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    Level Two Love

    Freedom!

    This will be my last post for the COVID-19 diary I’ve been keeping over lockdown, and I’m looking forward to resuming my usual blogging ways.

    New Zealand rejoiced as we moved to Level Two on Thursday. We are that much closer to ‘normality’.

    We surprise our parents with a quick visit to Whanganui, arriving unannounced in the evening.

    There are many, many hugs. The grandparents have been totally desperate to hug Miss E and Master D; lockdown has been hard for them. My MiL has found it particularly hard as she is on her own. Physical touch is her love language and the lack of hugs got her down as the weeks went on. Fortunately she was able to break her bubble in Level Three and hang out with her bestie, but friend-hugs aren’t quite the same as the enthusiastic, leaping-into-arms hugs she got from Miss E and Master D. You are much less likely to crack a rib from a friend-hug.

    Full body-slam-grandkid hugs are back!
    Oma gets put to work on the swing

    We stay with friends who have lots of space for us. They have children of a similar age to ours, and they are thrilled to have friends to play with again. Because their location is not somewhere they can walk safely around the neighbourhood, their children haven’t left their property the entire time over lockdown – although they are on a lifestyle block with tons of room to play.

    Because our friends + family would be more than 10, we are unable to celebrate all together. We have to spend the day staggering our time so that everyone gets an equal share of our time. Master D demands to know why we can’t stay for ‘twelve nights’. He is enjoying being back with his friend Z.

    But we have online church to get back to, school to get ready for, a new job to prepare for, and we must head back to Wellington.

    The trip does us all good. The change of scene is needed, the hugs are wonderful, the conversations are welcome. We come back with our tanks filled.

    The children are nervous about starting school. Parents are discouraged from coming on the the school grounds, and those who do must download a tracing app. The children have to line up on marked crosses and sanitise their hands before entering the classroom. They are told not to ‘freak out’ if they accidentally touch someone, but to go and wash their hands.

    My children come home talking about avoiding ‘moist breaths’ over their classmates. I can’t get out of them how their day was or what they talked about in class. But I do know the school was prioritising play and re-establishing connections, and I imagine COVID stories will feature for quite some time. Master D, in the meantime, comes home with serious bags under his eyes, and is already asking when he can have a day off!

    I have found my new job to be very energising – and definitely got the job thanks to my writing and blogging skills. The hours are flexible, and easily worked around the needs of my family, so I am very grateful to have it!

    Most people have no idea how difficult it is to find part-time work that is actually family-friendly. I’m serious, go check your local job search website. The majority of part-time jobs expect workers to be available to come in 24/7 (often on a casual basis), and almost always include weekend work.

    It may sound strange to you, but I’ve been saddened to read over and over again reports of workers being able to ‘reconnect’ with their children over lockdown, or for the opportunity to ‘slow down’ from the busyness of normal life. I am not bagging working parents at all(!), but surely the pandemic has highlighted how much the way in which we work and do business has to change? To stop treating workers like they don’t have family, or other commitments in their lives? Getting any work/life balance is impossible for most people – one of those things always loses out. When it takes a pandemic for workers to be able to spend quality time with their families then something is terribly wrong.

    While Level Two has reunited me with my loved ones, I am nervous of what is to come over the next few months. The recession, the job losses, the hardships. Life is not going to be ‘the same’. Nor should it be, but it is my prayer that good things will eventually emerge from this worldwide mess.

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    Back to school feelings

    The children’s school has been great at helping them process life in a COVID pandemic, without dwelling on it or scaring them. For their schoolwork today they are asked to draw a picture and write about how they are feeling about returning to school next week.

    Master D gets to work and draws a picture of himself and a friend driving a robot each. I’m not sure if he was trying to make a statement about the increased use of technology in the classroom or the perhaps the perils of artificial intelligence (as one of the people in the robots doesn’t look too happy)? I’m sure one of those options is correct. Deep, Master D, deep.

    Miss E draws a thumbs in the middle (neither up nor down, my little Roman historian). She writes that she doesn’t feel that good about going back to school.

    Worried about her anxiety, I ask some probing questions before she finally reveals her reticence about school…she won’t be allowed to trade Pokemon cards anymore.

    Yeah, I think my kids are gonna be fine.

    We potter about. I make two batches of cheese scones – it is a pain to be gluten free. We are cheese scone addicts I confess, although I must make a batch of plain ones after discovering you can actually buy clotted cream in NZ now. My mother has been waiting to try it for her entire life after reading about it in books.

    Our mail brings a nice surprise for me, a supermarket voucher as a thank you for participating in a university study. I ALWAYS participate in uni studies whenever I meet the criteria as having run several studies at uni myself I know how low the take up rates are. I am also part of a pay-for-taking-surveys site, which is an easy way to make some free money. You won’t get rich, but I have made over $100 this year already just by taking a few minutes each day to take part, and I think that’s not to be sniffed at.

    I spend the afternoon refreshing my social media skills, and taking a few free courses as research for my new job that starts next week. There are some cool new tools I have discovered which will serve me well.

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    Welcome to Level Two!

    Will restrictions ease soon?

    We have a good morning of school work. Avoiding the daily Zoom call is working, and Master D has a much better attitude towards school. Today is Te Reo, specifically looking at colours and numbers. Rev G whips out the guitar for several rousing renditions of ‘Ma is White’, and we sing Anika Moa’s ‘Tahi, Rua, Toru, Wha’ at the top of our lungs.

    After a couple of rough days last week, it feels like we have got our groove back.

    We study the seasons and the months of the year – again, I have another song (about the months of the year) in my repertoire. Master D is over all the writing, so I set him the task of writing August, his birth month, which he does with great gusto, and reminding me of the things he would like to get for his birthday.

    I am excited for the government’s announcement at 4pm, hoping they will announce we can move into Level Two. I am so keen, I make dinner early so I don’t have to miss any of the news!

    Rev G and I sit holding hands. Seldom have we felt like we were watching historic moments, but these last few weeks have certainly felt that way.

    I worry that this time will be romanticised in the future, a bit like the Blitz. An elderly friend who was a teenager during the Blitz said it was terrifying and scarred her for life. There was no help, no support, she said there was no choice but to ‘keep calm and carry on’, but it came at a cost to mental health.

    I wonder if we will be fed a narrative of ‘that wonderful time when we were made to stay home and watch TV and play with our children’. Some people have had a marvellous time, but I hope the huge inequalities the pandemic has highlighted are not forgotten.

    A friend works at a Decile 1 school, and said the school has many families who haven’t engaged with the school AT ALL since Term 2 began, and many families who were given devices don’t know how to use them. The digital divide is real. Many seniors have also been left out, unable to navigate online shopping or video calls.

    Another friend is a single mum of three children under seven. This has been the hardest, most exhausting time of her life. All of her support systems and people were gone for a whole month.

    The only people I know who’ve had a great time are young and child-free. I don’t begrudge them, but I hope stories of the lonely, the people who have lost jobs and businesses, and the grieving are not drowned out by those who were living their ‘best life’ under lockdown.

    Jacinda takes the podium and announces that we will indeed move to Level Two on Thursday.

    Thank God.

    School will go back on May 18th (just in time for my new job!), we can travel regionally again, cafes and restaurants and malls can open up again.

    We are a bit shocked to hear that churches are not allowed to open yet. In fact, social gatherings of any kind are limited to 10. Bars are also lumped into this category. I can understand why. Churches, bars, funerals, weddings, concerts etc have been major vectors of COVID-19 transmission.

    Church is a place where people from all walks of life gather to worship, and to have fellowship. There are always vulnerable people in our midst. We sit together, sing together, hug, mingle over morning tea, lay hands on each other in prayer, take communion together. It may be a few more weeks before we can gather normally again.

    I look forward to school returning, both so I can get a break(!), but so the children can reconnect with their classmates and friends once more. Lockdown has been tough on my two extroverts.

    I’m looking forward to seeing my family, to hanging out with friends. Going to the museum; walking where ever I choose.

    And no one hoarding toilet paper.

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    Level 3: Day 7

    Master D wakes up multiple times in the night. He is scared. He is hot. He needs cuddles. It takes Rev G and I back to the newborn days, and not in an ‘Aw, how cute is it that he needs us?’ way.

    We’re exhausted.

    Rev G is kind and lets me sleep in, and as I try to get going in the morning, it is clear that I am still not over the bug we’ve all had. Rev G got it first, and it lasted for days. I’m so tired I can barely think – just how Rev G was last week!

    Unfortunately for him, my lack of energy means he has to be on the kids today. He has work to do, so you can imagine Rev G’s stress levels and tiredness from the interrupted sleep! After lunch I lie on my son’s bed as he keeps up a stream of consciousness monologue while he colours in an activity book. He just needs company.

    Master D’s room needs tidying quite badly, but neither of us has the energy to do it. I lie there, trying to summon up the willpower for a cleaning frenzy. It does not magically appear. Does anyone else feel like they’ll have to do a massive clean when all of this is over? I find it almost impossible to keep up with the daily tornado of detritus my children leave all over the house.

    Miss E does her schoolwork, some of which is just using reading and maths apps on the laptop. Although we normally don’t let out kids near apps, today I am grateful for these, as they are keeping her happy and occupied.

    She has had her ups and downs over lockdown, but has mostly taken it well. She is keen to do schoolwork, and is generally just a good, sweet kid. I know she is still scared about the virus, but that anxiety has lessened considerably, and she has adapted to our new normal without too much complaint.

    Master D is a different story. Although his behaviour has been better over the past few days, his anxiety is still quite evident. He is just over it. He’s angry and just wants to get back to playing at school.

    Master D finishes his colouring, so we snuggle on the couch and watch a movie. At the moment he HATES being alone. Even though I’m not 100%, I can at least give him some one-on-one time, and my presence.

    I eagerly watch the 4pm update from our Prime Minister. I thought she was giving us details of what Level Two will be like, but that is being left until Thursday. Still, she is in talks with Australia about a Trans-Tasman bubble – perhaps our planned trip to the Gold Coast in July may still happen? I live in hope…

    I am still confident we will move to Level Two some time next week. Now the end is in sight I have noticed I’m more able to do more high-level thinking, even despite my tiredness today. My word puzzles are easier to do, I’m back to watching my favourite murder-mystery shows, I’m back to reading books. I feel peaceful.

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    Level 3: Day 6

    It’s a put-your-feet-up day

    Today we have the most delicious sleep-in. Master D somehow makes it until 7:30am (late for him), so we blearily tell him he can watch the telly, and manage to sleep for another hour. Bliss.

    Today is the first Sunday off that Rev G has had since beginning his new job in January (ministers are entitled to a Sunday off each term, plus normal leave entitlement). We debate joining another church’s online service but we’re tired. A day off is definitely what we all need.

    The kids and I are still on the tail-end of a bug that’s left us wiped out, so we potter around all day, not doing much. The kids don’t eat until lunchtime, and demand to know why I am serving them lunch when they haven’t had breakfast. I am still in my PJ’s at 1pm. There is nothing that needs to be done urgently today.

    Our house resembles a bomb site; the detritus of children is everywhere. Rev G pits his wits against theirs, trying to get them to tidy up. Predictably, they act as if you’ve just asked them to climb Mt Everest using just a teaspoon for equipment. They are tired. We are tired. There are no winners today, except at least the lounge looks a little better.

    Rev G finds out his COVID-19 test is negative. Just as we thought. We have no idea where Rev G picked up the bug from (he is the only one who goes out for groceries), but regular cold viruses don’t stop for COVID pandemics, I guess.

    The weather is absolutely chucking it down; our street resembling a waterfall. I discover a leak in our roof by sitting right underneath it and getting a huge fright when the equivalent of a small cup of water suddenly gushes onto my top!

    I know our landlords had the roof re-done because it had multiple leaks when they lived here, but this particular leak is in an eave/window box and would have been missed. Fortunately the heavy rain passes so the leak stops.

    We spend the evening binge-watching The Stranger on Netflix, woah, what a good show!

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    Days 3-5

    On Thursday I came down with a bug that Rev G had likely brought home from a trip to the supermarket several days earlier.

    Rev G seldom gets sick, and when he does, he goes into this exasperating ‘deer-in-headlights/not really with the programme’ mode. He doesn’t seem sick as he’s not feverish or coughing or anything of the sort. He just sits there complaining about being tired and being unable to think. I always get irritated by this behaviour.

    What always happens next, is that I come down with it and get it badly. We then realise that Rev G wasn’t just being vacuous mess, he was actually sick.

    After this happening for what feels like the hundredth time in our marriage, we have come to an accord. The minute he starts acting like a brainless ditz, I am sending him off to bed!

    Anyway, this time I came down with a bug that left me a bit sniffly, a bit chesty and extremely tired. We don’t think it’s the ‘rona, but Rev G gets himself tested anyway. The Healthline staff don’t think it’s COVID-19, neither do the medical centre staff, and nor do the testing staff. But they are testing anyone with even one of the symptoms of COVID-19. It is better to be safe than sorry. We should hear the results on Monday.

    Given that we have not had close contact with anyone outside our bubble for six weeks, know no one who is a confirmed case, plus there are zero cases of community transmission currently in Wellington, the chances are this is just a typical winter bug.

    By Saturday I had recovered enough to have a job interview via Zoom, for a part-time role at one of our local churches. I’m quite excited about the role – a lot of it involves writing and using social media, so it is right up my alley. I will hear soon if I’ve been successful or not.

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    Day of Level Three (Take Two)

    As soon as I open my eyes I remember that we’ve moved into Level Three today. It puts a spring in my step.

    There is a flurry of activity across the road from us. Our neighbours house was in the middle of being painted when lockdown came and tools had to be put down. The painters are back with gusto, and the weather is perfect for them. It is a lovely reminder of all the businesses that can now reopen.

    Our local park has been overrun throughout lockdown; so overrun that it is quite stressful trying to maintain physical distancing. We have preferred to use side streets for our walks, but I do miss wide open spaces. We are now allow to travel to parks and beaches in our region as long as we are careful to maintain distancing, so we decide to head to one of my favourite spots in Wellington, the Botanic Gardens. It is a short car ride away, but too far to walk to with children, and I can’t tell you how much I have missed this place.

    There is definitely more traffic on the roads, but the gardens are not unduly busy. Most of the other walkers are elderly, who give Rev G and I grins as they watch our children playing.

    The gardens have many tracks snaking through them, and we take the tracks leading off the main one. They are quiet, we meet almost no one. The children have the ‘dell’ entirely to themselves and play there for quite some time, swinging on vines, performing shows on the stage, and generally just running around a big, wide, open grassy space. It is just what they have needed.

    Miss E wants to see the rose garden, and she is intrigued to discover each rose has a different name, and many have different smells and shapes. Both children visit each rose in turn, giving it a sniff, and reading out the names. We decide ‘summer dream’ is our favourite name. This is learning at its best.

    The day is warm and sunny, and I feel so much better for being able to get out here. We will definitely be back over level three.

    We decide to celebrate level three with a takeaway meal – I can’t tell you how glad I am for a break from cooking. Rev G is a good cook, but he takes an age to get any dinner on the table and invariably injures himself while cooking – cutting himself with a knife, scalding himself with boiling water, dropping a pan on his foot…it is usually less stressful to just cook myself.

    We want to support the small businesses in our suburb, so we get dinner from our local pub and are pleased to see it comes in recyclable and compostable packaging. Takeaway is not something we have often, but this certainly feels like even more of a treat than usual.

    I tune into the news – mostly to make sure we are following the ‘rules’ correctly. There are beautiful stories of families being reunited. One of the women in my prayer group is grateful that her inlaws are taking her young children for a few days as they have extended their bubble to include them. She and her husband have been incredibly stressed, trying to juggle working from home with looking after a 5 year old and a 9 year old. My friend is actually working on something very important for kickstarting our economy at her government job, so I am also grateful she is getting this break!

    Level three. The end of this mess is in sight.

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    Day 33: The last day of Level 4

    I sleep reasonably well, and am cheered by the thought that we will move to Level Three tomorrow, hooray!

    Thousands of coffee drinkers and takeaway lovers will be celebrating tomorrow. I don’t drink coffee, and being gluten free my takeaway options are limited, but we decide we’ll support our local pub by getting a meal. I figure the big chains will survive, but small, independent businesses need our help.

    Today however, the weather is atrocious and this seems fitting somehow. We muddle through the day, Rev G enjoying a day off. We do lots of baking; I do Tai Chi and the kids work out to Go Noodle. In the midst of this pottering, Rev G points out a small job going at a local church. I decide to apply. It is the right amount of hours, and the type of work I find interesting.

    My family Zoom catch up won’t work for some reason. But I know my parents are okay, and they are looking forward to expanding their bubble to include my brother from tomorrow. I hope it is only a matter of weeks before I can see them in person.

    I can’t believe we have made it through 33 days of lockdown. I vividly remember my heart sinking when the time frame for lockdown was announced – how could I possibly cope for that long? I’d already been housebound for two weeks and had found that hard.

    But we have coped. Some days have not been easy – pretty much all of last week was awful – however, we’ve had some great days too. As a family we haven’t imploded, and I’ve had more contact with my extended family than ever before. Rev G and I have helped our children to manage their emotions about COVID-19/lockdown, and their anxiety has significantly decreased.

    What will I take away from this experience?

    Nothing matters more than my family and friends.

    My simple life is pretty much how I want it. I know lots of people have appreciated the chance to slow down and shed all the busyness of life, but I can say there’s nothing I was doing before lockdown that I don’t want to pick up again once this is all over. I’m grateful for that.

    I’m looking forward to volunteering again at my church’s playgroup, and eventually picking up some part time work. I like having time to run errands, and being there for my kids after school. I like having time for writing small group studies and hope my brain is back to normal soon to get cracking on my novel.

    But I hope I never again take for granted being able to get out and explore where I live. Or being able to see my friends, to give out hugs, to sit in a cafe and visit my library. I hope I never again take for granted the good health of my family, being able to travel where ever I wish, to feel the sand beneath my feet as I walk on the beach, my beloved ‘culture vulture’ activities (the museums, theatres and galleries are calling me).

    I hope I never again take for granted all the people who really are essential: the supermarket workers, rubbish collectors, the Police, hospital and rest home staff. You’re bloody brilliant. I know you’ve just been doing your jobs, and you’ve probably been just as scared as the rest of us, but thank you. There are no words really, thank you is inadequate.

    We could not have done this without you.

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    Day 32

    Despite yesterday’s walk up a steep hill, my knee is none the worse for wear. In fact, I am able to walk on it today with very little pain, hooray! I won’t dance for joy in case that jinxes it, but I certainly am relieved to see improvement.

    Online church is well attended. We’ve been getting different families to videos themselves doing the actions to some of the children’s songs, with adorable results. It brings a smile to all.

    I have a quick chat with my cousin who is a social worker at a hospital. She says her work was initially crazy, dropping off groceries and other things to her vulnerable clients (she works with the elderly). Work is less busy now as they are getting few referrals from GPs. No one wants to go to the doctor right now.

    She is part of the COVID-19 response team at the hospital, donning PPE ech day. She is in good spirits – they have not been overrun thanks to our swift lockdown.

    I wonder how this pandemic will change us. Will we see any lasting benefits or will we quickly return to ‘normal’? Will our generation be like my grandmother’s, who went through the Great Depression? When she died, we found used wrapping paper, countless rubber bands and string, a huge stash of plastic bags. All remnants of a generation who never let anything go to waste.

    In the future will we have stashes of pantry staples, hand sanitiser and face masks in case of another pandemic? I expect for many of us the answer will be yes.

    Miss E wonders when she can go back to school. She is desperate for some time away from her brother, so Rev G and I plan to take each child out for some one-on-one time once we move to level three as our recreation options will open up a bit more.

    Tonight is Master D’s turn to run family night. We watch both Frozen movies. Fortunately for me, watching movies never gets old. But I worry about Master D, he is rather listless. Lockdown has been hard for him, and he is not himself. The lack of stimulation from other kids is affecting him, and I hope we can get back to school in a couple of weeks.

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    Day 31

    An early start for the day, getting up for the ANZAC dawn service. I have seldom missed it over the course of my life, even attending them when I lived in London.

    A ‘Stand at your Letterbox at Dawn’ campaign was launched by the Returned Services Association, and many of our neigbours have decorated their front yards and fences with poppies.

    At 6am the service begins. There are 6 people out on our street, not a great number as our street is quite long, but I see lights on in other houses and I suspect many people are listening on their radios inside.

    The day is cool and windy, but fine. We head to a nearby reserve that I’ve read about but never visited before. Online I am told it has a family friendly circular track. It is a stunning walk.

    The path leads up through bush, going up hill for about 30 minutes, and you are rewarded by expansive views of Wellington and the harbour.

    We spend over an hour in the bush; it is just what I needed. The walk is too steep for my knee right now, but I pushed myself and am still very glad we went. I will wait a bit longer before attempting it again, I did spend several sections of the walk having to hobble around like I was 80.

    Miss E and Master D are in their element, flitting about the bush like sprites. They find cicada casings, they claim a hollowed out section of bank as their ‘palace’, they climb trees and make up games.

    I catch up with family online and they seem in good spirits today. Most of my parents’ street turned up for the Dawn Service after my mother made everyone a poppy invitation.

    By the end of the day, the wheels fall off. I have just noticed that Master D has scratched something in the house quite badly – which is bad because we are renting, and bad because, well, we don’t use scissors to deface property ever.

    He goes to bed in disgrace. Miss E gets upset because I am cross that she watched her brother do it and said nothing. She too goes off to bed.

    Rev G’s sermon has vanished and he cannot find it on his computer anywhere, so he spends much of the day rewriting it. It is not for nought, he thinks the new version is better anyway.

    I spend my time doing exciting things like online grocery shopping and cleaning and perusing Pinterest for craft ideas using the limited resources we have. I got rid of loads of craft stuff before we moved – now I wish I had things like scrap pieces of fabric and embroidery floss. I rarely get remorse about things I’ve cleaned out, but this year, boy, so many things would have made a difference to my lockdown experience if I’d hung onto them!

    Hindsight huh.