Lockdown Lessons: A Short Story
In the distance, they scurry: racing, weaving, tracing, tracking, dreaming. They’re Zooming to the moon and back. But my life is full of questions.
I can’t Zoom. I don’t have any oo. It has eluded us. Oo is required for many words, for many stages of the day.
I need my oo to complain and state my case, to ask: What took you so long? I thought you’d put the kettle on. What took you so long to lock down? To test?
What took you so long to send three pints of milk and a packet of fish fingers?
We’re sorry. We are experiencing unprecedented levels of Zooming.
But I can’t Zoom. I don’t have the oo these days.
Oo is required for saying boo to a goose. We had zipped through at, and sat and map. We have whizzed through hug, and cup, and mug. (Mug was ridiculously easy.) But I have come to dread our phonics.
Mummy, come and hide with me. Boo. Peepo. Come and seek with me. Come and be a ghost again. Are ghosts scary?
Lots of things are scary, sweetheart. But ghosts aren’t real.
Anyway, I can’t play games today. I’ve lost my oo. Maybe we’ll find it on Netflix. Maybe it’s hiding on the Disney Channel, tucked away amongst the cartons. Or is that the supermarket?
Let’s search for it on Thursday night. Let’s see if we can clap it back.
But I don’t feel like clapping this week. Friends and relatives don PPE, when they can get it. Will clapping help? I phone a friend.
What are the options?
I suppose I could have a bath.
How many footballers can you fit in a Mini? Is it still one? Who knows this week? I squeeze two sweaty children into the bath with a mound of toys. Why are there so many bubbles?
How many politicians does it take to change a lightbulb? Definitely seven. One to change the bulb, the other six to say that changing a bulb was always in the rules.
In the distance, the clamouring augments, a deafening crescendo that threatens to explode inside my head.
Mummy, are we going to clap tonight?
We’ve missed the clap. You’re in the bath. Anyway, there were options.
One option is to stand on the steps at a minute to eight and shout and jeer for all that we have lost. To scream and weep and cry. To yell. But not to howl.
You can’t howl at the moon. Too much oo.
You can’t boo the baddies, not even for the missing PPE. Not even for what they’ve done to me.
I’m a poet. I don’t know it.
Whoever dealt it smelt it.
Mummy, what’s PPE?
It’s what Joe Wickes does.
I don’t do Joe Wickes. Joe Wickes is cool. (Not at all an annoying tool.) Instead, I return to the missing letters.
Oo is required for keeping cool on a hot bank holiday, keeping cool as reports roll in, keeping cool that the rules were never the rules. Julia Donaldson has written a book on phonics that is supposed to help. Why doesn’t it help?
Can we go to the playground today?
Maybe next week.
Can I have some cow’s milk?
This surprises me - why? Perhaps he has a penchant for Soy, or Almond, Coconut or Goat’s. No. It’s because it’s normally me.
Silly cow. Silly, silly cow.
But cows are surely fine. Cows live on farms, not in the human zoo that threatens to engulf me, would swallow us all whole if only we could find the oo.
Everything is only what we say. We never said you had to stay home.
I never wanted to stay home. I did Mumsnet, years ago - just once, because I got flamed by a SAHM. I searched online: Stay At Home Mum, wally.
Perhaps you don’t want to be a SAHM. But SOME OF US LIKE IT.
(The capitals sound very happy.) Some of us CARE about our children, do what’s best. The best things in life are free. Stargazing. Memories. The NHS.
Kids will remember the walk by the river, the play in the woods, the trip to A&E. What’s wrong with that?
Clearly, I don’t love my kids as much.
Yes, I am a silly, silly cow. But I have lost my Moo.
I leave the phonics and try to teach them left and right. But it’s hard. I struggle to pin down any learning, to separate right from all the wrong, to differentiate my good from bad because my good has gone, with my missing oo. What does that leave? God, I suppose.
We can do God – easy in comparison to this mess. God goes with dog, and bog and Zog. My sons are experts on Zog, that pesky dragon.
Mummy, why are you wearing a silly dress, Mummy?
It’s sunny today.
Only silly princesses wear dresses. You should get a stethoscope and fly on a dragon.
Then they’ll clap me every week. This is the truth according to Julia Donaldson, according to a five-year-old. There’s a slug in the jug, a cat on our mat, and Mummy goes to work on the back of a dragon.
Dragons aren’t real. Ghosts aren’t real. None of this is real. And I’m allergic to cats.
Are dinosaurs real, Mummy?
I can’t remember. Is Julia Donaldson real?
I serve fish fingers for the third day in a row. Sainsbury’s has run out of spaghetti hoops. Too much oo? Or maybe it’s because too many of us have been jumping through them. Sainsbury’s sends long wiggly strands, and my children don’t eat long wiggles. They eat fish fingers.
My toddler asks for something.
Is it something to eat? No.
Is it something to drink? No.
Is it something to play with?
I know. I understand. We’ll find it together.
We all bounce on the trampoline, not constrained by gravity or common sense, or the laws of truth, bouncing ourselves dizzy. But the circles I go round in never seem to meet, to join and form the missing phoneme.
Mummy, what are you doing?
I’m writing a story.
What’s it about?
It doesn’t have a plot. I lost the plot. That was one of the first things to go.
Can we go to grandma’s?
Oo is necessary for hope, too: Soon darling. No, not soon. One day.
When will we go back to nursery? To school? To work?
I smile. One day. Too much oo in school.
I know I am definitely not going mad, because you howl at the moon when you’re mad. And I can’t do that – you know why. I howl at the man instead. That’s much better. I howl at the man, I sock it to the man, I scream at the man on the telly. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.
June the first. Definitely all fine by then. Can you change a nappy from two metres? Can you go on a bear hunt with fifteen toddlers?
We’re not scared.
I rock in a corner. I shake with rage. Whilst I was locked away, everyone else was Zooming.
I search for the oo in a box, tied shut with string, rifling through the tickets to the concert I never got to see, the pile of invitations to my cancelled wedding, the contracts that I’ll never finish. I re-tie the string tighter, its fraying threads a hint of what I’ve lost. My spool of wool.
Perhaps there was no wedding. There was definitely no wedding – it was cancelled on live TV. I remember it so very clearly.
But perhaps there was never a wedding, or a funeral, or a lockdown?
I take the ring off my finger, twirl around the solitary diamond, a single o, dredge my memory to recall where I put the other ring, the cancelled one, the one to make my oo. In another box, perhaps. I have been putting a lot of things in boxes.
Mummy. Can I have some booby milk, mummy?
I have found my oo. It was there, safe in the bosom of my home; it was right in front of me the whole time, dangling, swollen and milky.
Perhaps I am good, after all. Or not so very bad. Mumsnet may embrace me?
Not everyone wants to breastfeed a toddler. Perhaps you are compensating for not spending time with your children, compensating for preferring to work. Some of us enjoy being a SAHM.
No, breastfeeding is my instinct. That is never wrong.
I snuggle closer, pour booby milk down my big baby’s mouth. We are all children, anyway. I miss my mum.
Why have we only heard about the dad? What about the mum? Were they even farmers? Can the wife not drive? She didn’t seem so passive in her article.
I shove the thoughts into the distance. I have found the source of the leak. I have located the place where my oo drains away, slowly with rhythmic sucking motions, as quietly and stealthily as a stroll by a river, a wander in a bluebell wood. It slips out of my nipple, like water from a dripping tap, or a lie from a politician.
It’s the most natural thing in the world.