Stay at home, they said.
Save lives, they said.
It’ll only be for a while, they said.
Look on the bright side, they said. Think of all that time to do the things you’ve been putting off for years.
Shakespeare, they said, wrote some good material while social distancing from bubonic plague, and as for Isaac Newton, on lockdown he found something useful to say about gravity. Why can’t you?
No excuses now, they said.
But then. Don’t let your kids watch YouTube all day, they said.
And keep your house clean, they said. Properly clean, especially clean.
Log in for school stuff, create a fun, multi-coloured schedule, they said.
Don’t worry. Let them be kids, they said. Cuddle up on the sofa, they said.
No hoarding, they said. Get the shopping, they said, but only the essentials.
Time to plan, they said. Relax, they said. Practice self-care, they said.
Keep calm, they said. In the moment, they said. On the wifi, on Zoom, on furlough, they said.
Three weeks in, more or less, and what have I got to show for it? I haven’t even read a book, let alone written one. The internet alternates between pictures of other people’s at-home harmony and adverts for all the other things I should be doing.
[Pause to acknowledge how lucky I am to have a house, a job to do from home, healthy family in aforementioned home, other people in the house who are big enough to do their fair share of chores, etc.]
But, tell me, when, exactly, is this quiet accomplishment supposed to be happening? It turns out they’re pretty quiet on this detail.
For a while I though it was me: That I wasn’t doing it the way they said. That I’d made a grave error in planning my time or been selfish in ordering myself outside to exercise, that I was uptight or controlling, or that I was simply a blur of domestic avoidance tactics. Was I somehow trapping myself in this dance of tedious busyness.
But it isn’t, is it? They couldn’t mean that.
Work it out for yourself, they said. And I did. It’s the DIY. Suddenly there’s no school or clubs to entertain, educate, stimulate and exercise the kids, so you have to do it. There’s no where to go to get fed, so you have to do it yourself (for five three times a day). And the cleaning, and the peacekeeping, and the laundry, and the planning, unplanning and replanning. The listening, the jollying, the hugs and the rest. It’s all a DIY project for now. You do you, they said, because there’s no one else to do it.
As well as the instruments we’re apparently mastering, the art we’re allegedly creating and the box sets we’re bingeing, we need to talk about this too. Can we say how much flipping work being a parent is at the moment? How much we resent it? While we’re at it, let’s talk about gender – are we sharing this graft between the sexes? Did we set ourselves up for this somehow? How we don’t know what to do for the best?
We’ll get through this, they said. One day we’ll realise how much we learned from this, they said.
But until then… ?