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 72, and S has reached the age that all parents dread, while Maddie decides whether the government is right about A returning to school next week.
S has officially entered the Age of Dissent.
At some point during the last month, the pendulum swung from Nice With Occasional Hints of Teenage Angst right over to Teenage Angst With Occasional Hints of Nice. There’s a large amount of knuckle dragging. Responses to questions come in grunts. The eyes roll. Siblings are stupid. I don’t know anything. He disappears for hours every day, emerging only to eat more cereal or moan about his siblings. Occasionally there are bursts of exuberance or affection, but they’re limited to times when food sources are readily available.
He used to call me to check in constantly. If he got home from school and I was out collecting A, he’d call me to see when I’d be back, (as if it wasn’t the same routine every day). If he was out with his mates, he’d call me to tell me where he was, and he’d call me again to tell me if he’d moved on somewhere else. Then he’d call me to tell me he was coming back. Sometimes he called me from the end of the road to tell me he was almost home. He was prolific at communicating. Z only calls me when he’s going to be late again, and then it’s only to try out the latest reason he can’t possibly walk home and needs to be collected. We don’t even have a car.
S now appears to have no electronic communication needs when he’s out of the house. He’s been going out on his bike to the tracks at Mountbatten Centre and Kingston Rec, or to the beach. He meets one friend and assures me he’s following the rules. I no longer need to remind him twenty times to take water, sunscreen and snacks. In fact, it appears I’m not even meant to check that he has these essentials because the slightest hint from me that he may have forgotten something results in an eye roll/grunt/sigh combo. In his mind, my work here is done.
I don’t mind. This age is traumatic, but mostly for the person experiencing the puberty. Although Z did look sad when he was explaining how mean S is to him nowadays.
‘He never speaks to me like he used to. He just says I’m stupid all the time. We don’t muck about together anymore.’
Sniff. It must be hard for him losing his big bro to the depths of delinquency and despair.
‘Don’t worry,’ I told him. ‘You’re only fifteen months behind him in age, you’ll be wandering about moaning and grunting soon too.’
A’s been telling her dad on video calls that she doesn’t learn anything and hasn’t done any work. That’s a good sign that my embedded learning approach has gone unnoticed by the five year old but may well give the impression that I’m doing nothing with her. This is not the case of course; I’ve just hidden what she’s learning behind a façade of play and enjoyable activities.
Unlike her brothers, she doesn’t know it’s half term and that she doesn’t have any work to do, because she never knows what work she has to do. She doesn’t know I’m teaching her about shapes and language when we talk about how things change names between their two dimensional and three dimensional forms, because if she sniffed a whiff of formal education her head would explode. She’s opposed to going back to school on the grounds that her brothers don’t have to, and she thinks it’s ridiculous that she should go when they’re not.
I can’t really fault that logic. I think a lot of parents are struggling with that disparity since the announcement to ease lockdown. The Dominic Cummings scandal has overshadowed the warnings from teaching unions, teachers, schools and parents that the government plans are unworkable. Voices trying to shout about the relaxation of lockdown being too premature are drowned out in a media feeding frenzy on a man who won’t budge and another man who refuses to move him. How very convenient.
The scandal has galvanised people to start meeting up again, to throw the lockdown shackles off, shrug sunburnt shoulders and assume the defensive position of: ‘Well if he can do it so can I’. To keep people in lockdown, governments need the right balance of fear and social cohesion. To get people out of lockdown, they need to convert that and create a unified sense of the new form of social obedience.
If my house is anything to go by, sending the youngest kids back before their siblings does nothing to promote social cohesion and obedience. Have their behavioural sciences team never met a five year old? Most kids are obsessed with fairness, and five is the age it starts in earnest. You know, when you pour water into two cups and they want them to be perfectly equal because the world will end if their friend/sibling/someone else has slightly more than them? It takes them time to let go of the sense of panic and unfairness they feel in unequal treatment and learn that everyone has different needs – including their own siblings. They don’t have the capability to understand that at five.
It took me two weeks to decide, but for the time being I’m not sending A back. And if that means long term home schooling, so be it. Her wellbeing is worth more than the economy. Her health is invaluable. And after eighteen months of PhD research into government disinformation and propaganda – I don’t trust these people. Dominic Cummings was happy to sacrifice his own niece to meet his needs.
Plus, one stroppy child on my hands is plenty. I don’t need to light the touch paper on the five year old too.
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.