28 March 2020: Lockdown Day 2

Officially, it’s Lockdown Day 2.

But we’ve been in self-isolation for our second week already. My plan was to run a tight ship, according to a waterproof schedule – to keep everyone in routine and myself sane, until we can resume normal lives again. But my kids are pirates. We experience everything from mutiny to unauthorised trading of rations.

My middle child appears with a huge chocolate bar. I am immediately curious about how it made its way into our fortress. Turns out he has a ‘secret stash’ (his own words). It’s a collection of sweets from his 7th birthday party (in November!), treats I handed out over the December holidays, and sweets he received for Christmas from people-without-kids-who-don’t-understand-the-consequence-of-sugary-gifts.

I confiscate the stash and declare it communal property.

He is very proud to be able to make such a substantial contribution to the household. Middle kids are natural sharers. Or maybe they’re just used to not having much choice. Can’t believe my luck. I was worried about running out of treats soon.

I pretend to go make coffee. I take a slab of chocolate and hide it under my shirt. I am very careful not to let it make a sound. The kids (and husband) have an incredible ability to detect wrapper sounds. I keep my body language casual. I stroll to my bedroom. It’s difficult to keep a straight face, when you feel like a naughty child. Now that I know there is a backup supply of sweets, I should be allowed to have a small snack. I commit to eating just one row. The row is really small. The blocks also seem very small compared to how I remember them. I eat two rows. Well, it doesn’t make sense to lead myself into temptation again later. If the craving is satisfied now, it shouldn’t present itself again soon. I try to correctly word the most plausible excuse to enjoy just a few blocks more. Suddenly the paper is empty. Where did it all go to? I get up to check if the missing blocks will fall from my lap. I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t witness it with my own eyes. I fold the paper up really, really tight, squeeze it into an empty toilet roll, and lay it flat at the bottom of the bathroom bin. I carefully place some used tissues on top. I take one out again, blow my nose to make sure it looks properly used, and replace it on top of the pile in the bin. I feel a little stupid. Not guilty or embarrassed, just stupid for wasting an entire slab in one go.

What I do feel embarrassed about, is that we ran out of gas for the oven. I’m a planner by nature. But I didn’t even consider checking the gas before lockdown. No despair. Challenge accepted. I have an electric frying pan. I’ll delight in not having any pots and pans cluttering the sink anymore.

We’re also running a little low on the luxuries. Not because I didn’t plan, but because I stocked up over two weeks ago already – and then didn’t include the additional government enforced 21 days. My initial idea was to fully isolate for 10 days, to ensure we are symptom free before visiting my parents. Closer to home, I’m also very careful to not expose my 3-year old. He had a severe chest issue in November and December last year. After six weeks of exact corona symptoms, I took him for x-rays, which revealed pneumonia. I’m not an expert, but in the light of also being born a little over six weeks prematurely, his little lungs should not be exposed to another viral attack.

Long story short, I was prepared to stay home. We were stocked up. But I wasn’t prepared for how much my family members eat! (Or how often I have to bribe with treats. Yes, I bribe with sugar and screen time. No judgement during crisis time.)

Today, my kids’ fuses seem extra short. 

And they’re quite eager to pull the matches on each other. It’s my fault, really. Yesterday’s improved-mum allowed the kids to go to bed super late, third night in a row. Should’ve known better to not trust 29-year-old fun mum over 30-ish experienced mum.

To make things worse, we’re way off schedule today. We had brunch instead of breakfast (not a bad idea for the future – saved a meal there) and school hour started three hours late.

The dining room table around which I try to school kids from three different grades, in three different live phases, with three totally different temperaments, is way too small today. They draw imaginary lines to set boundaries and try to occupy more space than necessary to try and push those boundaries. They call on me to judge every wrong word, look, or implied move from the other. They are surprisingly quick to reference every house rule to proof their good reason for being upset with each other.

I don’t raise my voice. I pull my own fuse out a little longer. A little more. I am the rock (or the soft landing – whichever is required). I am the example. I calmly remind them, like every morning, that they can receive two stars – one for eager participation during their school hour and one for work done well. The little one wants to count the stars before we can begin. There’s a squabble about how unfair it is that each of them isn’t the winner. I explain it’s not a competition. No-one agrees.

I try to turn the competition into a team effort. I saw a great idea on Facebook recently, where kids make a wish jar for after lockdown. In my most excited voice, I explain that they need, as a team, two stars each – to put a note in the jar of something that they’d like to do after lockdown. Something they miss now. We’ll work through the wish list before the end of the year.

It’s as if I lit a bomb.

They, albeit in now positive tones, argue about what should go on today’s note. The eldest wants to go to Cape Town to play arcade games for two nights in a row. The middle one wants to go to Disneyland. I set some perimeter boundaries and financial limits to the wishes. They heavily debate for another ten minutes. I go make coffee. They don’t even realise their teacher is gone. The little one gets up, because he wants to go to granny’s house – now.

The middle one is now completely side-tracked. He wants to know about last-man-standing. It takes me a few seconds to understand the question. Hypothetically, if it would be possible for us to be the last men standing – seeing that we’re so vigilant about no contact with the outside – would that automatically mean that we will become the president? He is excited to have access to all the planes. I say yes. He is content and is willing to start his reading.

The hour goes quickly. They wasted most of it. I am relieved. My mind is elsewhere. I must continue painting the back stoep today. I haven’t made progress in three days. The day before yesterday, the weather was too cold. Yesterday, the weather was too nice. The paint brush I left inside the tin is probably already half dry. It’s my only paint brush. I better get to it now.

I don’t have work clothes on today. But I’m not going to mess. I need to be careful anyway, because it’s a super difficult paint to work with. It’s actually road paint. It dries almost immediately and one needs to blend the edges very well to get a smooth effect. I figured out a quick way on my second paint day. I throw paint directly on the floor, spread it with a paddle, and just use the brush to smooth it out. Where the floor is uneven, you have to dab-dab vigorously. You can’t stop once you’ve started and it’s very strenuous on the back, so I manage about 3 m² per day.

The first section goes well. I sweep the next area to be painted and balance the broom against the wall. It slides down and falls onto the painted floor. I’ve poured a little too much paint on the floor and struggle to reach the far end with the brush. I have mere seconds before it’ll be too late to smooth out. I lean forward and put my left hand against the pillar for support. I quickly brush the area with my free hand. I can’t get back up. This is where planking exercises would’ve been rewarding. It’s inevitable. I’ll have to touch the paint – either by stepping forward with my foot, for balance, or by letting go of the pillar and putting my hand on the floor. I manage to touch the paint in only one spot.

I’m getting better at this. I decide to paint a little further. There’s a car seat in my way. I gently kick it out of the way. Grass cuttings and dust, that were trapped underneath, fly up and land all over my freshly painted floor. I use the kitchen broom to lightly brush over it. It doesn’t come off, but at least it’s now covered in paint and blends in with the floor. There’s paint on both my hands and at some point I touched my pants, because they’re smeared too. There’s a line of paint on my inner arm. So much for being careful.

I pour the last paint for today. My eldest starts screaming my name. (We very recently had a serious conversation about yelling my name. As a kid, I walked to my mom, when I needed her. Screaming is for emergencies only.) So, I ignore it. He screams again. This time it actually sounds urgent. I can’t get up now. If I stop now, the paint will dry, and there’ll be a huge line right by the back door. I scream his name – doing exactly what I preached not to do. No answer. I scream his name again and ask if it’s an emergency. He says “kind of”. Well, “kind of” doesn’t justify getting up now. I continue. He screams my name again. I scream his. He doesn’t answer. Now I start to wonder… and worry a little. I yell for my middle child. No answer. I yell for my husband. He answers after the fifth time. My goodness. I hope the neighbours are inside, playing board games.

I finish up quickly and run inside to check on the issue. The eldest is constipated and wants help. I default to asking if he had enough water. He asks if it’s a symptom of the corona virus. I laugh it off. He is serious. And worried. He asks how many times this will happen in his life – this is the worst thing that ever happened to him. My heart softens. Despite his big body, he is actually still my little boy. I try to explain some techniques and manoeuvres. He is too shy to let me come close. No, not my little boy anymore.

I lighten the mood by offering to make milkshake when he gets up. He wants peanut butter milkshake. I forgot to buy peanut butter. There’s only a little bit left. I tell the others. The little one wants pink milkshake. The middle one wants bubblegum flavour. Pain trumps personal preference. I firmly state that there’s only peanut butter flavour on the menu today. I correct myself immediately. There is no menu. This isn’t a restaurant. Do they want peanut butter milkshakes or not. The eldest still tries to change his mind to caramel milkshake. I get everyone to reluctantly agree on peanut butter.

The youngest one is eager to help make milkshakes. I fetch the last ice cream and last peanut butter and almost last of the fresh milk. He tries his luck again by asking for pink milkshake. I explain we don’t have strawberries to make pink milkshake with. Now he wants strawberries. I unpack half the fridge in the hope of finding a few lost strawberries. He spots the ham. He insists on ham milkshake. I explain it can’t work. He asks “why not” six times. I run out of reasons. I realise he’s probably hungry and trade him two slices of ham for his silence.

While I boil water to heat the spoon, to scoop the rock solid ice cream, the little one can’t resist the open tub. It’s too cold and too hard to get anything out by hand. He licks the full length of the tub. I don’t mind. Don’t think toddler germs survive at that temperature. We blend the ingredients. He wants to push the buttons. He screams at the noise it makes. Again-again! Then again. And again. I pour five glasses of delicious peanut butter milkshake. He is very upset. “Where did the ice cream go!” He wants his milkshake and ice cream separately. Of course. I should remember to provide full disclosure at the start of any new experience.

I drink three glasses of milkshake. My husband didn’t want any and the middle child now doesn’t like peanut butter any longer.

Should’ve poured some vodka in there.