Locking down, again.

My suburb is going into lockdown tonight for the second time. I had just begun to enjoy being out in the world again (cautiously), albeit without hugs and kisses with friends. While I don’t feel the same level of anxiety mixed with relief this time, I am feeling like this thing may keep happening and that we will never really get on top of it.

Last year I helped the English team at school select a novel to replace another for the Year 12 students this year. The one that jumped out at me was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I devoured the book and loved how different it was to many other dystopian/apocalyptic books. I loved the jump of 20 years to see how humans behave beyond a global disaster (spoiler: the same way humans always have behaved). When the students returned this year with their dog-eared copies, we laughed about how reality was mirroring the book. We chatted about how reality could help with their understanding of the book.

Then the fear and anxiety rose around us as COVID landed on our shores.

In the midst of lockdown when folks were posting pics of the sourdough starters, indoor plants, Zoom setups, people began to imagine a world where we all changed because of COVID. How we’d all be nicer, better people. How we’d spend more time cherishing the moments.

Cases of wine clinked from vendors to trucks to homes. Parents vented frustration and anger at having to home school. Teachers complained of headaches and worsening eyesight. Star Track and Aussie Post put on new drivers as homes filled with all the things that people hadn’t realised they didn’t have before. Dogs wondered why the gods had looked down on them with such delight and cats wondered the opposite.

We all said that the new normal will be different. Nicer. Kinder. Cleaner.

But, if we consider Station Eleven, will it? Or are we more likely to revert to old behaviours?

Certainly in the short time I had out in the world again, behaviours slipped. Things were changed, but rude people are still rude. Selfish people are still selfish. People still move about the world without thinking about how their actions may affect others. The minute people heard that cases were rising, the supermarkets noted a rise in purchases (damn that toilet paper!) and reinstated the restrictions on purchases.

Last week was my son’s seventeenth, and as I had no brain capacity to remember in time to order anything, I had to visit The Mall. I went early on a Monday morning in the hope that I would not be swallowed up by people. Initially it was okay. I moved freely as there were not that many people there. By the time I left, however, it was brimming with people who seemed to be there for a window shop. I couldn’t get out fast enough.

Now, as Melbourne digests the reality of rising infection rates people are trying to find ways around the lockdowns. The truth of the highly infectious virus seems to not stick with us, possibly because we haven’t seen the catastrophe here that is in other countries; we are the lucky country after all. It is only when we stop to think past ourselves in a pandemic that we realise that we all have to do the right thing and hang out at home for a little longer.

Me? I’m going to continue to Stay At Home. I’ve still got my list of things I never did with the first lockdown! Life will go on, for most of us. It is tough. I speak from a position of privilege of a house with space, of not having young children to care for. My son who is visiting for the semester break is going to get tested, and if negative will (sadly) take his safe bubble back to his country town for the rest of his break. I’ll continue to support my local businesses who I do not want to go out of business. The flats that are in hard lockdown are in a very different situation. I worry about the families in there. Many of my students live in them. I don’t know how they are going to cope.

I did finish one thing that I set out to do last time on my list, so who knows, I may even finish this manuscript this time. Time to sink into reading, writing and crafting again, and time to think about how to support the other locals who will struggle so much more.

The blanket that I have spent about eight years on, and then finally finished during the pandemic. Anything is possible now!

The months that were a year or more

I don’t need to tell anyone that this year has been too much. When this year began, I thought that the biggest things that I would be having to deal with were coping without two of my three sons moving out of home (and yes, they have been coping fine and it seems that I did teach them enough – Have I taught them enough?) and the climate anxiety in the young people I work with that would come from the bushfires (How to go on while Australia burns). Oh, how wrong was I. Instead it has been a year that’s has already felt like a decade.

My first day back at work in the school this year was the day after the weekend when we began to hear the news of this pandemic coming our way. The rest of that term was filled with rising anxiety from the students and staff as we grappled with the invisible and unknown. It felt like waiting for a tsunami. The early closures of schools that term came with an overwhelming feeling of relief for me to be out of the firing line of 500 odd kids and their potential germs.

The first holidays after that term I was overwhelmed. I wrote lists of things I could do to combat these feelings, but in reality, I was still working, still writing. Who did I think I was to be able to do all these extra new things! I slumped. I pleaded with my boys to come home, be safe, but they assured me they were fine. I sent them food packages as the country town grocery shelves emptied. I stopped looking at social media, at the news. I worked to help the teaching staff to be ready for teaching from home. I sought answers on why I felt so down and this article from the Harvard Business Review helped me to understand more about what I was feeling: That discomfort you are feeling is grief

As my husband, youngest son and I prepared for working and learning from home, I was thankful that we now had two spare rooms. I saw the privileged that we had with space to work on our own. My other two sons stayed in their respective houses in the country and continue their studies. They lost their new jobs and were fortunate that we could support them (which we will probably have to for a while). I wondered how others who could not lean on their parents for help were surviving. I filled my work room with boxes of books from the school library to work on and wrote lists of work that could be done from home.

The three of us in our home found our own routines. I rose at 6 am or earlier every day and settled into my writing life for at least an hour before I jumped on my bike for a ride that gave me a breath of nature. At 8 am I settled into work for the day which included the luxury of a coffee and lunch break with my husband and son. Usually I eat my lunch alone as I have it before the other staff so I am available for the students; I basked in this time I had with my husband and son to commune with each other over lunch. We were kind to each other as we all grappled at various times with the frustrations and grief of these times. Mostly, we loved each other.

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Morning ride: river, lake, birds.

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I met with my writers group every Saturday at 5.30, espresso martini in hand as we talked about our weeks. I was the privileged one in this group as I was the only one who did not have primary aged kids that needed a high level of supervision with their school. I encouraged them to lower expectations and reminded them of the year that I took the kids out of school, and how the kids survived. But I wasn’t living their hard times and could only imagine how hard it was as they told their stories of tears and frustrations.

As an introvert, I found the time to be a balm. It was quiet. I got lots of work done. I knitted. I learnt to crochet. I mended things. I bought books that launched in iso. I read. I spent time with my youngest. I chatted on the phone to my other two. I did online yoga. I rode. I patted the dog. I took an online course in Writing Picture Books and revelled in the joy of children’s stories.

I rewarded myself with the hard work by ending the work from home time with a four solid day virtual writing retreat interrogating every scene in my manuscript for its purpose as I prepared for the next draft.

This year was also the year of big numbers. My husband and I both were turning 50 and had big plans of a party to celebrate us. Our thirtieths disappeared in baby poo and vomit, our fortieths were spent in the outback so this one we wanted to share with our friends. Instead, we had quiet birthdays, and as the restrictions began to lift, small wonderful surprise birthday dinners arrived. I loved the intimacy of these dinners, loved the time spent with these people who I adore. They weren’t the big party we had envisioned, but they were extra special.

As an introvert, it is the returning to the world that has felt a little more disarming.

The first days back at school were a mixture of excitement at seeing each other and virus anxiety. A staff member hugged me before I had a chance to back away. My desk had been surrounded by tables for distancing in the very open library. Hand sanitiser bottles stood to attention in every room. The students returned, some masked, others oblivious. Conversations were held with the dance of social distance. Hand washing, and more hand washing. Processes implemented to Keep Us All Safe. I filled the tables surrounding my desk with a display of Aboriginal writing as worldwide anger rose at the terrible treatment of black people and First Nations People. Read to learn.

Yesterday I went to the mall for the first time in what feels like a decade but is more like five months. When I came home I had to nap. It took everything from me to have to interact and avoid so many people. We are once again in strange times where the breakouts are happening all around us and we can’t see where it is. I received an email this morning from Vic Roads reminding us to all stay home and I look out the window as cars laden with holiday pass by. Will it spread like the fires did over summer, or will people heed the warnings?

It’s holidays again and these ones feel better. I am happy to be home, albeit with a little jealousy of other’s photos of beautiful places they are going to. I have had one son home for his five-week uni break, and when he left, the other returned for his four-week break. My husband has moved his office into the room that I use as my office, and it mostly works. I have lists of things to get done. Lists are how I seek order in the unknown.

My morning writing schedule stays; it is the one thing that keeps me sane.

Have I taught them enough?

My oldest two are moving out of the family home within three weeks of each other to pursue their studies out in the country. I’m very excited for them as they embark on the next part of their lives. But there is a part of me worries about whether I have taught them everything they need to be out in the world on their own.

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Photo: Stocksy

When I decided to move out of home, my parents loaded me with guilt about leaving (I was the last to leave home, and the only one to leave before getting married). Mum yelled-cried at me that I wasn’t ready to leave (I clearly was as I had already organised the house, had an income and was desperate to leave), while Dad told me that he wanted me to learn from his mistakes (which I couldn’t as I didn’t know what his mistakes were and I needed to make my own to learn from them, even if some of these mistakes were big). My boys leaving home feels quite different to that. We’ve known for a couple of years that the oldest would be leaving this year as it is a requirement of his course (Medicine) for him to spend the next three years out in rural areas (part of a strategy to get doctors into the rural areas), and he’s really excited about it. My middle boy is excited about the idea of living out of home and the course that he’s about to embark on is only offered in Ballarat (Paramedicine and Nursing).

I also know that this means that we’ve done something right for them to be confident to move out. They can both drive (my middle boy has his licence test in a couple of weeks), they’ve got jobs and skills that can get them jobs in new places, they can cook and clean and they manage their finances.

I remember when I moved out of home, I realised that I had never had to clean a toilet before along with many other things that Mum had just done or Dad had just done and I hadn’t realised I needed to know. I’ve spent the last twenty-odd years trying to teach my boys how to do all the domestic stuff; the last thing I wanted to do was to send my boys out into the world expecting any female to do the domestic things for them. My husband has been a great role model for them with this as well by being the chief ironer, cooking a few nights a week and being more fastidious with cleaning than me.

Still, I worry. Have I taught them enough? Are they ready? Will they remember how to make a quick and healthy meal? Will they know how to make their dollar go a long way at the supermarket? I’m tackling my worry in the way I know best: write. I’ve started writing a little book for them that has all the family favourite recipes and extra tips and tricks. Things like how long you can leave food in the freezer, use red lentils to thicken a dish and add protein to the meal, which meals are great for making up a batch to freeze for busy days, how often to clean the toilet, and what are good staples for the pantry. My husband is going to add to it when I’m done and I’m keen to see what things he will add. Who knows if either of them will even use it when they leave, but even if they don’t I know I will feel like I’ve done my bit.

Have you had kids move out? Did you send them off with tips on what to do? What things did you wish you had known before you left home? What else do I need to tell my boys? Tell me all! Time is running out.

How to go on while Australia burns

Today is cool in Melbourne. I woke to the strange sound of rain on the tin roof; it is easy to forget that there are so many fires still burning in Australia when rain falls. Yesterday Australia had its hottest day on record, and Penrith was the hottest place on earth. I doubt that much rain is hitting the areas that need it right now.

It is hard to think of anything at the moment other than our ravaged land, our people who have lost homes and livelihoods, people who have not survived the catastrophic fires. I find myself refreshing the browser of the Incidents and Warnings website to see if there is any change, if the fires will stop. The news tells me that the fires will probably continue for another eight weeks, and I can’t even comprehend what this must feel for the people most affected.

A few days ago we were camping in Harrietville, nestled in the valley between Mt Bulla, Mt Hotham and Feathertop. The water in the river was warmer than it should be, but the trees were still green. We made the call to leave when the fires began at Hotham and surrounds. We felt like we could be a burden on the community if it all turned bad.

I am lucky. I have a house in the inner city. I am safe. My house and my land are safe. I don’t rely on my land to ensure my family have food, water and shelter.

I turn my mind to my writing. It seems useless in these times. Who cares about my story when their world is burning down? I read instead: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, Three Women, The Superior Spectre. Three Women leaves me feeling vulnerable and aching. I listen to The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone as we drive through the dehydrated landscape and somehow it amplifies the story.

At the start of every year I set my goals for the year, but this year it has felt too hard. I can’t seem to bring myself to sit down and do it. It doesn’t seem to matter in these days. My goals seem to be much smaller and feel more like my hopes for the world.

It’s now day five of 2020 and I have forced myself to sit with these fractious feelings. I have donated* what I can to the efforts of the firefighters and to the support of those who have lost so much (see below for ways to donate). There is nothing else I can do right now with this. Our useless government will continue to be useless whether or not I refresh my feed to see what else #ScottfromMarketing has to say. The greater community will, in the meantime, do everything we can to ensure the fires eventually stop and that people have the essentials.

I am easing myself back into the words with the admin: filling out my submissions spreadsheet with due dates coming up. Reminding myself that I am a writer again. I am warming myself up to work on my manuscript again. There are quiet moments here and there in my house as my husband takes our middle son for long driving lessons and the other two do their own things. I commit to throwing some words down about my feelings about what is going on right now, about the strange feelings I had while I was up in Harrietville; they may become something one day, or not. I commit to finishing my visual goals in my diary today; I know they help me during the year. I shuffle my to-be-read books around so that something lighter can rise to the top.

How to help bushfire victims

Cash is the best way to help bushfire victims. My chosen charities at this stage are Red Cross and Vic Emergency Bushfire Appeal. I also chose to support Haus of Dizzy who is donating to the First Nations People who have been affected. Some official charities to donate to are:

(NOTE: The featured image is from TripAdvisor of the Harrietville Caravan Park. We always forget to take photos when we are there. The creek this year has much less water.)