Natalie Billing-Reeves, Liverpool-based children's author, takes us through another episode of life under lockdown with her two young children, and how her approach to parenting has had to change.
What a curious bubble we live in! As my priorities shift and ground rules stretch thin, I choose my battles more carefully. I've built a fairly efficient distraction filter and set the sensitivity way down low. I switch it on the moment my eyes perceive light.
It's bliss, in the main, but I didn't say it was foolproof. I haven't figured out how to be selective with it yet, though. So, I'm afraid, for now, at least, it's a blanket family muting.
Activities float about in a lazy sort of way. I snatch some and bat the others away, but the air is alive with swarms of biting ideas, thoughts, and worries that will not leave me be.
And so, kettles do appear in fridges, sitting proudly next to purses and earrings, and sometimes the odd teabag can be found floating on a cappuccino. People walk into rooms and have absolutely no idea how they got there or what they're there for. I find sanctuary where I can, in a toilet or a broom closet. As long as I've done my share of the home-schooling duties, the guilt doesn't bite quite as hard. Then, the sight of an iPad in my children's hands doesn't jolt so much. It seems my greatest enemy has become my bestest friend.
But, no matter how you dress it up, some things in life just don't go together. Pineapple on pizzas. Iced tea. Grapes in salads. I'm not having any of it!
And the biggest one of all, kids vs. work. Oh, jeez... oil and water are a better fit.
As soon as my laptop appears, the kid's attention monitoring device sounds. It has detected a flux in the force. Mummy's attention is not flowing their way. Torpedoes blaze, disguised as fairly innocuous questions. You know the ones. The type that inquires about the size of the universe and how many sugar grains are inside fourteen candy flosses. Hugely important agendas that have never needed or warranted discussion until this point.
A barrage of fire, weathering and eroding, until I'm a nub of a person. Diminished and discombobulated. A line of questioning the KGB would be proud of. When they tire of that tactic, they move to the arguing phase. They dreadful injustices of sibling life. The heinous acts of sabotage and selfishness they commit against each other's teddies. The hideous injuries they've incurred in the garden. Those life and death scratches that only a gay coloured plaster can fix.
At those times, I give thanks to iPad. I kiss the ledge he charges on. When they are trapped there in that virtual space, I can fulfill my daily deadlines. I know they are safe in their mutual gaming, meeting up in fairy tale realms to have picnics, and build cities.
Facetiming friends and family, all the things once so heavily rationed.
Inevitably, there are going to be downsides. After all, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The slight America twang in their voices from too much Youtube. The strange quotes and insider jokes they now share, as they emulate their Youtuber idols. Children are more absorbent than the kitchen roll they deplete. They suck up good, bad, and ugly in equal measure.
I hadn't realised just how much school life kept them on the straight and narrow. I obviously gave myself too much credit. School, with its consistency and conformity. All the things I cannot offer them right now.
So, I suppose it came as no surprise when my seven-year-old son messaged me this voice memo. He's been learning about rhythm and beats apparently. He wants me to hear how cool he is. I've taken the liberty of overlaying a Jib Jab video across the audio file...
Let's take a moment to listen...
Well, Nathaniel, my son, your rhythmic timing is impeccable, but your choice of percussive words leaves much to be desired…
Perhaps it's time to leave myself a memo. 'Turn the filter off woman! Your children need you.'
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