Diary of a lockdown, up close and uncomfortable, by Greg Bruce
Five days into isolation, while she was cooking dinner, Zanna said, "I feel like this quarantine is going great for us. Our spirits are high and I can't help but think it can't last."
I said, "What do you think will go wrong?" I said, "If you want to achieve your goals you have to be specific."
She said, "We start annoying each other."
We had isolated early and we had isolated hard, by which I mean we had stopped sending our eldest child to school on Monday, March 23, the day before schools were closed.
I was already working from home by this stage. Things were all right, no big drama.
Tuesday afternoon, I watched out the window as everyone left for a walk. They'd been gone an hour when it started to rain. I ran out to find them. "Save us!" yelled Tallulah, 6, and ran and jumped into my arms, followed by Clara, 4, and Casper, 3. That would have made a beautiful photo, which wouldn't have shown how much my back was hurting and how much I dislike being wet.
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I put the children in the bath while Zanna made dinner. I was stuck in the bathroom for 10 minutes while Tallulah and Clara told me unstinting, unpunctuated stories about their fantasy lives as ponies. When I told Zanna about this later, she said, "I think you're going to learn some things about sustainable parenting while we're in isolation and the first is that you can't be listening to those sorts of stories."
On Wednesday morning, I was up working at 6am when Clara got up and asked me to go back to bed for a snuggle. This is a routine we go through semi-regularly, in which I typically have to say no because I have to get to work but this day I said yes and lay delighted, sandwiched between her and Tallulah, for nearly an hour.
I let Zanna have a sleep-in. When she got up, I told her I had boiled the jug but not made her a cup of tea because I didn't know when she was getting up and didn't want it to get cold.
"Oh, thank you, honey," she said.
"I was thinking of you," I said. "I've been thinking about you a lot this morning."
"That's nice," she said.
I like this about her: she never thinks I'm being corny.
Later, when we were hugging in the kitchen, Zanna said, "Are you growing out your beard while we're in isolation?" I said, in a sexy voice, "Would you like me to?" She said, "No."
Even before the country was in lockdown, the extended family WhatsApp group had been blooming with motivational fitness and cooking challenges and other helpful hints for dealing with isolation. It was obvious we had entered a golden age for intra-familial electronic communication. One of the family shared a Facebook post warning of gangs roaming the streets of Auckland pretending to be "sanitisation teams" so they could ransack houses. I found an identical post from someone in Sri Lanka and shared it, with the message, "Don't panic everyone. Those sanitisation units are a hoax. Unless they're happening with identical wording in Sri Lanka." The original poster replied, "That's why it's called organised crime, Greg."
'You have only 18 summers with your kids': Is that really true?
Zanna came over to show me a short video. Tallulah said, "Can we watch?"
Zanna said, "Yes, but you probably won't find it funny."
The video showed a man being told by a menacing disembodied voice that he has two options:
"A: Do you quarantine with your wife and child or B … "
The man interrupts: "B."
I laughed; Zanna laughed; Tallulah didn't laugh.
Zanna showed me another video, of a man holding a glass of wine, surrounded by mirrors, pretending to cheers with multiple reflections of himself: "Cin cin guys, thank you for coming, cin cin, cin cin." I guess you had to be there - the joke being you legally can't.
I assume it's a golden age for short-form online comedy. The ingredients are all there: a grand subject that affects us all, an enormous amount of time to find creative ways of exploiting it for laughs and an audience primed and increasingly available for laughter.
I say "I assume", because I've been off social media since late last year, so I only see things Zanna or other friends and family choose to tell me about. I don't think that makes me better than everybody else. Just kidding! Of course I do. The self-righteousness is a big part of the appeal. It drives Zanna crazy.
When I came upstairs after work at 5pm on Wednesday night, Zanna and I had a discussion about whether I had worked too late. She said, "I was surprised you were still down there."
It became increasingly obvious she was frazzled, so after dinner I suggested she go downstairs and have some alone time. "I can't go downstairs," she said. "I have to get Casper to bed."
I said, "Just go." I gave her her phone and said, "Take this." Then, thinking that wouldn't help her relax, I said, "Actually, don't take that."
She said, "Thanks for telling me what I can and can't do."
As she went, I had to practically tackle Tallulah to stop her following. Then Casper said, "I'm going to give Mummy a hug," and I said, "No, just leave Mummy alone for a bit." He screamed - and I'm not overselling that - he screamed for 15 minutes. I thought - and I'm not overselling this - he would never stop. The only surprising thing was that Tallulah didn't join in.
A bad question is: "What is this lockdown doing to us?" A healthier alternative might be: "What is this lockdown doing for us?"
On Thursday morning, I took care of the kids. I made hot cross buns and sat at the table, eating them with Casper. The girls finished theirs quickly, then went off, presumably to lock themselves in the bathroom and do the secret eating they think we don't know about.
Casper ate quietly and I watched him very closely, my face just a few centimetres from his. I was close enough to see the tiny and intricate workings of the muscles in his face and eyes, confrontationally close but he seemed oblivious, as if this was the most natural thing in the world, as if he had yet to develop a concept of personal space. I discovered it's hard not to love someone more intensely than usual when you're this close.
The night before, he had trotted through the bathroom that separates our room from his and climbed into bed between me and Zanna. He does this every night and normally he cuddles into Zanna but this night he rolled over against me and pressed his face into my cheek and draped his arm over my neck. I couldn't sleep from the combination of joy and discomfort.
I took the kids for a walk on the golf course. As Casper reached the top of a hill, he said, "Look at the pond!" I walked up the hill and said, "Wow! Look at it!" even though it wasn't at all impressive.
That afternoon, in the kitchen, I told Zanna I loved her so much I would get married to her again if I could. From more or less the time we were married, seven years ago, I have often said to her, "We are one person now" and her reply has always been along the lines of: "No, that's a misunderstanding of what a marriage is." And I always reply: "No, that's what we agreed." I think of it as fun, although I don't think she really loves it.
The girls slept in the living room that night. At 3am, Tallulah woke me to ask me to lie with her but then Clara woke up and also wanted me to lie with her - on the other side of the living room - which got Tallulah worked up. Eventually both of them started making noises of escalating pitch and intensity, indicating extreme proximity to full meltdown. I, escalating similarly, said, "Guys, work with me here!" but of course they didn't. In the end, I had to empty out the beach tent Clara had been sleeping in, relocate it to where Tallulah was sleeping, reset everyone's bedding, then lie down between them on Casper's tiny fold-out baby couch, most of my body on the floor. In the morning, Zanna, who had slept through the whole thing, told me I should have taken a hard line.
The next day, Tallulah and Casper came down to where I was working to tell me they were baking blueberry muffins but really it was just an excuse for them to spend time with me. Tallulah spent five minutes telling me the plot of some show she likes but there was no through-line, no narrative, just a series of words I couldn't make sense of, to which I kept replying: "Wow!" When Clara and Tallulah finally brought the muffins down, they did a ballet performance.
At lunchtime, I went upstairs to look at the forts they had built. Each had multiple rooms. Tallulah's had a horse riding arena and Clara's had a garden. They both had computers, both of which were game boards from the board game Guess Who. Tallulah said hers worked by using the game tiles as a keyboard to write a story about one of the characters from the game.
Casper said, "Come and see my incredible fort!" It was a blanket on a chair.
Late Saturday morning, after hours of relentless demands from the kids, at the end of a week of the same, Zanna sat down in an armchair and said, "I'm going to have some quiet reading time." Knowing the children can smell parental availability, I quickly announced I would be joining her. Within two minutes, Tallulah came and sat on Zanna and Clara came and sat on me. They didn't do anything or say anything, just sat there, annoying us with their dependence. Zanna said, "Why don't you guys go and do something?"
Tallulah said, "No." Clara didn't say anything.
On Sunday morning, Zanna went downstairs to do yoga while I looked after the kids. The girls disappeared for a long time, then eventually came into the kitchen. Tallulah said sadly: "Dad, can we come and live with you? Our mum left when we were 13."
I said, "Why did she leave?"
Clara said, "She got caught by a fox."
Tallulah said, "And then she got eaten."
Clara said, "And that was the last of Mum."
At bedtime on Sunday night, Clara asked me "Is it 'YouTube' or 'New Tube'?" I told her YouTube. She said, "No, it's New Tube." The next day, she said, "Can everyone please stop saying 'lockdown'? It's giving me a headache."
Zanna has instituted a 15-minute daily housework challenge, in which we try to get the whole house tidy. Usually the kids join in at least for a few minutes. We have also started doing daily family workouts with YouTube sensation Joe Wicks and Zanna and I are both learning guitar. The other night we jammed together. We're getting fitter, getting things done, bonding as a family, learning something. What a wonderful time this is!
A couple of nights ago, I came into the kitchen and saw Zanna cooking chicken soup and felt uncontrollable love. I gave her a hug and said, "Do you ever look at me and feel uncontrollable love?"
She said, "Yes, of course. It makes me sad that you had to ask that." Then she said: "Sometimes I feel like smashing you in the face and sometimes I feel uncontrollable love."
I told her that didn't sound like great news.
She said: "If I just felt uncontrollable love all the time, it wouldn't be a healthy relationship - it's not honest; it's a fantasy."
I get that - and I'm sure it's the healthier option - but these are not normal times and right now I feel like there's a strong argument to be made in favour of fantasy.