At first there was excitement – the rush of adrenalin that comes with the sudden and possibly dangerous. I was sent home from the newspaper office, my children were sent home from school. It all happened in a rush so there was no time to work myself up about it. And no need to hum and haw and think my way through anything. No burden of responsibility. Just do what you’re told. Anyway, I thought, it will be nice to get some real downtime.
And indeed, life stopped dead, as if it had come to the edge of a cliff. No more school run, no making lunches, no football training, gymnastics, meeting friends for lunch, trying to squeeze every drop out of every day because there was always so much to do. It felt, for a few days anyway, like a freeze frame, a moment of suspended animation. A small gift of time. Something I had been craving.
Be careful what you wish for. There is no such thing as suspended animation, and soon new demands replaced the old. Home-schooling – an idea I had always been interested in; a reality I will now run a mile from. The daily walk within our 2km. Luckily, a park was part of it. And so began the regular trudges up and around. Meeting neighbours and repeating conversations: ‘How’s your lockdown going?’ Everyone rushing to make the best – ‘we’re lucky, no one’s sick… I haven’t lost my job… No one is doing school exams…’ The need to make the best of things is very human. I did it too ‘It’s not too bad,’ I insisted, listing the small mercies: a garden, no loved one with underlying health concerns, somewhere to work-zoom when I needed to, Netflix.
But the thing is, the brave face was a lie. As two weeks turned into four, and then more, I ran out of steam for ‘oh it’s not too bad.’ ‘It’s horrible,’ I said instead. ‘And I don't even really understand why.’ Nothing actually nasty was happening to or around me, and yet, the feeling of terrible things on the horizon and getting closer – sickness, economic awfulness, life as we know it changed forever – was crushing.
Paralysis set in – every magazine or newspaper I opened was full of people tidying out drawers and finally tackling the attic or boxroom. Not I! I have always known I need a deadline – it’s one of the reasons I work happily as a writer. Give me an unmovable deadline and I am on fire. Give me weeks, months, to do something, and I will drift into a state of stasis. The house got more untidy, the plans I had made – run every day, write every day, stop giving out to my children just because they are giving out to me – began to falter.
So I made new plans. More modest ones. Achievable goals. Who cares if the children aren't learning anything, I decided. Let’s aim for no one shouting, some reading and a bit of fresh air every day. Never mind clearing out the shed, how about I sort out Scrabble from Cluedo instead? There is a time for thinking big, and there is a time for staying small. And there’s wisdom in knowing the difference. Like all wisdom, it was hard won.
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