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.


31 May 2020: Lockdown Day 66

It feels like the day before my birthday.

Way back when birthdays were still something to get excited about…

Tomorrow is Monday and we’re being set free. Well, almost. After 11 weeks of staying within the boundaries of our property, we’ll be grateful, even if the leash is short. Level 3 will be less like prison and more like house arrest – with an ankle monitor.

With this new found freedom, I foresee some awkward social encounters. My husband has been going to the office for only two weeks now. I have been to the minimarket down the road only once (and had a few doctor visits last week), so we’re still newbies at this. I’ll have to hone my people reading skills. If we meet in town, do we hug or do we remote high-five? Now that we’ll be allowed to act and think for ourselves again, who is in the avoid-infection-at-all-cost camp and who herds with the contract-the-virus-and-get-it-over-and-done-with crowd? Who’s sitting on the fence? Will be difficult to tell behind those masks.

As much as we appreciate being allowed out to almost all shops now, actually, we just want to go to the beach. Please. And I’ll trade the next few years’ school holidays, if the schools can just open for all the grades. Pretty please.

It’s testing being a mom-teacher. For three kids. In three different grades. (Which testing-of-patience is just amongst other things.) We’re catching up on some school work, because I was “off sick” with a vibration in my head most of this week. The kids know better than to moan about it being weekend. We’ve established quite early in lockdown that days of the week don’t count anymore. If screen time is now allowed during the week, school work is allowed over weekends.

Mission of the day is to get the middle one to make his “s”, “9” and “7” the right way around. He is sharpening his pencil, again. He has reduced three new pencils to thumb size ones since lockdown. I confiscate the sharpener. He pokes holes in the already tiny eraser with his flame sharp pencil-sword. I confiscate the eraser. The little one grabs it and erases everything he has done thus far. The middle one scolds him before I could and grabs his eraser back. The little one cries, because his brother is grabbing and that it’s “unfair”. I scold the little one for using the forbidden word, scold the middle one for scolding his brother, break the eraser in half, and give each one a piece. The little one is upset, because the eraser is now too small. The middle one jumps up to fetch his cat. The older one scolds him for never giving the cat a break. The little one chirps a nonsensical comment, which contains the word “poop”. The middle child is upset, because I’m not telling the little one off for saying “poop” – and asks if he can play tv-games now.

(This is not even because we’re trying to have school on a weekend day. This is a typical school day for us, every day.)

I fetch the wooden spoon. It lives on top of the extractor fan. It’s the largest one in the house, on which I drew a sad face with a permanent marker. Although it never (ok, very, very seldom) gets used, it still serves its intimidation purpose. Not today. I’m not on top of my game. They’re calling my bluff. This is what happens when you let slip for even just one day. I warn to not give them a star today. The little one immediately sits up straight. The middle one returns to the table with his cat on his lap. The eldest one isn’t as easily threatened anymore. Plus, he arrived upset. He completed his work for the week, but has to take one for the team. I pretend not to notice the obvious signals of disapproval. (But he now doesn’t dare say it’s unfair.) I politely ask him if it’s his tummy rumbling when I can’t ignore the groans any longer. He seizes the opportunity and gets up to make a sandwich.

The other two are also starving. I want to point out that we just had breakfast, but just sigh loudly instead.

The eldest one, against his nature, offers to make sandwiches for everyone, just to get out of school work. The little one wants to work with the glue. I give him pieces of paper to stick down. The middle child’s work needs to be rubbed out, because he’s done half the letters the wrong way around, and some on the wrong line. I turn my back to put the cat outside. The little one spreads glue all over his brother’s pencils. I move their chairs further apart and stipulate imaginary border lines, which shall not be crossed. The middle one needs the eraser, which is in his brother’s territory. This means he can’t erase his work and he “quits”. He dramatically gets up to go to the loo. He fetches his cat from outside on the way there. The little one is suddenly dying of thirst and gets up to fetch water. The eldest is still making sandwiches.

I go fetch the middle one from the loo, from where he is ignoring my calls. The toilet is filled all the way to the top with toilet paper. I start a lecture on the allowed number of squares per poo. The middle one denies that he is at fault. I call the little one. He casually explains that he rolled down two rolls to get to the binoculars inside. I hold my breath, close one eye, and start removing the paper from the toilet. The middle one starts quizzing me from the doorway. I need to guess which letter of the alphabet will win in a battle. No matter how creative I am, none of my answers are correct. He is just way out of the box. The little one catches on. He pipes up with more battleground questions. I have to guess who will win – a potato or a centipede. And a spoon or two socks. And our retired, half blind cat or two bowls of Weetbix. I get most of the toilet paper out, flush the loo, the water rises to the top.

I sigh loudly.

I rush everyone back to the school table. The sandwiches are there, but the eldest is gone. Of course, he suddenly realised his hair needs washing. We switch over to reading. The middle one spells out every word beautifully, but not at all what’s written on the page. He is blatantly guessing. The little one echoes him. I tell him to just go play on my phone, so I can pay attention to the middle one’s reading. The middle one almost falls off his chair at the unfairness of it all. The vibration in my head turns into a small thunderstorm. 

I call it a day.

I had the vibration checked out last Friday, when I considered that it might be a blood pressure issue. I got booked for an MRI immediately and spent hours at the hospital. Ends up being nothing as sinister as the neurologist suspected, but it was an eye opener. (The vibration is still there, but I’ve made peace with it – that it’s just nerves. And probably the members of the household working on them. Except my husband, of course. He’d never work on my nerves. He is awesome. See, Etienne – told you I’ll write something about you today. Wink-wink.)

Moved from the confinement of my home (for the first time in over two months) to the confinement of the MRI machine, gave me so much to think about. Mostly whether they could see up my hospital gown, if I shaved properly, if anyone would notice the hairs on my big toes, how long before I’d go insane listening to the deafening beeps…

During those hours, I wondered about the fears of the many people who were in there before me, expecting bad news. And what I would do in such a case… (Not that I was scared of my vibration turning into an emotional explosion, but I played out all the movie-like scenarios of imaginary people to pass the time.) I also did loads of mental checks – are my admin and filing in order, are all my bills paid, are my cupboards neat and tidy. I realised that none of those things would matter if one suddenly hears the time is short.

None of the material things we work so hard for and spend so much time on, would matter.

If my time is suddenly cut short, I would want to sell everything I worked so hard at accumulating for my children – and travel the world with my family. I would stop their schooling and just be with them. I would make daily videos of our time together. I would be fun mum.

And, as much as I thought that lockdown is totally curing that pre-lockdown guilt feeling of not spending enough time with my kids, I actually haven’t had enough of this yet. I’m going to treasure our forced time together, maybe sometimes bite my lip to help with the endurance, but wear my ankle monitor proudly – before our time is cut short.

20 May 2020:  Lockdown Day 55

20 May 2020: Lockdown Day 55

We’ve been grounded a long time.

We’ve changed our behaviour. We’ve been good, I promise. Please let us out.

My head is buzzing. Literally. There’s an internal vibration and it’s not even from a hangover. (Under the circumstances, that would’ve sounded awesome.)

I drag myself into the kitchen, keeping one eye half open, prepared to sidestep my morning gift. Today’s gift is one huge rat, plus a side gift – the tiniest mouse I’ve ever seen. I say “good boy” to the cat. He high-fives me full blow to the ankle, sharpens his claws next to his catch on the kitchen rug, and runs off.

It’s like changing nappies. You expect to be grossed out, but when it’s your own, surprisingly, you don’t mind. I poke at the rat to check that it’s dead. I let out the breath that I didn’t realise I’m holding. I can appreciate my morning gifts, even on an empty stomach, but after months I’m still fearing coming across a clever one that’s just playing dead and who’d run up my leg in search of safety. Imagine that.

We’re out of kitchen towel roll. I rummage through the bin for a piece of paper to wrap my gifts in, but yesterday was rubbish day, so the bins are quite empty. I play brave. I’m going in naked. I fill my lungs and stop breathing to prevent any germs from transferring and pick both tails up between two bare fingers and make for the door. The rat’s tail is proportionally very short to its body size. My index finger is disturbingly close to where I assume its butthole would be. I let go a little. Of course my non-sporty reflexes are too slow so early in the morning. Both the rat and mouse tails slip right through my fingers, onto the fluffy, long pile carpet, on which my kids lie down every day. With the second attempt, I make it as far as the big tree next to the house, but I had to start breathing. Years of minimal aerobic activity resulted in low lung capacity. Who knew vigorous exercising would’ve paid off so well by this age.

I quickly weigh up how far the smell of dead rat will travel to the house from this direction versus walking further for the disposal. I decide to rely on the dog finding them and letting nature take care of the rest. I throw them with the most respectful, smoothest motion possible. Don’t know what happens, but the rat slips and falls right next to my feet. I shake my head in disappointment. Another way how being good at sports would’ve helped me today. Three in a row. 

Am I trying to tell myself something?

I switch on the kettle. The vibration in my brain is still there. I swear I can hear the electricity running through the kettle’s cord and it’s making it worse. I’m saved by a reminder of my voucher booklet. With Mother’s Day also locked down, my eldest crafted a book with vouchers. Eager to please, he got carried away and included an entire page of “Free Coffee” vouchers, which entitle me to call upon him for a cup of coffee, whenever I want, without him complaining. I almost pointed out that he needs to do that anyway, if he wishes to enjoy the privileges of living under my roof, but in order to not spoil the mood, I profoundly thanked him for his thoughtfulness. In the excitement of my excitement, he further extended his promises and promptly turned the coffee vouchers into “Coffee Days”. This means that I can issue a voucher for a full day of coffee runs. And, oh, am I going to use those!

Today will be such a day. I tick off a voucher, hand it over with a smile (and some lash fluttering, so he would stop scolding at himself for not thinking this through) and turn to my laptop to Google my vibration symptoms. It turns out, I’m either dying from a brain tumour or have a sinus infection. Well, if I’m dying, I can just as well stop isolating now.

Actually, I have a confession to make. I’ve been out.

Not anything exciting. Not a sneak visit to the beach or even the allowed emergency supply run. I just had to collect something from a neighbour down the road. (Literally down the road. I didn’t even enjoy crossing a stop sign or traffic light. I had no choice between turning left or right at a T-junction. Just a straight road.)

Now, maybe I should just explain first, because I can already feel people rolling their eyes at my staying-home-binge. I haven’t stayed home for over two months, because I’m dreading contracting the corona virus. It’s also not even because I’m trying to score we’re-in-this-together-points with the careful-crowd. Or to self-inflict emotional trauma, so I can finally get real time off for insanity (which I’d deserve, so by the way).

I’m not paranoid. Little bit odd, for sure, but not paranoid. I actually love staying home. My friends will recognise this from the feeble excuses I sometimes offer last-minute to reject social invitations. Under normal circumstances, I do my grocery shopping in bulk, preferably no more often than every six weeks. We get by with stocked up dried goods, harvests from our large vegetable garden, produce from neighbouring farmers, and lots and lots of online shopping. And that was our life pre-covid, when I had to go to town anyway for school runs. So, staying inside for lockdown is very much within my comfort zone.

Initially, we seriously avoided any contact from the outside world. Besides doing our part as compliant citizens, we wished to stay symptom free, in order to see my parents. Now that my husband is back at the office anyway, I’ve eased up on sterilising all goods dropped at our gate and the marathon record of staying within the boundaries of our property. I don’t nuke his clothes in the microwave anymore and the kids are allowed to sneeze again. And I’ve left the house to go down the road.

This is how that covert operation went down…

I mumbled something to the kids about staying home alone for a few minutes. My goodness, so many firsts happening in one day. I avoided their questions and turned the volume of the television up, which immediately zombied their attention back to the screen.

I sterilised the car keys and garage remote. ?!

I got a shock when I opened my car door. The type of shock and disbelief you feel when you arrive at an upturned home and realise there’s been a burglary – but the opposite. My car has never been this clean for this long. Not just on the outside, but the inside was free from muddy footprints, last week’s lunchbox leftovers, and wrappers from the snacks I secretly consume on the way to fetch the kids from school. I had to hush a small panic moment, when I realised the battery might be flat after not starting the car for over two months. And another when I wondered if I can still remember how to drive after being in personal idle mode for such a long time.

And a third when I realised I forgot to take a mask. Or hand sanitizer. But I was already out my gate and I don’t turn back when I’ve started something, so I just pulled my shirt up over my nose. (Don’t know why I thought that might work.)

I crawled down the road – constantly checking the speedometer to ensure that I stay fully within all legal limits. A white vehicle approached from the front. I tried to check if it’s a police van, but reminded myself that I’m not actually doing anything wrong (except for not protecting myself from my own germs within the confinement of my own vehicle, by not wearing a piece of loose-fitting cloth). I pulled my shirt up over my nose again to avoid any judgement from the passer-by. I also lowered the rearview mirror and pretended to scratch at something above my left cheek to avoid any eye contact.

My goodness, I felt like a naughty child. Like a teenager who’s been grounded (and not allowed to drink or smoke, and who’s rationed and being denied treats like junk food and toys). Except I’m not a child. And I’ve been good. Ok, so there was that time I’ve driven 72 km/h in the main road. And, before the (obviously misplaced) stop sign on the way to school was taken away, I’ve always just slowed down, instead of stopping, if I was sure no-one would see me. And I sometimes lie about my age, but in such a joking way that anyone should be able to guess that I’m pulling their leg (but still wonder). And I’ve blamed a minor traffic offense on my husband (twice). But, apart from a few light blunders, I’m generally not a naughty child. So, why do I feel so guilty? Is this how easy it is to condition a (relatively) sane person?

Anyway, I picked up my parcel, crossed my fingers, and slipped into my driveway as nonchalantly as possible. Getting out of the car, I made sure not to touch anything apart from the parcel in my hands – which includes closing and opening doors, and patting the dog on the way to the kitchen. Luckily, I’ve got nifty feet and am used to having my hands full.

I scrubbed my hands for two happy birthday songs and jumped through the shower. I put my clothes in the centre of the laundry basket, wrapped in layers of uncontaminated clothes. And I breathed.

I am not scared of the (current) absolute miniscule possibility of contracting a flu virus by coming into contact with one outsider. (If you can survive home-schooling kids, you can survive covid-19.) Why was this so stressful? Was it the feeling of doing something “wrong”, even if it’s supposed to be normal and was “right” just a few weeks ago?

How am I ever going to sneak out or lie about my life achievements in the retirement home one day, if I can’t even pull this off? How am I ever going to become part of the High Mile club on my worldly travels one day, if I feel scared to get into trouble now? Or drink Jack Daniel’s and pretend it to be tea at breakfast, when I’m retired, if I should be sticking to the rules? Will I ever be able to cheat at Bingo or bluff at strip poker? Is covid-19 stripping me?

Stripping me from being realistic?