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.