It seems as if we’ve been in lockdowns of various types for most of the year. As I write this, New Zealand is at alert level one, which means life seems nearly normal except for the signs reminding us to stay safe and the hand sanitiser.

The Pretenders

The Pretenders

When I think ‘lockdown’, I immediately associate it with the level four alert that lasted from 25th March to 27th April. This was the most extreme isolation I’ve ever been in. It wasn’t enough that I already live nearly 30 hours in flying time from my family in Zambia, but suddenly New Zealand’s doors slammed shut, and we were stuck in a country that we’d moved to only a year previously.

To have my whole world distilled down to three people – my husband, my son, and I – was almost dystopian an experience. Unlike many places in Europe, for example, in New Zealand we could be permitted outside to play and use parks and other public land. Still, lockdown was painful in another way – learning the art of maintaining one’s distance while in desperate need of human company. During this lockdown I learned more about my neighbours in those weeks than in the year since my family had moved into our house. When we spoke, always two metres apart, from decks and along roadsides, no matter how long we talked, I always came away feeling as if the conversation had been incomplete, as if something was lost in the distance between us.

Lockdown wasn’t all negative. I feel that my family emerged stronger, definitely more patient, than before. We learned we could be together day after day without other people as a buffer, a fallback position or as a source of entertainment. We worked, talked, played, explored together – just the three of us.

As we were all limited to our immediate neighbourhood, my family spent at least a few hours outside each day. We caught the last of the autumn sunshine on tiny beautiful beaches not, minding that we weren’t permitted in the water. We spent Easter, the strangest Easter I’ve ever had, on a beach making fences in the sand from driftwood and reeds.

Of course, I had the same challenges as every other mother juggling working from home with a small child, entertaining him and keeping my own spirits up as I watched him become accustomed to the isolation. Six was unfortunately old enough to understand that he couldn’t go to school or interact with any children he might meet, but not old enough to fully grasp why.

I had time to spend on several drafts of my debut novel, The Pretenders, which will be released this November. Having a goal to pursue outside work was wonderful, because it was a reminder that some aspects of life continued as before – readers will always need books.

We survived. The joy and relief of biting into a takeaway curry after the national alert level dropped to level three was immense. I must have waited an hour for it, standing outside since no one was allowed in at alert level three.

Since then, Auckland has been plunged into a second, three-week, level-three lockdown, which I found much harder to deal with. I suppose I knew how tedious it would become and so was less resilient.

The most important lesson I learned during lockdown is the value of even the smallest interactions and communication with other people. Nonetheless, despite this Eureka, I prefer the old normal not the new.

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