If you had asked me what is the hardest part of parenting eight kids and at least five million of them teens, I would have said the schedule. Our weekends are literally a circus of getting kids to and from classes, to and from countless parties, to and from absolutely vital social interactions, and by the end of it the father person and I tend to be over-joyed that it is Monday again. Just so that we can recover. I kid you not, that shattered feeling at the end of every single weekend is real.
If anyone had said, you can lose all the rushing around for several weeks, you can sleep as late as you like, read as much as you like and well, “so many as much as you likes.” I would have planned a routine, I would have settled into several projects. I would have made a list of things to do, a pile of books to read, and so many things that if I had a moment I would like to learn, and I would have thought to myself at last, at last… I can blog to my hearts’ content.
And then I received this “gift of lockdown.” But it isn’t the gift I thought it would be, it is a gift that comes with so much baggage and a health warning ninety miles long. I saw it coming, we have friends and family on the far side of the world, I don’t live in a cupboard… as the news got more and more threatening and things got closer and closer to home… the thought was not so much on what we would be missing out on, but more about who would we be missing in the future. This is not an unexpected holiday from all that burdens us, but rather a traumatic wrench from everything and (because we are in lockdown) everyone that we lean on.
I find my heart unreasonably heavy, I find myself totally unproductive. An email that I really want to attend to has been sitting in my inbox all week and suddenly it is Friday. I haven’t been my usual bouncy self, and for all the extra hours of sleep I am getting, I find myself fatigued.
As South Africa geared itself for lock down, I was alarmed by the greediness that is “stockpiling” in a country where so many people live day-to-day, and can’t possibly afford to buy for tomorrow… And while the stockpiled food will go to waste, thousands upon thousand of South Africans won’t be earning the money that they need on any given day, to feed their families. I find myself paralysed by the number of families, world wide, who are losing loved ones… I could no more think of a meal plan than think of a shopping list, let alone a stockpile. Not to mention the staggering responsibility of “What can I do for our elderly parents?” I can keep my kids alive on rice, but how do I keep the people, that hang on to our weekly visits, “of good cheer.” (I still don’t have an answer to that… somehow I feel that my mum needs a hug from me at this stage as much as I need one from her.)
Our regular homeschool routine is completely up the spout, that doesn’t mean we are getting nothing done. I am reading masses to my kids and getting heap of read-a-louds ticked off the list for the year, little science projects are getting done and so many quick and easy things that I normally leave out. But we are all unsettled, and nobody can concentrate very much. So we aren’t quickly working through all our math books for the year or doing masses of worksheets (we never do those, so that hasn’t changed) – though I suppose we could. We are rather singing along to our school playlist of morning hymns, and doing masses of art projects, we are having puzzle building competitions and I am spending loads of time with my kids. LOADS… hopefully they remember this time as the time I gave to them… though I think a few of them will remember it as the time I said no to so many things, and “wash your hands” is my standard response to absolutely anything.
As soon as I move away to do some work, I find them trailing after me… things that I can normally go off and do by myself… they are following me, they are with me, they are beside me… and I know they are feeling as unsettled as I am… and they are looking to me to see how to react to all that is going on around them. This is a great time to not sit in a heap or stare into space, or scroll on my phone and yet…
The first thing I thought I would lose was working out… In fact, in our first week of social distancing I couldn’t bring myself to get to gym, to be honest I just couldn’t get my head around the idea that I could be unwittingly taking this illness home to my kids, in the name of fitness. I called it a day and didn’t work out for a few days. And then surprisingly, while winding my way through my insta feed on the very first day of lockdown I stumbled onto Dame Kelly Holmes, and I haven’t missed a workout yet. I just keep going back for more… literally morning, noon and night, workouts… and that’s what has been keeping my head together.
I haven’t escaped into books, I haven’t escaped into magical meal preparation… in fact I have pretty much left my kids to go feral, and they are cooking over a fire of garden garbage every evening. I haven’t reorganised my entire house… though I did sort my sock drawer. I am keeping things simple and sleeping like a bomb, I cannot remember a time when I worked out all day and slept all night… in fact I have banished alarms and everyone can sleep as late as we like… because I do know that you cannot deal with terrifying news when you are exhausted… so over here it is pretty much sleep, and survive.
I realise that in years to come we will know that there are se7en emotional stages to a lockdown, but at this stage… I am longing for the sound of water as it slips past my ears while I swim. I am longing for the smell of dust as we hike through the fynbos on the mountain. And I confess I am longing for a take-away coffee. In the meantime, I am mastering zoom, and my poor math students are learning online. My kids have discovered that I can’t fulfil their every need and sometimes I need a break… and I have discovered that while waiting for a pause and some good news regarding this virus, that I can’t expect myself to conquer the world, but I can expect to keep on plodding… it’s what I do, one step at a time… just keep on going. I am being gentle on myself here, because really while my kids need me for every second of every day… they need me as I am. Not the perfect mom, that hides behind getting up at dawn to provide a day full of wonderful surprises and activities for them… just the mom who is there, rock solid… acknowledging their difficulties, understanding their feelings… and just basically being there.