Back to school: First day nerves, a DJ and the place where fruit goes to die.

“I know I can’t…” George said as he got into bed the night before school went back after 7 weeks at home. “…but I wish I could have one more day’s break… you know, because today was so bad”.

We’d had a dramatic day with a visit to the emergency vet for a guinea pig with a large abscess that needed lancing, as well as witnessing a physical fight between three men in a shopping centre car park as we were looking for a parking spot (we hastily left the car park without going into the shopping centre).

“Mummy, I’m nervous” George said, “I’m nervous Mummy” in a wavering voice from a Tik Tok filter.

“I don’t want to do JPA (Junior Performing Arts) anymore.” He doesn’t want to continue playing clarinet and despite him dancing and singing (beautifully) round the house, doesn’t actually want to do that in public.

Earlier that night we wrote out his schedule, found clothes to wear for the return back to his no-uniform school, discussed lunch options and put some money in his wallet.

I cleaned out his school bag. Something one of us should’ve done 7 weeks earlier. My hand landed on something wet and squishy as I was assaulted by the smell of rotting citrus fruit. The bottomless pit of the school bag, where fruit goes to die, literally.

In the bag, I found:

  • 1 black banana, shrunken, mummified with a bonus mould lesion
  • the aforementioned mandarin
  • 1 shrivelled apple
  • 2 squashed cheese sticks
  • 3 different drinks in cardboard cartons (Up and Go and apple juice).
Exhibit A: mummified

George texted his friend to meet outside school at 8.30am.

The next morning he was too nervous to eat any breakfast. We gave the guinea pig his dose of antibiotics and reward kale treat, left on time and pulled up at school at 8.28am.

I’d decided to drive George to and from school for a bit until I was more sure of the buses – how crowded would they be? How clean, are the same ones running? He’d only just got used to catching the bus when school closed. Now his former bus buddy who he used to walk part way home with no longer lives next door to us.

“Ooh I’m nervous” he said as we passed some kids walking, one or two on bikes, he gazed at the playground of a primary school along the way.

We pulled into the car park of the high school to the sound of music (not the musical). There was a cluster of four or five kids, a teacher and a DJ spinning his tunes on a balcony, several metres away from where the kids were standing.

“I hate this song” said George as Dance Monkey blared across the school ground. “Where’s my friend?”

I offered to wait but he said no and got out of the car. I heard George’s name. It wasn’t the friend he’d arranged to meet, but another one. George’s face broke into a big smile as the DJ spun Chameleon.

I drove away and teared up a bit to see G happy to see his friend. I was grateful that the school had gone to the effort of organising a DJ to welcome the Year 7s back, in a socially-distanced way.

George phoned me at lunchtime to ask if his friend B could have a lift home. I left my office at 3pm to drive to collect them.

They were waiting for me out the front and I noticed B was taller with longer hair after almost 2 months of iso-life. (I’d squeezed in George for a haircut at my hairdresser’s house when I’d gone for my colour two weeks earlier).

George’s face appeared smiling at the car window, B behind him. “Hi Mum, B’s hit puberty a bit!” George felt the need to explain. B just looked a bit embarrassed and no one said anything else about it.

B’s voice was breaking. What a difference 7 weeks can make in a 12-year-old. It was like a scene from the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie when the kids come back from summer break and they all look older apart from Greg Heffley.

I asked B what he’d thought of online learning. “It was good, except for science. Science sucked. There was too much work.” Glad we weren’t the only ones who thought that.

I also heard that the Performing Arts teacher (the one we’d discovered on Tik Tok) brought her dog to school. “She didn’t want to leave him at home alone” George explained.

We dropped B home then George and I discussed afternoon tea. “Did you eat your lunch?” I asked. “Did you eat your grapes?”

“No, I couldn’t find them.”

It seems George’s bag really is the place where fruit goes to die.

How can I get my almost-teen to eat more any fruit? Will I ever give up trying?

Edited highlights: Mother’s Day, social visits and bye bye home learning.

Lunar phases, as told in Oreo cookies.

Life is getting back to some semblance of “normal” after restrictions and now that school is back and I’m working five days a week in the office things certainly feel that way. Thought it was time for a catch-up.

Back to school

Public schools in the ACT began the transition back to the classroom on May 18th. The week before that, the ACT government was saying schools would continue remote learning for the whole of Term 2. But there’s been no cases of COVID-19 in Canberra since May 1, and consensus is that face-to-face learning is better for kids and parents who need to go to work.

“I don’t like online learning.” George said recently. He explained he finds learning easier being able to see and talk to the teacher, touch things (particularly with science) and interact in person with his classmates. Year 7 and Infants years were the first to go back five days last week and the other years have followed, with all years back by Tuesday 2nd June.

I think it will be OK, here in Canberra anyway, while COVID-19 case numbers are zero (but with interstate travel opening up again we know that could change at anytime). Social distancing practices will be maintained as much as possible , and increased hygiene measures have been put in place. There will be no assemblies, excursions or concerts for the foreseeable future. So we’ll see how it all goes.

School starting again was another change and despite him not really liking online learning, George was a bit nervous about going back to the school after being at home since March 24. He had messaged a few school friends over the time at home and we also went around to our (former) neighbours’ new house (they’ve moved recently) once visiting restrictions were lifted a couple of weeks ago. The kids are friends with George, one of them is in his year at school, so it was great to see them before school went back.

Bye Bye home learning

The couple of weeks before that passed very similarly to previous weeks; me working in my government job in a Canberra office building two or three days per week and working from home the other days. I’ve valued that time with George while he’s been doing his remote learning. Even though I was too busy with my own work to really engage with his… I can see how difficult remote learning would’ve been for working parents with younger children.

The days I wasn’t with George, his dad did his own work from my place, an arrangement that’s worked out well. Learning remotely went OK. It wasn’t six hours a day of constant work and interaction like it is at school. More like 10 minutes a day of Google Meet time where he saw his tutor group teacher and class mates for roll call on video, then maybe a couple of hours of actual school work per day, and the occasional longer Google Meet for another class.

The rest of the day it was Tik Tok, guinea pigs and snacks. Questions of “What are you doing now George?” that I would call out from my home-office (the dining room table) were often met with “I’m just on my break.”

He submitted most of his Year 7 school work successfully, but a couple of subjects seemed to have had a lot of work to do and/or been a bit confusing (Science and Maths). We realised there were a couple of assignments due that weren’t done, and George was overwhelmed and confused about what was required. I rang the maths teacher who said “Don’t worry about the work he hasn’t done, we’ll be covering that again later in the year.” And since he’s returned to face-to-face schooling two weeks ago, he’s got back on track with his Science.

The last week of home learning I enjoyed helping him with an assignment about the phases of the moon, done with Oreo cookies. We learnt all about the waning and waxing gibbous, which somehow I’d escaped at school so it was all new to me.

We finished most days (the days I could work from home) with an invigorating walk on Red Hill. I rug up for afternoon late-autumn walks in Canberra. George wears shorts and a t-shirt…

A lovely way to end each day.

I gave George my bank card and let him loose in Woolies.

Mother’s day

“I’m going to buy you your Valentine’s Day present” said George as we got in the car and headed to the shops the day before Mothers’ Day. “Mothers Day you mean”. Anyway, so cute. As well as the flowers that he bought with my money he then bought me a triple pack of Pears Transparent soap and Ferrero Rocher with his own $10.

As well as this lovely Mothers Day treat, I had a video chat with my Mum and sister in Sydney.

A bit confusion at times

After the third attempt at trying to reach mum on a group What’s App video chat, we had contact. I called my sister in between attempts and all she could say was “Manage participants” in a hebrew accent, an in-joke after we’d shared this video of a man’s frustrated attempt to get his mum onto a Zoom meeting.

That’s better

A social visit

My brother-in-law Leo and his lovely new wife Ann (they were married in February this year at a wedding of 110 people that they just scraped-in before Coronavirus crashed society) invited us around for Mothers’ Day lunch. It was lovely to go to someone else’s house (our first social visit, the day before the visit with our neighbour). I instantly forgot the new protocol and gave my hostess a hug before she knew what hit her.

“Social distancing!” she reminded me good-naturedly. I apologised and then the host came over and gave me a more socially-appropriate elbow bump.

It was a beautiful platter of roast lamb.

Ann made a cake and got George to decorate it – beautiful.

George has now downloaded What’s App on his new phone and enjoyed making me wonder who was ringing me.

Mum, your phone’s ringing!

Gratuitous Autumn pics…

Late April/early May… Autumn in all its glory….
Winter is around the corner tomorrow!

And that was a few edited highlights from the past few weeks, the end of Autumn. What a strange year it’s been so far. It’s the first day of Winter tomorrow. I wonder what this season will bring?

Twin fur baby/neck warmers, Pizza and Pasta

What have you done since restrictions were eased?

Have you accidentally hugged anyone lately?

Corona time: is this the real life, or is this just fiction?

If we’d heard during the bushfire crisis in early January that by March we’d be battling a global pandemic with intense restrictions to the way we live, we’d never have believed it.

At the end of February when we were hanging with the masses on the Gold Coast, fear of the virus was vaguely hanging in the air. Earlier that month we saw news reports of China and Italy being locked down but I couldn’t imagine we would ever need to face such restrictions here.

But of course we would. As recently as early March, my son, my ex-husband and I were still thinking about a family holiday to the US, in particular New York (the home of Spiderman) for later in the year. We had no idea it would become the “epicentre of the virus”! We hadn’t booked anything but now that idea is long gone and who knows when it will be resurrected?

I knew things were getting serious in Australia when Sky Fire (an annual Canberra Fireworks and music event) was cancelled 1 or 2 days before it was supposed to happen in mid-March. Scomo (the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison) banned gatherings of more than 500 people. And the restrictions got tighter from there.

Later in March the threat tightened its grip and life changed for everyone: The specifics of the rules kept changing in a bizarre tango between rigorous caution and practicality. Only go out for essential reasons. Non-essential businesses to shut. Work and school from home if you can. Weddings can have 5 guests, funerals 10. No social gatherings in your own home. Can’t exercise in more than groups of 2. Can’t sit on a park bench.

A friend posted on Facebook that she felt like she was living in a post-apocalyptic BBC drama. Now when I read the news and look at memes on social media about the way we live now, sometimes I manage to conjure the perspective of someone who’s just crawled out from under a rock and I view it with disbelief. Are we actually living in a dystopia, a sci-fi movie? It might be 2020, but is this really George Orwell’s 1984? It’s wartime on a war called Corona.

I thought of the Spanish Flu of 1918 and I was curious about the details of that, so I could be better imagine likely scenarios of how this corona thing would might play out. How did people cope back then? How would we cope now?

I thought about Edward (Robert Pattinson) from Twilight becoming a vampire when he was a young soldier dying in hospital from Spanish Flu in 1918. His doctor, who happened to be a vampire, saw Edward’s impending death as an opportunity to feed without killing, and thus, another new young handsome vampire joined the pack. An example of fiction being stranger than truth, in this case.

Spanish flu was the catalyst for Twilight’s Edward becoming a vampire

I thought that during our lives, at least the last 50 years, there’s been no other event that’s caused the same level of global disruption and will have such far-reaching economic and social affects as this pandemic. Slowing the spread of this highly-contagious new virus that seems to manifest in unpredictable ways has resulted in over 1 million people in Australia losing their jobs and businesses, sending us into billions of dollars worth of debt as our government hands out financial lifelines.

But my great-grandparents lived through WW1, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression and WW2. This is our generation’s history-making disruption.

Less seriously, coronavirus is theoretically causing a disruption to the idea of my getting back into the dating game. Just when I thought I might give it a crack again this year, a pandemic descends.

Now I hear the online dating gurus and columnists say that writing long messages back and forth a la Jane Austen is in and virtual dates are the new trend. A safer alternative to possibly meeting a vampire IRL (well, a metaphorical one).

Maybe I could take comfort from Love in the Time of Cholera. I’ve never read it, but I find the title vaguely comforting – the idea that love can happen anywhere, anytime. Meanwhile, I ain’t getting any younger.

But my hair is getting greyer, and now I’m not sure whether to keep my May 2 hair appointment (that was made on March 7 at the time of my last salon visit). Even though Scomo says we can now have hair appointments that last longer than 30 minutes. But since my hairdresser literally works from home these days, it’s probably fine.

The good news is that the social distancing and restrictions seem to be working so far as the rate of new infections decreases.

Pre-corona era memories: George's wild night on the Gold Coast part 2 – "Saturday night – no social distancing!"

View from level 8 of Manta-on-View Hotel in Surfers Paradise

Long title, but we’re in complex times. As I typed this I could hear the title as a voiceover for a horror movie trailer. It’s strange thinking that just over a month ago, when George and I were in the midst of a crush of people waiting for a bus home from the Queen concert on the Gold Coast, we hadn’t yet heard the term “social distancing”. George, who had said the previous night was the wildest night he’d ever had”, bestowed that honour on tonight.

After George had his little scare from the yahoos yahooing in their car the night before, we got back to our hotel room and calmed down by turning on the TV to watch Music Max Mardi Gras mix, George was all “What IS this?” And I was all “This is disco!”

There was Gloria Gaynor’s I will survive (my karaoke song, I explained), there was the Village People’s Macho Man, and there was Queen with Don’t stop me now, a perfect prelude to the show we would see the next night.

We woke on Saturday morning and had breakfast at our hotel, Mantra-on-View, which had given us “two-for-one” breakfast buffet vouchers. At almost 12, George still just scraped in as a “child” so that meant a breakfast buffet for two for $20 total. The food was amazing! I do love a well-priced breakfast buffet.

Nothing says “hotel breakfast buffet” like potato gems and pork buns!

The weather was perfect (something under 30 and sunny) and we were keen to hit Surfers Paradise beach. Apart from the previous night, this was my first time on Gold Coast sand. When I’d visited Surfers Paradise 25 years ago, It was all about the night life rather than the surf life.

After googling box jelly fish just to make sure they didn’t travel this far down the QLD coast, checking for any beach warning signs in place, we headed to the yellow and red flags. The water temperature was magnificent.

“Hey, remember in early 2020 when we could still go to the beach?”

George loved the surf. He’s getting much more confident in it, so I still need to yell exactly what my mother used to yell at me: “Don’t go too far out! That’s too far! come back!” George encouraged me to go under the waves, something I used to do when I was a kid. “What do you think our guinea pigs would do if they were in the surf?” George asked. They’d probably drown we agreed.

We stayed in until the dark storm clouds further down the coast rolled up and started raining right above us. We ran back to our hotel, a five-minute dash away.

We were lucky the rain had cleared up in time for the concert.

We got into the lift and two older gentlemen asked us how the water was. We got chatting and discovered they’d driven up from Port Macquarie that morning to see Queen as well. They were able to tell me all about the free public transport that was on for concert-goers. Roads were to be closed off and car traffic was discouraged.

As we walked down to the Surfers Paradise streets to grab a snack and have a look around. Concert time was getting closer.

“What happens if Brian May suddenly gets arthritis and can’t play his guitar?” asked my little over-thinker. I replied it’s unlikely he’d suddenly get it, if it was a pre-existing condition he’d have injections before the show.

“What happens if one of them has a heart attack on stage?”Hopefully they won’t and probably not, I reassured him.

Dinner with a view

After an early room-service pizza dinner on our hotel balcony at 5pm, we caught a tram across the road down to Broadbeach, where we would then get on free shuttle buses to Metricon Stadium at Carrara. It was a beautiful evening and everyone was excited.

Although none of the coronavirus restrictions existed at the time, we were still aware of it as a potential danger. I told George we had to use our hand sanitiser after getting off the very crowded bus.

“What do you think our guinea pigs would do if they were on this bus?” George asked. They’d probably have a heart attack we agreed.

The concert was due to start at 8pm and gates opened at 6pm. George was detemined to get to the venue at 6pm, to make sure he could get a Queen tour T-shirt before they all sold out. Lucky we got there early because the queues to get into the gates were long. Since my bag was bigger than A4 size, it had to be cloaked. And I left my hand sanitiser in there!

The prized possession

We lined up at the T-shirt stand and met a girl George’s age in the queue, as well as a 6-year-old mini-Freddie Mercury (with his mum). He was the cutest little pale-skinned red-haired 6-year-old, complete with fake black moustache, dressed exactly like Freddie at 1985’s Live Aid concert.

We found our seats that were just up up up, so high in the sky, but we could see everything. We enjoyed the energy of being amongst 40,000 people. It was exciting. I don’t know if I’ll ever experience that again now that we’re in corona times.

It was fun watching the stadium fill with people.

It was exciting see the Mexican wave start at the other side of the stadium, and roll steadily, determinedly and unstoppably towards us, like the waves on Surfers Paradise beach. Or an impending Coronavirus outbreak.

It seemed to be a purple reign… I wonder what Prince would’ve thought?

The concert was amazing. Adam Lambert, although not Freddie Mercury, was a good substitute. He has a strong voice, suitably engages with the audience, and is a flamboyant performer. Sufficiently humble, he said he knows he could never replace Freddie. I was thrilled to hear Brain May and Roger Taylor play. They are amazing musicians and performers, and I appreciate it more knowing these are men in their early 70s. The highlight for me, was head-banging to Bohemian Rhapsody with George. That was up there with one of the most perfect moments of my life. We sang along to almost everything. We both absolutely loved it and I’m so happy we went.

“What do you think the guinea pigs would do if they were in this stadium?” I asked George. “Mum, that’s enough talk about the guinea pigs!”

Phone lights turned the stadium into a field of electric flowers

After an exhilarating 2.5 hour show, it was an exhausting 2.5 hour journey back to our hotel room. Queen performed from 8pm until 10.30pm after a We will rock you encore. We watched people start to leave before the show was over. When we finally got to the stadium exit, we were confused over which cloaking tent my bag was in. We moved in a slow-flowing river of people, found the tent thanks to George and grabbed my bag which he said he had never been so happy to see. But our troubles getting get back to our hotel had not even begun.

We saw a sign with the name of our stop and the bus stand number. We then stood still in a crush of people for an hour. Buses kept coming and collecting people but the throng didn’t seem to dissipate. People were coughing. A couple sneezed. I had fleeting moments of mild anxiety about the threat of coronavirus wafting around – it emerged a couple of days later that a Gold Coast beautician who’d just returned from overseas and tested positive for COVID-19 had treated 40 clients in a shopping centre not too far from where we were.

By 11.30pm, we were now at least in an actual line – an excruciatingly slow-moving line that snaked around barricades to get to the bus stop, with my very tired almost-12-year-old leaning against me. When we finally got onto a bus, everyone was so relieved, it gave us a new energy.

Once back at Broadbeach, we shuffled our way onto a light rail carriage back to Surfers Paradise where we stood up and hung on. A few people had children asleep in their arms. When our light rail stopped at Cavill Avenue, the “party” street, about 20 young people in hospital scrubs got on the light rail next to us. I was horrified to realise these young medical students/interns partied in their scrubs; what if they had corona germs?! I know they probably didn’t, but that’s where my mind goes. I knew the tram was headed back to Gold Coast University Hospital, where there were a couple of corona patients. It was all too much for one o’clock in the morning.

We got off the light rail and stumbled to our hotel across the road. Back in the room, relieved, I turned on late night music TV and we ate the ice creams I’d stashed in our little freezer compartment earlier. Only less than 6 hours till we had to be up to make our way back to Brisbane. But at least we had another buffet breakfast to wake up to.