Week eight of lockdown was a challenging one in our household. With my husband working long hours from the spare bedroom, it fell to me to become chief teacher, cook, cleaner, dog walker and all-round operative of essential domestic tasks. On the school front, we had a day of big emotions as I tried to navigate a tired, dyslexic child through spellings and syntax, realising how difficult learning must be when words don’t arrive in their regular formations. I felt guilty for my older son, too, so accepting of the lack of attention offered to him as he squirrels away at his papers, or taps out assignments on the Chromebook at his desk.
On weekdays, we follow our well-trodden routine – breakfast at eight, P.E. with Joe at nine, school work at ten…..and then coffee, always so welcome at ten-thirty. We work on until lunch, avert our eyes to the dishes, eat, eat, and eat again, and wind up the school day by one-thirty (and if this doesn’t happen by one-thirty, it is likely we are having a Very Difficult Day indeed). We attend to the dishes, trying not to feel sad that the dishwasher we ordered has been delayed, leaving us to play out small scenes of domestic frustration in our kitchen. Later, we walk our dog, and every other day, our neighbour’s dog. Outside of our own household, we realise that the little dog next door has become the most familiar face we see.
On walks (of which we can now do more than one), we see light and shade, the seasons, nature – all condensed into a circular daily outing. Ironically, I see more people than I ever did pre-lockdown, as everyone takes advantage of the only outdoor time human beings in a pandemic can legitimately take. Most people smile and wave, but one cyclist passes with an angry shout, the substance of which is lost to the wind, who like me, seems to find no reason to justify it. I walk along the beach, noticing two bags of rubbish someone has left there. I feel dismal, trying to pick up the worst of the flying debris before it is lost to the sea and the wind, vast elemental forces forced to shore up careless actions and uninvited words.
On the walk home, I notice a teddy, hanging tied to a post with string – a dispatch to an erstwhile owner. There is something quietly tragic about the bear, his downcast expression, the sense of loss that permeates the air he swings in – a loss which suddenly seems to converge with all the other losses in the world. I resolve that if the bear finds his owner, all will be well, and there is still a place for happy endings. Back home, I share his image on social media and wonder how many other people attribute human emotions to stuffed teddies. Thirty minutes later, I am still thinking about the bear.
The next day, my husband’s parents leave a bag of kindness on our doorstep. It’s a packed lunch made for all of us – a gesture of care wrapped up in brown paper and serviettes. My friend, too, leaves me a home-made card and fragranced soap, and a teacher sends a message reminding my son (and us) that we are doing brilliantly.
When I go for my next walk, the little bear is gone, the space he left filled not with loss, but a sense of hopefulness.
I see light and shade all around me.
And I stride onwards, turning my face towards the sun.