Now that everything seems so uncertain, it’s time to cleave to what we can depend on
Now that I’m spending so much time at home, new routines have established themselves. With advancing age I’ve discovered some odd things about myself in that regard. I’m good with routines, positively formed by them, in fact. It doesn’t matter what the routine is – upend my life and send me back to square one and, so long as you put another routine immediately in place, I’ll get used to it, folding into its shape like a cat in a shoebox. I wasn’t initially delighted by the fact that my expected income for the year evaporated overnight, rendering me quite broke, scared, and a full-time, stay-indoors dad. But it only took a few days for every pattern in my brain to get used to it.
I try and give each day specific meaning, to avoid that ‘Christmas week’ sense of fuzzy disconnection from time that would otherwise assert itself. On Mondays, I get a new Spotify playlist to listen to over lunch with the boy. I find out what he likes (mid-90s jungle and drum and bass reissues) and doesn’t like (me pausing these songs to tell him scintillating facts about mid-90s jungle and drum and bass reissues). Tuesday is bin day. Wednesdays, we do lots of video calls. On Thursdays we have a live stream from our local children’s centre where he gets to bop along to children’s hits (studiously ignoring my gaze in case I decide to give him a similarly scintillating lecture on which version of Wheels on the Bus is the real head’s choice).
His favourite is bin day as he likes bin lorries above all things. He sits in my arms, silent and open-mouthed, holding the little light-up bin lorry that is his most treasured toy. I spot some children doing the same in an upstairs window across the way, and then realise their wheelie bin has a note pinned on it, thanking the bin men for all they do. I feel a lump in my throat.
I don’t want to sound schmaltzy. I mean, you run that risk when you write a column on parenthood, but I always like to preserve a certain ironic distance. Enough so that the reader never gets too worried that I’ll accidentally show genuine emotion. ‘Oh thank God,’ you say, reading the witless pun with which I’ve ended an otherwise heartfelt article. ‘That was a close one.’
But as friends lose loved ones, and everything seems uncertain at the moment, I feel that things which hearten should be declared out loud. Leaflets through letterboxes offering to help any vulnerable people in the neighbourhood; the man at my back window who does his tai chi every afternoon with a neighbour two gardens over; the 8pm Thursday clapping, which grows in length and volume,week on week; three bin men seeing a note and passing it around, the glee from an upstairs window at getting a wave and a thank you. And the realisation, clear and bright and powerful, of just how much of a smile you can make out, from a distance, through a bin man’s face mask.