GARY STEEL lives with his wife and two young children in a remote Northland beach community. How could the coronavirus lockdown make it any more isolated than it already is?
The official lockdown in this Year Of The Plague started at midnight last night, but for us it started as soon as the 5-year-old scrambled down the steps of the cranky old rural school bus on Monday afternoon.
Suddenly – as they say – “shit was real”.
But did it really mean anything to us? Isolation is me. In normal times, the street where we live might boast a couple of passing cars every hour. In the lead-up to the lockdown, the traffic halved, and the slow trickle of freedom campers bumbling around the tiny roads looking for an entrance to the beach dried up altogether. That’s all, on the face of it.
In reality, having both kids at home – no school, no playdates, no outings, no playgrounds – changed everything, instantly.
On Tuesday morning, my wife made one last (early) run into town for groceries, thinking she might beat the seething masses. No chance. It’s funny how chickpeas are suddenly a hot item. As vegetarians, dried chickpeas are a staple of our home, but for quite some time the containers have been empty. It wasn’t so long ago that the people who run the food banks for the needy were complaining that they had stacks of tins of chickpeas that no one wanted but no “real food” like sausages.
I minded the little monsters. First, we built a “little house” with blankets over the couch, but the toddler kept launching himself headfirst over the soft part of the blankets and destroying the fragile structure. I had a child’s sleeping bag I’d intended to give to the 5-year-old for Christmas so she could camp on the lawn over summer, and she found this highly amusing for at least five minutes, as did the toddler, who tried his hardest to squash the would-be chrysalis.
By 10 am the entire living area looked like a bomb had gone off, so I coaxed the little monsters outside to get some fresh air. The toddler was determined to get out the gate and run straight onto the road. Then the tender twosome insisted on running down the street to mimic the daily procedure of getting to the school bus on time. Except that there was no school bus.
By the time my wife got home, the kids had exhausted my energy supply and I felt like a wreck.
We’d decided to include the 5-year-old in a conversation to sort out a work and play schedule starting the following day, but her mind was elsewhere, probably on Elsa or the Little Mermaid. While we patiently explained our ideas, she did her usual distracted and distracting wriggling and hyper-hyperactive stuff and let off the most incredibly annoying sound effects.
Later, while I hid in my office pretending to work (my electronic category record collection is now nicely alphabetized) my wife gave the 5-year-old her first proper piano lesson and taught her how to make low-fat, low-sugar cupcakes. With sprinkles.
Meanwhile, the 16-month-old Buddha-penguin (as he’s known) walked around scaring us all with his disconcerting new martial arts-style exclamation: “AieeeeeeYAH!” At least it’s less annoying than the metallic squeal he’s so fond of or the helium-filled dinosaur roar he likes surprising us with. So much for starting out with words like “Mama” and “Dadda”.
Wednesday was the eve of the lockdown and the start of four weeks of homeschooling. It’s amazing how children can use all the available (metaphorical) oxygen. It can get intense. You’ve got to know when it’s important to walk away from the bedlam.
While my wife headed into town to pick up some resources for schooling our 5-year-old, I took her along the walking track above the beach and down for a meander along the sand. Often, even in normal times, Ripiro beach is deserted. Today, from the distance we saw a man and a dog, and a husband and wife and three kids headed for the beach, but when it suddenly started raining cats and dogs they ran back up the path like frightened marsupials. We got delightfully wet and then started steaming under the next blast of the sun’s power.
While I was busy in my office applying for a wage subsidy and trying to figure out how we were going to survive for a month with no income, the 5-year-old was drawing pictures and writing a poem for Daddy that went something like: “Dad likes coffee/Listening to music/Eating tomatoes and cream buns.”
At 4 pm I attempted to lure her into an hour of fun homework activities, but she ignored me completely, then laughed at me when I got angry. [Note to self: keep cool, four weeks of this could get crazy intense]. Eventually, she conceded and we kind of had fun, but when she practised her letters she couldn’t be bothered getting them right, complaining that she was just too tired.
But of course, she wasn’t too tired to have the daily 30-minute session on the iPad. Happily, however, she agreed to spend it on the Reading Eggs educational programme, rather than those profoundly annoying YouTube videos of American kids (and parents acting like little kids) playing with dolls and toys.
In the end, we got through the day with as little as three complete meltdowns and four moments of discord/aggression between the children (who mostly love each other, but you know… siblings).
Silly me, though: I took the kids for a pre-dinner walk down to the garage to feed the cat, and the 16-month-old patted the decrepit feline then rubbed his hands in his eyes. I’d completely forgotten that he’d just the week before been diagnosed as having an allergy to cats, and he spent an almost sleepless night (as did his Mum) wailing and thrashing about because of the voluminous snot and watering of eyes.
Personally, I think Dad should be grounded for that.
* Note: I wish all families in the 4-week lockdown all the best. Tensions are bound to rise, so remember: do what you need to do to defuse stress, but don’t take it out on others.