We are moving north, way north to the very top of Australia; warm weather, camping, big storms, guilt-free 4×4 ownership… that sort of thing. When deciding on such a move, families weigh up a variety of factors such as; the price of avocados, the availability of vintage terry-toweling singlets, and the likelihood of crocodile-related death (to name the three key ones).
Now, we are a family of four (six if you include the cats) and, unfortunately for the other four, only two of us got a say in this significant decision that clearly has a large impact on us all.
We recently took the boys north to visit our new home, to sell them on the idea, and ultimately bring them in on the plan. The itinerary was filled with dogs to pat, swimming pools to jump into, exotic fruits to be enjoyed in all forms; peeled, smoothied, frozen and ice creamed. We looked at sunsets, swam in rivers, ate fish and chips on the beach and importantly never wore jumpers (Monty barely wore clothes).
We chose the morning of day three to share the news over breakfast; a public cafe in case of violence. We workshopped the wording and the timing and agreed we would present the outcome as already decided, not a ‘strong potential’, nor a ‘likelihood’. Importantly this was ultimately a good decision for everybody, a grand adventure… but we were not voting on it.
Despite said workshopping our presentation fell flat. Milo (we’ll come back to Monty) was not at all bamboozled by any of the preamble, nor our blatant 3 day charade. His little brain took 8 seconds to process the information then went straight to the heart of it:
“Canberra is my home. We only just got back! Why do you always take me away from my home?”… he opened with.
Silence from us.
“I have made friends, and I like my school. Why would you do this?” … he continued, tears now streaming and snot bubbling.
More silence, but also miserable, sad, hopeless looks from us.
“I hate this place. I’m not coming.”
We looked at each other desperately but neither of us could think of anything cogent or useful to say.
Milo’s sadness had by now progressed smoothly into anger and he started pummeling me in the chest with his little fists. It felt like dozens of frozen quails flying into me at speed, one by one. He then grabbed my forearms with both hands and dug his fingernails in as hard as he could, leaving little moon shaped welts. Desperate to process and expend his feeling of helplessness and rage he then collected all the cutlery from the table and flung it onto the floor. He was careful not to choose anything breakable and he did it in such a way as to minimise injury to us or our fellow diners.
While Milo sobbed and snorted we briefly turned our attention to Monty who was sitting quietly, eyes slightly watery.
“What do you think Monty?”
“Can we bring the cats?” Monty asked, voice cracking slightly.
“Yes of course we can,” we replied. Monty nodded and continued eating his scrambled eggs.
By now all four of us were capable of conversing in a vaguely productive manner. It felt like an hour but had probably been no more than five minutes. Milo had stopped crying but was scowling and red and puffy and enraged and dejected all at once.
“You should have at least bought me chips before you told me something like that,” he said, again achieving absolute exquisite truth. We could only agree.
After breakfast Milo wouldn’t talk to anybody for an hour or two. We stole whispered conversations together, oh shit have we completely made the wrong decision? Perhaps we should delay by a year? Other topics centred on self-loathing, flagellation and regret.
But then, sometime shortly after lunch, Milo piped up “ok fine, I’ll come. But I get to swim in a swimming pool three times a day! And we have to have two swimming pools. No, five!”
“Of course!” we agreed (we can deal with that one later) and since then he has moved through resignation, acceptance and now perhaps there’s even a hint of excitement.
Parenting is littered with these types of decisions, made on behalf of our children. Sometimes we convince ourselves the decision is in their best interest, despite their views to the contrary. And sometimes we save ourselves that charade and just acknowledge we are making choices for us, and that’s probably okay.
Goodness knows we could have managed that situation better with Milo, but also goodness knows how we might have done it. Certainly children work their way through disappointment and frustration in a completely different manner to adults. Adults cling to their perspectives and opinions. A jilted adult wallows and processes and protests and argues and must be coaxed out of its inertial emotions. Milo seemed to work through his disappointment, accept it, file it and then embrace his new reality in the time it took us to find and buy a papaya and lime juice. He then set about shaping that new reality as best as he could, extracting a ‘non-core’ promise of a house with five pools from his parents. Bravo.
I presume one day the boys will get a vote on some of these big decisions, but I don’t know when that will be. As a wise friend of mine pointed out; if kids had their way they would be eating Happy Meals and living at Disneyland… not papaya and lime juice in the far, far north of Australia. Time will tell which is the better choice.
I challenge you to play mini-golf with a child and not give them tips on their game. Like singing the chorus to Informer by Snow, or saying no to an arancini ball, it’s impossible.
My brother and I, who would both like to think of ourselves as relaxed, non-obsessive dads, recently played a round with our four boys, and by the third hole we had both fallen into the irresistible trap of mini-golf parenting.
The problem is little children suck at mini-golf. They hold the club around the wrong way, they constantly forget if they are left, right or one handed, they swing wildly and aggressively with absolute disregard for Newton’s Second Law of Motion, they mix their grips up so their hands are crossed over like they’re in a straight-jacket, they push the ball along like they are brooming leaves, they constantly stand directly in front of each other, they take absolute liberties with the ‘club-head away from the edge’ rule, and sometimes it just seems they have completely forgotten the basic premise of the game. They suck.
And an adult can only abide such mini-golfing atrocities for so long.
We restrained ourselves for three holes but eventually a supportive parent seeks to correct and improve via unsolicited feedback; in a gentle and constructive manner of course.
“Hey, maybe look at the ball while you are swinging aggressively in its direction.”
“Have you thought about pointing the club away from your foot?”
“Weren’t you right-handed a minute ago?”
“Woah, probably would be easier to hit the ball if your hands weren’t crossed over like an octopus.”
“Why are you standing on top of the concrete Statue of Liberty?”
“Isn’t the hole that way?”
“Did you not see your cousin standing directly in front of you as you were bringing your club head back like a champion wood chopper?”
“Did you not see your cousin bringing back his club head like a champion wood chopper? Why are you standing directly in front of him?”
“Do you remember the basic objective of this game?”
“Do any of you care about your handicaps?”
We told ourselves the feedback was for them, not us. They would certainly enjoy themselves more if they played a little better, right? Then they would have more fun! Yes, fun is the objective. There is no chance any of them are going to join the Vegas mini-golf tour with its lucrative powdered orange juice endorsements and its all-you-can-eat frankfurter buffets, right? So what else is there but fun?
Well, they did not appreciate our feedback.
By the 5th hole they were grumbling and telling us to be quiet and by the 7th we had a full mini-golf mutiny on our hands.
“Yes I prefer playing with one hand!”
“No I don’t want to line up my club head perpendicular to my shoulders!”
“You’re not a mini-golf professional anyway so what do you know?!”
“You are the worst dads we have ever had!”
To avoid a complete walk off we agreed to withhold our constructive feedback for the rest of the round, and for the most part we did. We focused on our own scores and passively watched them bumbling around the course; spanking their balls onto the footpath, brooming this way and that for 12s on par 2s, periodically whacking each other in the shins, helicoptering their clubs around single-handed, playing holes backwards and some of them not at all. Not once did any of them even attempt one of the 7 classic putting grips as laid out in the PGA handbook.
Their scores were atrocious and barely warranted tallying. But I must admit they did appear to be having a lot of fun.
So, now I can’t shake the slightly uneasy feeling that my mini-golf feedback may not in fact be confined to the hallowed astro-turf greens of the Holey Moley links. It is decidedly possible that we are constantly dispensing enthusiastic, perhaps over-earnest advice that is at best unnecessary, and at worst unwanted. It is possible we are diminishing their fun.
It seems unreasonable and unfair that parenting should be so complicated, that even our best-intentioned efforts could prove counter-productive. So what are us parents to do?
I think, in fact, that simply being there on the mini-golf fairway with them is the best our children can hope for, and the most we should expect of ourselves. And if they choose a lifetime of mini-golf mediocrity, and they never get to taste the sweetness of a free frankfurter buffet, then that is their misguided choice to make.
So, the flight crew are still dressed like artisan butchers, but in the 12 months since we last did this the ‘COVID smocks’ have been bedazzled a little with embroidery and red piping. It’s like when you’ve had too much to drink and stumble on the dance floor, but you try to turn it into a sweet move and pretend you did it on purpose. Anyway, I think it’s a little bit like that.
This time we’ve arrived in Perth because spending 2 weeks in a hotel 4000km from your final destination is a perfectly reasonable way to travel in 2021.
Why are we here? What year is this? Did we ever leave? Were we ever here at all? These are the esoteric questions we are asking today. Also, can you boil an egg in the kettle?
Day 2: Thursday 3 June 2021 – Welcome
The answer to yesterday’s question is yes… but it’s not a good idea. Like the great Chris Rock says “you can drive a car with your feet if you want to”.
I want to remark a little on the scene of yesterday’s arrival, because it is worth remarking upon. We were bussed from the airport in two of those double buses with the slinky rubber bit in the middle. When we arrived at the hotel the doors were opened, the bus driver fled and the myriad official, semi-official, and non-official looking officials retreated a safe distance and sort of watched what might happen; a bit like when you find a huntsman in your living room – you whip an old Chinese food container over the top of it, slip a piece of paper underneath then gingerly take it outside. When you get there you crouch down, extend your arm until it has no bend in it at all, shift your weight onto your back-heel, then take a deep breath. When you’re ready you whip off that slice of paper and leap flamboyantly behind the Gardenia bush. After a time you peer back around said Gardenia Bush carefully to find that the Huntsman has… not moved.
So, nor did we, for a while. Then we started schlepping our bags off one at a time. An hour or so later it was our turn. As we disembarked it felt like we had just returned from somewhere having won a major international trophy of some sort and were being greeted by our fans – if our fans were dressed like Halloween mortician hobbyists, and those Halloween mortician hobbyists were big fans of Kareem Abdul Jabbar and so choose to regularly wear his goggles to commemorate the bespectacled period of his Hall of Fame career from 1974 onward.
Anyway, I suggested politely to one of these helpful chaps that it might be a reasonable ‘first principles’ policy to get the little kids off the bus first. He told me they couldn’t control “that sort of thing” and then, noticing that I was in danger of breaching his 5m radius, he backed away clumsily whilst trying to figure out how to render me safe.
There was no trolley so we dragged our suitcases and children through this non-clapping honour guard of mortuary technicians and part-time welders until we were safely sealed in the lift.
Strange times indeed.
Still, we’ve already been delivered 8 bananas and eaten 7 of them so all is well.
Day 3: Friday 4 June 2021 – Complex Administration
This morning we tried to order two coffees from the hotel café; it was a pleasingly complicated process. Straight forward administration does nothing for the passage of time and should be avoided in hotel quarantine.
ME (upbeat voice): Hi, good morning I’d just like to order a couple of coffees.
FRONT DESK (downtrodden voice but certainly trying hard to be pleasant): Do we have your credit card details on file?
ME: ha, I certainly hope not!
FRONT DESK: …….
ME: um, OK, how do I do that?
FRONT DESK: Do you have the credit card authorization form?
ME (still upbeat): Absolutely not.
FRONT DESK: ……
ME: So, cool, where would I find it?
FRONT DESK: It was in the pile of papers we gave you.
ME: Uh-huh, OK give me a moment.
<sound of rustling>
ME: OK got it, now what?
FRONT DESK: Now fill it in, but only with half the details on your card.
ME: Only half the details?
FRONT DESK: Yeah only half the details.
ME: OK, half, got it.Then what?
FRONT DESK: Then take a photo of the form and email it to the address on the front.
ME (pointlessly contributing to the back and forth): Oh yes I see it – just right there down on the bottom, correct?
FRONT DESK: Yeah.
ME: Great. So I just email it?
FRONT DESK: Yeah, then call me back.
ME: Call you back?
FRONT DESK: Yeah, call me back
ME: OK, great, call you back… why?
FRONT DESK: To give me the rest of the details.
ME: What details?
FRONT DESK: Of your credit card.
ME: Ooooh, for security? Right got it – that’s smart. OK, so just to make sure I’m clear – fill it in (half the details), then…
FRONT DESK: Thank you, goodbye.
ME: hello? hello? …. hmmm, line must have cut out….
Day 4: Saturday 5 June 2021 – Bath Robes
It’s pretty remarkable how quickly we have descended into only wearing bath robes.
I have never really worn a bath robe before, certainly not as my primary outfit for days on end, and I have learned a lot.
A bath robe is an extremely versatile garment to be sure, but with only small alterations to its usage, imperceptible perhaps to the inexperienced, it can swing without notice from ‘glamorous luxury’ to ‘lurking in your front yard waiting to steal your newspaper’.
I am no expert yet but have already identified a few factors which seem to impact which overall genre you fall into.
Firstly, if a bath robe is being used for its luxurious design purpose the user is supposed to be tucked up snugly either before or after some sort of expensive, pampering experience. It is supposed to be pulled up right under your chin – really, no visible neck at all is ideal. Maybe in a pinch some of that soft bit right under your chin might be okay, but certainly if any chest hairs are wisping out the top you have gone from ‘divine’ to ‘deviant’.
My second observation is linked to the first – you’re not really supposed to move around in these things, just lie there and feel pleased with yourself. So, if you’re kind of cutting around in it all day; making sandwiches, playing bin basketball, competing in intense Pokemon Gym Battles, getting PCR tests and the like, it tends to get a bit stretched and askew. That soft belt thing gets pulled out of place really rather quickly, so you end up with it stretched out with the knot all loose on the side, sitting on your hip. At this point the best case scenario is at least one nipple on display, but more likely some or all of your belly button as well. You might as well be drinking a Woodstock and Cola out of the tin on your way to the greyhounds before lunch.
Oh, also if you want to project glamour you can’t put anything in that hip-height pocket, I mean nothing at all. No half eaten bags of popcorn leftover from yesterday’s lunch delivery, not a deck of UNO, not a banana for later on and definitely, definitely not the TV remote… as convenient as that may be.
That’s all I have learned about bath robes so far. I’ll let you know if I figure anything else out.
Day 5: Sunday 6 June 2021 – Pavlovian Response
I’m starting to lose respect for that Ivan Pavlov guy, father of classical conditioning, owner of ‘Pavlov’s Dog’, and so famous the phrase ‘Pavlovian response’ is part of common vernacular. I’m just not sure he achieved all that much, making a dog salivate with a bell and all that.
As part of the thorough regime in place to keep us separated from real life (but also alive), food is delivered three times a day, but at non-consistent times. Now, we were told several times that two minutes must elapse from the time of ‘food drop’ until the time of retrieval (which must be performed by an adult only, wearing a mask and holding their breath). So, even if we hear the drop, which we almost never do because they are very quiet and sneaky – we suspect they are ridings segues out there – we are not allowed to open the door for two minutes, and not until all the children have been locked in the bathroom and covered in blankets.
This behaviour is reinforced by a phone call which reverberates through our little room once the segue-riding food dropper has made good their escape. Now, regardless what we are doing at that moment – Corridor Ball, Skull Ball, Chair Hurricane (more on those later) Kuepps or I will spring to attention, dash to the phone in a manner which suggests if we don’t make it by the 7th ring they will presume we are dead and send back the segue guy to retrieve our food. We always answer in the same way “hello?” in a casual manner which suggests we are not 100% sure why they are calling: “Oh the food? Oh, right now? Outside? You’re too kind, thank you so much”.
We all then do a small dance, which we have never choreographed but for which somehow we all know the moves. We all then lineup and hold our breath while the designated retriever dons their mask and brings in our sustenance. We all then burn our clothes in the waste paper bin and roll in methylated spirits before sitting down to a nice meal.
So you see it took Pavlov a lifetime to make his pooch salivate with a bell, but in retrospect that doesn’t seem so ambitious. Imagine what he could have achieved with a full quarantine hotel.
Day 6: Monday 7 June 2021 – Return of the Jedi
Hugely exciting day – we received our 2nd COVID test as we inch closer and closer to societal redemption.
Our 1st test on Day 1 did not go so well. The adults found it unpleasant but pretended all was fine. Milo felt no compulsion to replicate such pretense. We adopted the ‘just spring it on them at the last moment’ approach in order to avoid the pain of pre-emptive catastrophizing and associated whining. This approach doesn’t work well with out eldest at the best of times, let alone when an ominous looking probe is circling towards his various facial orifices.
As I scooped Milo up into my arms he managed to cry out (with increasing urgency) “a little bit later, a little bit LATER!!” whilst simultaneously managing to cover both nostrils and his mouth with one hand. Quite impressive really. He is also a lot stronger than he looks and quite wily. Every time we managed to pries a hand off his face another materialized to take its place. It was unclear where these extra hands were coming from.
Eventually Kuepps and I acknowledged the requirement to coordinate better and, using our simple numerical hand advantage, we managed to secure all of his flailing hands as well as his dangerous little feet which were pistoning around at groin height.
Once his limbs were secured we turned our attention to his head which was still very much in play, like a giant bright pink raisin, jerking this way and that.
I tried to secure it under my chin which obviously didn’t work. It immediately kicked free and looked at me angrily, lips pursed and defiant like a dried up little walnut. Finally with Kuepps securing both feet and my arm restraining both of his, like the sash bit of a seatbelt across his chest, I was able to create a surplus hand which I used to pin his head to my chest. His face looked crazy, a bit like when Bilbo Baggins lunges for the ring. Somehow in this position the nurse was able to expertly extract the precious mucous she needed and we were done.
Again, rather like Bilbo Baggins, Milo returned immediately to normal and strolled away to tell Monty it was “the gentlest COVID test he has had”.
This got us off to a good start with Monty who compliantly opened his mouth for the first probing. He quickly realised however that his brother may have embellished a little so quickly snapped it shut. Unfortunately for him, Monty is not quite as tricksy as his brother so didn’t think to enlist any of his limbs into service. Instead he tried to seal up his nose with sheer willpower alone.
Like Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi the nurse was able to precisely insert the payload into Monty’s Thermal Exhaust Port and in a flash we were finished. Monty whimpered a bit, but having nowhere near his brother’s commitment to rage and indignation he was readily placated with a muesli bar.
Wait, where was I? Oh yes today. So we just parented a little better, gave them a bit more notice and the opportunity to get the test somewhat on their terms and they were angels. Monty’s only request was that he got to go 6th out of 4; a request we readily accommodated.
Day 7: Tuesday 8 June 2021 – Decathlon
Honestly, where is all this fruit coming from? We monitor our deliveries closely, we call the front desk to reduce certain items to maintain equilibrium, we force mandarins on our children as if scurvy runs in the family, and yet every time we look the pile has grown.
We have strategically placed our fruit box in the cupboard, which is one of only two viable hiding places available to us, so that the boys may absentmindedly eat a mandarin segment or two, or maybe unpeel a banana, whilst playing hide and seek – Milo regularly does this. But all this has achieved is to make our cupboard look like the check-in table at an orienteering tournament. Something untoward is going on with our fruit situation.
So we’ve made it to the halfway point. Each day feels like a mini-decathlon. I’ve not done a decathlon before but I presume there are 10 events. I further presume participants are usually better at some events than others; for example, you might be strong at javelin and quadruple jump, but not so good at the Frosby Flop or Dance-Dance-Nation, or whatever.
Anyway, each day feels segmented into about 10 – in some of those events you perform pretty well, others sub-par. But after the boys are asleep you submit your overall score and feel satisfied with your mid-table finish.
This evening I walked into the bathroom to fetch Milo out of the shower and found him playing noughts and crosses against himself, drawing with his finger on the misted up glass. He looked up at me and said “this isn’t very fun”.
Day 8: Wednesday 9 June 2021 – The Middle Days
Time in hotel quarantine is a slippery and untrustworthy beast. Last year to our delight we discovered around the half way point that an extra day had snuck past us somehow unannounced. This year the opposite seems to have happened. So, today, it would appear, is Day 7, or perhaps Day 8 out of 15. We are surprisingly sanguine about this.
There is a weird bit in the middle where 40m2 starts to seem okay for a family of four, where you start to forget what all the fuss is about being outside. There is rabies outside, and decisions about hats, and overbearing ibis. Maybe this is the place for us? A place to build our futures?
Today we played a little Corridor Ball. Simple concept, the boys roll a ball across the room (corridor is a generous term) then chase after it, attempting to retrieve it before it loses momentum and stops. Last week there was hustle and passion, strategic discussions about which ball would roll for the longest but at a manageable pace (we have 2 juggling balls, a hacky sack and a stress ball), there were ill-judged dives, carpet burns and tears. Today, nothing but cold ambivalence.
Sure, they rolled the balls but I saw zero desire for Corridor Ball glory. They didn’t even take their bath robes off.
Then we moved onto hide-and-seek. First I just sort of stood in the toilet cubicle and closed the door, which is frosted but certainly not opaque. Milo hid in the cupboard and ate a mandarin. Monty found Milo first then the two of them took an awfully long time to track me down.
Next it was my turn to seek. Milo hid behind the curtain; I knew this because I heard it rustling. Monty hid in the exact same place his brother had in round one, and ate a mandarin. As soon as I opened my eyes I could see Monty as clear as day. The cupboard looks like an oversized humidor with a smoky glass door, it’s weird. Monty was not hidden at all, I mean I could see him sitting right there, deeply focused on peeling his mandarin. Also, the curtain is moving around like it’s wrapped around a python.
Still, I stretch it out for four minutes, drifting aimlessly this way and that, turning over waste paper bins, shifting piles of lego with my feet. Where could they be? I say, shrugging my shoulders for dramatic punctuation.
Eventually Monty finishes up his mandarin and rolls out of the cupboard yelling BOO! Milo is bored so emerges from behind the curtain without ceremony.
Finally it’s Milo’s turn to find us. I put forth some effort and try to squeeze myself in between the two single beds which make up the ‘motel queen’, as I call it.
Milo counts fast, he’s ruthless, so by the time I have shoe-horned myself in there I am committed, there is no going back. Unfortunately though I am a bit long and my feet are poking out the end, in clear view. My arms are pinned so I forlornly stretch my toes out to grab a corner of doona to pull it down. Perhaps if I am lucky I will catch a break and a bit of bedding will obscure my feet for a moment or two. But alas my useful primate toes have been rendered useless by decades of unnecessary shoe wearing. They are still straining pathetically as Milo’s count runs out… 48-49-50.
He opens his eyes and wastes no time. Daddy you’re under the bed, Monty you’re behind the curtain. Joyless.
At least Monty is still loving it, he tumbles out from behind the curtain well after he has been discovered yelling BOO!
Let’s see what tomorrow brings.
Day 9: Thursday 10 June 2021 – Zoom
The impacts of COVID will be far reaching. It is too early for anthropologists, sociologists, epidemiologists, any of the ologists, to really yet agree on the most significant of these. But one thing we know for sure, right now, is a lot more people have now seen their work colleague’s partners in their undies on a zoom call than 12 months ago, way more.
This is a particular hazard in hotel quarantine and really should form part of the welcome instructions: wear a mask when you open your door to retrieve food, don’t distil liquor in the sink, don’t boil an egg in the kettle, check the aperture settings on all work laptop cameras.
Yesterday Kuepps was on a work video call when I, confident I was out of shot, shimmied into the room for no real reason I can recall, dancing to ‘She’s so lovely’ by Scouting for Girls. I was not out of the shot. Nor was I wearing much; only a bath robe and undies. Not my good undies either, the Bonds Christmas stocking numbers from a couple of years back. You know the ones.
At this point there is no sense in anybody pretending it didn’t happen, I could hear the muffled giggles through my wife’s headphones. So I wrapped my bathrobe around myself to preserve whatever dignity remained, and we all exchanged pleasant waves. As of today Kuepps continues to be employed.
And that leads me to two more things I have learned about bath robes. Firstly, what you wear underneath matters. I am not sure what they recommend in a luxury spa but I am sure it is not the aforementioned baggy undies, or stained basketball shorts.
Also, while wearing a robe no skin whatsoever can be seen from the bottom of the knee upward, whether sitting or standing. Even an inch of skin will immediately take you from luxe to louche.
I’ll let you know if I learn anything else about bath robes.
Day 10: Friday 11 June 2021 – Pictionary
One-on-one Pictionary is not one of the world’s great spectacles at the best of times, but when one of the participants is a three year old it is particularly niche.
Here’s how Monty and I play Pictionary together: we roll the dice which has no bearing on anything. The sand timer must ALWAYS be running – Monty will see to that.
When it’s my turn to draw I select the next available card then choose the option that either a) I have a chance of drawing or b) Monty has a chance of guessing. Ideally it’s both; thing like nose, airport, apple, broom etc.
When it’s Monty’s turn he does not trouble himself with a card, he just draws whatever he likes without context or clue and expects me to get it. He let’s me haplessly guess 3 or 4 times, often something like this: “ostrich, ice-cream maker, bassoon”. He replies “nope, nope, nope” then with exasperation “can I tell you?”, which he then proceeds to do.
These are Monty’s masterpieces from today’s session:
Cat on a motorcycle
A Pokemon he just made up called Owen.
We’ll play some more tomorrow.
Day 11: Saturday 12 June 2021 – Regression
Things have deteriorated a little. The boys started biting each other pretty early today and Milo has been in an impressive funk ever since.
Importantly he told me he does not like how I have been prosecuting my Pokemon battles with him; I am deliberately losing, not playing with enough enthusiasm, not accurately taking into account type advantages when apportioning damage and most importantly I am using too many of my own made-up moves like: steal your lunch, nipple pinch, electro-jelly and strong cuddle. He won’t battle me again until I remedy these issues.
Fortunately Kuepps managed to entertain them for an hour this afternoon by pretending to be an arcade claw grabber that they could control to collect their own soft toys. It’s possible everybody is going a bit mad.
Day 12: Sunday 13 June 2021 – Rugby League
It took 12 days but the boys have finally figured out they can move the mattresses. In a small room it the mattress is hanging askew, even by just a foot, the result is very untidy indeed. Of course we are talking way more than a foot – slides, tunnels, forts, everything. Our room looks like a rugby league team just checked out. It is very bad for morale.
We have taken to gazing out the window after dinner, playing eye spy. The scenery doesn’t change much so the game is rather predictable; crane, building, car, sky, elephant.
Today our game took a slightly more interesting turn which may indicate our ‘reservoir of resilience’ is drying up. Here are some of the offerings:
M.T.B – Moderately Tasty Burrito
P.C.C – Pretty Cranky Children
F.A.O – Fresh Air Outside
Three days to go.
Day 13: Monday 14 June 2021 – Scraping the games barrel
Here are a few games we have invented in recent days as our creativity, durability and general interest in life have become further eroded.
Blind-folded Hide and Seek:
I have spoken previously about the challenges we have faced in generating even a vaguely satisfactory game of H&S. Turns out impairing the vision of the seeker is actually pretty genius (Monty’s idea). It vastly lengthens the game and adds the thrill of a perceived and actual threat to your physical safety.
I’m not really sure what this one’s all about, nor am I even really sure how to play it. I sort of crouch down then the boys charge at me one at a time. I think I am supposed to wait until the very last second then dive out of the way onto the bed. Although they seem to like it when I am a bit late on my escape and they crash into me.
Kick the Marble:
There are some clues in the title of this one, but also some weird twists. Another Monty invention; basically he pulls his tshirt up over his nose (but not his eyes) so he looks like a bandit (or pretty much anybody in 2021). It’s unclear why he does this as it has absolutely no bearing on how the game unfolds. The adult then stands about 3 metres away from Monty, with a marble at his feet. Monty then kicks the marble at you, which he somehow does with some ferocity. Again, it’s not clear if you are supposed to dodge or not, he seems to prefer not. The real value of ‘kick the marble’ is the marble is almost always lost. This adds an extra unit of time for each iteration while everybody looks for it.
And finally Pokemon Bus Driver. Basically I sit on the bed and pretend to be a bus driver but every time I stop for passengers Pokemon get on instead (I am equally surprised each time)… and hilarity ensues.
The finish line is in sight.
Day 14: Tuesday 15 June 2021 – Freedom
This morning we received our 3rd COVID test since moving into our well-appointed cave. So all things going well we will achieve societal redemption tomorrow afternoon and be out of here.
Given tomorrow we will spend the first hour packing and then the next 6 sitting patiently on our suitcases by the door, I will be too busy to write – so I’ll try to sign off now.
I would like to highlight some of the silver linings of the past 14 days. Firstly, Milo added 6 Pokemon to his Pokedex; Galarian Slowpoke, Galarian Slowbro, Mienfoo, Garchomp, Shiny Garchomp and the 3rd laziest Pokemon in the Pokemon Universe, Slaking. A tidy haul indeed.
The boys finally discovered Bluey (we have been overseas for a while) and we have binged. What a triumph. Cop that Peppa Pig.
Milos has fallen in love with the shower. Previously a young man only interested in being dipped into steaming water, not having it fall upon him from above, he is now right onboard with one of life’s great pleasures; singing, soaping up and playing noughts and crosses in the steam.
Milo’s front tooth fell out. Affectionately known as ‘snaggle’, this was long in the making. It is now in an empty pill box in the front of the suitcase. Not sure what to do with it now.
The boys have taken a liking to Pitbull’s music, particularly his material between 2010 and 2013. We didn’t see that coming.
And finally Milo is now aware of who Will Smith is; and his world is better for it.
Just checked the weather for the first time in a fortnight – looks bright and chilly. We’re out of here…
Arrived last night around midnight. Rather bizarre flight; attendants dressed like artisan butchers. Milo and Jupes awake at 1100hrs, Kuepps and Monty at 1300hrs. In important news we have at least 3 Pokestops we can spin, 4 when the GPS is a little off.
Food is of prison grade, but might sustain us in the short term. We have already taken delivery of a substantial care package from Oma, including vacuum cleaner and Nespresso machine. Boys asleep at 2100hrs, awake at 0040hrs. Midnight snack consumed consisting of fried egg, ham and cheese on toast. Asleep at 0200hrs.
Total new Pokemon caught/ evolved: 2
Total pear count: 4
Total Creme Caramel count: 4
DAY 2: Thursday 11 June 2020
It is still raining. It would appear, from our voyeuristic peering out the window, that there is not in fact a zombie apocalypse in Australia. This morning I saw a man, normal looking fella, just carrying and drinking a takeaway coffee like it was nothing. Everybody up around 1000hrs, exciting toast breakfast.
Everybody very confused about time, its relativity, and apparent disinterest in us.
Gifts received from Ama and Aba delivered an excellent, and rather festive, unit of time. ‘Find-a-Pikachu’ book proving important in the early stages. Pikachu now being found with relative ease, but Monty still feigning surprise/ excitement; likely for our benefit.
2100hrs bedtime again did not stick. 0130hrs midnight snack, less ambitious than yesterday. Milo took the opportunity to quiz Monty on various aspects of the Pokemon Encyclopedia – this evening focusing on ‘types’.
Total new Pokemon caught/ evolved: 2
Total pear count: 8
Total Creme Caramel count: 8
Total food box count: 24
DAY 3: Friday 12 June 2020
So, the boys had a bit of biffo today. From what we can piece together it would seem Monty was irritating Milo during Pokemon Go, so Milo gave him a bit of a shove, so Monty went immediately to his secret weapon and nipped Milo on the arm, so Milo ratcheted things up a little and gave Monty a fair thump on his back – at least twice based on the tiny fist-sized bruises, so Monty made the most of his opportunity and executed a really pretty reasonable chomp on Milo’s thigh. By the time we arrived both were in pieces, shocked that they had wrought such horrors upon each other. We declared a gentlemen’s draw, but cancelled the next morning’s Pokemon Go session.
A heavy penalty indeed.
Separately, we have begun shooting juggling balls at an empty plastic bin, without joy. Milo, in an effort to add tension and intrigue, proposed he might try to block the shots; you know, to make a game of it. His technique, which was pretty well conceived, was to insert his entire head and shoulders into the bin. To be fair this made it pretty difficult to score a basket, so the game petered out nil/ nil. Still, it was a unit of time.
Total pear count: 12 (-1 eaten = 11)
Total Creme count: 12 (8 caramel, 2 Choco, 2 panacotta)
Total new Pokemon caught/ evolved: 4
DAY 4: Saturday 13 June 2020
Today we wrote a Haiku.
What is it, this thing called time?
Why does it mock me?
Without sunshine, jetlag is proving very persistent. Ghosts drift past each other at all hours of the night, in the gloom, to or from the bathroom, or kitchen… or somewhere else. Faces take on an ethereal quality, a soft green, illuminated by the ‘Mad Mex’ across the road.
Today we have abandoned the utilitarian, ‘survival first’ fare we have been receiving at our front door three times a day with a knock, followed by the sound of hastened scuttling back to the lift. The societal instincts imprinted on our human DNA quickly established for us the optimum quantum of time between ‘knock’ and ‘open’. As fun as it would be to lurk behind the door, quietly listening, in order to spring it open upon the first knock, with a smile; “good morning, how are you? Thanks for the sustenance, got anything planned today?”… it simply wouldn’t do. We are of course modern day lepers, exiled to Kalaupapa Island, unworthy of human contact – until our glorious redemption in 9 days time.
At bedtime we changed the boys from their day-time pyjamas into their night-time pyjamas, which in turn became their day-time pyjamas. It is a wild, relentless cycle.
Also, today we ate pizza; which was like being reborn.
Food counting stats will now be discontinued.
The box count has also stagnated at 36.
DAY 5: Sunday 14 June 2020
When they have nothing there is nothing left to take away. We have zero leverage. Pokemon Go; is it played? Is it not? For how long? This is all we have. We give it. We retract it. We dangle it. It hovers like the Sword of Damocles.
But if the four of us were to be honest with each other, the lustre of this virtual world has faded. How can one walk 10km with one’s Eevee in order to evolve it into an Umbreon at night when your world is a hotel room? This is not a jaunty thought experiment to stimulate conversation. This is reality. Today our hunt yielded zero new Pokemon, not even a Poliwag from the mountainous region of Kaloa – often referred to as the ‘rat of Kalos’ by residents of the regional capital Lumiose City.
Where have all the Pokemon gone? I ask again, where have all the Pokemon gone?
Today I did a small dance to entertain the boys. Monty, unamused, said; “I hate your bloody hips. I hate your bloody butt. I hate your bloody dance.” A stinging review.
The remnants of Saturday night’s pizza buoyed spirits as we enter the second week.
DAY 7: Monday 15 June 2020
We had developed a sensation that time was not obeying its normal rules, and this morning this has been confirmed. We have learned that the day we arrived was actually Day 1, so today is actually Day 7, not Day 6. Ordinarily losing a day of your life would be cause for some consternation, but under the current circumstances it is a delight.
Further, we have learned that on Day 14 we can leave at 0001hrs. We’re not sure that during a Global Pandemic there would be suitable entertainment venues to cater for a family of four open at that hour; but it is nice to have the option. We celebrated by splitting a KitKat.
We have a bluetooth speaker here with us in Hotel Quarantine; it offers some respite, and reminds us of the life we once had. However, we are forever vigilant to ensure “Crazy Frog – Axel F” never gets a chance to play; one eye is always on the Spotify shuffle. The chance is far from zero. Here are our Spotify playlists that currently feature “Crazy Frog – Axel F”:
On Repeat – The songs you can’t get enough of right now
Repeat Rewind – Past songs that you couldn’t get enough of
Your Top Songs – 2019
Your Top Songs – 2018
Should one rendition slip through our net we fear disaster; that Crazy Frog has such an immediate and visceral impact on our children that the ensuing hysteria may well drag them and us into a tornado of chaos from whence we would not return intact.
In our view this song should be banned from all Quarantine Hotels, nationwide.
DAY 8: Tuesday 16 June 2020
Despite requesting a discontinuation to the food deliveries they still continue to arrive at our door from time-to-time, like a stray cat we fed once.
Sometimes we let them into our house, and regret it. Most times we quickly re-shut the door and remain quiet for 5 minutes. One time we left a note before bed “no more food please”. The next morning it had been replaced by food.
Our pile of pears, plain crisps and single-serve UHT milk is now so vast it appears we are preparing to make a food drop to a group of stranded hikers.
We are now very used to the rhythm of door knocks, and we can usually deduce their purpose before opening the door. An out-of-sync doorknock is therefore cause for some stimulation and excitement within our small dwelling; one’s imagination is quickly unleashed; fire drill? mis-addressed Uber Eats? Census volunteer? Mormon? Today we received such a knock and scampered to the door. Was it somebody notifying us we had been deemed safe to return to society? Nope, fresh linen.
Just before he fell asleep tonight Monty said to me; “daddy, why is it night time?” Of course that sentence makes no sense at all, except for the fact it is probably the most poignant thing he has ever said. Why is it night time?
DAY 9: Wednesday 17 June 2020
The nurse rang this morning to advise our big test will be tomorrow; sometime between “9 and 5”. I said; “anytime, we’ll be here”. I was quite pleased with my quip, but the nurse really gave me very little response, which I though was unfair.
I found Monty switching the light on and off by himself this afternoon, absentmindedly saying “on… off…”. Otherwise, everything is fine.
In the evening we decided to Uber some burritos from the Mad Mex that has been throwing its ghoulish green glow into our apartment for the last week. We rather liked the idea of controlling something in the real world and watching it unfold before our eyes.
The boys and I gathered by a window with a fine view of the entrance and waited with giddy excitement for the Uber cyclist to arrive. Alas, somehow we missed Tomas both arriving and departing, but we did not miss his maniacal cycle path around the city which looked like somebody playing Snake 1 on a NOKIA 3310, badly.
If Tomas had a reasonable arm, which we assessed he did from his photo, he probably could have lobbed our burritos up through our window (if they opened of course), but instead they took 31 minutes to arrive; shiny, and a bit distended.
Monty took 3 successful bites and then the bottom gave way in his lap. Milo took a nibble, claimed it was too spicy and ate corn chips. Kuepps’ ‘gluten free bowl’ was wrapped in a tortilla whose principle ingredient was gluten. So I ate an unsafe number of lukewarm burritos whilst trying unsuccessfully to keep the mood festive.
Still, Burrito Night was probably in the top 3 Hotel Quarantine events so far… top 2, actually.
DAY 10: Thursday 18 June 2020
In the 1990 Sci-Fi classic Total Recall Douglas Quaid (played by ‘peak Arnie’) is pursued by Cohaagen’s goons who seek to eliminate him. Having evaded the first wave of attackers Quaid discovers a suitcase which contains, among other things, a video recording of himself (as Hauser). Hauser gets Quaid (and the audience) up to speed on the plot background and then instructs Quaid to remove a tracking device that has been lodged in his skull.
Quaid discovers a rather ominous looking rod in the suitcase, which looks a bit like a tool that might be useful for a lobotomy. At Hauser’s prompting Quaid pushes the rod up his nose – offering helpfully, “just shove real hard”. “When you hear the crunch, you’re there” he adds reassuringly. What follows is a classic early 90s CGI scene as Quaid ever-so-slowly drags an audaciously large glowing red sphere out of his improbably stretched nostril.
I am convinced whomever devised the COVID-19 swab test was watching Total Recall at the same time… or at least the night before.
Today was testing day.
DAY 11: Friday 19 June 2020
We are rather detached from the weather. Our world oscillates wildly between 23.4C and 22.8C. We put jumpers on. We take them off. But we don’t know why.
When grass, ground and fire Pokemon yield weather bonuses we know it is sunny. Normal and rock type? We know it is partly cloudy. Otherwise we peer out of our reverse fishbowl at the humans and try to deduce climatic conditions from their wrappings and behaviour.
We haven’t yet completely ironed out the difference between ‘cafe’ activewear and ‘fitness’ activewear, nor the difference between hipster and utilitarian flannies – but in general we can make a pretty good assessment.
Meanwhile we had delivery gelato tonight; which, alongside 3D printing and Segways, must be in the running for best invention of the 21st Century.
DAY 12: Saturday 20 June 2020
We fear the outside world may have become for our children something of a memory, an apparition.
This morning Monty, with his beautiful round little face propped up on the palm of his hand, and his curly golden mullet streaming out behind him, like 100 yellow Slinkies have been fastened to a fan, in no particular order, and the fan turned onto a setting of 4, and he says “father (actually he said daddy, but father fits the image far better, more Jane Austen) father, please take me to the sea”. I asked him what he would like to see, at the sea. He looked wistfully out the window, the morning light playing in his bobbing Slinkies, and said with a flourish “I would like to see a dolphin”.
We need to get out of here.
DAY 13: Sunday 21 June 2020
So the cavalry arrived this morning. Around 1000hrs we received a knock. Due to the aforementioned ‘knock-delay etiquette’ we ignored it. Shortly thereafter followed a second, more insistent, knock. So Kuepps and I hustled and stumbled to the door, suddenly stimulated by the possibility of an ‘out-of-routine’ encounter.
We were greeted by a veritable posse of official looking Australians; army, police, medical professionals. “Milo, come look”, I shouted “humans”. None of the posse really offered a giggle, clearly not new material.
Our children emerged from the darkened bedroom where they had been playing; Monty carrying his blanket, both with their mullets still frizzy from the previous night’s sleep, both squinting and looking generally confused. Of the 4 of us Milo was the first to gather himself; stepping forward to say hello. Milo then fielded all questions on behalf of the family; names, DOB, ages. He then presented his forehead for the obligatory temperature check, and scored a very solid 36.4.
He was proud of himself. We all were.
As a family we nailed it; 36.4, 36.4, 36.4 36.2. We made subtle eye contact with each other and enjoyed a mental family fist-bump.
One of the army chaps then stepped forward, cleared his throat, and made the formal presentations – certificates of societal worthiness all around, for our CVs or LinkedIn profiles. We were then told we would be free to depart between midnight and 1000hrs tomorrow morning, and then as a parting gift we were all awarded a blue wrist band which simply says “MONDAY – COVID19 NSW”, identical to a band that might ordinarily give us limitless rides at Luna Park, or access to the ‘premium drinks package’ on the Ruby Princess; but this is something altogether more surreal.
So I sit here eating the last Choco Creme, which I found hidden at the back of the fridge – a remnant of the early days when single-serve desserts rained upon us like hand sanitizer – and reflect on the truly historic, and discombobulated times we (and I mean all of us) find ourselves in.
Over the Christmas ham last year who could have possibly conceived that just 6 months down the road we would need to lock all returning Australians in hotels for 2 weeks to protect the community from a not yet fully understood virus that is as yet far from under control. And thank goodness we live in a country that has the resources, and the poise to implement something like this.
These 14 days will eventually fade for us, as this year (and what lies ahead) will fade for us all… but what we won’t forget, and I suspect few of us will, is the centrality of family and community – they are keeping the world stumbling forward right now. For us, our tight little crew of four has moved peacefully through this very strange experience thanks to family and friends who have waved at the window, sent us food and coffee, and endless Pokemon paraphernalia, and those who have kept us entertained with memes, banter and promises of walks in the sun…
The world is much smaller than it was 6 months ago, but family is still family and community is still community. We are all re-learning what matters, pondering what tomorrow might look like, when we get there… and maybe nudging our priorities around just a little bit.
So that’s it; we will depart at 0730hrs tomorrow morning. To quote Antarctic explorer Captain Lawrence Oates; “I am just going outside and may be some time”.