So we’re in deep dark lockdown here in Melbourne again. We’re not allowed to leave the house, except for five reasons, we have a curfew at night, and the playgrounds are shut. This is our sixth lockdown. It’s hard.
Do you remember how I sometimes go into manic Pollyanna mode when stressed? That’s what happened this time when they tightened the restrictions and I realised things were going to get really miserable. Up until then, I’d kind of been mooching through lockdown, every day looking like the one before. But last week, it was time for me to get off the couch and put my big girl pants on. It was time to Mum Up.
Here’s what I did:
I brainstormed a bunch of fun activities that we could still do, even in the strictest of Locky Ds. Every morning, we draw one out of the jar and do it.
It sounds simple, I know, but I can’t tell you how much sunshine this jar has brought into our life. In the past, we’ve brainstormed on butcher’s paper, but I’m telling you: the jar makes all the difference. Here’s why:
You only have to do ONE fun thing a day.
You don’t have to make a DECISION ever.
The kids look forward to the lucky dip event even more than the actual activity.
As a bonus, the kids don’t drag their feet about getting ready in the morning. We don’t do the lucky dip until everyone is dressed and fed.
We no longer have to deal with a long stretch of days that all look the same.
I shared (rather smugly) this idea with some friends from parkrun. One of the women lives alone and has made herself a jar full of grown-up activities which she draws out once a week. Last week, she bought herself fresh flowers. I can’t wait to find out what she does next.
Here are some of the activities we have in the jar:
Pancakes and french toast
Decorate a birthday cake for no good reason
Fake-away night (make take-away style food)
Board game night
Free day off school (primary school only!)
Zoom kahoot quiz with friends
Video game tournament
Everyone gets to choose a treat for themself in the online grocery shop
Make caramel popcorn
Walk in the park to collect things for a flower mandala
I’m trying to remember to take photos. When we made the caramel popcorn, we put some in a bag to deliver to the family who lives behind us. BUT I FORGOT TO TAKE ANY PHOTOS. What is the the point of doing something impossibly wholesome if you don’t document it?
Pippi, my youngest, is now worried that lockdown will be over before we get to do all the fun things. I don’t think she needs to worry too much. This is Melbourne, after all. We’ll always have another lockdown to look forward to.
I need to find a new place to write. My glorious writer’s retreat, the empty house of my parents-in-law, is no more. They had the audacity to come back from Adelaide and actually want to live in their own house. Did you ever! Libraries aren’t open when I want them to be and I don’t want to take up a table for too long in a cafe that’s struggling to get back on its feet. And I can’t work at home. If I’m at home, everyone automatically assumes I’m in charge. And there’s no space. My eldest daughter sleeps in an ACTUAL CUPBOARD. Last week, I did some work on my novel in the car with a drive-thru coffee, parked next to the local community gardens. I prop my phone on the steering wheel and get it to talk to my bluetooth keyboard, on my lap.
There was this grey noisy miner that kept attacking my side mirror. It wanted to show that other bird in there who’s boss. It wouldn’t have done that if it were a raven or a magpie. Ravens and magpies are smart enough to recognise their own reflection. But noisy miners are stupid, stupid birds.
I tried to ignore it and work on my novel. I did a lot more frowning than I did typing. After a bit, a police car crawled slowly past me. When it got to the end of the street, it did a u-turn and crawled slowly back. Both policemen were watching me as they approached. I hastily pulled up my face-mask. Was I doing something illegal? I don’t need the four reasons to be out of the house anymore, do I?
The car pulled alongside mine and the driver motioned for me to wind down my window. He peered at me “Is everything OK?”
Everything was not OK. My manuscript was a mess and I was starting to doubt my ability to ever make it into a coherent whole. Every scene was missing beginnings or endings and peppered all over with [SHOUTY NOTES]. I was ridiculous for ever thinking I had the skills to take this on. A flock of kamikaze birds kept hurtling themselves into the mirror next to me, making me jump. And I needed to find a way to make Harper’s story work. How was I ever going to make Harper’s story work?
I nodded like a maniac and garbled something about writing. I waved my bluetooth keyboard at them, “I have kids at home!” I exclaimed.
The policeman frowned and drove off. I forgot to mention that my kids at home were being adequately supervised. Oh well.
Today I’m going deep water running with a friend. I have no idea what ‘deep water running’ is, but I’m doing it in person with a friend, so that’s all I really need to know. I’m in the carpark of the council pool right now. I’m an hour early on purpose. And here’s the thing: Nobody looks at you funny if you’re doing work in your car at a pool carpark. Everybody is doing work in their car at a pool carpark. I’m now googling the carparks of all of the local sporting complexes to compare their varying benefits as writer’s retreats. It’s very possible the rest of this novel will be written outside of a place with “SAC” somewhere in its name.
So, lately I’ve been having meetings with my younger sister, Cindy, about my novel and how it’s getting along. It involves a lot of me moaning about how I’ll never get any of it to work and Cindy reassuring me that I’m almost there and can do it. This is what I was doing yesterday (Sunday) afternoon, after I’d set off a wash in the machine. It was towards the end of our chat, as I was putting together a shopping list of experts I’d like to talk to, if I can work up the nerve to ask them, when Penny burst into the room screaming.
Here’s what happened: Pippi, for reasons best known to herself, had tipped a bowl of (cold) tomato soup all over her twin sister. And Penny was FREAKING OUT. “My clothes are dirty! My clothes are dirty! I don’t like wearing clothes when they are dirty! Get them off! Get them offfff!!”
I told Penny to take her clothes off and put them in the laundry sink (also: find Daddy – Mummy is not on duty) and I sent Pippi to the naughty step (“but it was an accident!”).
As I finished my conversation with Cindy (I should point out that Cindy wasn’t actually in the room. We live in Melbourne, where everyone is under house arrest. We were talking on Zoom) I could hear my husband setting the timer for the naughty step and helping Penny with her clothes.
I emerged from the study maybe ten minutes later. Pippi had served her five-minute sentence and apologised to her sister. They were now both in the laundry. Pippi sat on the lid of the washing machine while Penny encouraged her from below. It took me a while to work out what was going on.
Pippi, perhaps in an effort to fix things, took it upon herself to load the tomato soup clothes (both hers and her sisters’) into the washing machine with a slosh of laundry liquid and a scoop of napi-san for good measure. You might ask how she was able to access laundry liquid and napi-san. Don’t I keep these on a high shelf? Indeed, both of these are stored on a very high shelf, but Pippi is an adept climber. I caught her just as she was programming a cold wash.
Of course, this would be a good time for me to amend the washing machine situation, perhaps put the soupy clothes on to soak. But I had two five-year-olds shouting at me that they wanted a bath. And did I mention they were both stark naked?
“No bath!” I declared. See, here’s the thing. Pippi loves baths. Not the serene, lavender-scented, let’s-get-you-all-calm before bed kind. More like the water-everywhere, riotous, diving-practice-from-the-side-of-the-tub kind. And I can’t. I just can’t. Having twins is about efficiency. Showers all the way.
But Pippi is crafty. Lately, she has been finding ways to get especially muddy, or chocolatey, or otherwise sticky, “I’m too dirty for a shower, Mummy. I need a BATH! And so does Penny!” In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was her motivation for the soup “accident”.
So here I was, climbing the stairs as Pippi and Penny chanted “BATH! BATH! BATH!” in a sort of nude rally. I couldn’t give in. I tried to stand my ground. I couldn’t reward this behaviour. But any suggestion of shower was met with tortured shrieks.
All down the stairs, an old jigsaw puzzle had been spilled. I was struck with inspiration, “If you pick up these puzzle pieces for me, you may have a bath”
They picked the pieces up for me, and I kept saying, “You’re getting a bath because you’re helping Mummy, not because you shouted and poured soup on your sister” but I suspect the nuance was lost on them.
So anyway, it was getting to mid-afternoon when the twins were drying off. We had planned to visit the beach that day, just so we could look at it. We hadn’t had much chance to get out of our 5km bubble since the restrictions had been lifted. I still needed to hang that second load of washing out, the one I set off before my meeting with my sister, but Mr Knightley was all “let’s not worry about the washing. It’ll be sunny all week. Let’s just get going.” So we dashed off. I managed to hold two facts – the fact that I had a clean load of washing to hang out, and the fact that Pippi had placed tomato sauce-soaked clothes along with a good amount of laundry product into what I assumed was an empty machine – in my mind separately, without putting them both together and understanding the whole situation. You will remember, I never actually looked in the machine. Until I did, the washing machine contents were like Schrodinger’s Cat. Nobody knew for sure what was in there, so they were all things and nothing at once.
That was yesterday. What’s more: I am out today. I left the house early. On Mondays, I write while Mr Knightley is in charge at home. Mr Knightley won’t know what is happening in that machine. Christopher (who is thirteen now, can-you-believe-it?) gave me a call at 8am. He needed his mask for school (in Victoria, it’s against the law to leave the house without a fitted face mask). His mask, at least, the only mask of his that isn’t currently missing, was in that wet wash. He needed to dig through that sorry mix of wet and soup-stained napisan-encrusted laundry to fish his mask out and dry it with a hair dryer. I also told him where the hair dryer was. I am Mother, Finder of Things.
If you are a longtime reader of this blog and something about this seems familiar, you are right. One of my first-ever posts was about a pint-sized Chirstopher Robin setting off his own wash. My blog has come full circle. I had a darling theory when I first started writing. By documenting all my fails, I would learn and improve and eventually run out of material. Perhaps it’s a good thing for my writing career that I’ve not yet learnt a thing.
So tomorrow’s our first day of full-Corona-Lockdown. Matilda and Christopher will be on break from high school, Harry and Annie will be home as usual, but unlikely to want to do any lessons when their siblings are on holidays, and there’ll be no kinder for Daisy and Poppy.
Somehow, this whole Corona crisis has thrown me into a sort of adrenaline-fuelled Pollyanna persona. Why, this is a blessing in disguise! Clear schedules! Family togetherness! Let’s go make some wonderful memories!
It’s weird, really. I should be suffering more. My extrovert heart should be crushed from social deprivation. My Catholic soul should ache with hunger for the Eucharist. My writer’s mind should itch for a chance to work on my novel (note to all you Facebook writers who are raving about how many words you’re going to get down while you’re under house arrest. I’m happy for you. Really I am. Meanwhile, I do all my writing in cafes and libraries, so…)
But I’m not suffering. Pollyanna mode won’t let me feel these things. At least, not yet. Did you know we have two birthdays at home this week? Tomorrow, Annie turns eight (!), then on Thursday it’s my husband’s birthday. I was talking to my sister Jan about this today, going on about cake decorating and presents and bonfires and glow sticks and s’mores and party games. She got a hefty dose of my Pollyanna spirit.
”You’re right,” she said, “It’s important to keep your spirits up. Did you know there are some people who don’t call it ‘self isolation’, they call it ‘self retreat’?”
”Oh yeah?” I said, “Perhaps they should try sharing a house with two relentlessly hyperactive four-year-olds. Happy fucking retreat, guys!”
OK, so it was a brief lapse, but it wasn’t long before Pollyanna was back in full force. I sat down with my kids and a packet of textas and we wrote down as many fun things as we could think of that we could still do while in lockdown.
I’m trying really hard to ignore the fact that most of these things are not so much fun for ME.
Here’s what MY fun list would look like
1. Endless Jane Austen screen adaptations featuring dishy men with smouldering scowls.
2. A quiet room with NOBODY TOUCHING ME.
I’ll keep you all updated. Please let me apologise for swearing. I haven’t used bad language on the blog before and I don’t plan to do it again, but I think we can all agree, we are living in strange and unusual times which warrant an errant f-bomb.