Living through a pandemic is a bit like being in The Shining, only less interesting
Well, I think it’s probably fair to say that most of us have reached the final stage of our lockdown journeys at this point – mentally, at least – and, in my case, it would also be fair to say that the final stage looks a lot like that moment in The Shining when you finally get to see what Jack Torrance was writing all this time, and it turns out to be just the words, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” over and over again, for a few hundred pages.
That’s it. That’s my life in lockdown, folks – except for “work,” substitute “childcare and tidying,” and for “play,” substitute basically everything else we used to do that wasn’t childcare or tidying. (Oh, and for “Jack” substitute “Amber”, obviously, but I’m pretty sure you pieced that one together just fine, didn’t you?)
Actually, the more I think about it, the more it strikes me that The Shining is a pretty good analogy for my life right now. Here, for instance, is the moment when I came downstairs for the 447th time that week, and found the kitchen ONCE AGAIN looking like a tornado had just blown through it, even though I swear to God I JUST FINISHED TIDYING IT approximately three minutes earlier:
Living in isolation for months on end has the unique ability to make every single thing feel like the absolute LAST STRAW. At least half a dozen times a day I find myself thinking, “That’s it: that’s the LAST F*&^%*G STRAW!” and it’s always just that my phone battery died, or I went upstairs to fetch something and came back down without it, or Terry is freaking BREATHING again, or something. Just ordinary, everyday things, which the current circumstances render completely and utterly unbearable.
(I do seem to have basically dedicated my entire life to tidying, though, and I know you’re going to want to tell me to just not bother, but if I didn’t tidy up on a near-constant basis, we’d literally have to swim through the mess in the living room just to reach the sofa, and I’d feel even worse than I do already. So, instead, I’ve accepted that tidying my living room will probably be my life’s work, and, like most great works, it is unlikely to be completed in my lifetime. Glad I went to university for this, I mean, FFS.)
Here’s Max after my parents dropped off the two bikes they’ve had in their garage all year, on account of him still being too small to ride them when they were bought, but which he’ll probably have long since outgrown by the time this lockdown is over:
I asked them to drop the bikes off because the one and only place you can walk to from our village is a long, totally featureless footpath, and I thought that, instead of just trudging aimlessly around our street in the rain, we could trudge over to the featureless footpath in the rain instead, and spend a bit of time teaching Max to ride his two bikes. (Not at the same time, obviously: we’re saving that for lockdown 4.0…)
It’s a measure of how very little we actually have in our lives now that I was looking forward to this radical change to our routine, so, naturally, within a couple of hours of the bikes arriving, it started snowing, and it didn’t stop for two days. That was last week. The snow is still there: it’s snowing as I write this, in fact. Here I am, on the way back from the one and only walk we took in it:
So, it turns out that the “nice walks” everyone keeps suggesting we take are only really “nice” if you live in nice places. (Like, I can’t help but notice that the people who are most vocal in their support of the ‘don’t travel outwith your local area for exercise’ rule tend to be the ones who live within walking distance of beaches and other scenic places, and not the ones who only live within walking distance of suburban housing estates and a chip shop*…) Ones where it doesn’t snow, ideally, because, LOLOLOL, guess who has the only toddler in the world who doesn’t like walking in the snow?
Seriously, he’ll tolerate about 5 minutes of digging and throwing snowballs, but we attempted an actual walk in it back at the start of January (Because, yes, we had snow then, too. We’ve had snow for most of this month now, and if you’re about to tell me how “jealous” you are, please take a moment to consider that this is a post in which I compare myself to Mad Jack Torrance from The Shining, and reconsider…), and, to this day, Max will still sometimes stop what he’s doing to look up at me accusingly and say, “I didn’t like that walk, mummy.” So that makes me feel awesome, and like I’m totally smashing this whole ‘parenting’ gig right now, seriously.
It’s starting to look like he might never get over it – or, indeed, forgive us for it – which doesn’t really fit with the “nice walk” narrative that everyone else has been diligently constructing for the past year, but then again, we haven’t been baking banana bread or cherishing this special time spent with “our little family” either – and don’t even get me started on the whole, “Lockdown is teaching us how to slow down and appreciate the little things!” mantra – so I feel like we’ve been doing lockdown ALL WRONG, really, and we’re only getting worse at it the longer it goes on.
I mean, we worked from home anyway, and had a baby at the end of 2017: trust me when I tell you that the absolute LAST thing we needed was to “slow down” or spend even MORE time together. None of this is a novelty to us: in fact, it’s almost like we’ve been in training for this lockdown ever since Max was born, and 2020 was the year we finally went pro.
We did not need a freaking PANDEMIC to teach us how to slow down, or force us to spend more time together, because like I said, it’s not like we were living some kind of wild, kerrrazy lives before this, you know? Seriously, you’re looking at the woman who once wrote an entire blog post about a trip to the local garden centre here, and that was BEFORE I had parenthood as an excuse.
I was hoping our lives would actually speed UP at some point around about now, but nope, just to beat this whole Shining thing right into the ground for you, here’s me, professional writer that I am, sitting at my desk, trying to convince myself I’m doing important, meaningful work, but actually just typing the same sentence over and over again, because I’ve reached a stage where I can no longer think straight or even motivate myself to TRY:
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All childcare and no self-care makes Amber a strung-out shell of a person.
All tidying but no tidiness makes Amber wonder what the hell the point is?
All wine and no food makes Amber feel momentarily better, but then regret it in the morning.
And so on and so forth…
But, of course, no one needs me to explain what lockdown is like, do they? You know. You’re living it too: maybe not in exactly the same way as me, but probably with many of the same frustrations and fears, because I don’t think there can be many people out there who’ve reached month 10 of this without getting just a little bit fed up with it all. I mean, surely?
Surely we’ve taken all of the “nice walks” we’re ever going to want to take now? Eaten all of the banana bread? Watched all of the TV shows and movies? Drank all of the wine? Because I know I have. I’ve DONE lockdown, and now I’m just sitting here, metaphorically typing the same words over and over again, on the same blank screen, while trying not to think too hard about the fact that I can’t even remember the last time I was excited about something, or felt really happy.
There’s only one scene left, then, really, and it’s the one that looks like this:
We’ve not quite got to that bit, though. Not yet. We’re getting there, obviously: at least once a day I find myself thinking, “I can’t cope with this: I just can’t do it any more,” but the truth is, I just don’t have a choice, and no matter how hard, and how boring, and how utterly impossible this groundhog day of a life feels, I’m going to have to get up tomorrow and do it all again… and then again the next day, and the day after that, until finally, at SOME point we’re allowed to stop.
Until that day comes, though, I guess we’ll just keep on keeping on. And if anyone’s looking for a book to read, or a movie to watch, I can highly recommend The Shining…
(*The photo at the top of the page was taken before the current lockdown came into effect, needless to say: don’t come at me…)