The last ten days have probably been some of the most ‘normal’ since Tasmania’s COVID19 lockdown began. It feels like we are truly settling into our new routines, and there are far fewer of the ‘fight’ days that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.
The last weekend of April was lovely. The Saturday was my birthday, and we abandoned our usual amble along the beach in favour of a walk into the city. We made our way through Battery Point, admiring the autumn colours and keeping an eye out for teddy bears in windows, before wandering slowly along the waterfront. Part of Castray Esplanade has been closed off to be used as a drive-through testing centre, and we saw one car go through as we passed. We kept our fingers crossed that whoever it was would get good news the following day.
If you know Hobart at all, you’ll know that Salamanca Place and the waterfront are usually some of the busiest areas in the city. On Saturdays, that’s where you’ll find the hustle and bustle of Salamanca Market. In summer, Princes Wharf is taken over by the Taste Festival, and in winter it’s home to the DARK MOFO Midwinter Feast. Even on a regular April day, the docks are full of activity, with the MONA ROMA, Peppermint Bay Cruiser and yellow Pennicott boats zipping in and out all day; and the Airport bus, Red Decker city tours and Mount Wellington shuttle all departing from Brooke Street Pier.
It was odd, but not unpleasant, to spend an hour or so walking along the water and see just a handful of people. We found a burger joint still doing takeout, and sat on a bench to eat our lunch from a brown paper bag. For dessert, we walked back over to Salamanca Square for churros and chocolate dip from San Churro. We agreed it was an absolute treat to eat something we hadn’t prepared ourselves.
The following Sunday we headed out again, this time to Knocklofty Reserve. If we go out walking at the weekend we usually either stay in our own neighbourhood for a beach walk, or we head further afield to somewhere like Snug Falls or Mount Field. (I’m imagining as I write how magical the fagus must be looking there at the moment.
We often forget how many brilliant reserves and walking tracks there are so much closer to home. Knocklofty is just a five-minute drive from the CBD, and yet as soon as you step out of the car you feel like you’re in another world entirely. We had a decent meander along the trails – stopping several times to admire the view down the Derwent, and once to watch a scarlet robin in the trees – and promised ourselves to make better use of these beautiful spots around the city.
Come Tuesday though, the holidays were over and it was into the first week of online learning.
First of all, the teachers at our school are absolutely incredible. I can only imagine how hard they worked to prepare for this period of learning from home – and to be managing that so well while also supervising kids who are learning onsite is astonishing. We were expecting there to be one or two assigned tasks each day. Instead there is a full daily timetable of suggested work but, crucially, no pressure to complete every single task. There is a real understanding that every family set-up is different and that everyone is handling this lockdown period in the way that is best for them.
I’m so impressed with the balance of activities. Yes, there is maths and literacy work. But there are also suggestions for daily exercise, art, and reading. There’s a thread where the students are encouraged to post good news stories, and a thread to record what they are grateful for each day.
DorkySon’s class starts each day with a Zoom call. Sometimes it is an actual lesson. Sometimes it’s simply a chance to check in with the class teacher. Sometimes the students are split into breakup groups where friends and classmates have the opportunity to catch up on each other’s news.
Last Friday, someone got booted off the call for setting their background to a photo of Kim Jong-Un and hiding from view. (I laughed far more than was probably appropriate.) But, other than that, it all seems to be running smoothly. After six weeks at home, for the kids to see other faces – to laugh at pets and siblings and parents accidentally stumbling into view – has been a welcome chance to connect. It has provided a tantalising glimpse of how it will feel when they all get back together in one place: back to playing handball, building cubbies, and grumbling about the contents of that day’s lunchbox.
DorkySon has been so much happier since the start of the new school term. He loves learning, loves to be engaged, and loves receiving feedback. There have been just a few small challenges as we settle into the new routine… We are encouraging him to be as independent as possible, but his desk is only a few metres from mine, and so for the first week I was a lot more hands-on than I had imagined. Less as a teacher, more as tech support as he grappled with multiple login details, new programs on his computer, navigating the online learning platform, and sending emails from an account that he didn’t discover until 4pm on Friday.
We have all worked really hard to be patient and cheerful. But, by some miracle, work is starting to pick back up again for me too, and it has been tricky to switch between my conference calls and his.
For DorkySon, it is hard to leave a problem unsolved – to move onto something else and return to it when there is someone there to help. For me, it is hard to navigate the blurry boundaries between his time and mine. I like to focus solely on work and feel like I’m doing my best job. Then I like to focus on family life and feeling like I’m being my best self there too. Constantly flickering between the two makes it feel like I’m doing poorly in both places.
There is a kind of exhaustion that I’m experiencing at the moment that is nothing like I’ve ever had before. Usually, even when the mental gas tank is empty, I can push on a little further. At the moment, when I’m done I’m absolutely completely 100% done, and you won’t get anything useful out of me for the rest of the day. It’s reassuring to read that it’s a recognised side effect of the conditions we’re all currently working in.
The one saving grace is that everyone seems to be in the same boat. I had a work call earlier in the week with a woman who is doing 9-5 days at her dining table while also supervising the schoolwork of two children under the age of ten. We had a good empathetic laugh about how the regular challenges of being a working mother are ongoing but amplified.
Anyway. We are muddling along, and starting to feel a little more productive. I’m back to working from a daily to-do list instead of a weekly one, and I’m not ploughing through my unread books at the alarming pace that I was in April. DorkyDad also has some exciting work projects on the go. He takes time off in the afternoons so we can head out as a family for some exercise, or so he can sit and watch something on TV with DorkySon while I squeeze in the yoga session that has now been bumped from my morning routine.
Shopping trips are still a little disconcerting. It feels like a lot of people are starting to become more complacent about social distancing, so I am very grateful for the little bottles of hand sanitiser that have now reappeared on the shelves. It’s too soon for us to all fall into old habits and end up back where we started.
That said, things are looking reasonably positive in Tasmania. Last Friday we recorded our first day with no cases. We reached a four-day run of no new cases before slipping back yesterday to two, although I think both of those were contacts of known cases. Another month of the numbers staying that low and we may all start to feel something approaching a sense of relief.
Until then we will enjoy the tiny reminders of all we have been missing. The laughter of friends on a Zoom call, a takeout burger eaten on a bench, a voucher on the pinboard for a favourite restaurant, an email about a potential work project… So many glimpses of what’s on the other side if we can just keep this up a little longer.