

"You can still enjoy your life. It's a perspective thing. You can say 'I'm confused, I'm anxious, I'm scared,' and you can choose to acknowledge that and then think a different way. That's how I've been processing things."

She has lived in various stages of social isolation and lockdown since 29 February, when she returned from a weekend in Switzerland.

One of the most helpful things has been continuing to connect with friends and family over video chat, which has also helped her process everything that's going on.

"Social isolation doesn't mean you're alone. It's physical isolation, it's not mental or emotional isolation."

One day she had a "virtual aperitivo" - a wine date with two friends over video chat.

"It was the highlight of my day. We got to chat about what's happening around and reconnect. Even though we're in a lockdown we're totally connected. And that's something that's possible to anyone with technology."

While New Zealand has a numbers system, Italy has colour codes for alert levels - green, yellow and red.

When she re-entered Italy, her hometown was considered a yellow zone. Movement was restricted and remained this way for a week.

"Schools and universities were closed, bars and clubs were closed. You were encouraged to stay home but you could still go to restaurants and the metro and you could still visit family and friends."

On 7 March, it was announced that all of Lombardy - the region surrounding Milan - would become a red zone. Days later, all of Italy was red-zoned.

"This is a space of two weeks' time, when the first cases were announced in the media, to when the whole country went into official red zone lockdown."

She considered coming home, but chose to stay because she was in a comfortable place with supportive people, and can continue her second job, as a live-in au pair.

"I'm emotionally okay, mentally okay, physically okay.

"But it has affected me. I'm not gonna lie, I had a cry at one point. I went for a run and I just cried. And that's really important - not to bottle things up. Whatever safe way there is to release those emotions, that's important."

It helped to remember the bigger picture, she said.

"This is a time where we're making decisions collectively as communities globally now, to take care of the people who are vulnerable.

"It's not always about you personally or your mate, it's about your grandparents, your mate's grandparents, your mate's neighbours."

Find the positives

She said it was important to find positives too, like the fact the environment had been given a chance to flourish.

"There are dolphins in the harbour on the coast near Cinque Terre because of the reductions in boats and trade. The water in the canals of Venice has cleared up. You can see the swans have returned.

"Wild animals are appearing more in parks and woodland spaces too."

The community spirit in Italy had provided a morale boost, too.

As well as locals singing and dancing on balconies, there had been "scheduled applause" for emergency services teams, torch light shows at night, and art hanging from balconies.

The artwork - often done by children - depicted rainbows with the words "andra tutto bene" - everything is going to be all right.

The words on the rainbow picture translate to “everything is going to be all right”.

Matteo Riboldi, 4, and his dad, Francesco Riboldi, on their balcony. The words on the rainbow picture translate to "everything is going to be all right". Photo: Supplied / Caitlyn Crivelli

She added supermarkets had remained open and well-stocked with food, toilet paper and other essentials, just with restrictions on distancing.

"I'm definitely coming out of this over-fed. Food is easier to get because there's more time to get food and eat food."

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

Social isolation with children

For adults who live with children, it will be important to have space from them at times, she said.

Crivelli said very young children won't remember the pandemic, but they will remember how their parents or caregivers behaved, and what home felt like.

"They're not going to remember Covid-19, lockdown 2020, they're going to remember playing with their family, they're going to remember having fun.

"It might look like lots of cartoons and movies and that's okay. It might look like lots of lazy days.

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Caitlyn Crivelli works as an au pair with Matteo Riboldi, 4, and his family in Milan, which remains in lockdown. Photo: Supplied / Caitlyn Crivelli

"For me, I've been conscious of how I've been behaving in the eyes of the children I'm living with."

That means setting boundaries - so parents may hold two separate mealtimes - one for the children and one later for the parents, or tag teaming with other adults in the house, she said.

Crivelli's tips for getting through a lockdown:

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