I have a love-hate relationship with my phone at present (she says, whinging on about screen-time whilst re-editing a blog post). I have done better at leaving it in rooms where I am not than I have done for years, accepting the cost of fewer memory-making photos as worth it for a less-conflicted attention span. At the same time, it is the only thing that reminds me that a world beyond my walls and garden fences actually exists, and is kind of struggling right now.
Yesterday, I was hiding under the dining room table and catching up with Facebook, and came across the piece by Altogether Mostly which has rightly gone viral.* The post redraws the lines of our time and our priorities, pointing out what many of us feel instinctively is true: that missing a few days, or even a few months, from school will be far less damaging than the lessons our children will learn in this time of global shutdown. To take responsibility for filling their own time. The realities of what it takes to run a home, and how even adults don’t think it’s fair when they have to do the same, really boring, housework every day. That genuine relationships are bloody hard, particularly if you can’t just get away from them for a few hours until your head calms down. That it’s not always possible, and it’s very rarely the answer, to just buy another one or a different one or a bigger one. That Daddy cooks as well as Mummy does and makes far more child-friendly food (particularly if you live in a house with a Daddy who suddenly doesn’t have evening meetings every night, and who shares his daughters’ belief that lentils are the only food that will be readily available in Hell). That those who are really essential are not the people who are paid the most, but are the ones we draw rainbows for. That grown ups are better at Scribble Head and “Made you Look” than children are, but these are skills that can be mastered with extensive practice. That it is possible, even when it’s hard, to be still, and listen, and hear a something that is beyond the everyday noise that streams forth for every other minute of the day.
A lifetime ago, in a galaxy far far away, Star Wars (Episode IV) was the first film I have any memory of watching (whilst hiding behind the coats at the entrance of Darth Vader). One of the unexpected joys of Lockdown has been watching through the saga with my own children (who built themselves mountains of cushions to hide behind at the entrance of any of the Darths). Lockdown, once we settled into it, has not lead to the doom and gloom feared, in this house at least. Life has felt more relaxed; there is more time for sitting in the garden and for saying Yes (whilst hiding behind the coats at some of the consequences); more laughter, and more laughter together; less pressure of expectations and comparisons and school hours and rush hour traffic jams.
Being in lockdown makes it even harder than normal to remember that the experiences of those outside this sun-drenched dreamy bubble are carrying on in a way that is utterly different, and far less privileged, than ours; and that those who have nothing to say that fits within the all-pervasive artificial filters of social media are being silenced by default. The golden-tinged experience of lockdown dreamed of by Absolutely Mostly may be how it is for my kids – on my good days, on their good days. It won’t be how it is for kids of NHS staff, separated by fear and exhaustion from the people who care for everyone else and, as a result, are unable to care as fully for the ones they themselves love the most. It won’t be how it is for the kids of the key workers – the delivery drivers, checkout assistants, refuse collectors – who are keeping us alive and healthy but are applauded only as an afterthought. It won’t be the case for kids whose parents are breaking down or breaking up or forcing themselves to stay together, overcome by unbearable hopes or unfightable fears. It won’t be the experience of the kids who would do anything to avoid the inescapable attention of their carers, or their siblings; or of those trapped within the temporary security of a bedsit, a room in a B&B, a refuge where nothing is familiar and the sounds of strangers echo on every side.
It is an amazing ideal that somehow this experience will make our children stronger, happier, the leaders of the future. It gives hope that there is a purpose in all this; that, like in Star Wars, we’ve got some rubbish to get through and some of our comrades won’t make it, and that will hurt – but ultimately, good will overcome evil, a plucky band of all-powerful goodies will make everything OK again, and it will all have been worth it. But who, in this scenario, is the Empire? It isn’t Covid-19. That, confounding the overarching narrative of the day, is not the evil to be overcome but is, in truth, the thing that is allowing us to fight back. The thing that is constraining and tormenting us is a darkness that has been present in our lives for much longer. It is, as Luke Skywalker discovered, a more intimate, personal darkness that hides behind masks of our own making and forces us to live lives we never chose or wanted. We have no one but ourselves to blame for the lives we are not missing, now that we have been forced to leave them at the front door and wish they were not there, waiting to catch us up in their shadows, when we walk that way again. We have no one to blame but ourselves. So, when this is all over, what are we going to do about it? And how will we make sure that it is something that, unlike our current experiences, genuinely does not discriminate; something that we can all overcome, together?
*At the end of all this, incidentally, I think there needs to be a petition to get the inventors of Sleeping Lions and Hide and Seek onto the next Honours List. Absolutely genius, both of them.