I admit I was panicking. The first lockdown was bad enough but Melbourne was about to go into a second one – for six weeks! How would we cope, my son, husband and I, separated from our village – families we know from our neighbourhood, school, and soccer club? Like many modern families we rely on this village because our extended family do not live close by.
But a funny thing happened in the first week. My ten year old son started reaching out to our extended family over video chats – sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for an hour or more. We honestly would not usually have the time. Now, freed from the tyranny of constant organised activity, all he had was time.
He rang his cousin who lives 50 kilometres away and who he rarely sees face to face and would rarely talk to. She’s ten years older and has a horse. My son now chats to her almost daily as he watches her feed the horse, pat the horse, brush the horse. Occasionally she says ‘I’ve gotta drive now. I’ll call you later.’ And she does.
I always thought these two would realise at age 20 and 30 that ten years is no chasm. They’ve learnt it at 10 and 20. COVID has made us all grow up faster.
My son sits with his iPad in his lap, playing a computer game while he chats to my sister (a couple of years older than me) who is in a square on the top left hand side of his screen, doing her knitting, making dinner, feeding her sheep.
And they chat. They chat about their favourite tv shows. They chat about how to trim a sheep’s hooves. They chatted the other night about house prices in regional versus urban areas.
Mainly my son fact-checks family stories I’ve told him. As the only grandchild so far on my side of the family, he’s the keeper of the stories and will be their custodian.
He asks my sister, usually randomly to ensure an honest answer in this highly investigative task, “Did Mum really sprain her ankle when she was twelve by tripping over nothing?” And “Did Poppy really step on Mum’s Baptism cake and Nanny got angry?”
My sister verifies, corrects, laughs and the click of her knitting needles is the background to my son’s yelps about some terrible yet innocuous event in an online game on his screen.
This pandemic has been dark and has hit my family very hard and, as an aviation family, will reverberate for some time yet. But if this pandemic is a winter-stripped shrub of twigs, then this deepening of family connection and their role in our village are definitely the promising green shoots I cling to.
Technology has never been better and we’ve never had more time. So, go on. Make the connection, expand your village.