“Why are you crying mummy?”
“Oh baby, I’m not crying,” I sobbed.
“Well, OK, I am crying,” I conceded, “but I’m happy-crying because the man on the TV said something funny.”
“Oh! Ahahahahahahahahaha!” giggled my four-year-old, because when someone says something funny, it’s just good manners to laugh, even if they’re on the TV and they can’t hear you.
Well, that of course set the 10-month old off, because if her brother laughs, she has to laugh too, and there she sat, giggling away and giving Victorian premier Daniel Andrews a rousing round of applause. Everyone these days gets a rousing round of applause, because she’s just learned to clap.
After the daily press conference and announcement of stage four restrictions in Melbourne, we set off on our daily two-hour walk around the streets of St Kilda.
It’s no lie that grief comes in waves, a somewhat ironic realisation to have as I walked along the foreshore watching the sun set over the ocean.
Every question I asked myself felt like another of those rolling, dark waves.
How will I help Mr Four burn off energy when we can only spend one hour exercising? How will we walk the dog if we can only do it before 8pm when the kids are awake? How can I go without daycare for six weeks if I need to work? What will happen to the workers at daycare if services are shut down? Who do I need to check in on? Who do I need to drop food or meals to? How many more important work calls realistically can be interrupted by a kid screaming for a snack (“Mum I’m starving”) or a nappy change (“Mum the baby’s bum smells bad!”)?
Parenting is (mostly) a joy, but the responsibility of caring for another human and the unreasonable expectations that come with that responsibility, both from within and outside, lead to a one-way ticket to guiltsville.
But lockdown guilt is a different category altogether. Like comparing a paddle at the beach to big-wave surfing, where the minimum height of a breaker is 20 feet and surfers teeter on the edge, threatening to be overwhelmed at any minute with this huge force of nature looming behind them.
Last lockdown I tore into working and full-time parenting with gusto. I printed off all the activity sheets, I signed the kids up to online music classes, went to the $2 shop and bought up bags of art supplies, organised treasure hunts, set up obstacle courses, made all the baked goods, went for two-hour walks and even did a blog post to help other parents with activity ideas.
Coming into stage four, I’m so tired. Working, parenting, keeping the house going. The only time I get to myself is when the kids are asleep, so I have to make the most of it. Making sure my work gets done, cleaning up, catching up on emails, doing the food shopping online, checking in on friends who live alone, checking in on family, watching a snippet of TV so I can escape for a spell.
But that leaves me with just four or five hours of sleep, so I wake up exhausted, not quite ready to do it all again.
I tell all my parent friends not to have unrealistic expectations. “Don’t even worry about screen time! Give yourself a break and do whatever you need to do to get by!”
After all this is temporary, right?
But I’m a dirty, rotten hypocrite, because every time I put my son in front of a screen so I can take a work call – or breastfeed his sister to sleep, have a conversation that doesn’t involve Pokemon, empty the dishwasher, do the laundry, put in the online order for our shopping so I can collect it as quickly as possible – the guilt ties itself around my heart like a tourniquet.
When your kids are as young as ours they can’t be left unattended, even for a minute of the day. Combine that with trying to work, and by the end of the day you’re depleted in every way – mental, physically and emotionally.
After the stage four announcement I went online and ordered as much outdoor play equipment as we could reasonably afford. We have a small backyard, which is a privilege, and we’ll need to make the most of what we’ve got.
Then I felt guilty for the parents who have no backyard or the money to buy extra toys for their kids. For the parents with children with special needs. For parents who are trying to homeschool and work. For the parents whose bosses aren’t as sympathetic or as flexible as mine. For parents whose partners don’t pitch in the way mine does. For the parents who don’t have a partner. For all the people doing it tough who aren’t parents. For anyone who’s lost their job. The list goes on.
I also battle with how much to tell my kids, how honest to be and how much to protect them, as is my instinct.
Last week I interviewed Uncle Bruce Pascoe about his new children’s book Found. It’s about a calf that loses its family when the other cows are taken away. He is left all alone.
Many parallels have been drawn between the story of Found and the stolen generations and I asked Uncle Bruce at what age we should start truth-telling.
A former schoolteacher, he told me, “Lay it all out there, I never talk down to kids. They’re rugged little individuals and they do get upset by the inequities and misfortune of the world. But I think it’s possible to talk to them about it. And I don’t think you destroy their hopes, or their happiness, by talking about the realities of the world. It’s the way you talk about it. That is important.”
Or as we say in our house, “kids bounce”.
My son’s fourth birthday was squeezed in before the first lockdown in March.
But his sister is unlikely to be as lucky. After a very long and bumpy road to welcome her into this world, I’m preparing myself mentally to cancel her first birthday party, slated for September.
She won’t remember.
But I will.
Credit belongs to : https://sports.yahoo.com