I have officially become a COVID-19 statistic. I am almost embarrassed to admit that I have joined the predictable ranks of Sydney mothers and acquired my own sourdough starter. What was once considered in Jane Austen-esq style to be an “accomplishment” has now become a basic life skill. With stock outs everywhere, the real talent now lies in sourcing the baker’s flour necessary to bake the bread in the first place.
One must rise earlier than the other scavengers, don some activewear as a ruse to any patrolling authorities, sneak into a bakery close by, because all the supermarkets sold out of flour shortly after the toilet paper disappeared from the shelves, and inconspicuously mutter the secret code words, “Foxtrot, Lima, Oscar, Uniform, Romeo?”.
This is usually met with an eye roll and a curt reply, “you know, I can just sell you the actual loaf of bread. You don’t have to bake it yourself”.
I agree, this phenomenon is utterly preposterous. The lengths us mothers are all going to avoid spending each and every waking moment with our children is unprecedented. Whisky Tango Foxtrot! In the times of old where we craved for a slower paced weekend, a day off from children’s sporting commitments, attending countless birthday parties so that we could kick a ball together at the park, casually walk the dog and stop for coffee and milkshakes along the way, are all distant memories. We are now baking bread, freezing stocks and blitzing curry pastes, no doubt for the impending disappearance of OXO, Massel and Ayam.
Suddenly, tenderly feeding my sourdough starter twice a day has become a cathartic experience. I have never marvelled at the physical growth of any of my three children in the same way I am filled with wonder every morning at the doubling in size of my precious sourdough starter. I am equally filled with pride at the expansion of my ball of dough after the first 12-hour rise. After this point, the shaping of the loaf stage happens, and the future of my loaf-to-be hangs in the balance. I usually avoid “getting in amongst it” when it comes to handling dough, but unfortunately, I have learned the hard way that fondling wet, gluey, sticky bread dough is a requirement for a superior texture, aerated crumb and classic sour taste.
In much the same way that paid employment was happily turfed aside to nurture my young when they were born, my three spirited boys have dropped a few rungs on the ladder, to be replaced by the online sourdough making community and a new puppy. Neither of which need to be separated from each other, require negotiation every 14 seconds or answer back. The conflict used to be reserved for a couple of hours of after school antics or weekend rumbles gone wrong, are now occurring all day long requiring constant mediation. No matter how often I remind my small friends that this is not the time to have an injury requiring a trip to emergency, they continue to push, prod, bite, antagonise, kick, pinch and poke each other. On the plus side, I too am mastering a new skill in relation to this: most of the time I can successfully ignore all my children. At the same time. Which is only fair, because they have been ignoring me since they were born.
In my defence, I did try to begin this period of lockdown with optimism. They tumbled into the kitchen each morning asking for pancakes, bacon and eggs, and all other manner of breakfasts that I would never in my wildest dreams indulge them with on a weekday morning. But I very quickly realised that I had built a rod for my own back in dedicating this period of isolation to becoming a stereotypical Suzy Homemaker. But as they say, start as you mean to continue. So I continued until my (homemade) dry pancake mix ran out and then told them to get themselves some Weet-Bix.
My boys began staying home while school was still going, and I took to this like a duck to water, with an easel with teacher-writing scrawled across the top saying “K-2-4P: Welcome to K, 2 and 4 Positive with Dr Prunty”. I wrote timetables out the night before for each of them, but on reflection this was more for myself to post on social media and feel that I was doing a good job. After all, my youngest in kindergarten can’t actually read and my oldest was being sent online work from his teacher to do. At least that’s the story that he told me. I discovered at the end of day 3 that he had put in a formal complaint to the Principal that his “bogus” teacher doesn’t even have a degree in teaching. He received an equally formal reply stating that his teacher in fact has a PhD so he should think himself lucky. He really should have realised the reality is that the teacher is having “relations” with the Principal of our quaint little home school and his complaint was going to be dismissed fair early on in the process.
After only two weeks of home school I had lost the will to live and realised the horrid truth. My kids now attended a very shit school. I desperately tried to drill sight words into my youngest, to no avail, and after all this time he still believes with headstrong certainty that every word says “the”. My oldest insisted he had completed all set tasks by 10:05am and felt he deserved the rest of the day off, and as for my middle son, well who even knows what he was supposed to be doing, because any time I tried to devote some time to him, my youngest would sneak off and I would find him hiding in a cupboard with the iPad watching You Tube videos. At this point I decided to hold a fire drill so that I could lock them in the backyard for an hour.
I began the school holidays with a strong sense of foreboding. The lack of structure and obvious no schoolwork meant that I quickly lost my currency and gambling power. But instead of the usual parental self-flagellation over my children’s obsession with iPads and Xboxes and my defeatist attitude towards placing restrictions on them, I decided to embrace it and enjoy having the time to do what I want to do. And I feel triumphant in saying that these school holidays have been the most relaxing I have ever experienced! Except for the part where Alex fell out of a tree and sprained his ankle, and the dog ate Alex’s giant chocolate Easter egg and needed to go to the emergency vet.
My usual social anxiety about ensuring the kids see their friends, have fun, and get invited on playdates, otherwise known as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) has all but poofed into thin air as I know for certain that no one else is doing anything, my kids aren’t secretly disliked, or being excluded and I am not obliged to have 11 children in my house all at once while their parents go to work. Not only that, but with sport cancelled, playgrounds closed, and being asked explicitly to stay home, I can unashamedly allow them to play on their screens to their hearts content while I master jumping lunges and step aerobics in front of my TV before returning to the kitchen and tending to my sourdough starter.
This is, no doubt, a unique scenario that is unlikely to occur again, so I decided to throw my weight into further embracing of the situation and start making my own cocktails for Happy Hour. But it is confusing because something has clearly happened to time. I think it is broken and I now empathise with how Benjamin Button felt. 5pm is no longer the line in the sand between coffee and wine. In fact, wine has now become just a generic term. Sometimes it means Aperol Spritzes and Margaritas. It appears that I have morphed from rigid, schedule-keeping, spreadsheet-writing type A into a butcher, a baker and candlestick maker at any time of the day. I am tres loose!
As the school holidays are drawing to a close, I will attempt to adjust my plans for Dr Prunty’s K-2-4P class this term. Based on my reflections on last term I feel that self-defence should be included in the curriculum. For the children. From their teacher. I also think that a substitute teacher may be required for part of every day. I think in schools this is called RFF (Release from Face to Face). This teacher is Japanese. Her name is Mrs Nintendo and I think she and the boys will get on swimmingly.
I plan to use the remainder of my time at home to make light of an otherwise sombre situation. Tomorrow it is the weekend and I will use my time wisely. I will bake 2 loaves of sourdough instead of just one. Although. Tomorrow may not even be Saturday. It’s just Day. Again. But that is absolutely fine with me. I am Covid-Woman. Hear me roar.