It’s Sunday, Day 3.
I wake up with a pounding headache. I didn’t put vodka in yesterday’s milkshakes. Corona virus? Can’t be. We’ve been self-isolating for almost two weeks already. We gave our domestic worker and gardener leave 11 days ago. We’ve been without outside contact for longer than what it would take for symptoms to present. I should probably spare the pain relief medicine, in case we need it for more serious cases later. The way the kids get rid of their bottled up energy will most likely result in some accidents soon.
I lay down on the couch with my little one. I try to close my eyes for a while why he watches “just one more episode” of Blaze. I’ve listened to every single episode, way more than what should be normal – even before lockdown. I can predict every sentence. He echoes everything the characters are saying. I thus hear every line three times. Now and then my headache beats in tune with the songs. However, it’s still more convenient lying here. If I get up now, he’ll follow me and I’ll have to entertain him.
It’s just too early for that.
I give him his own blanket and his own special place behind my curled up legs. I tell him that he can watch an extra episode if he lets me sleep for a while. He obediently stays there for two minutes. He’s too hot. He kicks off both his own and my blankets. And my legs. He now wants to sleep with me, in my arms, with his head on top of mine. I tolerate it. Not as if it’ll be long until he changes position again. He moves back to his spot, then sits on top of my hip for a few seconds, then on my feet with his feet in my face, back to my arms, straightened out across my body, back to his spot. He needs his blanket from the floor again. He sits on top of the backrest of the couch for the longest, his feet digging into my ribs. What was I thinking. Of course I won’t get a few more minutes of sleep.
The two older ones are awake and join us. Even before any “good mornings”, they ask what day it is and who can play tv-games first. They’re usually allowed limited screen time slots on Saturdays and Sundays, but I had to stretch the screen time now that we’re home bound. I’m still trying to restrict game time, where possible. Not so much because of good values or awesome parenting reasons – just to preserve the novelty, in case I need backup entertainment.
Technically, it’s a game day today, but I don’t want to admit what day of the week it is. The middle one is good at keeping track. He is suspicious and wants to see a calendar. I’m saved by my husband walking in and asking if I want coffee. (He’s known me for 24 years and still asks.) I say yes, with an exaggerated sigh of relief. The coffee never arrives and I get up to go make my own. He said he had to clean the kitchen first. But I’m confused. It looks the same as the way I left it last night.
The kids ask about the week day and games again. I just say “yes”. Not to any particular one of the questions. It’s been a fail proof tactic for years: I answer abruptly, without making eye contact, waving my hand. They assume I didn’t really listen and leave me alone before I realise what I gave permission to. They get what they want, but don’t bother me again. This tactic has bought me lots of time. It works. They disappear.
I look into the washroom. Yesterday’s washing didn’t dry, because I asked ten times (maybe 20) that someone takes it off the line. The dry laundry is folded, but piled on the counter. Of course the sink is full again.
All three cats come running. Their bowl is full, so I’m not sure what they think they’re going to get from me. They’re definitely not here for cuddles. They’re all very specific and territorial about their cuddles.
The old one is a white Persian. He was a gift from my husband 16 years ago. He is retired and stopped grooming himself a decade ago. He always looks tatty, but is too frail to brush. He doesn’t have any teeth, his eyes are runny, and he sits in the same spot for days. Most visitors to our house either comment “is your cat ok?” or “what is that”. He doesn’t serve any purpose as a pet anymore. He is now a mere ornament in the house. I love him dearly.
The giant one is a magnificent charcoal Maine Coon. He is majestic, but a little evil. He was my second attempt at a new cat, when I was sure that my Persian would pass away any day now (a few years ago). We had to rehome the first attempt – also a Maine Coon, because she hated the children. This one hates all humans. He loves lying on the rug in the kitchen, right where I need to move between the prep bowl and chopping board. If I dare come too close to him, he’ll slap my ankle with such force that I see stars. Then my heart skips a beat with appreciation of this sign of affection from him.
The third is a cream Ragdoll kitten. He was the final attempt at a new, loving cat the kids can grow up with. And third time lucky. He has the most amazing personality. He is floppy and loves being cuddled. He prefers to be carried around. I timed his arrival with my middle child’s birthday, so I could disguise this unnecessary addition to the family as a birthday gift. My son is absolutely crazy about cats.
We also have a dog. She’s an amazing, fat (can also be read as amazingly fat) black Labrador. She is best friends with the Maine Coon, but is scared of the other two, harmless cats. She loves swimming and always smells of dam, which, even if you can usually tolerate dog-odour, isn’t a pleasant smell.
I look at the pets. I don’t really have an excuse for their recent neglect.
I look at the pets. I don’t really have an excuse for their recent neglect. I’ve been home more than ever before, but somehow the kids and cleaning and schooling completely consumed me. Their bowls need a thorough clean. The cats’ litter boxes are disgusting. (What’s the use of the cat flap then?) They’re all scratching.
I find the flea and tick stuff I got from the vet when I stocked up on their food. I’ll need to start with the Maine Coon, before she makes a run for it. I open the tube of liquid. The cat gives me the look. How does he know?
There’s a stare-down. I feel intimidated and look away. I pretend to look for something in the cupboard while composing myself. He is still staring at me. I breathe in, kneel down, and beg him to come closer. He swaggers forward, like a lion. I am prepping myself. My reflexes will need to be fast if he decides to show his dominance. I gently stroke his head and cunningly move my hand to his back. In one smooth motion, I part the hair between his shoulder blades to apply the liquid. I can’t get to his bare skin through the thick coat. I hope some liquid will make it all the way down. The tube barely touches his fur. He flips over and holds all four claws in the air. No way I’m getting the rest on now. He notices my hesitation and dashes through the cat flap. The full, open tube is still in my hand. I wonder if I can save it for later. It’ll probably evaporate. I don’t know when I’ll be able to get some again. This will have to go on now.
I am the alpha in this washroom. I’ll make a plan. I open a tin of tuna. What a waste of good human food. I’m desperate to get the job done. I call the cats. They came running even before I called. There is only one clean bowl. The Maine Coon runs up. The other two retreat. He gobbles up the tuna. He is so focused on not letting the underlings get any that I manage to pour the rest of the flea control on his neck. The other two cats look at me as if I deceived them. I add some water to the left-over tuna bits and mix in some dry cat food pellets. The other two don’t appreciate the effort. They receive their flea control in seconds. This is the way it’s meant to go.
Now the dog’s turn. I open the box. It’s a tablet. I should’ve asked for a spot-on liquid too. Our dog is tremendously obedient, very placid, and overall well behaved. But no ways she’ll swallow a tablet of any kind. Not even lamb-flavoured ones fool her.
I rub the tablet in the sauce left over in the empty tuna tin and place it on the floor in front of her. In the same stern voice I use for “Outside!”, I order her to eat it. I swear she’s smiling at me. Her vigorous tail wagging makes her fat body wobble. I actually knew it’ll come to this. Don’t know why I bothered with the tuna smear. I order her to sit. She listens immediately. I straddle her between my legs. She already knows what’s going to happen and throws me off. I order her to sit again. This time I hold her in a death grip. I place the tablet as far back in her mouth as possible. She thanks me with a full exhale of dog breath. I keep her mouth shut and rub her throat. She has to swallow at some point. The saliva runs from the sides of her mouth and down my hand. She doesn’t swallow. Or maybe she did already. I let go. She spits out the tablet and runs away. Her body language laughs at me. I pick up the wet tablet and have a do-over. This time, I lift her lips and add half a glass of water through the side of her back teeth. She stands dead still. What if I drown her? She starts to gag a little and I let go. She spits out the tablet. It’s a little smaller and much wetter. I’m about to give up, but it’s not in my nature. I pick up the soggy tablet. It falls apart. I fetch a spoon and scoop up what’s left of it. I rub it on her tongue. I stand with her mouth in my hand for what feels like ten minutes. The tablet either dissolved in her mouth or she finally swallowed. Or she is hiding it and will spit it out when I’m not looking. But I feel like I won this round.
I say “good dog” a lot while brushing her – to say thank-you and forgive me. His friend, the Maine Coon comes to see what the fuss was about. You’re next, evil kitty. I gently get two strokes in before the Maine Coon attacks the brush. I escape with only a small scratch on my thumb. Well, two down, fifty to go.
The old Persian is still where I left him. I take the opportunity to cut off some knots in his long coat. There are sections of solid fur carpet. He sits still for such a long time that I end up cutting half his hair short. It’s a bit dramatic, but at least he looks clean.
Chuffed at myself for ticking off the pet flea control and grooming, I decide to test a little family board game time. My husband very rarely plays along. He usually arrives home from work when the kids are in bed, and weekends we’re out or socialising. The kids are very excited. They drag a huge stack of board games to the carpet. I still have that headache, but that doesn’t stop me. I’m going to show my husband how much fun carpet time can be.
We decide on something simple, which everyone can play. Boereplaas is a simple, Afrikaans board game, based on Monopoly. Instead of properties, you farm corn, vegetables, cattle, etc. Once you own everything, including the house, you win. Everyone starts with some money and either win or lose some, depending on the card you draw.
I hand out the boards. All the boards are exactly the same, except for the name of the farmer written at the bottom. There’s a light argument about who should be which farmer. I divide the notes. The eldest tries to cheat the youngest out of some of his. The middle one feels he didn’t receive the same amount as everyone else. He is seven and money is a big deal to him at the moment. I see my husband getting uncomfortable with the chaos. I finally get everyone’s attention and run over the objective of the game. My husband is disappointed that there’s no strategy involved. (Was he seriously ready to try and beat the kids?) I explain that it’s about teaching them to wait their turn, be patient, to not get upset when losing money, and to have some fun family time. It’s not a competition.
But, it is.
In our house, it always is.
The middle child keeps on interrupting the game, because he wants to exchange money at the bank – same amounts, just different notes. The youngest is upset about every card he draws. He wants to draw the winning house card. For the rest of us, it goes well for a while. The middle one pretends to read the cards in his favour. We keep on reminding him that we all know he can’t read these high level Afrikaans cards and we know that he’s cheating. Every time it’s his turn, he does it again. I am surprised at how convincingly he can lie when there’s money involved. The youngest turns his board upside down. Must admit, I expected him to do that way earlier in the game. The cards start running out. As luck has it, he now keeps drawing that house card that he so desperately wanted – but he doesn’t have enough money to buy it. He doesn’t understand.
The older two are now lying on the floor, groaning, unless it’s their turn. The game isn’t coming to an end quickly enough. I can see my husband tensing up. The idea was to create good memories. I better call it quits, if I want any prospect of him joining in future family board games. I announce that the winner will be the one with the most money. It’s my husband. The kids are all upset because they didn’t win.
Life lesson – that’s why you don’t win against the kids.