The Corona Chronicles: Week 18: Happy faces?

It’s the school holidays but there are no happy faces in our family. These are not the carefree days of the past. ‘Staying alert’ means that Grunting Teen is supposed to keep his distance when all he wants to do is hang out with his mates without worrying about corona restrictions.

‘It’s so annoying, mum,’ he complains. ‘We can’t mess about together in a pool or high-five in a game of footie. It’s easier to just keep playing on-line.’

And indeed, the face-to-face option has become even less likely now as the friends he hoped to see, after their Spanish breaks, are now required to self-isolate on return. These latest travel regulations are putting our own get-away at risk too. Should we go or should we stay? What will we do if cases rise again in France? What happens if we have to quarantine on return? It’s currently a waiting game of Covid Russian roulette added to the usual pre-holiday stresses.

My Yorkshire soul is horrified at the thought of losing my deposit so prepares for travel with all eventualities. My usual tourist emergency phrases of ‘my son has heat stroke’ and ‘where can I buy sun-cream?’ are now being replaced by ‘my husband is in a critical condition’, and ‘do you sell oxygen?’

In the meantime, I’m trying to assuage my ‘bad-mother’ guilt by thinking up activities that will keep the teenager off the PS4 and out of the optician’s. The Nearly-Beloved is no help either as his sympathy level with his son has plummeted.

‘Bored? You don’t know you’re born! You try slogging through lock-down without a day off, sonny,’ he mutters. Tempers are starting to fray as the over-worked and under-occupied clash in domestic disharmony. And the last thing I need is an aimless adolescent on my hands. But it’s hard to keep him occupied because I’ve now been unfurloughed and am up to my eyes in work.

After all, I’ve tried running with him, which has been less than successful. He either surges ahead of me with the speed of a hare and the enthusiasm of youth or collapses on the side of the road with stitch and self-loathing as I pass him at tortoise pace.

His father has set him gardening tasks to be done. But they’re never completed to the Nearly-Beloved’s strict standards and so, to avoid patricide, he’s been moved onto painting duties at his sister’s new house. Unfortunately, an unsupervised session and a mix up between white gloss and matt emulsion has seen sibling relationships strained to breaking point. There are no happy faces in our family.

I think back to my own idyllic childhood of feral summers roaming free. How I loved the moors and all they had to offer, and surely, it’s my duty to pass this onto my son? And so, I form a cunning plan that will kill two birds with one stone – a useful activity in the fresh air, combined with a free meal.

‘What do you mean, we’re going bilberrying? Is that even a thing?’ grunts my teen. But with no friends on-line he’s become desperate and reluctantly heads out to the Peaks with me. However, memories can be deceptive. Didn’t berries use to be so much bigger in my days? And it hardly took any time to fill the baskets. Weren’t the bushes much higher too? I certainly don’t remember my back aching like this nor all those midges biting me!

Grunting Teen is not impressed with his purple-stained T-shirt and I’m not impressed with the Nearly-Beloved when he spits out a mouthful of my delicious home-made pie.

‘Shouldn’t there be sugar in it, instead of leaves and stalks?’ he splutters.

There are no happy faces in my family.

So, thank goodness for the news that indoor climbing centres have finally opened. Let’s forget the fact that my man-boy has gone up two-and-a-half sizes since he last scaled a wall, and that the price I’ve paid for his new climbing shoes is half our holiday budget. No, let’s focus on the positive. I can get on with my work unhindered, the Nearly Beloved no longer loses his rag at the sight of his idle offspring, and Grunting Teen has a new purpose in life.

Finally, the happy faces have returned.

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