German lessons. Typing programs. PE classes. I look back now on the lists I put together in March, the things I thought would fill my kids’ days, and I shake my head. Not in a mean way, I’m just bemused at my early-lockdown-self, the one who thought the kids would spend their time in productive pursuits. In reality, we were too busy and too bored to follow through with any of these things. How can we be so busy and so bored at the same time? I remember thinking over and over. Perhaps boredom isn’t the right word, maybe lack of motivation is more apt. Rudderless.
Homeschool (or more accurately, semi-supervised-homework-while-parents-worked) took up mornings, and afternoons were spent trying to encourage the kids to get outdoors and get some exercise. At first, they were reasonably compliant but as time yawned by, it took more and more work to get them outside. So I bought a whiteboard, on which I wrote “Homeschool, Creativity, Air & Exercise, Chores.” The idea was that they had to tick all four boxes to earn their evening screen-time.
Homeschool was standard; an effort, no matter how small, was made every day. Chores were often as limited as clearing up after meals – that went for the adults too. “Creativity” could be anything from baking to taking photos of flowers in the garden to telling a joke. The bar was pretty low (though I think her photos are good!)
But “Exercise and Air” was the tricky one. Getting them out of the house was tricky. And as the weeks sloped slowly (and quickly) by, it became even trickier. Normal people up and down the country were chomping at the bit to get out, stretching the outer limits of their 2km, celebrating when it moved to 5. We were wondering if this meant we had to go as far as 5k, despite extreme boredom with our not very exciting 2k. The more we stayed in, the less inclined we were to go out. Reasonably sensible adult that I am, I made myself go for walks and runs, but kids are kids and if they don’t want to do something, it’s hard for them to make themselves do it. And as time went by, it became very hard for me to make them do it.
Their increasing reluctance to go out was one of the few constants in a constantly surprising, changing situation. I have a tendency to expect things to be all good or all bad. One-way-only trajectories. But lockdown wasn’t like that and that continually surprised me. There were awful days, shouty days, mind-numbing days, overwhelming days, relaxing days and amazing days. Beautiful sunny bank holiday weekends when we were delighted to be spending hours and hours in the garden, with no pressure to go somewhere and do something productive. Like boats on calm, sunny waters, miles away from everything. But then whoosh, just like that, we were back to an awful day, a shouty day, a downright overwhelming day. Boats in a storm. But mostly we were just adrift. Rudderless.
And as restrictions lifted and we were allowed to do more, it was confusing and surreal and not always as good as it should be. We had Stockholm Syndrome. Institutionalised by weeks and weeks at home, we didn’t feel ready to go out. We struggled to motivate ourselves to go out. Coming up with ingenious day-trip plans that weren’t ingenious at all. No motivation. No structure. Still rudderless.
And then, finally, this week, a change. Playdates. Summer camps. Sports. We have to get up in the morning, and it’s not half as bad as I thought it would be – especially when I can sneak a walk on the pier after sailing camp drop-off.
The kids are finally spending time with other kids – reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. Coming out of camp with big smiles and tired legs and a few more freckles on their noses. Exhausted from air and outdoors and exercise and fun. Good exhausted.
One child has resumed regular playdates with his bestie in place of the virtual Minecraft playdates they’d been having for months (now they just talk about Minecraft for hours on end). One child is at soccer camp with her team-mates around her and a ball at her feet and a smile on her face. One child is at sailing camp, coming home with salt in her hair and stories of boats and sleeping better than she has for months.
At least for now, we are no longer rudderless.