Local parent, researcher and writer, Maddie Wallace, continues her daily diary describing the experience first, of self-isolating, and now of being in lockdown with her children in Southsea. It’s day 31, after the meltdown on Tuesday, A is now calm and wants to be good for Maddie so they have a day off together. How will A react once Maddie tells her she’s old enough to take her own plates downstairs?
We had an enforced day off.
Having to run down the road after A in full meltdown mode the previous afternoon aggravated the ankle I broke twice at the end of 2018. It was nice and swollen, so a rest day was enforced by pain. If you can’t walk around without considerable pain, you tend to sit. That’s just how it is.
Whenever she explodes like Krakatoa, A is always calm the next day. She feels upset about her behaviour, so she wants to please and be kind. With A having exorcised her demons, and me immobile and able to spare her any amount of attention, we ended up sitting around watching films, reading and chatting.
She never stops talking. It’s like the filter between her brain and her mouth has been removed by lockdown and replaced with a stream of consciousness dialogue. I know she can stop talking, because she manages it at school, but she definitely prefers life at home. Despite Tuesday’s epic four hour tantrum, which had clear origins I could easily identify, life in lockdown has calmed her anxiety.
School – to use her own parlance – freaks her out. Other children get right up in her face and she doesn’t like it (despite that fact she regularly does this to me and her brothers). Teachers make her sit down when she doesn’t feel like sitting down. She hates PE and doesn’t want to do it. It’s way too loud and everyone yells on the playground. This week she’s started saying she misses her friends, but she’s also saying she never wants to go back to school.
She’s safe and at home. She likes this because she knows where everything is and how it works. She knows when bedtime is and that the dog and cat get given their dinner after us. She feels more in control. She has the freedom to craft and create things from rubbish she finds in the recycling bin, she can sit down when she chooses, stand when she chooses and do yoga when she chooses. And for a five year old who already thinks they know more than everyone else, being in charge of your own destiny is the holy grail.
Of course, she’s not in charge of her own destiny completely, but her feeling like she is definitely helps. I manage to sneak in learning without her knowing. I saw her on a video call with her dad the other day, who was trying to teach her about the solar system by asking her which planet is closest to the sun. She just stuck her bum in the air. But if you ask her to build you a model of the solar system on the dining room table out of cereal packets and egg boxes, she’s all over it. She learns by doing and experiencing and seeing how it makes her feel.
And she also just changes the rules when they don’t work for her. She was reading the back of one of those information cards you get in the packets of ‘Bear Sweets’, as she likes to call them; rolled up compressed raw fruit. She couldn’t be bothered to read it, so she made something up.
‘It says if I’m good all day I’ll be cursed with good luck!’ she said, waving the card at me. ‘Wow that’s good isn’t it?’
I agreed that it was a very nice outcome for good behaviour, and then explained that you’re blessed with good luck and cursed with bad luck.
She thought about it awhile.
‘No, I don’t agree,’ she said. ‘We should probably change those meanings because they’re wrong.’
And that is precisely what is sometimes so very challenging about being her mother. Everything has to be her idea and now she wants to re-write the dictionary. She likes to do things of her own volition. Even simple things like asking her to brush her teeth have to be done with thought. Go and brush your teeth will bring on apoplectic rage. What do we do after breakfast? allows her to think of the idea herself.
Bearing this in mind, I set about asking her to clean up a bit more after herself. I went into her room and found a cereal bowl, a cup, seven years worth of dirty washing and three hundred hair slides amongst all the artwork and soft toys on the floor. She’s not even meant to have food in her room.
‘I think you’re probably old enough to start taking your own bowls downstairs now,’ I said.
‘Do S and Z do that?’ she asked.
‘They do,’ I said, leaving out the bit where I have to ask them constantly for three days running and then deal with a mountain of bowls containing cemented-on milk and Rice Crispies.
‘OK, then I’ll do it too! What do I have to do?’
‘You just take it downstairs and put it on the side.’
And off she went, it was that simple.
Only it wasn’t that simple, because she took it downstairs and left it on the side in the living room. Then she came back upstairs and announced that she’d done it and proved she could, so she wouldn’t be needing to do it again in the future.
Maddie is sharing her lockdown experiences every day on S&C – you can find each day’s diary and all of Maddie’s previous articles for S&C here.