16 July 2020: Lockdown Day 112

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.

11 July 2020: Lockdown Day 107

It’s been over a hundred days.

Opposite of the saying “too little, too late”, our corona lockdown was “too much, too soon” – and now everyone seems to be “over it”.

We’ve passed Day 100, earned the badge and the pat on the back for being compliant citizens, and now everyone is desperate to experience some form of “normal” life again.

Ironically, with the rapid increase in covid cases, we stand at the start of what should actually be hard lockdown, but (at least mentally) our isolation has ended.

I am also slowly emerging from my cocoon. Maybe not as gracefully, but definitely with a butterfly effect. There are so many extra daily self-checks. Is it colder outside today or do I have a fever? Do I have my phone, car keys AND mask? Can I manage to run in for just bread and milk this time, and would holding my breath at the cash register be worth it? Did I remember to put on a bra?

Makeup feels heavy, groomed hair feels tight, shoes feel small. I had someone at my house the other day whose eyes kept wandering to the bed socks I was still wearing by late afternoon. I wanted to explain that they’re very suitable for today’s weather, but then didn’t even bother. That’s my big lockdown lesson-to-self:  life’s about more. My family is healthy. My footwear doesn’t matter. (And if you ever feel judged into a corner, you can just cough loudly.)

My eldest son returned to school this week. The other two still enjoy June holidays. Don’t think they need a holiday after being home for more than three months already, but I sure do deserve it. That means one out of my three children is experiencing some sense of normality. At this point 33% feels like a pass mark.

Well, not quite normality as we remember it. My son’s disappointment almost spilled from his eyes when he returned home after his first school day. No verbal picture painting could prepare him for not being allowed to get close to the friends he last saw at the start of the year. His ears were mask-bruised and his hands were sanitizer-dried. His backpack was too heavy (they have to keep all their books at hand due to no sharing allowed). His mood was also too heavy (it’s “unfair” that some of his friends are continuing with home schooling). I had no choice but to lighten the situation with a long hug and extra screen time. So much for our school-is-starting-resolutions. Seems like the tv is staying on for the rest of 2020.

I also didn’t quite grasp the effect of having school mornings again.

I overplanned, set three alarms, and double checked my phone in the middle of the night to ensure it didn’t magically power off. It took two cups of coffee and twice as long as usual to fill the lunch box. His blazer mysteriously shrunk overnight and stains appeared on his tie when he was about to get into the car. I had to eat four crunchies to silence the butterflies in my stomach when my husband finally left to drop him off.

So many new things ahead. My youngest son turned four. He outgrew the toddler phase too fast. He also outgrew the “why phase” and we’ve entered the “because I don’t like to” phase. I’ll miss his angle wings.

He now knows the answers to all questions. He also disagrees with all my answers to his questions. His previous innocent curiosity made way for a new smugness at my reactions to his actions.

An example of a recent event:  

We just parked at home. I really have to run to the loo. It’s already a matter of possibly not running, but rather hopping there cross-legged. He wants to undo the carseat himself. I ignore the protest and just unclick it. He clicks it back in – insisting that he is big. I know this power struggle might take a while. I’m choosing my battle. I make a dramatic excuse for forgetting that he is now four and beg him to just hurry. He wants to know why. I tell him I need to wee. Now.

His facial expression literally turns from annoyance (about my lack of respect for his “new age number” and ability to do everything himself) to amusement (about my uncomfortable situation and the obvious control he suddenly experiences).

He quickly unbuckles (I’m impressed for a second), swings one leg over the seat, spends a moment admiring the handle he just discovered on the ceiling above the door frame, hangs from it with both hands, looks me dead in the eye and tells me to just go on the grass. He shows no intention of getting out.

I talk slowly. I explain that I cannot go on the grass. I really want to go on the loo. I am in a hurry. He will stay in the car, if he doesn’t get out immediately. I will not come when he calls. I need to go. Now.

He talks back slowly, forming every word perfectly. (I should remember modelling speech like this.) He is stuck on the first part of what I said. He wants to know WHY I cannot go on the grass. Seriously? Where did my parenting fail? He should’ve picked this up by now – he rarely lets me go to the loo alone. I offer the quickest possible anatomy lesson and include some science basics, like the difficulty to direct liquid at an angle without a pipe or spout.

He wants to know why I am a mom and not a boy then. (I obviously lied to myself about the why-ing phase being over.) I tell him, now a little less patiently, it’s because my parents just made me this way – I couldn’t choose. He reflects. He is upset about not having had a choice at birth either. I remind him to hurry. He wanted to choose. I ask him if he wants to go back in time and choose to be a girl. He is appalled by the insult. I made my point. He is satisfied and willing to get out of the car now. All this talk about the matter escalated my problem. I leave him at the car and run. He is shocked and yells: “But I got out in a hurry like you asked!”

During lockdown, my eldest son taught me new recipes via his TikTok interests. My middle son taught me everything about Minecraft via his constant quizzing. My youngest son taught me to breathe deeply, sit down, and take time to answer with patience.

Lockdown also offered me time to sort out the house (again). I got rid of the junk. I temporarily stored away all the lidless plastic containers, in case their lids appear again (together with the single socks). I threw away puzzles with missing pieces, cars without wheels, broken pencils, hideous artwork. Some of the “accidentally trashed” artwork got retrieved by the kids and I had to promise to treasure it forever to proof my innocence and appreciation.

I passed on the clothes I’ll still fit in later, the art supplies my boys will still fall in love with, the old bedding we’ll still use one day for camping. I finally finished the memory boxes for my kids, finally figured out the gadgets I bought the years before, finally unsubscribed from the spam mails that frustrate me every morning.

I’ve cleaned, sorted, filed, repaired, and decluttered. I reward myself with the delusion that now, once everything is in its place, it’ll be easy to keep it this way. I fall for it every time. The reality is that this process will have to be repeated (sooner than what I’m comfortable with). Life is all about repeats. And living causes chaos, not the number of things you own or the number of members in the household. It’s living. It’s having a household. And lockdown taught me to appreciate that.

Lockdown also taught me to appreciate having no loadshedding on the schedule, more than having a busy social schedule. Lockdown taught me to appreciate having healthy children, more than tidy children. It taught me to appreciate getting up before everyone else, because it’s not the torture I previously experienced it to be – it’s the best shot at alone time. Lockdown taught me to start appreciating packing school lunch boxes and driving around for hours between extra murals, more than wishing life could be calmer.

I appreciate my preference for good coffee over good wine. (Some people were in quite a panic back then.) I appreciate not being a smoker. (Some people still panic.) I appreciate generally preferring online shopping anyway. I appreciate the privilege of being able to social distance in comfort. I appreciate looking forward to play dates, beach days, and hugging friends. (For some people lockdown doesn’t impact on any of these.) And I appreciate my cleaner (for obvious reasons).

So, with businesses open and kids returning to school, it pretty much feels like lockdown “ended”. Although the health protocols and social distancing and financial burdens will most likely escalate, it feels like, emotionally, we’re “over it”. We came out stronger and wiser – with butterfly wings.

It’s a brave new world.