11 May 2020:  Lockdown Day 46

11 May 2020: Lockdown Day 46

It’s still lockdown.

I figured we’d do our part. We started staying home pre-emptively. I’ve been inside my property for 8 weeks, 1 day, 9 hours and 22 minutes.

I haven’t been to town. I haven’t even met the new owners of the shop less than 2 km from our gate. I don’t know if the traffic light in the main road is still down. I haven’t had a Seattle coffee from Caltex. And I don’t mind. Not leaving my house is better than I could ever anticipate.

It’s the other members of the household. They never leave either. They are on top of me – all the time. When I need space, we play hide-and-seek. We’ve played ten years’ worth of hide-and-seek already. They’re suspecting my ulterior motives and recently started putting a time limit down when it’s my time to seek. As for the hiding… there is literally and figuratively speaking nowhere for me to hide anymore.

The kids often call my name four hundred sixty seven times per day.

Sometimes I ignore their calls the same way they do mine. But they are more persistent and their voices tend to reach that pitch all moms wish to avoid. I can’t win at this game.

I am the mother, sometimes the father, the teacher (of three different grades, across two different schools), the routine-preacher, the pet carer, the water bearer, the sandwich maker, the compulsive baker, the washer and cleaner, the sibling-intervenor, the gardener, the misdemeanour pardoner, the greywater tank emptier, the garden-walk-sightseer, the rubbish bin dragger, the sit-and-concentrate-on-your-schoolwork-nagger, the personal assistant to everyone, the person to pretend this is fun… Sometimes I’m even the wife. And all of this while singing kiddies’ songs on repeat in my head.


But things aren’t all bad. 

I sleep late. And oh, do I make the most of that privilege. I’ve always expected this day to finally come along only once all my little birdies have left the nest. Or when I finally build up the guts to get myself involved in a very minor accident. Not enough to leave permanent damage. Just enough to be admitted to hospital for a few days. And I’ll pretend to be in a coma whenever visitors come. I’ll relish in their epiphanies of how much I’ve contributed to their lives and how my household is falling apart without me there. And I’ll sleep. I’ll sleep until my medical aid won’t cover the hospital stay any longer…

But there’s no need for such drastic measures. Covid-19 has it all covered. No rushing out of bed to make school lunch boxes and begging kids to get dressed. I am now sleeping until the sun is up. And it is amazing.

Sometimes the late mornings backfire. I had a Whatsapp call with a teacher the other day – at 8:30. It was awkward. I had to move the camera around a lot, so she wouldn’t catch a glimpse of my face and realise I still have the out-of-bed look. I ended up faking bad signal and switched the camera off.

To achieve these valuable lie-ins, we all go to bed really late. It does mean that I forfeit any possibility of enjoying a little television alone time or getting personal admin done after hours, but if it’s a toss-up, I’ll always choose lazy mornings. We’ll reset our routine clock again when the world finally resets back to normal life.

I actually get a lot done every day. Between the hours and hours and hours of schooling, I also managed to complete all the outstanding taxes and have ticked off over a page of small print to-do items. Sure, most days I don’t have time to shave or enjoy a cup of hot coffee, but it’s all about priorities. I don’t want to feel in debt to myself when lockdown is over. Getting backburner chores done is trumping putting on make-up or brushing hair.

Until my eldest told me that I look like “a real woman” this weekend, as I was putting on fresh day clothes and some make-up for the first time since lockdown. Cheeky.

Cheeky, but true. Maybe it’s time to turn my attention from the to-do list to the me-list.

It will happen now. I’m going to shave and maybe even pluck my eyebrows.

I saunter upstairs. Not like in a sexy, hip swaying way. More like in a my-hips-haven’t-quite-adjusted-to-the-new-weight (going upstairs) kind of way. It leads my thoughts to the bathroom scale, where I hid it under the bin. It’s been on time-out since lockdown started – same as any form of diet. There’ll be years to make up for the way I’m eating now. I have to work my way through the stockpile of food before the expiration dates. Plus, my kids snack all the time. If you can’t beat them, join them.

I drag out the scale. I hope the battery is flat. It isn’t. I step on very quickly. For some reason, it feels like it’ll display more in my favour if I do it with speed. The number is too high. I step down, tap-tap it a few times with my foot and step on again – a little slower this time. Maybe the momentum of jumping on so fast pushed the number up. Same result. Can’t be. I step down, move the scale forwards and backwards a little. On again. Scrunch my nose up in disgust. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been (apart from being pregnant). How’s that possible if I don’t even feel that much fatter. Is this how easy it is to get used to a new clothes’ size?

I look at myself in the mirror. Yip, I am older too. Like, visibly a little older than before lockdown. I knew home schooling would take its toll. I just figured it’ll end with my lightly strangling a child, but the wrinkles that seamingly appeared overnight are definitely leaving more permanent emotional scars. I carefully make my various favourite facial expressions to see which one is the culprit. Well, the wrinkles are not from laughing. Clearly, where my kids make their marks, they’re for real. So much for letting my skin breathe without make-up for the past few weeks. So much for expecting at least a little ‘glow’ if my body is going to take on pregnancy shape.

My hair looks dull too. I narrow my eyes and slowly move closer to the mirror to see if I can spot any grey hair. I realise my mistake and retreat before I get close enough for my deteriorating eye sight to spot any. Rather not go there now. I reach for a pot of hair mask. “To revitalise tired hair.” They should’ve added “and soul”. I leave it on for twice as long, in the hope of doubling the result.

I rinse out what could’ve been pure fat. I don’t know what’s worse – the fact that the hot water is now almost finished and my hair is still oily, or that the entire shower floor is covered with hair. I remind myself that I haven’t really brushed my hair in days, so it’s just a normal, yet accumulated hair loss. The water is rising. Of course, the drain is blocked. The fat plus the cooled water plus the excessive hair down the drain don’t make a great combination. I kick the hair carpet away from the drain and try to scoop the water towards the outlet to encourage flow. I am flat on the floor, rapidly making circles with my hand to create a vortex. The hair forms a pile the size of a small rat. Better take the rest of it out of the drain while it’s still reachable. I unscrew the drain plug and luckily see only a few strands. I pull them out. The few strands are followed by a long dreadlock, covered in sludge, decorated in solid bits that I don’t even want to imagine how they got in there. I throw up a little in my mouth. I chuck the dreadlock onto the hair rat.

 

I’m still down on the floor. The water is cold. I should rephrase – I’m just down, point. I quickly do a self-check and comparison with what I’m reading online. There are many posts about moms breaking down during lockdown – lots of reference to getting emotional, crying over spilled milk. (Well, I guess, under the circumstances, spilled milk would literally be a reason to cry.) 

“I shared a post on Facebook recently about a woman that sounds like she’s not coping. I received quite a few messages from concerned Facebook friends. However, it wasn’t my personal post. The lady in the post has five kids, of which one is a baby. Not the same person, yet people just assumed I’m talking about myself. I guess that’s how we digest media these days. It’s a blurred line between your own thoughts and what’s just being shared and forwarded from others. But some posts are real and really scary. Some Facebook friends had babies during lockdown. Some lost parents. There are real life dramas going down inside other people’s homes and we only see the glimpses of what their Facebook posts allow. I shouldn’t be down. It could’ve been worse. At least my child didn’t poop in the shower while the drain is blocked. At least I still have hair – of a colour that doesn’t require regular salon visits, which I now wouldn’t be able to rely on. At least my pajamas are still loose fitting. At least…” I should stop right there. I’m talking to a hair rat.

I reach for a towel. I instinctively smell it. Nothing as bad as getting bud on a clean face. I realise that I’ve been smelling everything lately. The dish cloths, to check if they can last another round. The kids’ underwear from the floor, to check if they can’t please do another round. The leftovers I stored in the fridge, to check if they can be tonight’s round. The pillow cases before I go to bed, to see whether they should be turned around… I think that’s actually what I miss most – not having to smell home items before daring to use them.

I pick the hair rat up by its tail, try my best to avoid smelling it, put it in the bin, and place the bin back on top of the scale – hard. Where it’ll stay.

Well, at least my fatty hair smells nice.

20 April 2020:  Lockdown Day 25

20 April 2020: Lockdown Day 25

It’s been very long…

since we stepped foot outside our gate. Very long. We’ve been in isolation for about ten days prior to the corona lockdown. I stocked up too well. Would’ve been nice to at least have a good reason to go to a shop. I am starting to forget what it’s like outside. Everything happens in here.

And it’s a jungle in here.

The two older boys slept in their living room fort last night. They argued with me when I warned that it won’t be comfortable. I decided that some lessons need to be learned first-hand.

The eldest got up around midnight. His fort bed was too hard and too small. He should’ve done that math when he constructed his bed from a bench cushion half his size. I explained that he made that choice, should see it through, and not leave his younger brother to sleep alone down in the fort. Our house is old and the living room can be quite scary in the dark. But it was midnight. I wanted to get back to sleep and didn’t put much effort in to convince him. He went to sleep in his own bed. I stayed awake. The angel on my left shoulder said I should carry the middle child to his bed now. The devil on my right shoulder said I should cross my fingers and hope he doesn’t wake up during the night. I quickly turned over onto my left shoulder, crossed my fingers, counted some sheep, and went back to sleep. Not for long. (Karma for not listening to the angel?) The fort child woke up with a stiff neck, which needed rubbing. He is a middle child and is naturally better at following instructions. I sent him to bed without a rub. Wanted to add “I told you so”, but he was already down the hallway, so I just mumbled the words to myself.


It’s barely dawn. The youngest child is up. (Karma for not rubbing?) He wants to play Mario Brothers, two players. I try to find something he’s willing to watch on tv (other than Blaze or Peppa Pig) while I plan to nod off unnoticed. We scroll through the entire Netflix library. He instructs me on how to move up and down and up again, two more to the left, one up, down more, more, more… He chooses sing-along songs. Too early. I choose Peppa Pig. I realise I’m better off getting a head start in the kitchen.

I suddenly have a huge craving for hertzoggies (coconut jam tarts). My husband mentioned it yesterday. Maybe I’m feeling sorry for myself for being up so early. Maybe hertzoggies can be the consolation price for always drawing the short straw when a child wakes up early. I feel relief – I have self-permission to indulge. I also feel panic. Cravings during lockdown should correspond with ingredients available. I know we don’t have coconut, but there should be some stale-ish leftover lunchbox-stash coconut pieces, which I can grind down. I’ll improvise if anything else is short. No turning back now. Anyway, it was irresponsible to plan a healthy diet during isolation. There’ll be plenty of time and better reasons to do so after lockdown. Sure, there’ll be those that emerge from lockdown slimmer and fitter. We’re divided into groups – the ones with dedication, energy and stamina, and the ones with kids. Some stand with a leg each in both groups, but they’re special. Besides, it’s not a competition. I love myself the way I am and the rest of the world cannot see me right now. If I’m cornering myself to make worthy choices, I’d rather look after myself emotionally today.

The recipe says 24 hertzoggies. That’s a lot. I find two mismatched muffin pans. Both are stained. I pull my shirt over my thumb, wet it in my mouth, and rub at the stains. If they don’t come off now, they won’t come off on my hertzoggies. I’m safe. No need to scrub the pans.

The early waker wants to help. I sing the Peppa Pig Muddy Puddle song to try divert his attention back to the television. I was looking forward to a little alone time. But my eager helper elf wants to break the eggs. The yolks and whites need to be separated. There’s a bit of a mix-up, but it should be fine. I blend the coconut pieces until fine. There’s not enough. I substitute the rest by blending some almonds I picked out of a bag of mixed nuts. We finally get to the ‘play dough’ part of rolling out the dough and cutting circles. The helper elf loses interest and tells me to “be my own handy helper for a change”. I pretend to be disappointed, but am relieved that it’ll go quicker now. It’s almost time to make breakfast and then it’ll be downhill from there.

It’s a messy business. 

The dough sticks to the board. I add more flour. There’s a draught through the kitchen window and the flour blows a thin white layer over most of the kitchen appliances. And the handy helper is back. He wants to scoop the jam into the dough cups. He comments on how wobbly and yucky it is. I make the mistake of telling him it’s like sugar jelly. He licks the spoon. His eyes narrow. He produces a slow motion smile that I can only describe as wicked, although it doesn’t quite fit the scene. He licks every spoon before it goes into the cups. I put fourteen hertzoggies in the oven – ten less than what the recipe said.

The rest of the family is up. It’s obvious that everyhone had less sleep than required.

 I instantly switch from baker to breakfast maker. The kids have been keeping track of the number of bacon packets and know there’s one left. Yes, let’s indulge further. I loudly mention that we’re short on eggs and I’ll have to go without one, because of the ridiculous internet challenge in which my husband partook. I don’t mention the number of eggs used by this morning’s unnecessary baking. Breakfast is finally on the table. There are no chairs. They’re still holding up the roofs of the fort. Best excuse to break up the fort. The kids are too hungry to argue.

I forgot about the hertzoggies in the oven. I sample one. It’s too hot. Too dry. The dough is too thick. That’s where the ten missing hertzoggies went. I should’ve rolled the dough out much thinner. Whatever. I eat three for breakfast.


I spin the morning’s washing for a second time to make sure it’s extra dry. I eat a fourth hertzoggie while watching the machine. It’s mesmerizing. Maybe it’s the sugar rush I’m feeling. I ponder over a few important decisions – should I hang out or throw in the dryer, should I wash the rest before or after home schooling, should I just eat all the hertzoggies today or risk them getting any less edible by tomorrow. I take out the washing. It’s completely dry. Not like well-spinned dry, like never-washed-dry. I’ve been spinning dirty, dry washing. Turns out I’m not as stupid with the start / pause button as I thought. There is something wrong with the washing machine. No washing today then. Instead, I’ll do something that’ll actually make a difference for longer than a day. The kids need a haircut.

I set up a salon in the shower – little stool for the customer and all.

I call the little one first. I make a huge fuss about playing salon-salon. I give him a R10 note to pay me with for his haircut. He doesn’t want to hand over the money and we decide to change the rules. I’ll pay him R10 to cut his hair.

I make a small ponytail on top of his head and cut it straight off. Not too bad. If I go with ‘funky short’, I can’t go too wrong. He itches. I give him a make-up brush to brush himself off. It keeps him busy for a few seconds. I hand him a black marker to draw on the shower panel. He presses too hard and dents in the tip. He rubs at it with his finger and gets upset because his finger is black and it’s not coming off, ever. His focus is back at what I’m doing and he is sure I’m going to cut off his right ear. No promise works. I give up and let him leave the salon with half a haircut. I ask for my R10 back. He runs.

I call in the older two. Pretty much the same story. The youngest is back, waving his R10 note, bragging about his hundred rand money. The middle one wants to know why he is not getting paid. I avoid further negotiations and instigate a Minecraft quiz. He falls for it and bombards me with random Minecraft questions, which I answer based on his tone. I get most right. He is so impressed that he barely notices that I’m cutting his hair.

The eldest is wiser. He wants to set a price before sitting down. His price is so high that I want to laugh to make a point, but it’s not funny and I’m over it. I just order him to sit and state that it’ll be without any form of compensation or any opinion about the style I choose (or end up with). I roll my eyes through attempts of “you can’t make me”, “I’m old enough to decide”, “you are going to ruin my hair forever” and more. I finally admit that his reputation is directly linked to his hair style and promise to take him to a real salon as soon as lockdown is over, if it turns out completely horrendous. He sits. He is actually well behaved like that. I make sure to often mention how I enjoy spending this quality time with him and how I appreciate that he allows me to cut his hair. His bottom lip sticks out so far that it catches some falloff hair. I give up before completely suffocating him.

Another to-do done. Another thing I miss during lockdown added to my list. And the results are not too bad. 

Very appropriate for jungle folk anyway.

29 March 2020:  Lockdown Day 3

29 March 2020: Lockdown Day 3

It’s Sunday, Day 3.

I wake up with a pounding headache. I didn’t put vodka in yesterday’s milkshakes. Corona virus? Can’t be. We’ve been self-isolating for almost two weeks already. We gave our domestic worker and gardener leave 11 days ago. We’ve been without outside contact for longer than what it would take for symptoms to present. I should probably spare the pain relief medicine, in case we need it for more serious cases later. The way the kids get rid of their bottled up energy will most likely result in some accidents soon.

I lay down on the couch with my little one. I try to close my eyes for a while why he watches “just one more episode” of Blaze. I’ve listened to every single episode, way more than what should be normal – even before lockdown. I can predict every sentence. He echoes everything the characters are saying. I thus hear every line three times. Now and then my headache beats in tune with the songs. However, it’s still more convenient lying here. If I get up now, he’ll follow me and I’ll have to entertain him.

It’s just too early for that.

I give him his own blanket and his own special place behind my curled up legs. I tell him that he can watch an extra episode if he lets me sleep for a while. He obediently stays there for two minutes. He’s too hot. He kicks off both his own and my blankets. And my legs. He now wants to sleep with me, in my arms, with his head on top of mine. I tolerate it. Not as if it’ll be long until he changes position again. He moves back to his spot, then sits on top of my hip for a few seconds, then on my feet with his feet in my face, back to my arms, straightened out across my body, back to his spot. He needs his blanket from the floor again. He sits on top of the backrest of the couch for the longest, his feet digging into my ribs. What was I thinking. Of course I won’t get a few more minutes of sleep.

The two older ones are awake and join us. Even before any “good mornings”, they ask what day it is and who can play tv-games first. They’re usually allowed limited screen time slots on Saturdays and Sundays, but I had to stretch the screen time now that we’re home bound. I’m still trying to restrict game time, where possible. Not so much because of good values or awesome parenting reasons – just to preserve the novelty, in case I need backup entertainment.

Technically, it’s a game day today, but I don’t want to admit what day of the week it is. The middle one is good at keeping track. He is suspicious and wants to see a calendar. I’m saved by my husband walking in and asking if I want coffee. (He’s known me for 24 years and still asks.) I say yes, with an exaggerated sigh of relief. The coffee never arrives and I get up to go make my own. He said he had to clean the kitchen first. But I’m confused. It looks the same as the way I left it last night.

The kids ask about the week day and games again. I just say “yes”. Not to any particular one of the questions. It’s been a fail proof tactic for years: I answer abruptly, without making eye contact, waving my hand. They assume I didn’t really listen and leave me alone before I realise what I gave permission to. They get what they want, but don’t bother me again. This tactic has bought me lots of time. It works. They disappear.

I look into the washroom. Yesterday’s washing didn’t dry, because I asked ten times (maybe 20) that someone takes it off the line. The dry laundry is folded, but piled on the counter. Of course the sink is full again.

All three cats come running. Their bowl is full, so I’m not sure what they think they’re going to get from me. They’re definitely not here for cuddles. They’re all very specific and territorial about their cuddles.

The old one is a white Persian. He was a gift from my husband 16 years ago. He is retired and stopped grooming himself a decade ago. He always looks tatty, but is too frail to brush. He doesn’t have any teeth, his eyes are runny, and he sits in the same spot for days. Most visitors to our house either comment “is your cat ok?” or “what is that”. He doesn’t serve any purpose as a pet anymore. He is now a mere ornament in the house. I love him dearly.

The giant one is a magnificent charcoal Maine Coon. He is majestic, but a little evil. He was my second attempt at a new cat, when I was sure that my Persian would pass away any day now (a few years ago). We had to rehome the first attempt – also a Maine Coon, because she hated the children. This one hates all humans. He loves lying on the rug in the kitchen, right where I need to move between the prep bowl and chopping board. If I dare come too close to him, he’ll slap my ankle with such force that I see stars. Then my heart skips a beat with appreciation of this sign of affection from him.

The third is a cream Ragdoll kitten. He was the final attempt at a new, loving cat the kids can grow up with. And third time lucky. He has the most amazing personality. He is floppy and loves being cuddled. He prefers to be carried around. I timed his arrival with my middle child’s birthday, so I could disguise this unnecessary addition to the family as a birthday gift. My son is absolutely crazy about cats.

We also have a dog. She’s an amazing, fat (can also be read as amazingly fat) black Labrador. She is best friends with the Maine Coon, but is scared of the other two, harmless cats. She loves swimming and always smells of dam, which, even if you can usually tolerate dog-odour, isn’t a pleasant smell.

I look at the pets. I don’t really have an excuse for their recent neglect.

I look at the pets. I don’t really have an excuse for their recent neglect. I’ve been home more than ever before, but somehow the kids and cleaning and schooling completely consumed me. Their bowls need a thorough clean. The cats’ litter boxes are disgusting. (What’s the use of the cat flap then?) They’re all scratching.

I find the flea and tick stuff I got from the vet when I stocked up on their food. I’ll need to start with the Maine Coon, before she makes a run for it. I open the tube of liquid. The cat gives me the look. How does he know?

There’s a stare-down. I feel intimidated and look away. I pretend to look for something in the cupboard while composing myself. He is still staring at me. I breathe in, kneel down, and beg him to come closer. He swaggers forward, like a lion. I am prepping myself. My reflexes will need to be fast if he decides to show his dominance. I gently stroke his head and cunningly move my hand to his back. In one smooth motion, I part the hair between his shoulder blades to apply the liquid. I can’t get to his bare skin through the thick coat. I hope some liquid will make it all the way down. The tube barely touches his fur. He flips over and holds all four claws in the air. No way I’m getting the rest on now. He notices my hesitation and dashes through the cat flap. The full, open tube is still in my hand. I wonder if I can save it for later. It’ll probably evaporate. I don’t know when I’ll be able to get some again. This will have to go on now.

I am the alpha in this washroom. I’ll make a plan. I open a tin of tuna. What a waste of good human food. I’m desperate to get the job done. I call the cats. They came running even before I called. There is only one clean bowl. The Maine Coon runs up. The other two retreat. He gobbles up the tuna. He is so focused on not letting the underlings get any that I manage to pour the rest of the flea control on his neck. The other two cats look at me as if I deceived them. I add some water to the left-over tuna bits and mix in some dry cat food pellets. The other two don’t appreciate the effort. They receive their flea control in seconds. This is the way it’s meant to go.

Now the dog’s turn. I open the box. It’s a tablet. I should’ve asked for a spot-on liquid too. Our dog is tremendously obedient, very placid, and overall well behaved. But no ways she’ll swallow a tablet of any kind. Not even lamb-flavoured ones fool her.

I rub the tablet in the sauce left over in the empty tuna tin and place it on the floor in front of her. In the same stern voice I use for “Outside!”, I order her to eat it. I swear she’s smiling at me. Her vigorous tail wagging makes her fat body wobble. I actually knew it’ll come to this. Don’t know why I bothered with the tuna smear. I order her to sit. She listens immediately. I straddle her between my legs. She already knows what’s going to happen and throws me off. I order her to sit again. This time I hold her in a death grip. I place the tablet as far back in her mouth as possible. She thanks me with a full exhale of dog breath. I keep her mouth shut and rub her throat. She has to swallow at some point. The saliva runs from the sides of her mouth and down my hand. She doesn’t swallow. Or maybe she did already. I let go. She spits out the tablet and runs away. Her body language laughs at me. I pick up the wet tablet and have a do-over. This time, I lift her lips and add half a glass of water through the side of her back teeth. She stands dead still. What if I drown her? She starts to gag a little and I let go. She spits out the tablet. It’s a little smaller and much wetter. I’m about to give up, but it’s not in my nature. I pick up the soggy tablet. It falls apart. I fetch a spoon and scoop up what’s left of it. I rub it on her tongue. I stand with her mouth in my hand for what feels like ten minutes. The tablet either dissolved in her mouth or she finally swallowed. Or she is hiding it and will spit it out when I’m not looking. But I feel like I won this round.

I say “good dog” a lot while brushing her – to say thank-you and forgive me. His friend, the Maine Coon comes to see what the fuss was about. You’re next, evil kitty. I gently get two strokes in before the Maine Coon attacks the brush. I escape with only a small scratch on my thumb. Well, two down, fifty to go.

The old Persian is still where I left him. I take the opportunity to cut off some knots in his long coat. There are sections of solid fur carpet. He sits still for such a long time that I end up cutting half his hair short. It’s a bit dramatic, but at least he looks clean.

Chuffed at myself for ticking off the pet flea control and grooming, I decide to test a little family board game time. My husband very rarely plays along. He usually arrives home from work when the kids are in bed, and weekends we’re out or socialising. The kids are very excited. They drag a huge stack of board games to the carpet. I still have that headache, but that doesn’t stop me. I’m going to show my husband how much fun carpet time can be.

We decide on something simple, which everyone can play. Boereplaas is a simple, Afrikaans board game, based on Monopoly. Instead of properties, you farm corn, vegetables, cattle, etc. Once you own everything, including the house, you win. Everyone starts with some money and either win or lose some, depending on the card you draw.

I hand out the boards. All the boards are exactly the same, except for the name of the farmer written at the bottom. There’s a light argument about who should be which farmer. I divide the notes. The eldest tries to cheat the youngest out of some of his. The middle one feels he didn’t receive the same amount as everyone else. He is seven and money is a big deal to him at the moment. I see my husband getting uncomfortable with the chaos. I finally get everyone’s attention and run over the objective of the game. My husband is disappointed that there’s no strategy involved. (Was he seriously ready to try and beat the kids?) I explain that it’s about teaching them to wait their turn, be patient, to not get upset when losing money, and to have some fun family time. It’s not a competition.

But, it is.

In our house, it always is.

The middle child keeps on interrupting the game, because he wants to exchange money at the bank – same amounts, just different notes. The youngest is upset about every card he draws. He wants to draw the winning house card. For the rest of us, it goes well for a while. The middle one pretends to read the cards in his favour. We keep on reminding him that we all know he can’t read these high level Afrikaans cards and we know that he’s cheating. Every time it’s his turn, he does it again. I am surprised at how convincingly he can lie when there’s money involved. The youngest turns his board upside down. Must admit, I expected him to do that way earlier in the game. The cards start running out. As luck has it, he now keeps drawing that house card that he so desperately wanted – but he doesn’t have enough money to buy it. He doesn’t understand.

The older two are now lying on the floor, groaning, unless it’s their turn. The game isn’t coming to an end quickly enough. I can see my husband tensing up. The idea was to create good memories. I better call it quits, if I want any prospect of him joining in future family board games. I announce that the winner will be the one with the most money. It’s my husband. The kids are all upset because they didn’t win.

Life lesson – that’s why you don’t win against the kids.

28 March 2020:  Lockdown Day 2

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.