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 39, and Maddie’s children are pursuing separate obsessions: writing a novel in dragon for A, and being in charge of the barbecue for the first time for S.
Oooh would you look at that. I’ve now been in the lockdown wilderness for one day shy of the time Jesus was wandering in the desert in that old story. I haven’t found God, but I have been tempted. Mostly by wine, chocolate, cheese, peanuts and social media.
A and I have fallen into a work groove in the mornings. When I sit at my desk, she sits at hers and does her work. My desk is in the living room, because you’re meant to work in a different place to where you sleep. When I started my Masters in 2017 it rapidly became apparent that I needed to carve a niche in my house where I could study in peace. And then I lost my job and went freelance, and the home office was born. It’s just the back end of the living room. It’s wonderfully quiet and peaceful between the hours of 9am and 3pm during term time but working in peace with children in the house is an impossible goal to achieve.
We have a beautiful antique bureau that belongs to my landlady and my oldest, H, wanted that to be her desk for when we study together. We set it all up last year, and she comes and uses the ‘hot desk’ when she’s back from uni and needs to get her head down and finish off some work. I’m halfway through a PhD and she’s about to graduate with a first in psychology.
Co-studying was going swimmingly until lockdown.
A has now repurposed the hot desk as her’s. She sits quietly on the old piano stool at the bureau, beavering away on her latest project. This week she’s been sitting there each day for most of the morning writing her first book and today she finished it. Unfortunately, it’s written entirely in dragon, so only she can read it, but the story – as she tells it – seems quite clear.
It’s about a mum, dad and four kids, (who bear a marked resemblance to her own family but apparently isn’t). One of the boys, (who bears a marked resemblance to Z but apparently isn’t), is ill with a virus that makes him poop. His younger sister, (who bears a marked resemblance to A but apparently isn’t), nurses him back to health, but then because viruses are catching, everyone else gets ill too and the young girl looks after her whole family. This is a virus that makes people ‘poop everywhere’, and I had to talk myself down from an emetophobia moment just thinking about it. However, once people recover from the virus, they never produce human poo again. They shoot actual, real rainbows from their bums instead.
There is so much to unpick here but I do love the rainbows image. I drew the line at her suggestion we do a science experiment and put some of our poo in a jar of water for a few days to see what happens to it.
No. Just no. No, no, no. Not happening. Not open for discussion. No.
At the beginning of the week, when I decided organisation was essential, S and I meal planned. He negotiated a Spaghetti Bolognese with real meat, I negotiated a veggie chilli, and we both agreed that as Thursday looked like the warmest day, we should probably have a barbecue. S wanted to be in charge.
Of course he did. He’s a fourteen year old boy with a lifelong obsession with fire. When he was four, he waited for me to go to the toilet, then got a chair and climbed onto the worktop to retrieve a lighter from the top of the kitchen cupboard. He then secreted this all day ready for his plan to use it later in the dark. In his bed.
Fortunately for all of us – and the house – prior to igniting his duvet he experimented with setting fire to his brother’s nose, and the ensuing screaming and chaos alerted me to what he was up to. Z had a sore septum, but the house was still standing. S felt awful about what he’d done to his little brother and fully understood why children don’t play with fire.
But he’s still drawn to it. He reminds me of one of my older brothers on a family holiday in Scotland, where we stayed in an isolated cottage on a tiny island. Summer in Scotland can still be cold, so we had a peat fire most evenings. My brother, who was probably about fifteen at the time, just sat and stared at the fire. He stoked the fire. He threw every bit of rubbish he could find onto it, then observed the flames rising up and dying down as they ate through crisp packets and bits of food, the whole time ignoring my mother’s hand wringing and warnings of dire catastrophe from boys playing with fire.
I was terrified of fire thereafter. I have sleepless nights worrying about A’s bedroom being at the back of the house, with no way for me to get to her if a fire starts downstairs and creeps up the stairs to the landing. It’s an irrational fear because my landlords are amazing and we have a bitching fire and carbon monoxide alarm system that is properly maintained, but I’m still not entirely comfortable letting one of my kids play with fire.
I had to remind myself that he’s been avidly watching me light the barbecue for years, and H’s boyfriend, (whose dad is an Army Engineer so clearly knows how to teach his kids to light fires), has also given him lessons in getting a barbecue going. I let him do it, forcing myself to sit in the chair and observe at a distance, to not interfere or fret.
He built and maintained a perfect barbecue. He wanted to put the food on too soon and I did intervene then, because my fear of all of us eating burnt but uncooked sausages and getting salmonella far outweighs my fear of fire. Did he get bored of the actual cooking part; the turning and moving and tweaking of meat so it’s cooked and not charred? Yes, he did, and he asked me take over.
I think what he grew bored of the most, though, was that the flames had died down, and embers just don’t ignite his passion for fire.
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.