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Suburban Soldiers

Frontline Parents - musings on working and home-schooling in Melbourne's Lockdown 2.0

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The early morning light starts to creep through the dusty shutters, a stark reminder of another task long neglected.

I close my eyes for a second, hoping to be taken blissfully back to the vivid, strange happenings of my dream, somewhere worlds away from what’s outside my front door.

Pandemic-dreams are wild. I’ve never dreamt so vibrantly, so realistically. The story-lines of these dreams could not be made up by the most creative script writer! If my corona-dreams could be made into movies, they’d be picked up by Spielberg or Scorcese. But as delightful as it is to taste freedom, even if only in an unconscious state – it makes the sharp slap of reality even harder to accept.  I’m embarking on another day of lockdown. Where the colours are paler, more washed out – or on some days, endless shades of grey.

I pad gently to the lounge room, holding my breath. An audible breath or a wrongly placed foot on the floorboards can be enough to wake a sleeping child. That would mean me returning all my thoughts, emotions or worries to the ‘deal with it later’ file in my brain, for a time when I might have another opportunity for a few minutes alone. But that file is overflowing. And deep down I know (like all parents with young children at the moment) that these moments of alone time are rare, almost unachievable – like an intelligent tweet from Donald Trump.

But the mere thought is tantalizing. Alone. Ahhhh… even the word feels luxurious. It feels indecent, wrong almost to crave it when so many are feeling so incredibly lonely and isolated. But I don’t subscribe to not being able to complain because “people are doing it much worse”. That’s not helpful to anyone. Our front-line workers are doing extraordinary things and deserve our utmost praise and respect, but let’s not feel like we have to be a saint or super-hero to have our situation acknowledged. Let’s not make this a competition in sacrifice or vulnerability. Let’s allow ourselves (as the brilliant Brene Brown says) to complain, but with perspective. Although, one must ask the question, how do you find perspective amongst the shi*t show of  juggling life/work/home-schooling/parenting/the household? Where simply keeping it together for more than a few hours should place you on a podium! Our children are 10, 8 and 7. Levels of dependency are still significant, depending on the day, on the child, or (at times) on the palpable exhaustion or anxiety their parents might be feeling and the subsequent osmosis that inevitably occurs.

The juggle and the struggle is real. In between making endless rounds of sandwiches, fruit platters and googling uncommon fractions, my phone beeps relentlessly reminding me of the scheduled school zoom meetings. Regardless of the reminders, we still manage to miss many. Laptops fail to co-operate, the piano teacher is texting asking about our no show, a client emails letting me know I have missed a meeting, the kids “don’t want to have toasties or spaghetti AGAIN MUUMM” and there always seems to be one less cookie than there are children. 

Meanwhile, it seems the chaos has incited some creativity in the 7-year-old who makes up a ‘poem’:

 “I hate the person who ate the bat that ate the rat that started coronavirus”

 she says over and over again, in a sing song, cheery voice that feels somewhat eerie and incongruent with the sentiment. A catchy tune though!  Factually incorrect, but why should she let the truth get in the way of a good story?

Observing our children so courageously facing their new, vastly different world brings many moments of inspiration and joy amongst the pandemonium. Being in a family bubble for an extended period of time has its many benefits. However it has added a level of difficulty to our days that was impossible to prepare for. Many share the feeling that they are doing a lot, but not doing anything ‘well’ as they juggle the competing demands of home-schooling and work.

At the same time, we are all navigating a wide range of emotions – our amygdala’s are in overdrive; but with everything else happening on our plates, it feels like there is no place to land our thoughts.  

Landing your thoughts and emotions takes calm, quiet and space, and we simply don’t have that at the moment. 

The word robot comes to mind and I think of Dexter from Perfect Match, I wonder how Greg Evans is going?

While laugh we may, Robot is not far off the mark. It feels like that is what’s expected of parents right now – that the only way we can pull off everything being asked of us is to become sophisticated ‘machines’ without needs or feelings.

I picture the inner workings of that robot cranking and labouring, trying to meet all the settings that have been programmed – to educate, to parent, to cook, to clean, to bring in an income and to try to manage not only our own emotional highs and lows, but also those of our family.  Eventually a red light flashes urgently and a siren blares in a loud, angry tone – the machine breaks down. The robot becomes nothing but a vessel of empty wiring and metal, smoke emitting from its head.

Enter, national mental health crisis.

For working parents, the situation we face at the moment in Melbourne does not allow for much reflecting or debriefing. To connect with friends we are forced to get onto the very technology that we have spent half the day resenting and cursing.

It leads me to ponder, if we’re not connecting as much and there is not the ‘time’ or ‘space’ to indulge our feelings, where are all these thoughts and emotions going? For some friends I have spoken to, they start landing as soon as they go to bed, making for a difficult or restless sleep.  Others I know are staying up until 1 or 2am or getting up well before dawn, just to get ‘me’ time.

I am in awe of the Mums, Dads and carers of young children across Victoria and Australia who are battling their own frontline every day, like brave suburban soldiers. If only we could wave a white flag and this war of a pandemic would end. But there is no white flag in sight.

So each morning, I quietly get up before the kids wake, I sit on the couch in our lounge room and breath in and out. I let the thoughts arrive and settle, and I continue to look forward to the day that life goes back to its glorious technicolor self.

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