One of my earliest childhood memories is of the time my mother went to see the Pope in the Phoenix Park, and I stayed home with my dad. My dad, not a seasoned cook, heated up tinned Campbells meatballs for lunch. He split the can between us, pouring the delicious juicy gravy-covered meatballs into two bowls, and we devoured them. For years afterwards, I thought of Campbells meatballs as the food of kings, my very favourite meal of all time – and it’s still one of my fondest childhood memories.
Many years later, in a different century and a different county and a different house, with no Pope involved this time, another minor domestic dilemma arose. The electricity went one cold winter evening and as the kids and I sat in the pitch darkness, with only candles to light the way, I used the last bit of power on my phone to message my husband (in London for work) to ask for the electrician’s number and to order a takeaway. I was quietly stressing about how to stop us freezing and how to save the freezer contents, but the kids were ecstatic, and still have the fondest memories of the candlelit takeaway.
At the start of lockdown, I remember thinking about that, and about the things we do when we’re out of our normal routine. I remember thinking I wanted to make it a good experience for the kids, in spite of the obviously not-good situation. And they are desperately missing their friends and desperate to get back to school, but when I asked them if there’s anything they like about lockdown, they all had something. Not having to get up so early, not having to get dressed before homeschool, getting a lot more screen-time. Not wearing a school uniform, not eating boring packed lunches (and “not listening to parents moaning about making school lunches” they could have added). Doing school work in the garden on sunny days, having afternoons free to play, staying up late (so, so late). Getting random half days and days off, because the power has gone to their mother’s head. More lie-ins. More baking. More cake. More takeaways. More treats. Boredom, yes, but also, a slower pace they don’t hate.
And I feel it too. I wish for this to be over, but I’m conscious too that there are things I want to appreciate now while they’re happening. Before they’re gone for good.
When I’m bemoaning making school lunches again, I want to know that I appreciated not making school lunches. (I do. I take a moment every night to actively, consciously enjoy not making lunches.) When we’re back to doing homework, I want to know that we appreciated the free afternoons. When we’re setting the alarm for a much earlier time every morning, I want to know that I appreciated the later, slower starts. And hard though homeschool is, tough though it is to work at the same time, I already know I’ll miss having company for lunch when I’m back to a quick sandwich at the counter on my own.
I hope the kids will remember the tennis they played, the football, the screen time, the cycling, the baking, the Minecraft, the eating, the later bedtimes, the lazy mornings, the extra treats, the relaxed rules. They’re missing school and their friends, but I like to believe they’re cocooned from the worst of it, and enjoying the unexpected best of it. (And if they’re really lucky, I might even get them a tin of Campbells meatballs.)