Last Friday I received our first ‘your son is coughing at school and endangering all of our lives how dare you come and get him before we put him in one of those decontamination tubes from Monsters Inc and shave all his hair off’ calls from Milo’s school. The call is abrupt and accusatory and not very pleasant, but probably fair enough given that person probably has to now make that call 20 times every day.
Now, I am very supportive of keeping sick children at home, but I am sure most parents would agree in the post-COVID, or mid-COVID, or post-mid-COVID, or rump-COVID world, or whatever world we find ourselves in, the threshold is somewhat lower than it once was; a polite clearing of the throat in an enclosed space is likely to earn you an express trip to the infirmary.
So, I picked up Milo post-haste (with all the shame entailed therein), removed him from the hermetically sealed zip-lock bag in which they had placed him, and took him home. The Friday was a pleasure. The three of us had grand adventures and complimented each other on the positive and healthy father/son, brother/brother relationships we had fostered and built together as we played, listened and respected each other etc etc. Friday flowed effortlessly into the weekend.
Now, readers of this blog will know Milo’s general attitude to all things is no corners cut, no compromises made. A fine attitude which will no doubt lead him to the very apex of science, the corporate world, or an organised crime syndicate. Anyway, his uncompromising attitude extends, of course, to his management of phlegm. If he identifies a small globule lingering in his throat, a globule that could perhaps be gently coaxed away with the gentlest of train-friendly rasps, he will instead gather all purging forces at his disposal and deploy them with impunity, each and every time. There is a deep intake of air, a pause, a wind-up and then an unholy hacking exhale that no globule could possibly endure. He waves the inside of his elbow around the general vicinity of his mouth, like all our virus-conditioned children now do, but that slender little elbow pocket has no chance of even stymying the progress of that great gale. Every cough invokes for me those slow motion videos of nuclear tests in the Nevada desert from 1945.
I have no doubt his immune system had almost declared victory over the weekend; little white blood cells cart-wheeling, jigging and playing drums on the helmets of their vanquished viruses like victorious Ewoks at the end of Return of the Jedi. His mucous was on the wane, his disposition brightening. We even secured a negative RAT; a nostril tickler, not just one of those lolly-pop jobs we all received from school which you only use if you want to guarantee a negative.
Still, as the sun set early on our wintry weekend it was obvious to us both that, despite our delusion, Milo’s no-holds-barred uber cough was going to do us in. There would be no school for him on Monday.
Recently, on a Friday morning, Monty and I have been taking in a mid-morning movie and getting our nails did. It’s a positive model.
The movie cinema is busier at 10am on a Friday than you think; but very few people are taking in utilitarian animated offerings like Pils Adventures and Bob’s Big Burger Movie (or something like that). In fact over the two movies we have only had one other patron sharing the cinema with us, and he claimed to be reviewing the movie for a local paper. This seemed unlikely based on his jittery eyes and his frequent use of incorrect verb structures. I would strongly assess he was paying for two hours out of the cold, much like we were. Given the disjointed, dubbed, Francophile oddness of Pils Adventures he probably wished he rather invested in two caramel lattes at Gloria Jeans, with whipped cream. We did.
Anyway, if you think you can breeze into a cinema mid-morning on a school day, pick up a ticket and a dangerously-sized popcorn with three minutes to spare you can think again. If you plan your time like this you will absolutely miss the commercial for a local menswear store starring the owner of that menswear store wearing his own menswear to the soundtrack of Italian opera. No, the queue will be at least 12 deep.
There’s the guy by himself who does not take off his pom-pom beanie buying two choc-tops, there’s the retired couple who spend quite some time debating whether they need the medium or the large popcorn. They choose large and are then embarrassed and shocked at the size of it. They leave the monstrous box sitting on the counter for a moment or two unsure what to do with it, while the clerk tries to make eye contact around or over it to secure payment (always in cash). They then cart it away together muttering muted, bashful explanations. Also, there is usually a shabby but amiable looking chap who orders a glass of wine with his Maltesers and says something like “it’s after ten isn’t it?” to the ticket/ snack lady who does not smile in response. He smiles anyway and wanders off into the gloom. None of these people chose the movies we did.
On our second visit the ticket/ snack/ parental advice lady told me she had been told “by management” that the Big Bob’s Burger Movie (despite being animated and shown at 1040 in the morning) was not “suitable for children”. She herself does not have children, so she explained, but she was just passing on the message she had been asked to pass on to any adults who appeared intent on making a dangerous movie choice on behalf of their infants. Now, this is a tricky spot to find yourself in as a parent-in-public. The next most ‘child friendly’ option appeared to be Top Gun: Maverick but I presumed the plot was likely too complex for Monty to follow. The only other option was leaving again without movie and without popcorn; a poor option indeed. So I publicly proclaimed that indeed I was choosing to ignore the direct, expert advice of the Dendy Corporation and that yes I would be exposing my four year old to adult themes, and we went for it.
The movie was pleasant enough; there was an animated teenage boy riding a horse in his underwear at one point and several tangential references to male genitalia but Monty enjoyed himself and didn’t seem particularly scarred. I am not confident ticket/ snack/ parental advice lady was entirely correct in her advice; but that depends greatly on your parenting ethos I suppose.
As we discussed the pros and cons of upgrading to a medium popcorn next time we strolled down to the New York Nail Salon and Monty chose ten different colours at random (5 sparkly and 5 plain). We assumed our positions behind the thick perspex and held our hands still as statues (Monty is amazing at this). We were treated throughout with detached antipathy, we were scolded sharply for moving our fingers prematurely, I received judgmental incredulity for having not removed my wallet from my pocket prior to the polish application, we received no smiles, no thank yous and no polite platitudes. In short we were treated like everybody else. The sight of a father and his son getting their nails did at lunchtime on a Friday raised exactly zero eyebrows. For me, this is great progress indeed.
Monty turns five in a month or two so I thought it worthwhile to reflect on the rampant inequality with which a second child is treated; in terms of parental care, interest and general nurturing. I think those of us who have or know a second child will agree this neglect generally yields good results. The relative disregard with which they are treated generally reduces neediness, increases independence and heightens resilience.
Firstly, I am writing about Monty on a blog entitled ‘The adventures of Milo and Jupiter’. This will surely be one of the many aspects of this blog that will cause angst between me and my teenage boys many years from now. Although Monty is a second child, so he probably won’t care. I will explain to him that the popularity of the blog depends on brand recognition, and that our 17 loyal followers would be horribly confused if we tried to alter the website or title in any way.
The diminished attention and care begins almost immediately. With Milo we paid a ‘car seat expert’ $250 to install his capsule, to ensure we had cut zero corners on his safety. That’s genuinely hilarious. With Monty I bunged in the capsule while Kuepps was inside with the bags and the 2nd born as we were being checked out of the hospital.
For their first child parents can reel off all the stats – like a basketball card collector in the late 80s – Milo was 3.6kg and 50cm long at birth. If anybody asks us how big Monty was we say “Big. Real big”. And over time this gets worse; second children do not live in absolute terms, only relative. Monty slept through earlier than Milo, Monty crawled and walked later than Milo etc etc. Goodness knows in specific terms when any of these milestones occurred.
And it continues:
When we bathed Milo in a baby bath we used one of those floating thermometers to ensure a satisfactory temperature. For Monty this technology was replaced with an elbow.
Milo got soothing rainforest music at night. For Monty we generally turned the drier on, but not always.
For Monty’s first Christmas he wore a suit which says “Milo’s first Christmas”.
Milo got a Women’s Weekly swimming pool cake for his first birthday – I went to three supermarkets to find blue jelly – for Monty we had bought a pile of brownies, and in fact his party was cancelled due to inclemency.
We sought to nurture Milo’s hand/ eye coordination, environmental awareness and ‘sense of self’ by taking him to Gymbaroo and Jitterbugs (baby gymnastics). Monty got a tennis ball, previously owned by Milo.
By the time Monty came around we had disposed of the ikea change table and instead removed the soft insert and whacked it on top of a low wardrobe; to save space.
Monty’s first bike (also known as Milo’s first bike) is right now sitting in our front carport, rusting.
And we genuinely have no idea how or when Monty was toilet trained. The trappings of training were all around our home; potties, toilet seat inserts, cute little urinals suction-capped to the wall with turbines to encourage good aim. We presume Monty just started using these things because all of a sudden his nappies were always dry. He never received any stickers for producing a pebble; no kinder surprises, no books, nothing. And then one evening before bed he pointed out his nappy had been dry overnight 7 days in a row and maybe he could wear jammies. We obliged and kaboom – toilet trained.
Recently Monty discovered the green hard-back edition of The Adventures of Milo and Jupiter which I printed out after my first time off with him (another classic first born gesture). “Daddy, where is the book of our adventures together?” He asked. Hmmm… I thought I had a decade or so before having to deal with this issue. No matter, let’s deal with it now.
I am now off work for an as yet non-determined timeframe with Monty. I will seek to invigorate the blog somewhat in order to produce enough material for a second hard-back edition to secure a prosperous future relationship with my second-born. Milo hasn’t bothered to read his yet, even though he has the capability. If and when he does he may be alarmed by some of the careless or callous parenting documented therein. We probably have another 6-12 months with Monty before he can read my version of his childhood. Hopefully COVID home schooling will return and buy us a little more time.
This evening we played a short round of the provocatively titled game Guess Who I Am. Presumably the designers of this game gathered around in their boardroom, or garage, and, with reference to the law firm that represents Hasbro, cheered defiantly “LET THEM COME!” One can only imagine those fine litigators did, indeed, come.
Anyway, simple game. Everybody dons a pair of annoyingly ill-fitting cardboard spectacles. The other players then write the name of a famous something-or-other in non-permanent ink on the white part at the front of the spectacles. Actually, they probably do this before you put them on, that makes more sense. From there each player asks a series of increasingly pointed questions until they deduce the something-or-other written on the front of their spectacles, or they don’t… nobody seems to care one way or the other.
Monty did not appear to immediately grasp the broader purpose of the game, or he did but was unwilling to put forth the effort to develop a cogent questioning strategy to achieve his objectives. Monty wanted to decide on his own something-or-other. I said no. This was foolish, particularly given it was after 1930hrs. Monty cried, I relented. Monty decided on a rather obscure character from the Dog Man book series known as ‘Ratterfly’. In carefully formed letters I penned the word, pausing briefly to wonder out loud if Ratterfly has one t or two – it’s two. I don’t know why I went to such effort; Monty knew what I was writing, and also he can’t read.
As Monty pulled the absurdly large spectacles up over his ears and held them there with both hands he had one last stipulation for me and Milo; even though he knew the something-or-other, and we knew that he knew, we had to pretend we didn’t know. He would do likewise. We all agreed.
Monty’s first three questions went like this:
“Am I a character from Mario? No.”
“Am I in a movie? No.”
“Do I wear a cape? No.”
Milo expertly probed his way towards ‘Pikachu’ with precision questions, almost zero wastage. I blundered my way around the pseduo-verse, hapless, making zero progress.
“Am I in a movie? No.”
“Am I famous? No.”
“Am I a cartoon? No.”
“Am I real? No.”
“Am I alive? No.”
“Am I a thing? Sort of.”
Confounded I returned my attention to Monty’s charade.
“Am I rainbow coloured? No.”
“Am I from the Land Before Time? No.”
“Am I a cat? No.”
“Can I fly? Yes.”
Meanwhile, Milo went from cartoon to Pokemon to electric type to Pikachu with impressive speed and whipped off his specs with a grin.
Shortly thereafter Monty triumphantly asked “Am I Ratterfly?” to which he received an affirmative answer. Coming in a close second was, for me, impressive commitment to his subterfuge.
Oh and by the way I was butt, not ‘a butt’, just ‘butt’ (although spelled ‘but’); the fleshy amusing kind. Seemed a little niche but at least it gave me an excuse for coming last.
Monty demanded a second round. This time he saved some time and wrote his own something-or-other – he chose 22 slightly wiggly Ls. He got it on the third guess.
Our first two efforts at encouraging Milo into organised sport were not successful. First was soccer; he picked up the ball mid practice because I failed to brief him on that whole key tenet of soccer. Coach wrote him off as a trouble maker and the whole thing spiraled from there. I must accept my portion of blame for that. Second was karate; Milo waited until he had the sweet uniform then quit. Well played Milo.
Attempt number three is basketball and it seems to be going well so far. In Australia junior basketball is affectionately known as ‘Aussie Hoops’. This is entirely non-competitive, learning the rules and skills and hugging each other, and buying merch. Great.
Even within this benign environment I have already noted several categories of both participant and parent. This is what I have learned so far:
There are three types of participant, as follows:
The Flossing Kid is either flossing, or thinking about flossing, or chocolate milk, or comparing their height to the other kids, back-to-back. Basketball has occurred to the Flossing Kid zero times and he or she is the most likely person in the gym to cop a basketball to the ear. Flossing Kid does not seem to mind when this happens.
Cheaty Kid has incorrectly deduced that the objective of each drill is speed. Cheaty Kid will carry the ball and run if he or she thinks the coach is not looking, Cheaty Kid cares not for the violation that is double dribble, and Cheaty Kid will slide gently ahead of other patient participants in the lay-up queue if they are distracted by Flossing Kid requesting a height comparison. Cheaty Kid would actually be pretty good at basketball if they focussed on the fundamentals.
Each week Bewildered Kid seems genuinely surprised to be at Aussie Hoops. This is what Bewildered Kid’s eyes say “Oh, I have the ball. That’s interesting. Oh, do you want the ball? What’s that? Oh, I should… I should keep the ball? OK, I’ll keep the ball. OK we’re sitting down now. OK now I’m sitting down.”
As far as I can tell there are also three categories of parents.
Volunteer Coach played division 2 basketball at school. They have a Fleer Ultra Michael Jordan Rookie Card in their top drawer. They think it’s worth $20,000, “at least”. It’s not. Volunteer Coach mingles around with the kids at shoot around, occasionally dunking on the 8 foot hoop and returning rebounded shots, snapping their wrists properly and thudding the ball into their appreciative 7 year old’s chest. During practice Volunteer Coach yells out helpful guidance like “Keifer! Dribble hand off! Dribble hand off like I showed you”, when the drill is pass the ball gently to the small child you just met and ideally don’t make them cry. Volunteer Coach would be drinking Pepsi through a straw if Volunteer Coach was not wearing a surgical mask.
Instagram Parent is only waiting around because the stadium is in the middle of nowhere, the session is only 45 minutes and there is not enough time to go anywhere interesting and besides it is really hard to reverse the SUV out again with all those little kids everywhere. Instagram Parent scrolls their phone and is the second most likely person in the gym to cop a ball in the ear. Instagram Parent certainly minds if this happens.
Aggressively Supportive yells out non-sensical votes of encouragement like “Oh beautiful jump hop Prudence” and “wonderful posture Mikey. Daddy loves you!” Aggressively Supportive will build rapport with the teenage coaches after the session and buy ice cream on the way home.
Interestingly the participants and parents don’t seem to match up exactly as you might imagine. For example, Cheaty Kid doesn’t seem to go home with Volunteer Coach in a Ford Ranger as often as you might think. So far my favourite combination is Bewildered Kid with Aggressively Supportive.
So, the flight crew are still dressed like artisan butchers, but in the 12 months since we last did this the ‘COVID smocks’ have been bedazzled a little with embroidery and red piping. It’s like when you’ve had too much to drink and stumble on the dance floor, but you try to turn it into a sweet move and pretend you did it on purpose. Anyway, I think it’s a little bit like that.
This time we’ve arrived in Perth because spending 2 weeks in a hotel 4000km from your final destination is a perfectly reasonable way to travel in 2021.
Why are we here? What year is this? Did we ever leave? Were we ever here at all? These are the esoteric questions we are asking today. Also, can you boil an egg in the kettle?
Day 2: Thursday 3 June 2021 – Welcome
The answer to yesterday’s question is yes… but it’s not a good idea. Like the great Chris Rock says “you can drive a car with your feet if you want to”.
I want to remark a little on the scene of yesterday’s arrival, because it is worth remarking upon. We were bussed from the airport in two of those double buses with the slinky rubber bit in the middle. When we arrived at the hotel the doors were opened, the bus driver fled and the myriad official, semi-official, and non-official looking officials retreated a safe distance and sort of watched what might happen; a bit like when you find a huntsman in your living room – you whip an old Chinese food container over the top of it, slip a piece of paper underneath then gingerly take it outside. When you get there you crouch down, extend your arm until it has no bend in it at all, shift your weight onto your back-heel, then take a deep breath. When you’re ready you whip off that slice of paper and leap flamboyantly behind the Gardenia bush. After a time you peer back around said Gardenia Bush carefully to find that the Huntsman has… not moved.
So, nor did we, for a while. Then we started schlepping our bags off one at a time. An hour or so later it was our turn. As we disembarked it felt like we had just returned from somewhere having won a major international trophy of some sort and were being greeted by our fans – if our fans were dressed like Halloween mortician hobbyists, and those Halloween mortician hobbyists were big fans of Kareem Abdul Jabbar and so choose to regularly wear his goggles to commemorate the bespectacled period of his Hall of Fame career from 1974 onward.
Anyway, I suggested politely to one of these helpful chaps that it might be a reasonable ‘first principles’ policy to get the little kids off the bus first. He told me they couldn’t control “that sort of thing” and then, noticing that I was in danger of breaching his 5m radius, he backed away clumsily whilst trying to figure out how to render me safe.
There was no trolley so we dragged our suitcases and children through this non-clapping honour guard of mortuary technicians and part-time welders until we were safely sealed in the lift.
Strange times indeed.
Still, we’ve already been delivered 8 bananas and eaten 7 of them so all is well.
Day 3: Friday 4 June 2021 – Complex Administration
This morning we tried to order two coffees from the hotel café; it was a pleasingly complicated process. Straight forward administration does nothing for the passage of time and should be avoided in hotel quarantine.
ME (upbeat voice): Hi, good morning I’d just like to order a couple of coffees.
FRONT DESK (downtrodden voice but certainly trying hard to be pleasant): Do we have your credit card details on file?
ME: ha, I certainly hope not!
FRONT DESK: …….
ME: um, OK, how do I do that?
FRONT DESK: Do you have the credit card authorization form?
ME (still upbeat): Absolutely not.
FRONT DESK: ……
ME: So, cool, where would I find it?
FRONT DESK: It was in the pile of papers we gave you.
ME: Uh-huh, OK give me a moment.
<sound of rustling>
ME: OK got it, now what?
FRONT DESK: Now fill it in, but only with half the details on your card.
ME: Only half the details?
FRONT DESK: Yeah only half the details.
ME: OK, half, got it.Then what?
FRONT DESK: Then take a photo of the form and email it to the address on the front.
ME (pointlessly contributing to the back and forth): Oh yes I see it – just right there down on the bottom, correct?
FRONT DESK: Yeah.
ME: Great. So I just email it?
FRONT DESK: Yeah, then call me back.
ME: Call you back?
FRONT DESK: Yeah, call me back
ME: OK, great, call you back… why?
FRONT DESK: To give me the rest of the details.
ME: What details?
FRONT DESK: Of your credit card.
ME: Ooooh, for security? Right got it – that’s smart. OK, so just to make sure I’m clear – fill it in (half the details), then…
FRONT DESK: Thank you, goodbye.
ME: hello? hello? …. hmmm, line must have cut out….
Day 4: Saturday 5 June 2021 – Bath Robes
It’s pretty remarkable how quickly we have descended into only wearing bath robes.
I have never really worn a bath robe before, certainly not as my primary outfit for days on end, and I have learned a lot.
A bath robe is an extremely versatile garment to be sure, but with only small alterations to its usage, imperceptible perhaps to the inexperienced, it can swing without notice from ‘glamorous luxury’ to ‘lurking in your front yard waiting to steal your newspaper’.
I am no expert yet but have already identified a few factors which seem to impact which overall genre you fall into.
Firstly, if a bath robe is being used for its luxurious design purpose the user is supposed to be tucked up snugly either before or after some sort of expensive, pampering experience. It is supposed to be pulled up right under your chin – really, no visible neck at all is ideal. Maybe in a pinch some of that soft bit right under your chin might be okay, but certainly if any chest hairs are wisping out the top you have gone from ‘divine’ to ‘deviant’.
My second observation is linked to the first – you’re not really supposed to move around in these things, just lie there and feel pleased with yourself. So, if you’re kind of cutting around in it all day; making sandwiches, playing bin basketball, competing in intense Pokemon Gym Battles, getting PCR tests and the like, it tends to get a bit stretched and askew. That soft belt thing gets pulled out of place really rather quickly, so you end up with it stretched out with the knot all loose on the side, sitting on your hip. At this point the best case scenario is at least one nipple on display, but more likely some or all of your belly button as well. You might as well be drinking a Woodstock and Cola out of the tin on your way to the greyhounds before lunch.
Oh, also if you want to project glamour you can’t put anything in that hip-height pocket, I mean nothing at all. No half eaten bags of popcorn leftover from yesterday’s lunch delivery, not a deck of UNO, not a banana for later on and definitely, definitely not the TV remote… as convenient as that may be.
That’s all I have learned about bath robes so far. I’ll let you know if I figure anything else out.
Day 5: Sunday 6 June 2021 – Pavlovian Response
I’m starting to lose respect for that Ivan Pavlov guy, father of classical conditioning, owner of ‘Pavlov’s Dog’, and so famous the phrase ‘Pavlovian response’ is part of common vernacular. I’m just not sure he achieved all that much, making a dog salivate with a bell and all that.
As part of the thorough regime in place to keep us separated from real life (but also alive), food is delivered three times a day, but at non-consistent times. Now, we were told several times that two minutes must elapse from the time of ‘food drop’ until the time of retrieval (which must be performed by an adult only, wearing a mask and holding their breath). So, even if we hear the drop, which we almost never do because they are very quiet and sneaky – we suspect they are ridings segues out there – we are not allowed to open the door for two minutes, and not until all the children have been locked in the bathroom and covered in blankets.
This behaviour is reinforced by a phone call which reverberates through our little room once the segue-riding food dropper has made good their escape. Now, regardless what we are doing at that moment – Corridor Ball, Skull Ball, Chair Hurricane (more on those later) Kuepps or I will spring to attention, dash to the phone in a manner which suggests if we don’t make it by the 7th ring they will presume we are dead and send back the segue guy to retrieve our food. We always answer in the same way “hello?” in a casual manner which suggests we are not 100% sure why they are calling: “Oh the food? Oh, right now? Outside? You’re too kind, thank you so much”.
We all then do a small dance, which we have never choreographed but for which somehow we all know the moves. We all then lineup and hold our breath while the designated retriever dons their mask and brings in our sustenance. We all then burn our clothes in the waste paper bin and roll in methylated spirits before sitting down to a nice meal.
So you see it took Pavlov a lifetime to make his pooch salivate with a bell, but in retrospect that doesn’t seem so ambitious. Imagine what he could have achieved with a full quarantine hotel.
Day 6: Monday 7 June 2021 – Return of the Jedi
Hugely exciting day – we received our 2nd COVID test as we inch closer and closer to societal redemption.
Our 1st test on Day 1 did not go so well. The adults found it unpleasant but pretended all was fine. Milo felt no compulsion to replicate such pretense. We adopted the ‘just spring it on them at the last moment’ approach in order to avoid the pain of pre-emptive catastrophizing and associated whining. This approach doesn’t work well with out eldest at the best of times, let alone when an ominous looking probe is circling towards his various facial orifices.
As I scooped Milo up into my arms he managed to cry out (with increasing urgency) “a little bit later, a little bit LATER!!” whilst simultaneously managing to cover both nostrils and his mouth with one hand. Quite impressive really. He is also a lot stronger than he looks and quite wily. Every time we managed to pries a hand off his face another materialized to take its place. It was unclear where these extra hands were coming from.
Eventually Kuepps and I acknowledged the requirement to coordinate better and, using our simple numerical hand advantage, we managed to secure all of his flailing hands as well as his dangerous little feet which were pistoning around at groin height.
Once his limbs were secured we turned our attention to his head which was still very much in play, like a giant bright pink raisin, jerking this way and that.
I tried to secure it under my chin which obviously didn’t work. It immediately kicked free and looked at me angrily, lips pursed and defiant like a dried up little walnut. Finally with Kuepps securing both feet and my arm restraining both of his, like the sash bit of a seatbelt across his chest, I was able to create a surplus hand which I used to pin his head to my chest. His face looked crazy, a bit like when Bilbo Baggins lunges for the ring. Somehow in this position the nurse was able to expertly extract the precious mucous she needed and we were done.
Again, rather like Bilbo Baggins, Milo returned immediately to normal and strolled away to tell Monty it was “the gentlest COVID test he has had”.
This got us off to a good start with Monty who compliantly opened his mouth for the first probing. He quickly realised however that his brother may have embellished a little so quickly snapped it shut. Unfortunately for him, Monty is not quite as tricksy as his brother so didn’t think to enlist any of his limbs into service. Instead he tried to seal up his nose with sheer willpower alone.
Like Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi the nurse was able to precisely insert the payload into Monty’s Thermal Exhaust Port and in a flash we were finished. Monty whimpered a bit, but having nowhere near his brother’s commitment to rage and indignation he was readily placated with a muesli bar.
Wait, where was I? Oh yes today. So we just parented a little better, gave them a bit more notice and the opportunity to get the test somewhat on their terms and they were angels. Monty’s only request was that he got to go 6th out of 4; a request we readily accommodated.
Day 7: Tuesday 8 June 2021 – Decathlon
Honestly, where is all this fruit coming from? We monitor our deliveries closely, we call the front desk to reduce certain items to maintain equilibrium, we force mandarins on our children as if scurvy runs in the family, and yet every time we look the pile has grown.
We have strategically placed our fruit box in the cupboard, which is one of only two viable hiding places available to us, so that the boys may absentmindedly eat a mandarin segment or two, or maybe unpeel a banana, whilst playing hide and seek – Milo regularly does this. But all this has achieved is to make our cupboard look like the check-in table at an orienteering tournament. Something untoward is going on with our fruit situation.
So we’ve made it to the halfway point. Each day feels like a mini-decathlon. I’ve not done a decathlon before but I presume there are 10 events. I further presume participants are usually better at some events than others; for example, you might be strong at javelin and quadruple jump, but not so good at the Frosby Flop or Dance-Dance-Nation, or whatever.
Anyway, each day feels segmented into about 10 – in some of those events you perform pretty well, others sub-par. But after the boys are asleep you submit your overall score and feel satisfied with your mid-table finish.
This evening I walked into the bathroom to fetch Milo out of the shower and found him playing noughts and crosses against himself, drawing with his finger on the misted up glass. He looked up at me and said “this isn’t very fun”.
Day 8: Wednesday 9 June 2021 – The Middle Days
Time in hotel quarantine is a slippery and untrustworthy beast. Last year to our delight we discovered around the half way point that an extra day had snuck past us somehow unannounced. This year the opposite seems to have happened. So, today, it would appear, is Day 7, or perhaps Day 8 out of 15. We are surprisingly sanguine about this.
There is a weird bit in the middle where 40m2 starts to seem okay for a family of four, where you start to forget what all the fuss is about being outside. There is rabies outside, and decisions about hats, and overbearing ibis. Maybe this is the place for us? A place to build our futures?
Today we played a little Corridor Ball. Simple concept, the boys roll a ball across the room (corridor is a generous term) then chase after it, attempting to retrieve it before it loses momentum and stops. Last week there was hustle and passion, strategic discussions about which ball would roll for the longest but at a manageable pace (we have 2 juggling balls, a hacky sack and a stress ball), there were ill-judged dives, carpet burns and tears. Today, nothing but cold ambivalence.
Sure, they rolled the balls but I saw zero desire for Corridor Ball glory. They didn’t even take their bath robes off.
Then we moved onto hide-and-seek. First I just sort of stood in the toilet cubicle and closed the door, which is frosted but certainly not opaque. Milo hid in the cupboard and ate a mandarin. Monty found Milo first then the two of them took an awfully long time to track me down.
Next it was my turn to seek. Milo hid behind the curtain; I knew this because I heard it rustling. Monty hid in the exact same place his brother had in round one, and ate a mandarin. As soon as I opened my eyes I could see Monty as clear as day. The cupboard looks like an oversized humidor with a smoky glass door, it’s weird. Monty was not hidden at all, I mean I could see him sitting right there, deeply focused on peeling his mandarin. Also, the curtain is moving around like it’s wrapped around a python.
Still, I stretch it out for four minutes, drifting aimlessly this way and that, turning over waste paper bins, shifting piles of lego with my feet. Where could they be? I say, shrugging my shoulders for dramatic punctuation.
Eventually Monty finishes up his mandarin and rolls out of the cupboard yelling BOO! Milo is bored so emerges from behind the curtain without ceremony.
Finally it’s Milo’s turn to find us. I put forth some effort and try to squeeze myself in between the two single beds which make up the ‘motel queen’, as I call it.
Milo counts fast, he’s ruthless, so by the time I have shoe-horned myself in there I am committed, there is no going back. Unfortunately though I am a bit long and my feet are poking out the end, in clear view. My arms are pinned so I forlornly stretch my toes out to grab a corner of doona to pull it down. Perhaps if I am lucky I will catch a break and a bit of bedding will obscure my feet for a moment or two. But alas my useful primate toes have been rendered useless by decades of unnecessary shoe wearing. They are still straining pathetically as Milo’s count runs out… 48-49-50.
He opens his eyes and wastes no time. Daddy you’re under the bed, Monty you’re behind the curtain. Joyless.
At least Monty is still loving it, he tumbles out from behind the curtain well after he has been discovered yelling BOO!
Let’s see what tomorrow brings.
Day 9: Thursday 10 June 2021 – Zoom
The impacts of COVID will be far reaching. It is too early for anthropologists, sociologists, epidemiologists, any of the ologists, to really yet agree on the most significant of these. But one thing we know for sure, right now, is a lot more people have now seen their work colleague’s partners in their undies on a zoom call than 12 months ago, way more.
This is a particular hazard in hotel quarantine and really should form part of the welcome instructions: wear a mask when you open your door to retrieve food, don’t distil liquor in the sink, don’t boil an egg in the kettle, check the aperture settings on all work laptop cameras.
Yesterday Kuepps was on a work video call when I, confident I was out of shot, shimmied into the room for no real reason I can recall, dancing to ‘She’s so lovely’ by Scouting for Girls. I was not out of the shot. Nor was I wearing much; only a bath robe and undies. Not my good undies either, the Bonds Christmas stocking numbers from a couple of years back. You know the ones.
At this point there is no sense in anybody pretending it didn’t happen, I could hear the muffled giggles through my wife’s headphones. So I wrapped my bathrobe around myself to preserve whatever dignity remained, and we all exchanged pleasant waves. As of today Kuepps continues to be employed.
And that leads me to two more things I have learned about bath robes. Firstly, what you wear underneath matters. I am not sure what they recommend in a luxury spa but I am sure it is not the aforementioned baggy undies, or stained basketball shorts.
Also, while wearing a robe no skin whatsoever can be seen from the bottom of the knee upward, whether sitting or standing. Even an inch of skin will immediately take you from luxe to louche.
I’ll let you know if I learn anything else about bath robes.
Day 10: Friday 11 June 2021 – Pictionary
One-on-one Pictionary is not one of the world’s great spectacles at the best of times, but when one of the participants is a three year old it is particularly niche.
Here’s how Monty and I play Pictionary together: we roll the dice which has no bearing on anything. The sand timer must ALWAYS be running – Monty will see to that.
When it’s my turn to draw I select the next available card then choose the option that either a) I have a chance of drawing or b) Monty has a chance of guessing. Ideally it’s both; thing like nose, airport, apple, broom etc.
When it’s Monty’s turn he does not trouble himself with a card, he just draws whatever he likes without context or clue and expects me to get it. He let’s me haplessly guess 3 or 4 times, often something like this: “ostrich, ice-cream maker, bassoon”. He replies “nope, nope, nope” then with exasperation “can I tell you?”, which he then proceeds to do.
These are Monty’s masterpieces from today’s session:
Cat on a motorcycle
A Pokemon he just made up called Owen.
We’ll play some more tomorrow.
Day 11: Saturday 12 June 2021 – Regression
Things have deteriorated a little. The boys started biting each other pretty early today and Milo has been in an impressive funk ever since.
Importantly he told me he does not like how I have been prosecuting my Pokemon battles with him; I am deliberately losing, not playing with enough enthusiasm, not accurately taking into account type advantages when apportioning damage and most importantly I am using too many of my own made-up moves like: steal your lunch, nipple pinch, electro-jelly and strong cuddle. He won’t battle me again until I remedy these issues.
Fortunately Kuepps managed to entertain them for an hour this afternoon by pretending to be an arcade claw grabber that they could control to collect their own soft toys. It’s possible everybody is going a bit mad.
Day 12: Sunday 13 June 2021 – Rugby League
It took 12 days but the boys have finally figured out they can move the mattresses. In a small room it the mattress is hanging askew, even by just a foot, the result is very untidy indeed. Of course we are talking way more than a foot – slides, tunnels, forts, everything. Our room looks like a rugby league team just checked out. It is very bad for morale.
We have taken to gazing out the window after dinner, playing eye spy. The scenery doesn’t change much so the game is rather predictable; crane, building, car, sky, elephant.
Today our game took a slightly more interesting turn which may indicate our ‘reservoir of resilience’ is drying up. Here are some of the offerings:
M.T.B – Moderately Tasty Burrito
P.C.C – Pretty Cranky Children
F.A.O – Fresh Air Outside
Three days to go.
Day 13: Monday 14 June 2021 – Scraping the games barrel
Here are a few games we have invented in recent days as our creativity, durability and general interest in life have become further eroded.
Blind-folded Hide and Seek:
I have spoken previously about the challenges we have faced in generating even a vaguely satisfactory game of H&S. Turns out impairing the vision of the seeker is actually pretty genius (Monty’s idea). It vastly lengthens the game and adds the thrill of a perceived and actual threat to your physical safety.
I’m not really sure what this one’s all about, nor am I even really sure how to play it. I sort of crouch down then the boys charge at me one at a time. I think I am supposed to wait until the very last second then dive out of the way onto the bed. Although they seem to like it when I am a bit late on my escape and they crash into me.
Kick the Marble:
There are some clues in the title of this one, but also some weird twists. Another Monty invention; basically he pulls his tshirt up over his nose (but not his eyes) so he looks like a bandit (or pretty much anybody in 2021). It’s unclear why he does this as it has absolutely no bearing on how the game unfolds. The adult then stands about 3 metres away from Monty, with a marble at his feet. Monty then kicks the marble at you, which he somehow does with some ferocity. Again, it’s not clear if you are supposed to dodge or not, he seems to prefer not. The real value of ‘kick the marble’ is the marble is almost always lost. This adds an extra unit of time for each iteration while everybody looks for it.
And finally Pokemon Bus Driver. Basically I sit on the bed and pretend to be a bus driver but every time I stop for passengers Pokemon get on instead (I am equally surprised each time)… and hilarity ensues.
The finish line is in sight.
Day 14: Tuesday 15 June 2021 – Freedom
This morning we received our 3rd COVID test since moving into our well-appointed cave. So all things going well we will achieve societal redemption tomorrow afternoon and be out of here.
Given tomorrow we will spend the first hour packing and then the next 6 sitting patiently on our suitcases by the door, I will be too busy to write – so I’ll try to sign off now.
I would like to highlight some of the silver linings of the past 14 days. Firstly, Milo added 6 Pokemon to his Pokedex; Galarian Slowpoke, Galarian Slowbro, Mienfoo, Garchomp, Shiny Garchomp and the 3rd laziest Pokemon in the Pokemon Universe, Slaking. A tidy haul indeed.
The boys finally discovered Bluey (we have been overseas for a while) and we have binged. What a triumph. Cop that Peppa Pig.
Milos has fallen in love with the shower. Previously a young man only interested in being dipped into steaming water, not having it fall upon him from above, he is now right onboard with one of life’s great pleasures; singing, soaping up and playing noughts and crosses in the steam.
Milo’s front tooth fell out. Affectionately known as ‘snaggle’, this was long in the making. It is now in an empty pill box in the front of the suitcase. Not sure what to do with it now.
The boys have taken a liking to Pitbull’s music, particularly his material between 2010 and 2013. We didn’t see that coming.
And finally Milo is now aware of who Will Smith is; and his world is better for it.
Just checked the weather for the first time in a fortnight – looks bright and chilly. We’re out of here…
So, I would like to say it was a few weeks ago but I am rather confident it is months, Milo kicked one of the doors off his wardrobe.
It was more reckless than mischievous, just some good-natured absent-minded booting to test the hinges. Anyway, the hinges were of a lower quality than he expected and the door spontaneously jettisoned itself from its frame and fell heavily upon the tiled floor rather closeish to his leg. Close enough to give him a fright.
Now, once I had determined the door had suffered the only serious injury I set about seizing this opportunity to set my son on a path of personal growth. Milo was still a little fragile given he had narrowly missed being clonked by an over-spec’d door so arguably I could have chosen my moment better, but it is always the right time for a salutary life lesson so I quickly got into my flow:
“yes I know it was not on purpose”
“but you need to learn the value of possessions, you need to have respect for property”
“so, you have got two choices – you pay the maintenance guy to fix it out of your pocket money, or you and I are going to fix it together.”
…brilliant. We were going to re-hang the door together, he was going to learn how to use screwdrivers for something other than digging, and together we were going to learn the value of property.
No sooner had I concluded my ‘engaged parent’ proclamation with a nice cuddle to make up and move on I realised there was one glaring problem with my plan… I didn’t want to fix the frickin door, and I’m not sure I even could – I had a glance at the hinges they were really bent, and some of the screws had rolled away. Where was I going to find the right sized screws? One of the hinges had even fallen off and I wasn’t even sure which way up it went. Also, our screwdrivers have a lot of soil in them, all except for that useless giant flat-head one. What is that one even used for?
In the weeks, and yes months, that followed Milo repeatedly asked me when we were going to fix the door. You see I had withheld his pocket money as a bond, to be returned once we had completed our father/ son bonding task. I ducked and weaved and generally evaded the question… and there the door stood – for a while propped up against the wall, then propped up against the wall with laundry hanging on it, then lying on the ground, then lying on the ground with folded laundry on it, then sort of pushed into the corner. But it is pretty big, and quite heavy, impossible to hide. It mocked me daily.
Soon Milo’s questions became harrassment and then demands. He wanted to fix the door, he was ready to fix the door, why can’t we fix the door? I eventually stopped engaging him about the door, I mean I would literally pretend I couldn’t hear him and walk into another room. Salutary lessons suck.
Today Kuepps paid our maintenance guy to re-hang the door.
It took him 4 minutes and each screw that went in took with it a little of my parental fortitude.
Arrived last night around midnight. Rather bizarre flight; attendants dressed like artisan butchers. Milo and Jupes awake at 1100hrs, Kuepps and Monty at 1300hrs. In important news we have at least 3 Pokestops we can spin, 4 when the GPS is a little off.
Food is of prison grade, but might sustain us in the short term. We have already taken delivery of a substantial care package from Oma, including vacuum cleaner and Nespresso machine. Boys asleep at 2100hrs, awake at 0040hrs. Midnight snack consumed consisting of fried egg, ham and cheese on toast. Asleep at 0200hrs.
Total new Pokemon caught/ evolved: 2
Total pear count: 4
Total Creme Caramel count: 4
DAY 2: Thursday 11 June 2020
It is still raining. It would appear, from our voyeuristic peering out the window, that there is not in fact a zombie apocalypse in Australia. This morning I saw a man, normal looking fella, just carrying and drinking a takeaway coffee like it was nothing. Everybody up around 1000hrs, exciting toast breakfast.
Everybody very confused about time, its relativity, and apparent disinterest in us.
Gifts received from Ama and Aba delivered an excellent, and rather festive, unit of time. ‘Find-a-Pikachu’ book proving important in the early stages. Pikachu now being found with relative ease, but Monty still feigning surprise/ excitement; likely for our benefit.
2100hrs bedtime again did not stick. 0130hrs midnight snack, less ambitious than yesterday. Milo took the opportunity to quiz Monty on various aspects of the Pokemon Encyclopedia – this evening focusing on ‘types’.
Total new Pokemon caught/ evolved: 2
Total pear count: 8
Total Creme Caramel count: 8
Total food box count: 24
DAY 3: Friday 12 June 2020
So, the boys had a bit of biffo today. From what we can piece together it would seem Monty was irritating Milo during Pokemon Go, so Milo gave him a bit of a shove, so Monty went immediately to his secret weapon and nipped Milo on the arm, so Milo ratcheted things up a little and gave Monty a fair thump on his back – at least twice based on the tiny fist-sized bruises, so Monty made the most of his opportunity and executed a really pretty reasonable chomp on Milo’s thigh. By the time we arrived both were in pieces, shocked that they had wrought such horrors upon each other. We declared a gentlemen’s draw, but cancelled the next morning’s Pokemon Go session.
A heavy penalty indeed.
Separately, we have begun shooting juggling balls at an empty plastic bin, without joy. Milo, in an effort to add tension and intrigue, proposed he might try to block the shots; you know, to make a game of it. His technique, which was pretty well conceived, was to insert his entire head and shoulders into the bin. To be fair this made it pretty difficult to score a basket, so the game petered out nil/ nil. Still, it was a unit of time.
Total pear count: 12 (-1 eaten = 11)
Total Creme count: 12 (8 caramel, 2 Choco, 2 panacotta)
Total new Pokemon caught/ evolved: 4
DAY 4: Saturday 13 June 2020
Today we wrote a Haiku.
What is it, this thing called time?
Why does it mock me?
Without sunshine, jetlag is proving very persistent. Ghosts drift past each other at all hours of the night, in the gloom, to or from the bathroom, or kitchen… or somewhere else. Faces take on an ethereal quality, a soft green, illuminated by the ‘Mad Mex’ across the road.
Today we have abandoned the utilitarian, ‘survival first’ fare we have been receiving at our front door three times a day with a knock, followed by the sound of hastened scuttling back to the lift. The societal instincts imprinted on our human DNA quickly established for us the optimum quantum of time between ‘knock’ and ‘open’. As fun as it would be to lurk behind the door, quietly listening, in order to spring it open upon the first knock, with a smile; “good morning, how are you? Thanks for the sustenance, got anything planned today?”… it simply wouldn’t do. We are of course modern day lepers, exiled to Kalaupapa Island, unworthy of human contact – until our glorious redemption in 9 days time.
At bedtime we changed the boys from their day-time pyjamas into their night-time pyjamas, which in turn became their day-time pyjamas. It is a wild, relentless cycle.
Also, today we ate pizza; which was like being reborn.
Food counting stats will now be discontinued.
The box count has also stagnated at 36.
DAY 5: Sunday 14 June 2020
When they have nothing there is nothing left to take away. We have zero leverage. Pokemon Go; is it played? Is it not? For how long? This is all we have. We give it. We retract it. We dangle it. It hovers like the Sword of Damocles.
But if the four of us were to be honest with each other, the lustre of this virtual world has faded. How can one walk 10km with one’s Eevee in order to evolve it into an Umbreon at night when your world is a hotel room? This is not a jaunty thought experiment to stimulate conversation. This is reality. Today our hunt yielded zero new Pokemon, not even a Poliwag from the mountainous region of Kaloa – often referred to as the ‘rat of Kalos’ by residents of the regional capital Lumiose City.
Where have all the Pokemon gone? I ask again, where have all the Pokemon gone?
Today I did a small dance to entertain the boys. Monty, unamused, said; “I hate your bloody hips. I hate your bloody butt. I hate your bloody dance.” A stinging review.
The remnants of Saturday night’s pizza buoyed spirits as we enter the second week.
DAY 7: Monday 15 June 2020
We had developed a sensation that time was not obeying its normal rules, and this morning this has been confirmed. We have learned that the day we arrived was actually Day 1, so today is actually Day 7, not Day 6. Ordinarily losing a day of your life would be cause for some consternation, but under the current circumstances it is a delight.
Further, we have learned that on Day 14 we can leave at 0001hrs. We’re not sure that during a Global Pandemic there would be suitable entertainment venues to cater for a family of four open at that hour; but it is nice to have the option. We celebrated by splitting a KitKat.
We have a bluetooth speaker here with us in Hotel Quarantine; it offers some respite, and reminds us of the life we once had. However, we are forever vigilant to ensure “Crazy Frog – Axel F” never gets a chance to play; one eye is always on the Spotify shuffle. The chance is far from zero. Here are our Spotify playlists that currently feature “Crazy Frog – Axel F”:
On Repeat – The songs you can’t get enough of right now
Repeat Rewind – Past songs that you couldn’t get enough of
Your Top Songs – 2019
Your Top Songs – 2018
Should one rendition slip through our net we fear disaster; that Crazy Frog has such an immediate and visceral impact on our children that the ensuing hysteria may well drag them and us into a tornado of chaos from whence we would not return intact.
In our view this song should be banned from all Quarantine Hotels, nationwide.
DAY 8: Tuesday 16 June 2020
Despite requesting a discontinuation to the food deliveries they still continue to arrive at our door from time-to-time, like a stray cat we fed once.
Sometimes we let them into our house, and regret it. Most times we quickly re-shut the door and remain quiet for 5 minutes. One time we left a note before bed “no more food please”. The next morning it had been replaced by food.
Our pile of pears, plain crisps and single-serve UHT milk is now so vast it appears we are preparing to make a food drop to a group of stranded hikers.
We are now very used to the rhythm of door knocks, and we can usually deduce their purpose before opening the door. An out-of-sync doorknock is therefore cause for some stimulation and excitement within our small dwelling; one’s imagination is quickly unleashed; fire drill? mis-addressed Uber Eats? Census volunteer? Mormon? Today we received such a knock and scampered to the door. Was it somebody notifying us we had been deemed safe to return to society? Nope, fresh linen.
Just before he fell asleep tonight Monty said to me; “daddy, why is it night time?” Of course that sentence makes no sense at all, except for the fact it is probably the most poignant thing he has ever said. Why is it night time?
DAY 9: Wednesday 17 June 2020
The nurse rang this morning to advise our big test will be tomorrow; sometime between “9 and 5”. I said; “anytime, we’ll be here”. I was quite pleased with my quip, but the nurse really gave me very little response, which I though was unfair.
I found Monty switching the light on and off by himself this afternoon, absentmindedly saying “on… off…”. Otherwise, everything is fine.
In the evening we decided to Uber some burritos from the Mad Mex that has been throwing its ghoulish green glow into our apartment for the last week. We rather liked the idea of controlling something in the real world and watching it unfold before our eyes.
The boys and I gathered by a window with a fine view of the entrance and waited with giddy excitement for the Uber cyclist to arrive. Alas, somehow we missed Tomas both arriving and departing, but we did not miss his maniacal cycle path around the city which looked like somebody playing Snake 1 on a NOKIA 3310, badly.
If Tomas had a reasonable arm, which we assessed he did from his photo, he probably could have lobbed our burritos up through our window (if they opened of course), but instead they took 31 minutes to arrive; shiny, and a bit distended.
Monty took 3 successful bites and then the bottom gave way in his lap. Milo took a nibble, claimed it was too spicy and ate corn chips. Kuepps’ ‘gluten free bowl’ was wrapped in a tortilla whose principle ingredient was gluten. So I ate an unsafe number of lukewarm burritos whilst trying unsuccessfully to keep the mood festive.
Still, Burrito Night was probably in the top 3 Hotel Quarantine events so far… top 2, actually.
DAY 10: Thursday 18 June 2020
In the 1990 Sci-Fi classic Total Recall Douglas Quaid (played by ‘peak Arnie’) is pursued by Cohaagen’s goons who seek to eliminate him. Having evaded the first wave of attackers Quaid discovers a suitcase which contains, among other things, a video recording of himself (as Hauser). Hauser gets Quaid (and the audience) up to speed on the plot background and then instructs Quaid to remove a tracking device that has been lodged in his skull.
Quaid discovers a rather ominous looking rod in the suitcase, which looks a bit like a tool that might be useful for a lobotomy. At Hauser’s prompting Quaid pushes the rod up his nose – offering helpfully, “just shove real hard”. “When you hear the crunch, you’re there” he adds reassuringly. What follows is a classic early 90s CGI scene as Quaid ever-so-slowly drags an audaciously large glowing red sphere out of his improbably stretched nostril.
I am convinced whomever devised the COVID-19 swab test was watching Total Recall at the same time… or at least the night before.
Today was testing day.
DAY 11: Friday 19 June 2020
We are rather detached from the weather. Our world oscillates wildly between 23.4C and 22.8C. We put jumpers on. We take them off. But we don’t know why.
When grass, ground and fire Pokemon yield weather bonuses we know it is sunny. Normal and rock type? We know it is partly cloudy. Otherwise we peer out of our reverse fishbowl at the humans and try to deduce climatic conditions from their wrappings and behaviour.
We haven’t yet completely ironed out the difference between ‘cafe’ activewear and ‘fitness’ activewear, nor the difference between hipster and utilitarian flannies – but in general we can make a pretty good assessment.
Meanwhile we had delivery gelato tonight; which, alongside 3D printing and Segways, must be in the running for best invention of the 21st Century.
DAY 12: Saturday 20 June 2020
We fear the outside world may have become for our children something of a memory, an apparition.
This morning Monty, with his beautiful round little face propped up on the palm of his hand, and his curly golden mullet streaming out behind him, like 100 yellow Slinkies have been fastened to a fan, in no particular order, and the fan turned onto a setting of 4, and he says “father (actually he said daddy, but father fits the image far better, more Jane Austen) father, please take me to the sea”. I asked him what he would like to see, at the sea. He looked wistfully out the window, the morning light playing in his bobbing Slinkies, and said with a flourish “I would like to see a dolphin”.
We need to get out of here.
DAY 13: Sunday 21 June 2020
So the cavalry arrived this morning. Around 1000hrs we received a knock. Due to the aforementioned ‘knock-delay etiquette’ we ignored it. Shortly thereafter followed a second, more insistent, knock. So Kuepps and I hustled and stumbled to the door, suddenly stimulated by the possibility of an ‘out-of-routine’ encounter.
We were greeted by a veritable posse of official looking Australians; army, police, medical professionals. “Milo, come look”, I shouted “humans”. None of the posse really offered a giggle, clearly not new material.
Our children emerged from the darkened bedroom where they had been playing; Monty carrying his blanket, both with their mullets still frizzy from the previous night’s sleep, both squinting and looking generally confused. Of the 4 of us Milo was the first to gather himself; stepping forward to say hello. Milo then fielded all questions on behalf of the family; names, DOB, ages. He then presented his forehead for the obligatory temperature check, and scored a very solid 36.4.
He was proud of himself. We all were.
As a family we nailed it; 36.4, 36.4, 36.4 36.2. We made subtle eye contact with each other and enjoyed a mental family fist-bump.
One of the army chaps then stepped forward, cleared his throat, and made the formal presentations – certificates of societal worthiness all around, for our CVs or LinkedIn profiles. We were then told we would be free to depart between midnight and 1000hrs tomorrow morning, and then as a parting gift we were all awarded a blue wrist band which simply says “MONDAY – COVID19 NSW”, identical to a band that might ordinarily give us limitless rides at Luna Park, or access to the ‘premium drinks package’ on the Ruby Princess; but this is something altogether more surreal.
So I sit here eating the last Choco Creme, which I found hidden at the back of the fridge – a remnant of the early days when single-serve desserts rained upon us like hand sanitizer – and reflect on the truly historic, and discombobulated times we (and I mean all of us) find ourselves in.
Over the Christmas ham last year who could have possibly conceived that just 6 months down the road we would need to lock all returning Australians in hotels for 2 weeks to protect the community from a not yet fully understood virus that is as yet far from under control. And thank goodness we live in a country that has the resources, and the poise to implement something like this.
These 14 days will eventually fade for us, as this year (and what lies ahead) will fade for us all… but what we won’t forget, and I suspect few of us will, is the centrality of family and community – they are keeping the world stumbling forward right now. For us, our tight little crew of four has moved peacefully through this very strange experience thanks to family and friends who have waved at the window, sent us food and coffee, and endless Pokemon paraphernalia, and those who have kept us entertained with memes, banter and promises of walks in the sun…
The world is much smaller than it was 6 months ago, but family is still family and community is still community. We are all re-learning what matters, pondering what tomorrow might look like, when we get there… and maybe nudging our priorities around just a little bit.
So that’s it; we will depart at 0730hrs tomorrow morning. To quote Antarctic explorer Captain Lawrence Oates; “I am just going outside and may be some time”.
After quite some agonizing our country recently decided to recognise one of the central tenets of a modern, civilized society, that being not to discriminate against people for no reason at all, and legalised same sex marriage (SSM). This marvelous leap forward was somehow achieved despite the concerted efforts of my eldest son.
Some weeks ago, while the voluntary, not-at-all legally binding, postal survey/ plebiscite/ pulse-check/ focus group, still appeared to hang in the balance, Milo and I took a stroll down Lonsdale Street in Canberra. Lonsdale Street must surely count among the most SSM supportive locales in Canberra, and therefore the nation. It has a roundabout at its midpoint which is painted in a dramatic rainbow swirl, rainbow streamers flutter from the light poles, frozen yoghurt is served with complimentary rainbow sprinkles, dogs are painted in rainbow colours and those dogs that happen to be boys merrily chase other boy dogs with no fear of judgement or retribution. I believe that day there may even have been a rainbow in the sky, following a little afternoon drizzle. In short, Lonsdale Street had been forsaken by the ‘no’ campaign.
As we strolled the wide, progressive, forward-leaning, tolerant footpath on our way to a cafe for a ‘treat’ (we were waiting for 4 new tyres to be fitted to our car, because Lonsdale Street is one of those rare and exciting streets along which one can purchase 17″ radials and vegan pancakes) we happened upon a large rainbow sandwich board with YES written upon it in bold, capitalised font. “What does that rainbow mean daddy?” came the question from my charming, inquisitive son.
Now, Milo already had some background on this matter, and likely already knew most of the answer; he had previously attended a same-sex-marriage rally, happily draping himself in rainbow streamers, chanting slogans of tolerance and equality, and generally being a cute, apparently reasonable young citizen.
I thought “what a sweet question, why don’t I take the opportunity to nourish my child, expand his awareness of social issues, treat him like the grown-up sentient young man that he is, build upon the already comfortable, excellent and ongoing dialogue in which we regularly engage on whatever topic his little mind meanders its way to”. I thought it would also be a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate what a thoughtful, articulate and clever young 3 year old I had raised to the numerous, bustling passers-by, on their way to further their enlightened social agendas.
We stopped, hand-in-hand, by the sandwich board, with the rainbow just peeking through the clearing clouds above, and I said “well Milo, this sign is encouraging people to vote yes to allow boys to marry boys and girls to marry girls if they want to. Isn’t that an excellent idea? What do you think?” Pleased with myself, I stepped back and awaited Milo’s adorable answer; I noted a slight smile on the face of a passing lady in her mid 30s wearing semi-formal attire, enjoying this simple moment between a father and his son.
“I want to vote no” said Milo.
“What?” I replied, with more desperation in my voice than you should allow when conversing with a 3 year old. “What do you mean?” I said with a slightly self-conscious giggle, immediately conscious of the numerous enthusiastic ‘yes’ voters who were most definitely within ear-shot.
“I want to vote no”
“I want to marry mummy, not daddy”
“Well…” I said, with parental maturity and control “that might be your opinion but the point of the vote is to allow everybody the opportunity to choose to marry whom they want, do you understand the difference?”
I was pleased with my response; surely the passers-by would see that ours was a house in which important issues were discussed and debated, where opinions were heard and respected. Not one in which rainbow flags are burned, and sky-writers paid to emblazon “NO” across the sky.
“I want to vote no, and I want to marry mummy not daddy”. Milo was now enjoying the sport, and this was not good for me; I was certainly losing control, and people were becoming interested in our conversation.
Things got a little more hostile.
“Well mate, frankly if you want to marry your mum it’s going to take more than a non-binding postal survey to change the constitution, and anyway you’re too young to vote, let’s keep moving.”
In order to flee the scene I firmly (but gently) pushed the back of his socially conservative head in the direction of the cafe. He was grinning.
In my haste to get off the street we stumbled into a vegan cafe. The child had been promised banana bread, so I leaned down to peer through the window box in a desperate search for a vegan substitute before he had a chance to say anything else mortifying.
While my back was turned Milo was perusing the room. Not unexpectedly it was liberally decked out in rainbows of all colours, sizes and sexual orientations.
“I want to vote no” he said, loudly. Really, very loudly. In quite a small cafe.
The percentage of patrons (which numbered in the teens) who did not hear Milo’s comment was surely zero. A hush descended on the group which had been, until our arrival, happily enjoying all manner of milk substitutes. All eyes shuffled swiftly, and judgmentally in my direction. Nobody was looking at the little knee-high neo-conservative looking up at me with his challenging eyes and maniacal grin. Why would they? How could a 3 year old possibly have adopted such last-century views without clear direction and guidance around the breakfast table.
I thought about engaging Milo in the same manner I had on the street, but with those wounds fresh, I thought better of it and instead decided to make our purchase, retreat to the rainbow roundabout and never return. I ordered a ‘vegan dessert kebab’ and a ‘cafe latte’ and then sought to distract my child by pointing out things in the window that looked like chocolate. As I bent down toward Milo the noticeably unimpressed barista asked me what type of milk I wanted. My brain, straining under supreme cognitive load, decided not to process this question and instead replied with its reptilian lobe;
“normal”, I said.
“Do you mean cow’s milk?” she asked, with a slight lowering of her eyelids, and a curling of her lip.
I stood up straight, my eyes quickly traversing every unimpressed face in the room as I swung them around toward the barista. “Um, yes please”. No response, only a return to activity at the coffee machine.
The kebab and coffee appeared mercifully quickly. I tucked the kebab under one arm, scooped up my recalcitrant child with the other and backed awkwardly and noisily out of the cafe. The last thing those patrons would have heard as we stumbled our way back onto the street was “daddy, do you know I want to marry mummy, not you?”; at an ever-diminishing volume as we dashed haphazardly toward the relative anonymity of the tyre yard…
Toddlers are unpredictable and shatteringly illogical, in an irritatingly logical way.
I am a great proponent of the ‘try to see it from their perspective whenever possible’ mantra. They have narrow frames of reference, incomplete life experience and minimal access to wikipedia. Many of the rules that govern their little lives are built on context, assumed knowledge and nuance. None of which they are particularly great at.
Take food for example. Without Harold the Healthy Giraffe (RIP), the Ribena Berries and Tony the Tiger, none of which are yet accessible to Milo, how would we know what is healthy and what is not? A cookie is undoubtedly tastier to eat than a tree of broccoli. When, as an adult, you choose to eat that tree taste is playing only a minor role in your overall deliberation. What care Milo for these deliberations? Milo knows very little about dietary fiber, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids, and what he knows he doesn’t care for. So when we try to sell an argument that he needs to eat (insert arbitrary number) of broccoli trees before he can have a small fragment of cookie the whole thing must seem spurious, illogical, and frankly a little cruel. Two broccoli trees equals the upper portion of a kinder-surprise? Why? Over time our toddlers accept this devil’s compromise; but they never understand it, they never like it, and they never forgive us for wielding our power so capriciously.
There is no event that requires a more honest and consistent reflection on the ‘try to see it from their perspective’ mantra than introducing a new baby into a home already inhabited by a toddler.
About 4 months ago Kuepps (my wife) mentioned to me 2 or 3 times that later in the year she would be bringing home another man to live with us, another husband essentially with whom we would be sharing our lives from that point forward. I wasn’t really paying attention as I was building a wicked train track at the time, and besides the whole thing seemed esoteric, unlikely, and future-Jupes’ problem.
Kuepps mentioned this idea to me a few times at irregular intervals over the ensuing months. Each time I expressed my general displeasure with the idea but on reflection I must say I had the feeling my perspective wasn’t being given full consideration. The whole concept gave me a feeling of uneasiness but I continued to presume that something so outlandish and clearly damaging to our rather enjoyable and peaceful existence was very unlikely to happen.
About a week ago Kuepps dropped me at my mother-in-law’s house where I stayed for 2 nights. It was a bit weird, not a usual occurrence, and I was given no real explanation beyond “won’t it be fun to stay with your mother-in-law?” Not really, but they have quite good pastries and the whole thing was pleasant enough.
On the second morning I returned home looking forward to spending a little time with my wife, eating some smoked salmon, building a sweet tower out of Duplo and sharing some rather humorous anecdotes from my small trip away. When I arrived home I was quickly deflated however because there, sat on my couch with my wife, was a man. “Hi Jupes, how are you?” My wife said, in a voice so sweet it made me think something was up; “This is Colin, our new husband, isn’t he beautiful?”
What??!! No! He’s not beautiful at all, and hang on – what??!! I stayed where I was and had a good look at Colin. He was a bit younger than me, but looked eerily similar. He was ignoring me completely, didn’t even cast a look in my direction. I could tell immediately he was a bit of a dick. My world was spinning and Colin just sat there, dribbling on himself, looking lecherously up at my wife, occasionally clambering at her bosom in a gratuitous and entirely unseemly way. I was shattered.
“Oh look Jupes, Colin got you a terrific gift” I turned my head to the kitchen bench upon which sat a garishly wrapped gift of some kind. “Go on, open it!” Kuepps encouraged. Dumbfounded, I stumbled over to the kitchen and unwrapped it, a nice coffee machine. “Do you like it??” It was nice I must admit, but I could tell Colin had played no part in its procurement. He didn’t seem like a guy who would know anything about coffee machines. “Say thank you to Colin”.
“Thanks Colin”, I muttered, and slumped into my chair, head in my hands. Kuepps continued the charm offensive; “Isn’t it wonderful to have another man in the house? In time you and Colin are going to best friends!”
What!!?? That is absolutely not going to happen. Colin is clearly utterly self-involved, lascivious and arguably incontinent. I am not sharing anything with him, let alone my wife! As I was reaching for my mobile to call Colin a taxi my mum arrived, brushed past me and headed straight for Colin.
My mum then demanded to cuddle Colin and when she had pried him away from Kuepps she did this sickening little bobbing dance with him whilst continuously complimenting my wife on being so clever. What is this?? How could my own mother be so utterly unsympathetic to my situation. MY WIFE HAS JUST BROUGHT THIS STRANGE MAN COLIN INTO MY HOUSE, WHY IS EVERYBODY OK WITH THIS??
Eventually my mother stopped dancing with this strange man and then asked whether I would like to have Colin on my lap for a photo. Of course I don’t bloody well want Colin on my lap for a photo. I want Colin out of my house. At that point the rest of my family arrived, all in a buoyant mood despite the fact my world was collapsing around me. Somebody, I can’t even remember who, picked Colin up by his waist and dropped him down on my lap. “Smile Jupes” everybody was saying as they crowded around me for a photograph – nobody seemed to be insisting that Colin do anything; he just lay there, like a privileged, slightly orange, plump little interloper, waving his ill-proportioned little arms and legs around like he was having a seizure. The whole thing was a nightmare. I felt discombobulated, vulnerable and humiliated.
Over the following week things did not improve. I barely saw Kuepps; she and Colin would routinely disappear into the bedroom where they would giggle for hours. No Kuepps at bath time, no Kuepps at bed time, no Kuepps at all.
Colin. Has. Ruined. Everything.
…and that is why Milo has been afforded significant leeway for his transgressions over the past week. Considering the cataclysmic shift he has endured he is performing extremely well and both he and his brother Monty (not Colin) are learning slowly how to co-exist, and will in short order, I am positive, commence their allied overthrow of the house.