I have never been the type of mum to become absorbed in crafts, not at the expense of getting in a mess. In our home, we do not have home-made shakers – plastic bottles filled with rice, or sensory stations – stacked tubs filled with sand, macaroni, sea shells or other wonderful sensory play. Save some Lego and a trainset, our toys are not housed according to theme or purpose. I haven’t the patience for sorting little tiny parts into corresponding plastic tubs. No child could possibly follow this system – not when one of the most frequently asked questions by my Year Seven students in their first term at high school was always which colour pen do I use??
So, while I admire those mums who provide an in-home kinder program, continually engaging their children in painting and water play and pipe-cleaners – those mums who encourage an inquiring mind, who do their best not to hurry along their child where a learning opportunity exists – allowing their pooch a good sniff before moving on to the next lamp post – for me, fun may come in many forms and it need not be messy.
Thanks to the outsourcing of messy play at play group and play dates, it has always been easy to let myself off the hook. Neat, eh? Indeed, it was very neat. But now that the structures in which my children largely engaged in messy play are no longer permitted, I am adapting to a ‘new normal.’
Building a bank of activities, like a teacher’s toolbox (always a necessity for a Casual Relief Teacher), I’m screen-shotting children’s craft ideas for later use: home-made playdough, scavenger-hunts, obstacle courses, forts out of sheets. Not only am I engaging in messy play, I am actively seeking it out.
What I didn’t realise, before COVID-19 – before my daily existence included frequent updates of the rising death toll, and the associated worrying of what this virus might mean for my family, society, and well… all of humanity – was that in limiting messy activities I was also limiting the ways in which I engage with my children more broadly; my imagination restricted by the bounds of neatness.
I am aware that this sense of optimism I am now projecting may be fleeting, and is probably just a happy holiday from the fear and anxiety that most of us have been experiencing. And that still in school holiday mode, I am not yet feeling the pressure to ‘home-school.’ For me, these early days are simply about enjoying my children.
And so, things I did little of, I now do a lot. Outside, I push the two youngest ones on the swings, singing nursery rhymes and ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt.’ On the trampoline, all three little ones lie quietly, while I sing to them; a song we learnt at play group after which they all jump up full of life, ready to do it all again. I’m playing board games I haven’t played in forever, teaching my eldest son Monopoly whilst attempting to model how to lose gracefully – something I need a little more practice at, especially when losing to a six-year old. At the P.M.’s suggestion, I’m even giving puzzles a crack.
Now, more than ever, I am acutely aware of the need to embrace life’s distractions from the confusing mess of a world in which we now live; From my obsession in checking news media in an attempt to know more in a time when so much is unknown – our six-year-old groaning each time Scomo delivers yet another press release, ‘is Scott Morrison finished yet?’
But amongst all the noise in the bombardment of media, in all its various forms, there is one message that resonates for me. And that is, for our children’s generation, COVID-19 will be their defining moment in history; how we, as parents, chose to react will directly feed into how our children remember this time, forever. Though children are often more adaptable than most adults, it’s often surprising how much they take in.
I overheard my husband tucking in our boys, who both have a habit of using bedtime to engage in long-winded discussions, not uncommonly stringing out bedtime by asking life’s big questions. Tonight’s topic: COVID-19.
‘Will it go on forever? …Will it go on till I die?’ our six-year-old asked as a parting goodnight.
‘No,’ Daddy responded. ‘But it will feel like a really long time.’
Then our three-year-old, who is often in-tune with the thinking of mummy and daddy, gave his analysis of the situation.
‘We can’t go to coffee-shops, or movies, or out to dinner…’ he said, reeling off the list. ‘No fun.’
‘That’s right, no going out for carrot cake…’ Daddy agreed, relaying his own favourite weekend activity, now relegated to a pastime.
But that, of course, is our silver-lining. That in this new draconian way of life where we are urged to stay at home for the very real and scarily fragile purpose of saving lives, we adapt. And in adapting we reconnect with the things that matter most; the playful, messy and surprisingly articulate little people that largely comprise our household.