International Women’s Day this year came on a Sunday, the day before Italy declared a national lockdown. “Let’s celebrate our rights and look optimistically towards the future!” we declared. And then, after less than 24 hours, guess what? We’re going to be at home with our children for the next two weeks and probably longer!
Whether they are toddlers or teenagers, our kids in lock-down need to be managed. And they are most likely going to be managed by us, the mamas. In these first weeks of lockdown, I have realized the importance of sdrammatizzare – that wonderful Italian art of sucking the drama out of something that is truly dramatic. It’s the art of keeping a smile on your face when confronted with catastrophe. Italy, with its history of wars and plagues and economic disasters, could never have survived without it. When life is rosy, it’s fine to be dramatic. When there is a crisis, it is essential to keep a sense of humor and irony.
If you are not able to sdrammatizzare, I’m afraid, you might not survive a lockdown with teenagers. So, I’ve compiled a few Do’s and Don’ts to help us make it through the next few weeks.
DON’T: WALK INTO YOUR KIDS ROOMS AND SPEAK
There is no way to know whether your kids are “in class” when “class” is in your home. You will see them in front of a screen, but then again they are always in front of a screen. Yesterday I entered my son’s room in pajamas (a positive aspect of the lockdown-elastic-waisted pajamas at noon are perfectly acceptable!). Handing him some orange juice, I used a term of endearment that hasn’t come out of my mouth for years. How could I have known he was in Latin class? His teacher and peers did not see a domestic goddess fighting to keep her family healthy, but a fuzzy, shuffling crazy lady whose roots had grown out. Be warned.
DO: LET GO OF SCREEN TIME WORRIES
Biology class becomes Instagram which becomes TikTok which becomes Houseparty. Accept it. Global technology gave this virus the possibility to travel at the speed of light, and it also gave us Netflix. Nobody is expecting you to entertain/stimulate/engage your children when there is a global pandemic afoot.
DON’T: OBSESS OVER CLEANING UP
I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but you do not live with homo-sapiens. You live with pigs. The sooner you own this, the better. Would you be bitter or passive aggressive with cute little piglets? Of course not. Let go of the possibility of a clean house: it’s not going to happen.
DO: COOK THINGS THAT TAKE FOREVER
Remember those recipes that said soak the beans for four hours or sit overnight in the fridge? The ones you knew you’d never have time to make? It’s lock-down! You have endless time to let things simmer, rise and soak. Your kids, despite the fact that they are not engaged in any physical activity outside the house, are ravenous. Always. (Make sure they scrub the pots – they’ve got the time!)
DON’T: TRY TO KEEP SIBLINGS FROM FIGHTING
Space, wi-fi, remote controls, phones: they will have it out over anything and everything. Don’t revisit Siblings Without Rivalry, just tune them out. Beats headphones are great!
DO: TAKE OFF YOUR WATCH AND NAP*
Time keeping as we know it has only been around since the Industrial Revolution. It was instituted for train travel and factory production. Since there is no travel or production in the time of the Coronavirus, we can go back to the early nineteenth century, when people ate when they were hungry and slept when they were sleepy. Basta with the tyranny of the clock! (*Nap does not refer to dozing on the couch, but to the full lights-off-under-the-covers deal. You need to wake up with pillow lines streaking your cheeks and drool out of the corners of your mouth. If you don’t nap during lock-down, when will you ever nap?)
DON’T: LET THE KIDS TAKE THE DOG OR THE GARBAGE OUT
That is your privilege. There are very few legally sanctioned outings, and you get them. Last night my husband and I were elbowing each other out to get to the stinky plastic trash bag: one of the symbols of lockdown “leave.” Proud to report I made it first, and also clocked in four walks with the dog.
DO: HIDE YOUR PHONE CHARGERS
Your teenagers eat them. Or maybe, in addition to smart phones, they plug other things in – things you don’t want to know about. Whatever it is, there is a bizarre phenomenon where your phone is regularly at 7%, even though you’re at home all day, every day. You need to stash the cords or they will disappear.
DON’T: EXPECT ANYONE IN THE HOUSEHOLD TO ANSWER A CALL ON THE LANDLINE
As an experiment, I let the phone ring 13 times this morning. Not only did my teenagers not answer it, they didn’t even cock their heads like curious dogs. I believe that evolution has eliminated that frequency from their range of hearing.
DO: FACETIME HIGH SCHOOL FRIENDS YOU HAVEN’T TALKED TO IN AGES
Our kids are interacting online constantly with their peers, but those of us born in the last millennium tend to be passive: Instead of scrolling through Facebook or texting/emailing a friend, call your peeps! You don’t need to make an appointment – they’re at home like you are. Chances are they’ll be ecstatic to hear from and see you. Even with your lockdown hair situation.
DON’T: READ COVID UPDATES ON THE NEWS
This thing can become a sick reality show – addictive and horrifying. It can encourage you to spin out apocalyptic scenarios. We know that all we can do is wash our hands, take care of our health, and stay at home. Our grandparents were asked to go far away and die for their country. Stay at home? Doable.