26 March 2020: Lockdown Day Zero

It’s Day Zero.

Today is the last day of freedom until Mother Nature forgives us and we’re all allowed to shake hands again.

Our family has been self-isolating since the start of last week already, so we’ve had a sneak preview of what’s lying ahead – at least in terms of family dynamics.

I notice this morning that I look exceptionally tired. It doesn’t quite make sense. I am going to bed as per routine, but I enjoy lazy mornings now that’s there’s no crazy hour(s) to rush the kids to school. I definitely get more sleep. Then it dawns on me. It’s mascara. Usually, I wake up with traces of the previous day’s mascara still on my naturally short lashes (sometimes also under my eyes, where the bags hugged my lashes while I slept). After so many days of no make-up, my lashes are unusually clean. 

My goodness. Is this what my face looks like completely naked?

I do a quick check inside my night shirt to see if everything there is still where they should be. My eyes wander down to my thighs. They seem bigger. A lot. So quickly? Well, it’s pretty inevitable. My entire family is home all the time and they constantly need to be fed. Our breakfasts and snack times and lunches and snack times and dinners and bedtimes-but-I’m-hungries just seamlessly blend into one another. The dog is on a serious diet (has been forever, we’re failing terribly), so I’m the one we rely on to eat the left-over crusts, last spoons of porridge, lonely sausage in the pan… It doesn’t help that I’ve implemented a ‘no waste policy’. We eat everything now. Also the soft tomatoes. (Before, I always froze those to use in stews later – just to throw them away when I clean the freezer.) I now eat what no-one else is finishing. It’s for the greater good.

I shrug at my current state. Have never been big on hair or make-up before anyway. Plus, no-one will see me in weeks. I don’t need to manage myself now.

I can make up for it by managing my household.

I feel a sense of urgency to rewrite the schedule I drew up a week ago. I make some minor adjustments based on my new experience of reality. I do it in my best handwriting. There is no office I can send it to to be printed. I redo it a couple of times, because of some small spacing mistakes. How I miss tabs.

I am now in pedantic mode. I call a meeting. I have a bell. It still amazes me how the kids love to come running when I ring it.

In my most authoritative tone, I rumble off a very long list of chores. Each child receives daily tasks – focused on helping each other. There’s a lot of complaining, over-exaggerated groans and ridiculous negotiations from my audience. But, this was expected. Afterall, I’m not new at being a mom. I am prepared. I end the conversation by “hearing their concerns” and reducing the chores to only a few routine tasks. The eldest will dress himself and the youngest, open windows and brush his brother’s teeth. The middle one will make his own and his little brother’s beds, and pick up everyone’s clothes. We’ll have half an hour of communal house cleaning, after an hour of home-school, every day. Everyone is delighted by the reduction of chores and happily accepts. One star for mom.

I kick it up a notch. I employ the same tactic with my husband. (He didn’t come running when the bell rang, so he didn’t witness the game.) I casually mention the elaborated list of household chores. I quickly brush over how our cleaner spends seven hours per day getting it all done, and that, now that I am also teacher and everything else, we will have to divide the tasks. I see him stiffen from the corner of my eye. I don’t make eye contact. I stay nonchalant. This is matter-of-fact stuff. I pause for effect. He is waiting for his death sentence. I politely ask if he would unpack the dishwasher every day. And help with dinner. He can braai. I pause for effect again, as if the rest will follow. Nothing follows. His shoulders relax. He can’t believe his luck. I add that I would then take care of the rest of the heavy work. I emphasise ‘heavy’ a little stronger than the rest. He eagerly accepts his fate.

On the way out the door, he pulls a man-move by asking if he’ll get lucky for every time he unpacks the dishwasher. (Seriously?!) I give my loudest snort and walk away – not quite answering his question. (Let that hang in the air a while and be a motivator. As if.)

I decide to make omelettes. Again a strategic move. There are some tomatoes and mushrooms going off soon. Some cheese has already been grated and went a little hard. Last week’s ham is not so fresh anymore. No-one will notice if I wrap these in egg.

There is no clean pan. I go to fetch one in the washroom sink. I left the pots and pans there to soak. What seemed like a good idea yesterday, resulted in a terrible task today. The soak water is cold. The fats are floating on top. Some formed a solid layer. There must be a clever saying along the lines of ‘yesterday’s laziness taking revenge today’, or something. (Mental note to only soak pots and pans, if I’m planning to finish the job while the water is still hot. This also sounds like a profound saying.)

I turn back to the kitchen to go find my backup pans. Those are the novelty pans that you buy online, but never use. There is a pink sandwich shape one and a teeny tiny red one that will fit a single child-size omelette. Child-size omelettes it is then. Just as I wonder why I never use this pan, I learn that my now oversize spatula cannot turn the omelette and the handle starts burning, because it’s too close to the open gas flame. In the seconds of chaos that follows when I try to move the melting handle out of the way and turn the egg at the same time, without it spilling over the sides of the impractical small pan, the omelette flops. It now resembles scrambled eggs. On a good day, my kids don’t particularly like scrambled eggs. (Why would they like the quickest way of cooking eggs?!) Let alone scrambled eggs with tomatoes and mushrooms now clearly visible. (Moms of small children will understand.) I find comfort in the possibility that it might be like pancakes – the first one always flops.

They all flop. I blame the pan and spatula and hot handle. The kids get scrambled eggs. Someone dares to comment that it looks like throwup. I bribe them with screen time if they eat their food without wasting any. The little one is ‘full’ after his first bite. I eat his leftovers. The other two immediately announce that it’s unfair that he didn’t have to eat all his food. I put myself in time-out. I go to the loo. Two out of three kids follow me there. There is no safe space in my house. I tell them that they can watch YouTube, if they leave now. It works. Yes, I bribed with overload of screen time today. Don’t judge me. It’s crisis time.

It’s very cold today – the perfect couch day. I lovingly close each child with a blanket and make sure they have water and whatever else they can ask for next. I do a quick round of laundry. I made peace with the fact that laundry is a loop. It will never end. I will never get ahead. At least today Mother Nature is giving me a thumbs-up to run the tumble dryer all day – to heat up the house (and to ease the laundry load at the same time). I also give myself a thumbs-up to stay in my pyjamas all day.

I sit down in front of my computer to do the item longest outstanding on my to-do list – taxes (and not even 2020’s).

The tumble dryer makes a strange, rattling noise. It’s my punishment for thinking I’d be allowed to dry clothes the environmentally-unfriendly way, and to believe in thumbs-ups (and to think I’d get my taxes done today). I open and close the dryer door four times. I take out all the clothes. I check all the zips and buttons. I check the inside for loose coins. I try to shake the machine a little to see if I can hear something rattle inside, but it’s way too heavy to move even slightly. I finally find the source of the noise. There’s an unplugged radio on top of the tumble dryer. It’s plug is rattling against a glass vase next to it. Seriously?!

I’m fully focussed on creating the perfect Excel template before I start with the taxes. This time I’m ripped from my computer by the smell of something burning in the kitchen. I left the stove on. Meant to pop a ready-made meal in for lunch and then forgot. The last six months’ oven spills are scorched to ash. Well, will be easier to clean now.

If we have a fire tomorrow, will the fire brigade come? Would I want them to?

The retired cat comes running. He meows non-stop. He is so old, he can’t distinguish between the smell of something burning and food. His nose obviously detects some strong scent, but his brain is de-wired by age. He sways on his feet while he watches me open the kitchen windows. We’ve been expecting him to fall over for the past five years. If something happens now, there’s no vet to take him to.

I become increasingly more aware of the limited access we’d have to service providers during the next few weeks or maybe even months. I immediately turn my attention to where the boys are tugging at each other on the couch, like they always do when sharing a space. If someone gets hurt now, we’d be better off not going to the hospital. I scold them for being irresponsible under the new circumstances. Then I scold them for not smelling something burning.

I return to my computer. My husband walks in. He jokingly comments on how I’ve been in this same spot for four days. (And how does he think the family got fed and the house got cleaned if I stayed in this same spot for four days? I’m getting defensive inside. It’s embarrass-anger. Tomorrow I’ll get dressed before anyone else. Ok, easy now. Tonight I’ll put on different pyjamas. Then I won’t look the same tomorrow.)

I leave the taxes. Instead, I make a list of everything I forgot to buy. Not as if it matters now. We’re not going anywhere at this last minute – then our week of isolation thus far was for nothing. It just soothes me to make lists. (List people will understand.) Cream cheese. Chutney. Wraps. Hummus. Those are luxury items. We should be able to cope without those. Onions. How could I forget onions. And I didn’t fill the gas for the oven. It’ll be empty before the end of this week.

My mind wanders to tonight. It rained last night. That’s another thumbs-up from Mother Nature. I’m allowed a deep bath tonight. We have only rain water and no access to municipal supply, so baths are restricted to when the reservoirs are full. I decide to bath early. Just have to keep the kids occupied, otherwise they’ll all jump in with me and I’ll have to add more cold water than is comfortable. I wonder how long I can extend the kids’ screen time for before I should be labelled a bad parent. I share the good news with the kids – they can watch television ALL DAY LONG. The middle one literally jumps with joy and asks if it’s Saturday. (They usually get screen time slots only over weekends.) I don’t want to lie (at least not at such a direct question) and respond with “it can be any day you set your imagination to”. It sounds profound enough. He buys into it. (Or just didn’t listen to my answer.)

I fill the bath up to the overflow drain. I use the luxury bubble bath I’ve saved for years – for who-knows-what-and-when.

We might not have food soon, but at least we’re running into winter, so we’ll have water. Actually, we have so much to be grateful for. I have great kids. And I am lucky to have an awesome husband, who accepts me just the way I am – pyjamas and all – even in the same spot for four days. He is so super helpful unpacking the dishwasher. And so big, strong, and handsome.

(Not implying that the last two sentences aren’t completely true, but I’ve put those in there to check if he actually reads the posts he’s seen me typing, in the same spot, for the last few days.)

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