Something strange has come over our household. Amidst a global pandemic and state-wide lockdown, in the face of cancelled soccer seasons and postponed school camps, while trying to juggle work and schoolwork supervision, somehow I've found my parenting zen.
I can't say it happened instantly. There were many tears as school closed, playdates were cancelled and we all slowly realised that life was going to be very different for the next few months. Once everyone had passed breakdown point, the challenge of adjusting to remote learning commenced. (I won't call it homeschooling, as I'm not supplying the lessons). There were technical difficulties, problems with motivation and focus and, unfortunately, I realised that I'm incapable of Year 5 maths. Nevertheless, we persisted.
It's week three of our new reality now, and things have settled down. We're finding it useful to stick to the school schedule – thankfully, my children's schools have provided plenty of work to occupy them. My husband and I are getting used to being interrupted throughout the workday and shifting work hours and expectations to accommodate that.
The absence of early morning school band practices and late-night soccer training, amidst a million other expectations, has turned out to be my saviour. Before COVID-19, I always felt the clock ticking down. Ten minutes until school starts. Fifteen minutes to drive three suburbs over for flute practice. Twenty minutes to get dinner on the table before the Girl Guides meeting. There were uniforms to wash and lunchboxes to pack.
No wonder I was always stressed! All that driving and planning took a huge mental toll.
I now have more time to be the kind of parent I want to be. More patient, and more involved. We're all getting more sleep. We're planning our meals and have more time to try new recipes and cook more complex dishes on weeknights than before. The kids are cooking too, because we have time to teach them and frankly, we're looking for any activity that doesn't involve a screen.
I can't outsource sport anymore so we're going for family bike rides and playing Frisbee. Just Dance is a great laugh on rainy days. We're also loving P.E with Joe, although it's already caused knee and back injuries in us parents -proceed with caution.
A daily walk on my own is a simple sanity saviour that fills my cup so I have more to give, because there is no break from parenting right now. This is it, so we may as well make the most of it. I need to be calm too, because my children are looking to me to know that it will all be okay. Zoom chats with family and friends help enormously as well.
Dinner times are special. We talk about what went well, what didn't go well and what we are grateful for. Last week I was grateful for the Kmart delivery that had arrived, bringing us all new tracksuit pants. Food is a continual reason to be grateful, particularly the woodfired pizza joint that brings us our weekly takeaway treat. Most of all, I'm grateful we're safe, well and employed (for now) and eternally thankful to the health workers, teachers, grocery shop staff and all the other essential services helping us stay that way.
This morning I saw an idea to start a 'bucket list' jar. Every time someone in the family wishes they could do something we can't do due to COVID-19, they write it down on a piece of paper and put it in the jar, so when this ends we have whole stack of things we will feel a new sense of gratitude for. Little ideas like this keep us busy and provide hope.
We don't know when things will go back to 'normal'. The situation is so unprecedented that the National Museum has asked people to keep diaries and mementos of the COVID-19 lockdown to inform future generations (my children have so far declined the suggestion of journaling).
I'm sure that before the lockdown lifts there will be more tantrums, more sibling fights and more exasperation on my part. School holidays will no doubt bring their own set of challenges. But I also hope that I can take some of the lessons from the age of coronavirus into the future, whatever that looks like.
What are the things that matter? What do I need to do to keep sane? And what things can I let go of, that aren't important at all?
I return to these questions again and again. The answers aren't simple, but the process is crucial for me to remain calm and content today, tomorrow and in the world to come.