Chipper from our first day of home schooling, I skip out of bed with the rooks (larks are in short supply here), dress and light the fire. By the time I’ve prepared a nourishing repast of scrambled eggs and toast, Cerberus has told me to “fuck off” and Medusa has mastered “I hate you daddy”. This doesn’t look promising. I thought they had left this behaviour in the Christmas holidays, assuming it was a jocular festive phase, the season of ill-will and hilarious japes with doting family members.
It gets worse. My parents video call as we start the day’s lesson, just as I am wondering why ‘ay ee aye oh you’ have to be pronounced ‘ah eh ih aw uh’ as if we were simpletons. I distinctly remember my first teacher rapping a giant rod upon capital and lower case vowels written on orange paper on the wall until we pronounced them in Her Majesty’s English. I presume this is progress but uncertainty creeps in.
The video call does not go well. My own mother, having been keen on garden parties when lockdown one happened, lives now in mortal fear of going to the supermarket.
“Morning !, how are you today Cerberus?”
“Granny!, I have a spiderman, spiderman, spiderman..have you seen my lion?”
“Lovely, wish I had one. Where’s your dad?”
“Here mum. We’re just doing school work, are you both well?”
“Yes, yes, of course. Why are you doing schooling, you shouldn’t bother. When you had measles and whooping cough we didn’t have to teach you anything, and look at you now. By the way, did you see that story about that man who died from coronavirus, so sad. Did you know him?”
‘Stay calm’ I tell myself. I don’t. Rather, I opt for the inflammatory “Didn’t my granny look after me when I was sick? We have to work as well as look after the children, you know.” It ends like the final whistle of a football match in Flanders’ fields.
Mother messages me a link to the story and I resist the urge to mention the chap was gargantuan. Her advice on home schooling is not lost on Cerberus. He leaves the room. I cut off the call to go and look for him. Medusa has drawn in wax crayon on the living room wall. I hear Mrs M shouting at the boy to stop standing on the kitchen worktop. She calls him an asshole. I hear a glass smash. I turn about swiftly, shut the door as quietly as I can and go to the shed where I sit shivering in the cold and light a cigarette. I have another two before I venture back inside.
Bustling in with faked enthusiasm I call Cerberus and seat him at a desk. He picks up an eraser, bites a piece of it then spits it out. Best to ignore. I bring up the class timetable to the screen. Phonics part two then a number warm up exercise. The phonics exercise is parked. I tell myself we’ll finish it later (we don’t). I run back to the shed, smoke another cigarette and tie a piece of string to a stone to make a pendulum for one of the number warm-ups. Back inside I drag Cerberus to the study and ask him to count the swings of the pendulum “one, two, three..” which he does. I make the mistake of suggesting we do “five, ten, fifteen..”. He downs tools and leaves, with a departing “fuck’s sake daddy”. Half an hour later there’s a live storytelling with Mrs E. The second the story finishes, the boy jumps off the chair and disappears. Mrs E says bye to the classmates who’ve remained, telling the children to get their parents on for a quick Q&A. I pause, trying to think of a question. Then click leave. Can’t face it.
I send a message to the parents group chat with a laughing emoji bemoaning today’s abortive home schooling. No-one replies. I suspect they didn’t like it when I likened Nicola Sturgeon to Kathy Bates’ character in Misery. On the bright side lockdown will probably mean I don’t see anyone in person before Easter.
I knuckle down for actual work but my enthusiasm is watery. The children are inciting a mini-riot; Mrs M has been dragged in and the day has been taken on an ugly hue. It is 11am.
A woodpecker crawls up a tree outside my window, smashing its face against the trunk. I am minded to do the same.
For the remainder of the day I am in a stupefied state of exhaustion and I wonder if my work will be ill judged and get me sacked. Lets hope not. Mrs M takes the children to a nearby village playpark in the afternoon. ‘Can you be fined for that?’ I think to myself. Better not tell her otherwise I’ll end up with them. I also get a bill from our nursery and realise we idiotically committed to pay 50% of fees during lockdown. I send an email to them outlining our regret and ask we pay nothing, as we are receiving nothing. No reply.
Cerberus and Medusa refuse a walk with me after the playpark; instead dismantling all chairs and sofas in the living room, laying them out as beds covering the entire floor. It looks like a Leith drug den.
I cook dinner, neck half a bottle of red, and imagine the benefits if I were to be hospitalised. No work, no schooling, no minors incessantly screaming. Only a mild illness, bad enough that I’d need to be in for a couple of weeks but which wouldn’t prevent me from reading books or doing the crossword and writing letters to people. I start to wonder if you are allowed paperbacks in hospital with coronavirus restrictions. God, that would be a major fuck up if not.
Cerberus insists on staying up until 10pm. No coercion, convincing, forcefully or delicately can get him down. If I had a brick to hand I’d knock myself out with it.
I remember we are expecting our third child before long and break into a cold sweat.
I see a story in the news about a young woman who has died from coronavirus; a tragic, miserable, tale. Nowhere in the article does it mention she is morbidly obese. I send the link to my mother. No reply.