Again, I have mixed emotions. (Which is very much in line with what I felt about most 2020-experiences.) My eldest turned 12 last week and was a…
It’s been 196 days since Mother Nature (or China, or Bill Gates, or the World Dominators – depending on the media you’re following) put us in timeout.
If you are a high-risk individual (whether physical or mental healthwise), or if you’re in the travel industry, or if you’re a parent of young kids, this number might feel closer to 691 days.
We’ve learned a lot since 26 March. I’d say, in general, our manners improved. No more coughing, sniffing or sneezing in public – not even when it’s only hay fever. Finally, people respect personal space in queues. And mouthing swear words are politely done in private, behind masks.
We’ve learned to wait our turn, to be patient, to be grateful. Simply put, we’ve gained a lot. The wide-path-people gained weight, the narrow-path-people gained self-control.
We’ve even benefitted on some levels.
One no longer recoils when shaking hands. Firstly, because there is no more handshaking, and secondly because the shaker’s hand has probably been washed or sprayed ten times today, so you’re safe either way.
Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot too. Lost a little sanity, lost lots of freedom… On a lighter note, at least we’ve also lost four levels and are finally on Level 1.
To celebrate this, we let loose in Cape Town for a week.
During hard lockdown homeschooling, the kids were rewarded wishes, if they had enough stars for being perfect students. Wishes had to relate to things they’re deprived of or miss most, and would like to enjoy post-lockdown. These ranged from simple outings, like going to the beach, to more elaborate requests, like visiting an arcade, play centres, and aquarium. I figured the Mother City would tick off most of the wishes, quickest.
We’ve been home and symptom-free for our second week since, so I feel unabashed to now publicly admit to our city shenanigans: If ever there’s a covid-cesspool, I’d vote family-activities-in-Cape-Town to be it.
But, it’s not worse for the nerves than driving there with three young boys.
Finding chargers and preparing a variety of devices took a day. Choosing snacks that won’t make too much mess in the car, spike their energy levels beyond tolerance, or result in additional poop stops along the way took two days. Packing the car (and admitting that we’re still not quite there where we’re travelling light) took another two days. But, the winner was driving there. That took four days. (Measured in effort, not hours, of course.)
Rewinding to end of September, it went down like this:
We leave Knysna after school, with the optimistic prospect of reaching Cape Town by 19:00. That’s a five-hour drive for a trip we could (albeit a little illegally) cover under four hours before kids.
Forty minutes in, just before George, the middle one is bored to death and needs to know, exactly, how far Mossel Bay is. (That’s when they’re allowed to unpack the devices.) I monotonously ramble off the usual speech about how, back-in-my-days, we played car colour games, matched number plates to towns, and counted telephone poles for fun. Sometimes we would be lucky – if it rained, we could have droplet races on the windows. The middle one is a disbeliever. No ways that could be fun. The eldest grunts in relief that he wasn’t born in the 1990’s. I point out his privilege. Then gladly accept the minus ten-odd years he just bestowed on me. The youngest one says that he can hear me, but also just wants to know exactly how far Mossel Bay is.
I win by bartering the devices for a Burger King stop. There are lots of unnecessary negotiations about the meal choices, because my husband cleverly knows to order based on the lowest mess risks. The eldest double checks that everyone else orders the variety he actually wants. The middle one shouts “Coke, Coke, Coke” from the back, as if his order will slip through unnoticed. The little one quizzes the rattled lady behind the pay window on her knowledge of the corona virus and whether Burger King has any sick people.
You’d swear the kids live off our barren land. They delve into the treat bags like the deprived. Then the inevitable trade-offs start. The eldest tries to remind (convince) the middle one that he doesn’t actually like chips, in order to score more. The little one doesn’t want the middle one’s discarded tomatoes on his wrapper, but will eat it if it’s a challenge and also if he can have another chicken nugget, after which he wins the last, soggy one.
Of course the middle one needs more space, because he’s nauseous. The eldest one needs even more space, because he can’t handle it. The little one uses the distraction to gobble up everyone’s leftovers. My husband expects me to construct a vomit container out of the paper wrappers their food came in. We manage to pull over – just in time. I wait patiently by the side of the road, rubbing his tummy and whispering how it’ll all be ok. It’s a false alarm. We’ve lost another half hour.
The middle one reminds us that Mossel Bay doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. The other two agree with him, for a change. I offer interesting geography lessons to pass the time – touching on the topography and flora of the landscape. My valuable info lessons cover general uses for eucalyptus and aloe vera. At least they pay respect by keeping relatively quiet during class. Or their tummies are just full and they’ve zoned out. My husband starts making boredom noises. He finally utters: “Really?!” (And not in the “what-an-amazing-fact” kind of way, but rather in a “this-conversation-is-circling-very-wide” tone.) I take it as my cue and pull out the devices. You’d swear the kids have gone back to the future.
The middle one calls dibs on the phone. He now controls the music play list. It’s like putting a remote control in the hands of a gorilla. He skips every song ten seconds in. Then we listen to a song about chicken wings, hotdogs and baloney, and some similarly annoying ones. I reach to the back, frantically waving my hand around, demanding charge of my phone again. My arm is too short. I start slapping at whoever’s leg is closest to get attention.
This goes on, for another few hours, in variations of the same chaos. My husband stays patient, but very quiet, during the next four urgent bathroom-stops. They want to know how far it is 27+ times. They are all starving by the time we reach Caledon. It’s already dark. We arrive at our destination just before 21:00 – sensory over-loaded, but grateful for fresh air.
We stay in a cottage in Greenpoint and have to enter via the next door Protea Hotel’s lift from the underground parking lot. Luckily the hotel is still closed due to covid, because I otherwise would’ve been very embarrassed about my kids’ countryside manners. They shout enthusiastically in the parking lot to test the echo. Then they can’t contain their excitement about the many buttons in the lift. They fight over who needs to pull the suitcases as if we’ve never been away on a stay requiring more than an overnight bag. The little one tells the bored night guard all about his school and how the corona virus is gone for our Cape Town wish-week. The middle one wants to go down the lift again. The eldest wants to know the wifi password and how much ping they have here in Cape Town. This all happens at the same time.
They race to the door of our cottage and fight over who needs to go in first. It takes a couple of tries for me to explain that they have to move out of the way so I can unlock the door. Inside, they scatter to investigate each room. They all fight over who needs the main bedroom. The middle one is upset about the fridge being empty. The little one discovers that the bedrooms have televisions. His delight quickly turns to upset that we haven’t thought about doing that at our house and how he now needs one for his birthday.
When they’re finally in bed, gone through all the wishes they’re planning to tick off, and the bags are unpacked, I realise that I forgot to pack sugar. I put it on my list. Together with getting a combi and sourcing entertainment closer to home.
Wishes are so overrated.
We’ve reached Level 2.
It has a strange ring to it. It very much sounds like an accomplishment, like being deemed worthy to move on to a more difficult challenge. However, it’s a covid-countdown and we’re actually moving backwards.
Since the start of lockdown, our government school kids have, unexpectedly, been sent home for the second time last month. This pretty much translated to sending many moms into a war zone.
Since March, eager liquor buyers have also, without warning, been sent home a second time last month. This pretty much translated to sending many moms to the front lines unarmed.
Luckily both of those chaos-causers have been muzzled now. We still wear our muzzles too, but at least our kids are all getting educated by professionals again. And we can drink to that.
All three of my kids have been back at school successfully for over two weeks now, so I assume it’s safe to drop my shoulders and exhale.
We’re also pretty much back on track with the school nights’ routine. And that’s serious business.
I strongly advocate a bedtime of 19:00. I also seriously support a calm wind down time before bed – during which the possible high level enthusiasm of the day is ebbed by patient, peaceful parenting.
The reality is much different. Much, much.
After wasting the entire afternoon being “too bored and too tired to play anything” (translates to campaigning for some relaxing screen time, which is usually, ideally, not allowed during the week), the younger two suddenly experience a burst of energy. They play dark-hide-and-seek-touchers. It’s a combination of hide-&-seek and tag, but with the lights off. And instead of silently hiding until you’re found, you loudly jump out whenever you have the opportunity to scare the other one, and touch him (translates to an opportunity to punch your brother), which results in him becoming the seeker. It sounds complicated, but it’s pretty much a loud game without rules. I hate it. It causes lots of screaming, dangerously escalating energy levels, and rapid crashing at the end – usually with someone in tears.
The middle one is a stealth master and his scare tactics jolt me even from where I’m trying to pack lunch boxes in the kitchen. The youngest one is oblivious. He can finally reach the light switches and is just focused on turning all the lights off. The middle one intensifies his jump-roars to draw the youngest one’s attention. The aim of his game is obviously to reach the crash.
I give up on asking for quieter roars. There’s no taming a lion-on-the-hunt. I also give up on asking for the kitchen light to stay on. There’s no taming a four-year old. I light a candle. They’re like moths to the flame. The little one gets only half way through the first verse of the happy birthday song before not being able to contain himself. He blows out the candle. The middle one wants to light the candle again. The eldest one emerges from somewhere in the jungle at the sound of happy birthday and the prospect of cake. He now wants to drip wax on his hand until it burns. I am amazed. They calmly enjoy an activity that complements each one’s interest, without any competition. The middle one lights the candle and some other things, the eldest one scorches his hands with wax, the little one destroys the flame with misdirected blows and spit. It keeps them busy for more than half an hour. I savour the silence and try to not become too anxious about my children displaying strong signs of pyromania, masochism, and vindictiveness.
I verbally sound the bed routine alarm. I conduct a quick, but thorough sight and smell check to determine the level of bath they need. Timewise, there’s a huge difference between a quick handshower rinse, a hot soapy soak, and a proper top-to-toe scrub. Tonight, soaking will suffice. I thus kindly request that they don’t wet their hair. It’s very much like requesting a toddler to sleep late on a Saturday. There’s just no amount of voice force that can guarantee the required outcome.
I very briefly leave the bathroom to lay out pyjamas, choose clothes for tomorrow that aren’t too small, close windows and blinds, switch on heaters, pick up socks, pair shoes, redistribute toys between rooms, shoo the cat off the bed, kick some marbles into a corner, fully close drawers, properly rinse toothbrushes, unknot quadruple knotted shoelaces, shoo the cat off the bed again, smell some socks, remove perfectly clean clothes from their laundry baskets, check the time, confiscate snacks from their bedstands, prep their beds, and swiftly eat the snacks.
I return to find the middle child outside the bath. Points for relatively dry hair, but so is the rest of his upper body. I continue to wash him outside the bath, because, although his eyebrows are still full of sand, he insists that he washed himself and doesn’t need to get back in.
I remove the wet washcloth hat the little one made. His hair needs to be washed now, because the washcloth was a soap boat before it became a hat, and there are pieces of (what looks like) chewed soap bar stuck in his hair. For someone that enjoys making waterfalls over his own head (sometimes when not even in the bath), he is awfully outraged by getting his hair rinsed. Actually, I’ve mastered the art of not getting a splash of rinse water into a toddler’s eye, but sometimes this effort just isn’t worth the time. (Plus, they should listen when I request dry hair. And late Saturday mornings.) I quickly dump two large jugs of water over his head and endure the accusations of injustice.
I summon him to the dreaded hair drier. He insists that I switch it on ice cold. The hair drier doesn’t have an ice cold setting. I keep it as far away from his hair as possible and vigorously brush his hair to make up for the lack of wind. He bends down lower and lower until he is literally in the child’s pose on the floor. I make the silly mistake to blow air on his bum. He can’t get enough of this. I unplug the hair drier and fake a power failure to end the fun.
His hair is still wet, but we’re behind schedule. I move him into a wrestling death grip under my arm to brush his teeth. His lower body is riverdancing, but he knows better than to close his mouth. (It’s happened before that I continued brushing over the area where his teeth should be.) He swallows the first sip of water and spits the second. Every time. I give him the same speech about how he just swallowed all the plague and germs into his tummy, where it’ll hurt and make him feel sick. He narrows his eyes in disbelief. I narrow my eyes back in try-to-remember-that-next-time.
He is suddenly too tired to walk and collapses on the floor. He holds out his hand for me to help him up, as if he is 90 years older than his current age. It’s emphasized by real groans as he struggles to make himself as heavy as possible. I humour him and pull him along the floor for a few steps, then give up and walk away. He is four again and vigorously toddles behind me. I remind him of how tired he is when I help him into bed, but he denies ever admitting that.
We’ve rounded the proverbial corner. I start talking slower, in a whisper. I dramatically yawn to pass the contagion. I elaborate on how much I’d love to go to bed now. (This part is not even just for psychological effect.) I keep my movements slow, while choosing a soft toy as bed partner. I put it back before he finishes commenting on how it’s not the right one for tonight. I know the routine. It takes a few attempts to find one he approves of. Home stretch. I sing five Twinkle Twinkle songs, give his chosen amount of night kisses (grateful that it’s 19 and not 103 like last night). I finally receive permission to exit his room to attend to the middle one. I leave the door open just the right amount of space, but he still double checks.
One down, two to go.
The middle one is hungry. I remind him that we just had dinner. He reminds me that he didn’t finish his food. I remind him that it’s still there and I can go fetch it. He is thirsty then. I remind him that he’ll have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the loo if he drinks more. The little one calls. He needs to go to the loo again, now. The middle one calls. He wants to know if I think he’ll be able to build a teleporting machine when he is older, and how that will work exactly. The little one calls. He needs me to cut off the label from his sheet. The middle one wants to know about the teleporter again. The little one asked if the middle one got food, because then he also wants some. I go downstairs and return with plain buttered toast for both. They gobble it down as if it’s pudding. They want to wash their hands. I remind myself how much I wanted to have children.
All three bedrooms are finally quiet. I carefully double-check-listen, let out a breath, lower my shoulders, and do a quick victory jiggle.
Level 1 completed.
I have mixed feelings.
By next Monday all three my boys are back at school. I have mixed feelings about that. Not so much about their risk of covid exposure or getting up when it’s still dark outside or the tiring afternoon school runs. (So many things we were comfortably protected from during the last four months of lockdown.)
I just feel somewhat unsure whether my main emotion should be selfish bliss (to finally have the house to myself again), relief on their behalf (about being educated by a real teacher again), slight embarrassment (about my kids’ covid-resulted decrease in social skills), or familiar guilt (about not fully utilising this home bound period to really spend that quality time with them, which I’ve always longed for). Probably guilt. It’s always guilt when you’re a mom.
When lockdown started, I was secretly enthusiastic about my overdue plans to play with the kids for hours.
My mind’s eye saw lazy afternoons of colouring in, enjoying late night hide-&-seek giggles, discovering bugs in the garden, sharing relaxing back rubs and foot massages…
The reality was much different. Much.
Instead, I’ve spent the first few weeks of lockdown cleaning, cooking, feeding, cleaning, feeding, feeding, feeding. And spent the last few weeks recovering from the shock – in safe retreat, in front of my laptop, catching up on the admin items I’ve been shifting from one New Year’s resolution list to the next.
The quality family time stayed on the list, but never actually made it to the top.
Looking back over the lockdown period now, I realise that as much as I long to speed our lives back to the main track again, so much do I also long to pull the brakes. I would’ve liked more time. I know that fate offered me possibly the best opportunity ever at “extra time”, but I kept getting sidetracked. It’s all very confusing. Instead of doing things with my kids, I constantly felt the need to “get things done” instead. The opportunity to create fond memories of our lockdown time together was dangling right in front of me. Yet I always seemed to rather opt for sitting down and eating the chocolate brownies, instead of reaching for that carrot.
Needless to say that I’m a little disappointed (but just a little bit) that my kids are now all returning to school.
So, thank goodness for load shedding.
As the lights went off, my bulb came on. Maybe lockdown didn’t set the board for game time with the kids, but load shedding sure does. I round them up.
We start with Twister. It requires that they listen to instructions about left / right hands and feet – placing them on coloured circles. All my kids very well know their lefts from rights, and their rights from wrongs, but apparently not when in awkward positions in such close proximity to one another. The middle one’s elbow is poking the eldest in the back – just because he can blame it on the game. The little one wants to put his foot on the red circle. I didn’t call red. Also, his brother’s hand is already on that circle. The little one’s bum is too close for comfort to the middle one’s face. The eldest is on all fours. The little one cannot resist the temptation, abandons the game, and jumps on his back. In an ideal world, this would turn into a playful wrestling game between loving siblings. In my real world, it turns into fits of screaming about personal space and doing things on purpose. I call it quits.
The middle one wants to play giant Jenga next. The little one wants to build the tower up to his nose. The first two rounds are remarkably peaceful. The eldest one gets upset about everyone else’s choice of block to remove, because they’re not applying enough strategic thinking. The little one is upset about it taking too long to be his turn. As a result, I lose my turns and am designated to hold the tower steady. I try to explain that the aim of the game is to build as high as possible without the tower falling over – and my holding it is actually cheating. They don’t hear a thing I’m saying. It requires some mom-practiced sneakiness to slightly move a few blocks to stabilise the construction while they are focused on rapidly building the tower higher. This building mission is epic. We reach chin height. I slowly remove my hands to marvel at the creation. The youngest can’t contain himself and impulsively kicks it to the ground. It was a split second before it would’ve tumbled down anyway. Everyone is shattered. I buy peace by offering to pick up the blocks on my own and allowing the eldest to not play anymore.
We change to a game for younger kids, where we draw cards and build sandwiches. It takes great memory skills and swift hands to manipulate the game in such a way that they each win equal amounts of rounds. Despite my best efforts to keep them both winning, the middle child’s golden heart is aching about my lack of points. To make things more difficult, the little one gets overly excited and grabs the cards he needs to win from my pile, because “sharing is caring”. While they argue, I forge their hands to win a round. The middle one is suspicious. He is also happy for me. He is also clearly disappointed that his good luck ran out. The little one declares that we’re actually a team and that he won with me. He starts singing a victory song on repeat. The middle one’s happiness-for-me turns to annoyance. He stomps off to the loo – to probably never return.
I’ve lost two players and am stuck with only the little one. So much for family game time. He wants to play giant pickup sticks. He takes a few stabs at the cat with his “tiny sword”. He insists on sorting the sticks according to colours before we can start. I sigh at the moment of peace – an educational opportunity, plus time to finish my cold coffee. (Now, THIS is winning for me.) We finally get to start the game. I explain the goal. One would expect that his tiny fingers would offer an advantage. Yet, the entire pile moves with every stick he touches. I subtly refer to the rules of the game again. He picks up the cat and puts him on top of the pile. I guess that’s the abrupt end to another game. I don’t have the energy to reprimand him for his lack of sportsmanship.
We go jump on the trampoline instead.
Suddenly they’re all interested in joining again. It actually rarely happens that I jump with the kids. Although it’s a large trampoline, they just can’t seem to keep to their allocated corners, and (like playing) they literally want to be on top of me here too. The eldest can’t resist to double-bounce the middle one. He lands halfway off the trampoline – on the soft padding. Yet, the screams indicate agony. I remove myself from the chaos and go sit on the swing.
They all want to swing. There are only two swings. I convince the little one to push me instead. The middle one is too big for my lap, but needs to get on it. The little one starts shaking the swing, instead of pushing it. The middle one tells him that “jealously makes you nasty and nastiness makes you fat”. The little one is upset, because he doesn’t want to be fat. I get off the swing. The little one immediately gets on before the middle one takes my spot and insists on being pushed – while he is standing. I gently push him with my foot. He wants to go higher. I tell him to sit down first. He insists that he is holding on tight. I push a little higher. He wants to go much higher. I ask him to sit down or I’ll stop pushing. He bends down. I tell him it doesn’t count as sitting. He insists that it does. I tell him to push himself if he doesn’t want to listen. I love it how one can use moments like these as teaching moments, as well as a ticket out.
I open the sand pit and invite everyone in. The middle one is excited. He loves building. The little one doesn’t want to get sand in his shoes. He doesn’t want to take his shoes off either. The eldest is too mature to play in sand. The youngest decides that he will take his shoes off if he can build a real dam with real water. The power comes back on. I offer to go fetch some water for the dam and disappear to go make coffee.
I watch the kettle intently, in order for it to take as long as possible to boil. I need to buy some alone time. I move my gaze to the kids in the distance. They seem to finally enjoy themselves – all three of them. For some reason, when I’m not there to direct the play or to catalyse their competition for my attention, they get along very well.
Maybe it’s not game time with mom they really need after all.
It’s just load shedding.