Lockdown With My Family in Southsea: Days 61-63, Teenage Angst

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 Days 61-63 and Maddie can see that her second oldest is getting to the stage that all teenagers go through, wanting to get out and explore on their own. What will Maddie do?

By trying to boost my research productivity, I may have inadvertently discovered the Holy Grail of lockdown with a five year old: a bowl of water and a paintbrush.

On Friday afternoon I was determined to read a chapter of my current text. Just one. Start small. I gave A the water and a brush – an idea stolen from the school’s guidance for learning at home – and asked her to write her name on every brick in a line on the garden wall. I figured I might get through a page on corporate propaganda before she finished, but when she got to the end of the row, the first few bricks had dried in the sun, and her name had magically vanished.

Shocked, she set to work on replacing her writing on the missing bricks and trying to finish her line before the sun could trick her again. In this way I read two and half chapters, far exceeding my goal. She didn’t manage to get her name on every brick in the row before one or other end was dry, so she painted a carnival scene on the fence. It looked more like fireworks to me, but I didn’t have long to appreciate the art before it disappeared like a Snapchat into the ether.

Speaking of the ether, I have a bit of a thing for May. It’s by far my favourite month of the year. I usually spend March and April eagerly anticipating the arrival of the best month, making plans with people, looking forward to summer, and appreciating the warm sun on my skin. Things didn’t seem so perfect this year. I think it was the third of the month before I even realised May had happened, despite recognising it was Beltane while watching a beautiful poetry performance.

One of my favourite things about May is being up too late and accidentally catching the morning getting lighter as the sun begins to rise. The perfect time for this is between four and five am. On Friday night I was feeling as restless as my teenage son, and after ending a late night WhatsApp with LMJ at three thirty in the morning, I decided to push through and catch a May morning.

Sitting in the garden and listening to the sounds, smelling the morning, hearing the birds, feeling warm and watching the sky turn from grey to blue reminded me how insignificantly small we are in the grand scale of the universe. Getting lost in the never ending ether can be a comforting thing.

My natural body clock is a three to eleven sleeper, but since my early twenties, when I had H, I’ve learnt to train that back. I still rarely fall asleep before midnight, and in lockdown this has crept steadily towards the small hours. Which is how I know that S has reached the age of teenage unrest. He’s getting out for bike rides now, roaming in the day times. But even with the increased exercise, he can’t sleep. He’s full of energy when it’s dark, following his body’s natural, hormonal urge to break out of the bounds of his family and go wandering. I know he’s not sleeping as well at night; sometimes I hear him creeping about, someone has mysteriously eaten all the brownies, or he’s up before me in the morning and then falls asleep in the afternoon. He denies playing his X Box at night, but I was fourteen once.

My dad was in the Navy, so I went to a boarding school. At his age I was up most nights with the boys and a couple of girls from my dorm. The boys knew where the headmaster kept the key to the cellar, and the cellar was where they kept the groundskeeping stuff, but also the alcohol. At 14 you have no appreciation for Bollinger, other than how far you can shoot the cork out of the window. We used to leave the school grounds and walk to the local village, or onto the disused WWII airfield behind our school playing field. If a car came along, you had to dive into the verge and hide in case it was the headmaster.

I can see that pull to escape in S. That urge to prowl, do things you know you shouldn’t, push yourself out of your familiar comfort zone, take risks and universally agree with all your mates how stupid your parents are. In fairness to him, he was locked in and locked down for more than eight weeks before he started asking to go out on his bike. I’ve explained the risks, and that if he’s meeting up with friends, it can only be one friend at a time, and he has to maintain social distancing and not share drinks or food.

‘Yes mum, I know,’ comes the reply. And the bored eye rolling.

He hasn’t started asking to go out in the evenings yet. But it’s coming.

We had a chilled day on Sunday, and I managed – for the first time in nine weeks – to get A to leave the house on foot and not have a meltdown about being outside. We waited until 7.30pm to walk the dog so there’d be less people out, and we discussed doing a sports day in Wimbledon Park, so A was focused on organising tug of wars and races in her mind, instead of thinking about being outside. As we walked, we played spelling I-Spy to distract her.

‘There’s a gate, how to you think we spell that?’

‘G – a – i – t,’ she said, slowly sounding it out.

Ahhh. A chance to talk about homophones. So much of the home schooling where A is concerned has been ad hoc, blending literacy and numeracy into everyday things. If she thinks we’re doing something structured, she doesn’t want to do it. Which is fine, because she’s more likely to remember a lesson on etymology when she’s in a good mood skipping down the road.

‘Why do we have words that sound the same but are spelled differently?’ she asked. ‘It’s silly, they should have just called one of them a different word.’

I explained how the language we speak keeps growing and changing, and over the years English has ‘borrowed’ words from other languages and mixed them in with our own.

‘Like what?’ she said, intrigued.

‘Well, sausage comes from French. They stole it from Latin, I think.’

She stopped and looked at me. ‘What? Our sausages are stolen?’

‘Oh look, a leaf! How do you think we spell leaf?’


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.

Image by dimitrisvetsikas1969 from Pixabay.

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