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. We’re at Day 59, and the lockdown is getting to Maddie and her family. What will happen when one of the kids decides not to do their homework?
Learning how to ‘sit with it’ has been a core principle in therapy for a while now. It’s all about being mindful, observing your thoughts and feelings, and accepting them. It takes a while to learn how to do this, because in our previously action packed world we were encouraged to keep doing and moving and spending money. If you’re feeling a bit sad you can override that by spanking the plastic for some instant gratification.
As with all learning it never stops. Once you’ve learnt how to sit with things, you keep practising and applying it in different situations. I’m comfortable with my ability to sit and feel my way through a problem now. But there’s nothing like a global pandemic to really push your skillset.
I knew as soon as Z woke up that it was going to be a challenging day. All those mornings of us trying to get him up in the early weeks of lockdown have filled his vengeance scorecard with ideas on how to get his brother back. As soon as Z was awake, he set to work on annoying a sleeping S.
Neither of them seemed inclined to do any schoolwork, despite me regularly prompting. I had a uni Skype call at 2pm and they used that time to play tag with A upstairs, thundering about above my head like a herd of wildebeest. I sat with it and accepted it. At least they’re upstairs, right?
It wasn’t long before they were downstairs, mucking about around me. I had to end the call early because I couldn’t concentrate, but hey, I managed half of it, so that’s good, right? Think positively woman.
When S and Z are working together on rebellion, the only option is ‘divide and conquer’. I set S up in the dining room and Z up at my desk, and S got his head down as soon as his sidekick was gone. But pushing Z at anything only makes him dig his heels in. He pulled out his entire repertoire of button pushing techniques to try and hammer home his point that making him do his work was going to result in hardship for me. If he has to suffer, so do I.
He tried shouting, he tried tears of frustration, he begged, he snuck off upstairs, he hid in the garden, he pretended to have no idea how Google works, he tried the ‘self-depreciation for sympathy approach’, and he tried pretending to be asleep while watching You Tube under the desk on his phone. At one point, when I was in the kitchen washing up, there was a scream that almost triggered my Emergency Mum Defcon 5 Response. But it was just Z. I sighed and carried on scrubbing a Pyrex dish.
You might think that’s heartless, but honestly you would not believe the injuries this kid gets whenever he’s ever asked do something he doesn’t want to do. Hoovering, taking the rubbish out, walking the dog, cleaning the bathroom, homework – anything. He’ll do his best to get out of it by faking an injury or illness. It’s a running joke in our family.
I’ve talked to him so many times about the boy who cried wolf. I’ve told him don’t be like the shepherd boy, because otherwise one day, when you really hurt yourself, not a single member of your family will respond. You could potentially bleed out from accidentally cutting yourself on your PlayStation mouse, and no one will find you for hours because everyone will ignore you crying for help. Again.
I don’t tell him that last bit, but really, it is that bad.
I tried to sit with it. I tried to sit through hours of him doing everything he could to be difficult, I tried to sit with me not getting any work done again. I tried to keep my cool while he wailed about how stupid Google is. All he had to do was open an email, click on a link, watch a video and fill out the questions, but apparently, he couldn’t remember how emails work.
‘JUST OPEN THE EMAIL! FOR GODS SAKE JUST OPEN THE EMAIL AND CLICK ON THE LINK! YOU JUST HAVE TO DO IT BECAUSE I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE. I HAVEN’T MANAGED TO GET ANY WORK DONE FOR EIGHT WEEKS BECAUSE YOU WANT ME TO HOLD YOUR HAND WHILE YOU OPEN AN EMAIL!’
That was the end of sitting with it. I went and did some lying down instead, because going head to head with an almost thirteen year old for five solid hours is exhausting. I put on some lofi study beats and tried to read a page of the current text I’m working through. I’ve only read two chapters during lockdown, so I set the bar low.
Just. One. Page.
Of course, I couldn’t concentrate because I’d shouted at him, felt guilty and I had to sit with that. An hour later Z came up and apologised. He’d done the work and it was quite easy once he started. Who knew?
I apologised and explained I feel tired and upset, and that it’s okay if he does too. We had a hug. But that was me done. I was so shattered I could barely sit up, and after another battle with A later about why she should Skype her dad at the planned time, I couldn’t even make it to the highlight of my week: the Wednesday Quiz. Standing up made me feel lightheaded, so answering questions was out.
I spent the evening snuggled up in bed with A contemplating how I’d handled the day. Why did I stand my ground and try and make him work? Maybe he needed a day off, just like everyone else does sometimes. Maybe he’s as confused and miserable as the rest of us. It’s hard to discern whether he’s being lazy when he tries to avoid things, because Z is notoriously lazy when he’s in the mood to be. It’s hard to know if he’s just out of routine, having been at his dad’s for ten days. It’s hard to make decisions about things like this when you’re worn out yourself from weeks of stress.
Tomorrow is another day that’s going to require a factory re-set of my patience and resilience. I’ve been sitting with it for eight weeks and my arse is numb.
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.