31 May 2020: Lockdown Day 66

It feels like the day before my birthday.

Way back when birthdays were still something to get excited about…

Tomorrow is Monday and we’re being set free. Well, almost. After 11 weeks of staying within the boundaries of our property, we’ll be grateful, even if the leash is short. Level 3 will be less like prison and more like house arrest – with an ankle monitor.

With this new found freedom, I foresee some awkward social encounters. My husband has been going to the office for only two weeks now. I have been to the minimarket down the road only once (and had a few doctor visits last week), so we’re still newbies at this. I’ll have to hone my people reading skills. If we meet in town, do we hug or do we remote high-five? Now that we’ll be allowed to act and think for ourselves again, who is in the avoid-infection-at-all-cost camp and who herds with the contract-the-virus-and-get-it-over-and-done-with crowd? Who’s sitting on the fence? Will be difficult to tell behind those masks.

As much as we appreciate being allowed out to almost all shops now, actually, we just want to go to the beach. Please. And I’ll trade the next few years’ school holidays, if the schools can just open for all the grades. Pretty please.

It’s testing being a mom-teacher. For three kids. In three different grades. (Which testing-of-patience is just amongst other things.) We’re catching up on some school work, because I was “off sick” with a vibration in my head most of this week. The kids know better than to moan about it being weekend. We’ve established quite early in lockdown that days of the week don’t count anymore. If screen time is now allowed during the week, school work is allowed over weekends.

Mission of the day is to get the middle one to make his “s”, “9” and “7” the right way around. He is sharpening his pencil, again. He has reduced three new pencils to thumb size ones since lockdown. I confiscate the sharpener. He pokes holes in the already tiny eraser with his flame sharp pencil-sword. I confiscate the eraser. The little one grabs it and erases everything he has done thus far. The middle one scolds him before I could and grabs his eraser back. The little one cries, because his brother is grabbing and that it’s “unfair”. I scold the little one for using the forbidden word, scold the middle one for scolding his brother, break the eraser in half, and give each one a piece. The little one is upset, because the eraser is now too small. The middle one jumps up to fetch his cat. The older one scolds him for never giving the cat a break. The little one chirps a nonsensical comment, which contains the word “poop”. The middle child is upset, because I’m not telling the little one off for saying “poop” – and asks if he can play tv-games now.

(This is not even because we’re trying to have school on a weekend day. This is a typical school day for us, every day.)

I fetch the wooden spoon. It lives on top of the extractor fan. It’s the largest one in the house, on which I drew a sad face with a permanent marker. Although it never (ok, very, very seldom) gets used, it still serves its intimidation purpose. Not today. I’m not on top of my game. They’re calling my bluff. This is what happens when you let slip for even just one day. I warn to not give them a star today. The little one immediately sits up straight. The middle one returns to the table with his cat on his lap. The eldest one isn’t as easily threatened anymore. Plus, he arrived upset. He completed his work for the week, but has to take one for the team. I pretend not to notice the obvious signals of disapproval. (But he now doesn’t dare say it’s unfair.) I politely ask him if it’s his tummy rumbling when I can’t ignore the groans any longer. He seizes the opportunity and gets up to make a sandwich.

The other two are also starving. I want to point out that we just had breakfast, but just sigh loudly instead.

The eldest one, against his nature, offers to make sandwiches for everyone, just to get out of school work. The little one wants to work with the glue. I give him pieces of paper to stick down. The middle child’s work needs to be rubbed out, because he’s done half the letters the wrong way around, and some on the wrong line. I turn my back to put the cat outside. The little one spreads glue all over his brother’s pencils. I move their chairs further apart and stipulate imaginary border lines, which shall not be crossed. The middle one needs the eraser, which is in his brother’s territory. This means he can’t erase his work and he “quits”. He dramatically gets up to go to the loo. He fetches his cat from outside on the way there. The little one is suddenly dying of thirst and gets up to fetch water. The eldest is still making sandwiches.

I go fetch the middle one from the loo, from where he is ignoring my calls. The toilet is filled all the way to the top with toilet paper. I start a lecture on the allowed number of squares per poo. The middle one denies that he is at fault. I call the little one. He casually explains that he rolled down two rolls to get to the binoculars inside. I hold my breath, close one eye, and start removing the paper from the toilet. The middle one starts quizzing me from the doorway. I need to guess which letter of the alphabet will win in a battle. No matter how creative I am, none of my answers are correct. He is just way out of the box. The little one catches on. He pipes up with more battleground questions. I have to guess who will win – a potato or a centipede. And a spoon or two socks. And our retired, half blind cat or two bowls of Weetbix. I get most of the toilet paper out, flush the loo, the water rises to the top.

I sigh loudly.

I rush everyone back to the school table. The sandwiches are there, but the eldest is gone. Of course, he suddenly realised his hair needs washing. We switch over to reading. The middle one spells out every word beautifully, but not at all what’s written on the page. He is blatantly guessing. The little one echoes him. I tell him to just go play on my phone, so I can pay attention to the middle one’s reading. The middle one almost falls off his chair at the unfairness of it all. The vibration in my head turns into a small thunderstorm. 

I call it a day.

I had the vibration checked out last Friday, when I considered that it might be a blood pressure issue. I got booked for an MRI immediately and spent hours at the hospital. Ends up being nothing as sinister as the neurologist suspected, but it was an eye opener. (The vibration is still there, but I’ve made peace with it – that it’s just nerves. And probably the members of the household working on them. Except my husband, of course. He’d never work on my nerves. He is awesome. See, Etienne – told you I’ll write something about you today. Wink-wink.)

Moved from the confinement of my home (for the first time in over two months) to the confinement of the MRI machine, gave me so much to think about. Mostly whether they could see up my hospital gown, if I shaved properly, if anyone would notice the hairs on my big toes, how long before I’d go insane listening to the deafening beeps…

During those hours, I wondered about the fears of the many people who were in there before me, expecting bad news. And what I would do in such a case… (Not that I was scared of my vibration turning into an emotional explosion, but I played out all the movie-like scenarios of imaginary people to pass the time.) I also did loads of mental checks – are my admin and filing in order, are all my bills paid, are my cupboards neat and tidy. I realised that none of those things would matter if one suddenly hears the time is short.

None of the material things we work so hard for and spend so much time on, would matter.

If my time is suddenly cut short, I would want to sell everything I worked so hard at accumulating for my children – and travel the world with my family. I would stop their schooling and just be with them. I would make daily videos of our time together. I would be fun mum.

And, as much as I thought that lockdown is totally curing that pre-lockdown guilt feeling of not spending enough time with my kids, I actually haven’t had enough of this yet. I’m going to treasure our forced time together, maybe sometimes bite my lip to help with the endurance, but wear my ankle monitor proudly – before our time is cut short.

20 May 2020:  Lockdown Day 55

20 May 2020: Lockdown Day 55

We’ve been grounded a long time.

We’ve changed our behaviour. We’ve been good, I promise. Please let us out.

My head is buzzing. Literally. There’s an internal vibration and it’s not even from a hangover. (Under the circumstances, that would’ve sounded awesome.)

I drag myself into the kitchen, keeping one eye half open, prepared to sidestep my morning gift. Today’s gift is one huge rat, plus a side gift – the tiniest mouse I’ve ever seen. I say “good boy” to the cat. He high-fives me full blow to the ankle, sharpens his claws next to his catch on the kitchen rug, and runs off.

It’s like changing nappies. You expect to be grossed out, but when it’s your own, surprisingly, you don’t mind. I poke at the rat to check that it’s dead. I let out the breath that I didn’t realise I’m holding. I can appreciate my morning gifts, even on an empty stomach, but after months I’m still fearing coming across a clever one that’s just playing dead and who’d run up my leg in search of safety. Imagine that.

We’re out of kitchen towel roll. I rummage through the bin for a piece of paper to wrap my gifts in, but yesterday was rubbish day, so the bins are quite empty. I play brave. I’m going in naked. I fill my lungs and stop breathing to prevent any germs from transferring and pick both tails up between two bare fingers and make for the door. The rat’s tail is proportionally very short to its body size. My index finger is disturbingly close to where I assume its butthole would be. I let go a little. Of course my non-sporty reflexes are too slow so early in the morning. Both the rat and mouse tails slip right through my fingers, onto the fluffy, long pile carpet, on which my kids lie down every day. With the second attempt, I make it as far as the big tree next to the house, but I had to start breathing. Years of minimal aerobic activity resulted in low lung capacity. Who knew vigorous exercising would’ve paid off so well by this age.

I quickly weigh up how far the smell of dead rat will travel to the house from this direction versus walking further for the disposal. I decide to rely on the dog finding them and letting nature take care of the rest. I throw them with the most respectful, smoothest motion possible. Don’t know what happens, but the rat slips and falls right next to my feet. I shake my head in disappointment. Another way how being good at sports would’ve helped me today. Three in a row. 

Am I trying to tell myself something?


I switch on the kettle. The vibration in my brain is still there. I swear I can hear the electricity running through the kettle’s cord and it’s making it worse. I’m saved by a reminder of my voucher booklet. With Mother’s Day also locked down, my eldest crafted a book with vouchers. Eager to please, he got carried away and included an entire page of “Free Coffee” vouchers, which entitle me to call upon him for a cup of coffee, whenever I want, without him complaining. I almost pointed out that he needs to do that anyway, if he wishes to enjoy the privileges of living under my roof, but in order to not spoil the mood, I profoundly thanked him for his thoughtfulness. In the excitement of my excitement, he further extended his promises and promptly turned the coffee vouchers into “Coffee Days”. This means that I can issue a voucher for a full day of coffee runs. And, oh, am I going to use those!

Today will be such a day. I tick off a voucher, hand it over with a smile (and some lash fluttering, so he would stop scolding at himself for not thinking this through) and turn to my laptop to Google my vibration symptoms. It turns out, I’m either dying from a brain tumour or have a sinus infection. Well, if I’m dying, I can just as well stop isolating now.

Actually, I have a confession to make. I’ve been out.

Not anything exciting. Not a sneak visit to the beach or even the allowed emergency supply run. I just had to collect something from a neighbour down the road. (Literally down the road. I didn’t even enjoy crossing a stop sign or traffic light. I had no choice between turning left or right at a T-junction. Just a straight road.)

Now, maybe I should just explain first, because I can already feel people rolling their eyes at my staying-home-binge. I haven’t stayed home for over two months, because I’m dreading contracting the corona virus. It’s also not even because I’m trying to score we’re-in-this-together-points with the careful-crowd. Or to self-inflict emotional trauma, so I can finally get real time off for insanity (which I’d deserve, so by the way).

I’m not paranoid. Little bit odd, for sure, but not paranoid. I actually love staying home. My friends will recognise this from the feeble excuses I sometimes offer last-minute to reject social invitations. Under normal circumstances, I do my grocery shopping in bulk, preferably no more often than every six weeks. We get by with stocked up dried goods, harvests from our large vegetable garden, produce from neighbouring farmers, and lots and lots of online shopping. And that was our life pre-covid, when I had to go to town anyway for school runs. So, staying inside for lockdown is very much within my comfort zone.

Initially, we seriously avoided any contact from the outside world. Besides doing our part as compliant citizens, we wished to stay symptom free, in order to see my parents. Now that my husband is back at the office anyway, I’ve eased up on sterilising all goods dropped at our gate and the marathon record of staying within the boundaries of our property. I don’t nuke his clothes in the microwave anymore and the kids are allowed to sneeze again. And I’ve left the house to go down the road.


This is how that covert operation went down…

I mumbled something to the kids about staying home alone for a few minutes. My goodness, so many firsts happening in one day. I avoided their questions and turned the volume of the television up, which immediately zombied their attention back to the screen.

I sterilised the car keys and garage remote. ?!

I got a shock when I opened my car door. The type of shock and disbelief you feel when you arrive at an upturned home and realise there’s been a burglary – but the opposite. My car has never been this clean for this long. Not just on the outside, but the inside was free from muddy footprints, last week’s lunchbox leftovers, and wrappers from the snacks I secretly consume on the way to fetch the kids from school. I had to hush a small panic moment, when I realised the battery might be flat after not starting the car for over two months. And another when I wondered if I can still remember how to drive after being in personal idle mode for such a long time.

And a third when I realised I forgot to take a mask. Or hand sanitizer. But I was already out my gate and I don’t turn back when I’ve started something, so I just pulled my shirt up over my nose. (Don’t know why I thought that might work.)

I crawled down the road – constantly checking the speedometer to ensure that I stay fully within all legal limits. A white vehicle approached from the front. I tried to check if it’s a police van, but reminded myself that I’m not actually doing anything wrong (except for not protecting myself from my own germs within the confinement of my own vehicle, by not wearing a piece of loose-fitting cloth). I pulled my shirt up over my nose again to avoid any judgement from the passer-by. I also lowered the rearview mirror and pretended to scratch at something above my left cheek to avoid any eye contact.

My goodness, I felt like a naughty child. Like a teenager who’s been grounded (and not allowed to drink or smoke, and who’s rationed and being denied treats like junk food and toys). Except I’m not a child. And I’ve been good. Ok, so there was that time I’ve driven 72 km/h in the main road. And, before the (obviously misplaced) stop sign on the way to school was taken away, I’ve always just slowed down, instead of stopping, if I was sure no-one would see me. And I sometimes lie about my age, but in such a joking way that anyone should be able to guess that I’m pulling their leg (but still wonder). And I’ve blamed a minor traffic offense on my husband (twice). But, apart from a few light blunders, I’m generally not a naughty child. So, why do I feel so guilty? Is this how easy it is to condition a (relatively) sane person?

Anyway, I picked up my parcel, crossed my fingers, and slipped into my driveway as nonchalantly as possible. Getting out of the car, I made sure not to touch anything apart from the parcel in my hands – which includes closing and opening doors, and patting the dog on the way to the kitchen. Luckily, I’ve got nifty feet and am used to having my hands full.

I scrubbed my hands for two happy birthday songs and jumped through the shower. I put my clothes in the centre of the laundry basket, wrapped in layers of uncontaminated clothes. And I breathed.

I am not scared of the (current) absolute miniscule possibility of contracting a flu virus by coming into contact with one outsider. (If you can survive home-schooling kids, you can survive covid-19.) Why was this so stressful? Was it the feeling of doing something “wrong”, even if it’s supposed to be normal and was “right” just a few weeks ago?

How am I ever going to sneak out or lie about my life achievements in the retirement home one day, if I can’t even pull this off? How am I ever going to become part of the High Mile club on my worldly travels one day, if I feel scared to get into trouble now? Or drink Jack Daniel’s and pretend it to be tea at breakfast, when I’m retired, if I should be sticking to the rules? Will I ever be able to cheat at Bingo or bluff at strip poker? Is covid-19 stripping me?

Stripping me from being realistic?

11 May 2020:  Lockdown Day 46

11 May 2020: Lockdown Day 46

It’s still lockdown.

I figured we’d do our part. We started staying home pre-emptively. I’ve been inside my property for 8 weeks, 1 day, 9 hours and 22 minutes.

I haven’t been to town. I haven’t even met the new owners of the shop less than 2 km from our gate. I don’t know if the traffic light in the main road is still down. I haven’t had a Seattle coffee from Caltex. And I don’t mind. Not leaving my house is better than I could ever anticipate.

It’s the other members of the household. They never leave either. They are on top of me – all the time. When I need space, we play hide-and-seek. We’ve played ten years’ worth of hide-and-seek already. They’re suspecting my ulterior motives and recently started putting a time limit down when it’s my time to seek. As for the hiding… there is literally and figuratively speaking nowhere for me to hide anymore.

The kids often call my name four hundred sixty seven times per day.

Sometimes I ignore their calls the same way they do mine. But they are more persistent and their voices tend to reach that pitch all moms wish to avoid. I can’t win at this game.

I am the mother, sometimes the father, the teacher (of three different grades, across two different schools), the routine-preacher, the pet carer, the water bearer, the sandwich maker, the compulsive baker, the washer and cleaner, the sibling-intervenor, the gardener, the misdemeanour pardoner, the greywater tank emptier, the garden-walk-sightseer, the rubbish bin dragger, the sit-and-concentrate-on-your-schoolwork-nagger, the personal assistant to everyone, the person to pretend this is fun… Sometimes I’m even the wife. And all of this while singing kiddies’ songs on repeat in my head.


But things aren’t all bad. 

I sleep late. And oh, do I make the most of that privilege. I’ve always expected this day to finally come along only once all my little birdies have left the nest. Or when I finally build up the guts to get myself involved in a very minor accident. Not enough to leave permanent damage. Just enough to be admitted to hospital for a few days. And I’ll pretend to be in a coma whenever visitors come. I’ll relish in their epiphanies of how much I’ve contributed to their lives and how my household is falling apart without me there. And I’ll sleep. I’ll sleep until my medical aid won’t cover the hospital stay any longer…

But there’s no need for such drastic measures. Covid-19 has it all covered. No rushing out of bed to make school lunch boxes and begging kids to get dressed. I am now sleeping until the sun is up. And it is amazing.

Sometimes the late mornings backfire. I had a Whatsapp call with a teacher the other day – at 8:30. It was awkward. I had to move the camera around a lot, so she wouldn’t catch a glimpse of my face and realise I still have the out-of-bed look. I ended up faking bad signal and switched the camera off.

To achieve these valuable lie-ins, we all go to bed really late. It does mean that I forfeit any possibility of enjoying a little television alone time or getting personal admin done after hours, but if it’s a toss-up, I’ll always choose lazy mornings. We’ll reset our routine clock again when the world finally resets back to normal life.

I actually get a lot done every day. Between the hours and hours and hours of schooling, I also managed to complete all the outstanding taxes and have ticked off over a page of small print to-do items. Sure, most days I don’t have time to shave or enjoy a cup of hot coffee, but it’s all about priorities. I don’t want to feel in debt to myself when lockdown is over. Getting backburner chores done is trumping putting on make-up or brushing hair.

Until my eldest told me that I look like “a real woman” this weekend, as I was putting on fresh day clothes and some make-up for the first time since lockdown. Cheeky.

Cheeky, but true. Maybe it’s time to turn my attention from the to-do list to the me-list.

It will happen now. I’m going to shave and maybe even pluck my eyebrows.

I saunter upstairs. Not like in a sexy, hip swaying way. More like in a my-hips-haven’t-quite-adjusted-to-the-new-weight (going upstairs) kind of way. It leads my thoughts to the bathroom scale, where I hid it under the bin. It’s been on time-out since lockdown started – same as any form of diet. There’ll be years to make up for the way I’m eating now. I have to work my way through the stockpile of food before the expiration dates. Plus, my kids snack all the time. If you can’t beat them, join them.

I drag out the scale. I hope the battery is flat. It isn’t. I step on very quickly. For some reason, it feels like it’ll display more in my favour if I do it with speed. The number is too high. I step down, tap-tap it a few times with my foot and step on again – a little slower this time. Maybe the momentum of jumping on so fast pushed the number up. Same result. Can’t be. I step down, move the scale forwards and backwards a little. On again. Scrunch my nose up in disgust. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been (apart from being pregnant). How’s that possible if I don’t even feel that much fatter. Is this how easy it is to get used to a new clothes’ size?

I look at myself in the mirror. Yip, I am older too. Like, visibly a little older than before lockdown. I knew home schooling would take its toll. I just figured it’ll end with my lightly strangling a child, but the wrinkles that seamingly appeared overnight are definitely leaving more permanent emotional scars. I carefully make my various favourite facial expressions to see which one is the culprit. Well, the wrinkles are not from laughing. Clearly, where my kids make their marks, they’re for real. So much for letting my skin breathe without make-up for the past few weeks. So much for expecting at least a little ‘glow’ if my body is going to take on pregnancy shape.

My hair looks dull too. I narrow my eyes and slowly move closer to the mirror to see if I can spot any grey hair. I realise my mistake and retreat before I get close enough for my deteriorating eye sight to spot any. Rather not go there now. I reach for a pot of hair mask. “To revitalise tired hair.” They should’ve added “and soul”. I leave it on for twice as long, in the hope of doubling the result.

I rinse out what could’ve been pure fat. I don’t know what’s worse – the fact that the hot water is now almost finished and my hair is still oily, or that the entire shower floor is covered with hair. I remind myself that I haven’t really brushed my hair in days, so it’s just a normal, yet accumulated hair loss. The water is rising. Of course, the drain is blocked. The fat plus the cooled water plus the excessive hair down the drain don’t make a great combination. I kick the hair carpet away from the drain and try to scoop the water towards the outlet to encourage flow. I am flat on the floor, rapidly making circles with my hand to create a vortex. The hair forms a pile the size of a small rat. Better take the rest of it out of the drain while it’s still reachable. I unscrew the drain plug and luckily see only a few strands. I pull them out. The few strands are followed by a long dreadlock, covered in sludge, decorated in solid bits that I don’t even want to imagine how they got in there. I throw up a little in my mouth. I chuck the dreadlock onto the hair rat.

 

I’m still down on the floor. The water is cold. I should rephrase – I’m just down, point. I quickly do a self-check and comparison with what I’m reading online. There are many posts about moms breaking down during lockdown – lots of reference to getting emotional, crying over spilled milk. (Well, I guess, under the circumstances, spilled milk would literally be a reason to cry.) 

“I shared a post on Facebook recently about a woman that sounds like she’s not coping. I received quite a few messages from concerned Facebook friends. However, it wasn’t my personal post. The lady in the post has five kids, of which one is a baby. Not the same person, yet people just assumed I’m talking about myself. I guess that’s how we digest media these days. It’s a blurred line between your own thoughts and what’s just being shared and forwarded from others. But some posts are real and really scary. Some Facebook friends had babies during lockdown. Some lost parents. There are real life dramas going down inside other people’s homes and we only see the glimpses of what their Facebook posts allow. I shouldn’t be down. It could’ve been worse. At least my child didn’t poop in the shower while the drain is blocked. At least I still have hair – of a colour that doesn’t require regular salon visits, which I now wouldn’t be able to rely on. At least my pajamas are still loose fitting. At least…” I should stop right there. I’m talking to a hair rat.

I reach for a towel. I instinctively smell it. Nothing as bad as getting bud on a clean face. I realise that I’ve been smelling everything lately. The dish cloths, to check if they can last another round. The kids’ underwear from the floor, to check if they can’t please do another round. The leftovers I stored in the fridge, to check if they can be tonight’s round. The pillow cases before I go to bed, to see whether they should be turned around… I think that’s actually what I miss most – not having to smell home items before daring to use them.

I pick the hair rat up by its tail, try my best to avoid smelling it, put it in the bin, and place the bin back on top of the scale – hard. Where it’ll stay.

Well, at least my fatty hair smells nice.