3 December 2020: Lockdown Day 252

Again, I have mixed emotions. (Which is very much in line with what I felt about most 2020-experiences.)

My eldest turned 12 last week and was a Grade 6-er for the last time today. When formal education starts again in 2021 (and I seriously hope it’s a government typo that it’ll only happen by end of January), he’ll be facing the last stretch of primary school. There have been so many moments when I’ve longed for him to grow up. Now I feel copycatty using the cliché, but this really happened too fast.

They’re done with exams and (officially) there are two more weeks of school left. As a matter of principle, I’ve thus forced him to, at least, go to school up to today. I’m not going to allow not-hearing-the-end-of-how-he-was-the-absolute-only-child-there spoil my triumph of squeezing another two days out of school. It’s going to be a very long holiday.

My middle one turned eight two weeks ago. The little one turns four and a half at the end of this month. The half is very important and puts his development into perspective when his memories start with: “Do you remember when I was really little and only four…”

Their school closed yesterday, but without the usual, joyful farewells. The rising covid numbers abruptly cancelled their certificate ceremonies and the concerts they’ve been practicing so hard for. I feel a bit robbed. And I know I should pretend to be as thrilled as they are about the holidays, but I suspect summer might be a tad less exciting this year. Covid is sneaking closer to home. (I now actually know names of real people that got infected.) It’s like a storm cloud moving in over my beach blanket. So, although I desperately wish to lavishly celebrate the end of 2020, it’ll probably be just quite a watered-down, masked observance.

Like I said – mixed emotions.

Reflecting on 2020, I see a giant advent calendar – behind every month’s door, a surprise. And conflict. And navigating.

Lots of social navigating around conflicting news about covid origins and vaccinations. Lots of conflicting opinions about riots abroad and locally, and even conflicting presidential election outcomes. Definitely mixed emotions and internal conflict about navigating through home schooling during lockdown. And many new routes to plot for the immediate way forward – like whether the kids would expect Santa to wear a mask this year or not.

In the excitement to open and close the last door of 2020, I never got around to reminisce about our recent-ish trip to Cape Town… It went down like this. (Prelude in my previous post.)

It’s our first day in Cape Town and we have an exhausting list of fun family activities to run through as part of the kids’ reward for sitting still and paying attention in mom’s home schooling class. They are completely hyped on the foresight of being let out of their cage, and also maybe because I’ve blown up these treats to a little larger-than-life. They’re up by sunrise, of course. And it’s raining, of course. Google provides the location of a suitable indoor play park, which looks like it should be around the corner. (It wasn’t.)

The kids get dressed and eat in record time. I heavily praise their speed in encouragement of the same behaviour on school mornings back home. (It didn’t work.) We’re in my husband’s car. It’s a big car. The underground parking lot is too small – exactly as per the Tripadvisor review, which I chose to ignore. I super-carefully, centimetre by centimetre, navigate my way through the last 90° turn. The eldest calmly states that I am dangerously close to the pillar on his side. I confidently assure him that it’s impossible. I’m watching the dashboard camera and am listening for the beeps. He insists that he can hear the pillar scraping his door. I explain that the beeping is still intermittent. Until it’s a continuous sound, there’s still space. Plus, I can clearly see a gap of at least five centimetres on the camera. What he’s hearing, is the squeaking of the breaks, because I’m moving so responsibly slowly.

I finally make it out of the torturing parking garage and get out to prove him wrong. He was right. There’s a huge, yellow scrape, from top to bottom, on his side of the door. My utter shock is enough to prevent him from saying “told you so”. I stutter a very soft, small swear word. They all hear it. (Seriously, through the closed windows, but they can’t hear me when I call them to come bath.) The little one dares to repeat it twice. And laughs. The middle one steps up and reprimands him for both offences.

I don’t have to put on a brave face, because I’m immediately settling it by phone. I dial my husband and build up my misjudgement to such a calamity that he’s actually relieved to hear that my confession is only a scratch and not the high-way pileup accident he anticipated. Not a great start to our first day.

We finally find the play park, which was too far away. The kids are absorbing my body language and are still worried about the car too. It manifests as hunger and desert thirst. We almost don’t make it inside on time before they melt. The middle one bolts through the child-proof gate to get water from the little restaurant inside. I have to shout from the external side of the gate for him to receive his temperature pass and arm band. Everyone looks up. I offer an apologetic smile, but don’t know how much of it is conveyed with the mask on. The little one licks the counter. Literally, with his tongue, for a length of at least 40 cm. My brows shoot up in terror before I can yell at him to stop. It makes him collapse on the floor. Both his hands touch that one square meter space where absolutely everyone has to cross to enter and exit the play park – the one space that probably never gets sanitised. I yank him up by the back of his top. (Designers should really consider sewing handles on the backs.) The lady behind the counter watches completely expressionless. She either experiences this often or has a child of the same age, or is quietly judging me from inside.

I pinch the little one between my legs and swiftly complete the check-in form. I don’t mention anything about being dead with a temperature reading of 31.2°C. Well, at least I don’t have covid. I write 36.2 and let the little one shoot off to (out of all the fun things there) go ride on the same scooter he has at home.

I park myself at a bench while the kids freak out about the awesomeness of this place. So easy to impress them when they grow up in the countryside. Must say, I feel about indoor play areas the same as I feel about indoor heated pools. So much fun, but if ever there’s a rave party for covid, this is where it’ll take place. I take out my phone to start clearing Whatsapp messages from 2019 and to answer some forgotten ones from last month. I accept to be labelled as “that mom” who sits on her phone mindlessly, while others need to entertain her kids. Let them judge. I don’t know anyone here and am comfortably hiding behind a mask.

I realise it’s time to go when the waitress informs me that our play time is now for free, because we’ve eaten and drank so much that we’ve reached their VIP status. I get offered a VIP card as proof. The kids want to slide one more time. We finally make it out the door another hour later.

We decide to go to the Waterfront next. The little one goes into an excitement fit about the ‘roller coaster’. I watch suspiciously as the attendant casually sprays the inside of our cart to prepare it for our Big Wheel ride. I beg the kids to not touch anything, too much, if they can help it. The door isn’t even closed yet and all six of their hands and three noses are pressed up against the glass. I tear myself away from seeing if their lips are touching too. The middle one rocks the cart. I point to the sign that warns not to. They want to know if it’ll make me want to throw up, and continue to rock the cart lightly, as if I won’t notice. The attendant flashes them a warning. I smugly add an I-told-you-so.

The wheel starts to move. With the sanitising of every cart, it’s boringly slow – not at all what they expected from this roller coaster. The little one wants his ‘doekie’ to nap on the seat. I don’t even attempt to explain to him why I can’t get it to him right now. The middle one wants to know why the owners of the buildings don’t label the roofs, so we know which is which. He wants to know about Robben Island. And what the big tanker is carrying, how many storeys I think that skyscraper has, what that crane is busy building… Luckily, his mind works way faster than the flow of his questions. He’s not allowing himself to wait for an answer. I just sit back and don’t even attempt to get a speaking turn.

Craving proper food (or just anything other than cold chicken nuggets and margherita pizzas), we go dine at the Cattle Baron. I lecture extensively about no feet on the couches, no elbows on the table, to loud talking, no asking about why there’s no play area, etc, etc. The older male restaurant host’s body language clearly speaks his distrust in my crew’s ability to handle themselves. Telepathically, he tries to direct me to the Spur instead. I am eager to prove him wrong. Luckily, the kids are tired, exceptionally quiet, and hungry enough to get through the meal without much talking. I am proud and silently hope that the host feels a little guilty about judging my kids by their doughnut stained shirts and farm boy faces.

My eldest can’t stop referring to the fanciness of the restaurant. He asks if he can order a ‘virgin’ cocktail and take a ‘selfie’ to brag to his friends. I point out that he is 11 and I would’ve preferred if he didn’t know either of those two words.

We head home. Luckily, it’s around the corner – for real this time. The kids are exhausted. The little one doesn’t like the bugs dancing on his feet. No idea what that means, but I blow on both feet and then rub the bottom of his dirty feet until they’re dead. Everyone wants my commitment that we’re going to do even more tomorrow. They pass out happy.

The next day, we brave the aquarium. There’s a very long line. Something about free entry if it was your birthday during lockdown. The kids are willing to wait. You’d swear we live in the Kalahari and never see fish. The middle one keeps on picking up litter. I keep on pointing out that he now can’t throw it back down, because others will think he litters. He carries a pile of other people’s trash for over an hour. The little one hugs strangers. I do another calculation on how many potential covid-infections they already got, give up on the wait and just buy tickets online. It’s surprisingly quiet inside. I’m relieved to have some space. The kids patiently allow me to read each card and point to what we should be looking for in the tanks. But only for the first few tanks. Thereafter, they’re off in different directions. The two little ones tap the glass and both of them wash their hands in the no-touch open tank. I just freely apologise to anyone within hearing distance. The little one is upset about the aquarium taking some of our Knysna sea horses. He is willing to move on if I’d tell the perpetrator to put them back soon.

I allow myself to admire the jelly fish for ten seconds. The little one decides to display his independence and goes on a walkabout. My nervousness escalates when it takes longer than it should to find him. I give him a very loud, exaggerated talk about kids getting stolen in Cape Town. A passing young couple flashes me the evil-eye for scolding my child in public. I smile back sheepishly, but inside I’m lecturing them on how they’ll know what it’s really like once they have kids of their own. Oh, I was there too. A long, long time ago. If I could go back to my 20-year old self now, I’d get out a bag of popcorn (and a bottle of wine) and just sit and snigger while I listen to all of my pre-conceived, self-assured ideas on parenting.

The rest of the short holiday pretty much follows the same trend of excitement and exhaustion. I’m secretly happy when it’s over. Leaving the tiny underground parking garage, overeager to redeem myself, I smirkingly challenge my husband to manoeuvre his way out without doing a ten-point turn. Without any acknowledgement, he smoothly makes his way onto the street, not even slowing down. I narrow my eyes in disbelief. He casually points out that there are huge, bright yellow arrows painted on the floor, to indicate the easy route out. I should’ve just looked.

Or maybe he’s just better at navigating. Which is a good thing, because we still have to navigate the rest of minefield-2020. Our Christmas tree is up and the Elf is on the shelf. Covid can’t take that away.

We possibly have to end our new year’s celebrations by 22:00, but hopefully our countdown to 2021 will soon be followed by countdown to Lockdown Level Zero.