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In February 2020, This Couple In Cebu Didn't Wait To Be Told To Keep Their Kids At Home
PHOTO BY courtesy of Dr. Lyll Karen Bigornia-Arriola
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    When news about the novel coronavirus broke out in January 2020, Dr. Lyll Karen Bigornia-Arriola and her husband of 15 years, Atty. Edison Arriola, started making preparations to deal with its implications.

    The Cebu-based couple first told their children, whom Karen describes as “inquisitive and very helpful,” that “there was an unusual flu in China.”

    So Kaleb Joaquin, 13; Khalil Rafael, 10; and Kael Andreas, 8, joined their parents in reading and watching updates on the highly contagious disease that eventually became known as COVID-19.

    Reacting to the pandemic early

    By February, just before the second birthday of youngest child and only girl Kahlan Gabrielle, Karen and Edison started restricting the boys from going out of the house, except for school. Attending playdates and parties were no longer allowed. The couple decided not to throw a party for Kahlan and just had a family dinner.

    Soon, the global health problem turned into a full-blown pandemic that led to lockdowns in many countries and community quarantine in the Philippines beginning mid-March.

    Just like many families, the Arriolas faced difficulties coping with the situation. Lyll Karen, an eye doctor specializing in surgical retina and uveitis, told SmartParenting.com.ph via email that her biggest challenge was continuing her work since patients “still seem to be wary about seeing doctors personally.”


    She talks about the preventive measures while at work. “When I go out, I cover my hair and my face. Once I put in my protective gear, I don’t touch my face at all until I’m done for the day and ready to remove my protective gear. I never remove my gear inside the clinic unless we are able to sterilize with the UVC lamps.”

    Despite the difficulties, she points out, “We just have to keep on showing up for work, follow strict health protocols, and hope for the best.”

    At home, the mom of four has another challenge in making sure her family is safe. For starters, she and her husband addressed this concern by making many changes around the house, such as the installation of outdoor showers and an ultraviolet-C (UVC) sterilization cabinet.

    Entrance was restricted to only one door, and visitors weren’t allowed to enter. They also asked their household help to stay with them.

    How to manage screen use at home   

    Another parental concern is finding activities for the kids and keeping them off their gadgets. So they constantly discuss and negotiate how hours are spent.

    No screens, no problem. The kids are good at entertaining themselves.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Dr. Lyll Karen Bigornia-Arriola
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    The boys have their daily Kumon classes daily and twice-a-week session of the traditional martial arts escrima. The latter they discovered after getting bored with online soccer training. They do it with their father as a bonding activity aside from playing chess.

    As a family, they enjoy streaming movies and series on a projector the couple bought around 10 years ago. On some days, they continue their pre-pandemic activities like holding quiz nights.

    Mom and kids are into baking. So far, they’ve learned how to make creme brûlée, cheesecake, and beignets. (While making croissants, though, they “ended up with a smoky kitchen.”) They also do crafts, like making soap, as long as no harsh chemicals are used.

    Rafa and Andre proudly show off their cheesecake. Lyll Karen said they learned how to make this during the ECQ. in June 2020.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Dr. Lyll Karen Bigornia-Arriola

    Raising kids in a pandemic

    On the other hand, Lyll Karen sees the positive side of living in a pandemic. She explains, “The biggest advantage then, for us, was that we could supervise our children more because we were at home more often than before.

    “It has forced us to communicate more as a family, and to expedite the use of technology at work. We have not always been effective at either, but that’s another story.

    “We also decided to put Rafa and Andre on homeschool using the curriculum of a Jesuit school in the U.S. This has allowed us to bring a more secular approach to their education with lessons on religion and Latin. Kaleb attends online voice lessons now, something unavailable before.”

    Speaking of remote learning, Lyll Karen notes that Kaleb “is doing fine, even if he’s not happy with it.” She personally thinks that their kids are “doing more now than they did when he was in school but with less mentoring.”

    Lyll Karen didn’t want to pull their eldest out from school because, she reasons, at his age, it’s more important that his connection with his friends remains the same, rather than focus on his academics.

    “We can only hope they find their passions in life so they can be good citizens of the world,” she says of their children. “We feel this is the only way they can make a real difference. We hope to be there when they fall, if not to catch them, at least to see them stand up on their own.” 


    Looking forward, she says with optimism: “We hope that our family survives the pandemic— to be able to go to the beach again and enjoy the sun and sea without fear; to be able to travel and enjoy our favorite foods and learn new cultures. We look forward to making more memories, collecting more pictures, and enjoying life. 

    “Kahlan, our youngest turned 2 during the start of this pandemic. She will turn 3 in February while still in the pandemic. She hasn’t yet joined us in our travels. We look forward to having her join us.”

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