‘What we ‘aving for tea?’ asks Grunting Teen, his head in the fridge hoping to find the answer there.
‘My corned beef hash,’ I reply and watch his face fall before he quickly recovers his composure and mutters. ‘Well at least it’s a change from pie…’
I smile to myself. My gratitude practice must be rubbing off on him. He’s grateful his dad’s no longer in charge of the cooking and I’m grateful that my broken shoulder has healed enough to regain some independence.
But when, with a ‘ta-da’, I stick a stuffed-crust pizza in front of him, he breaks into an enormous smile. It’s so easy to make him happy – just lower his expectations, then over-deliver.
To be honest, I think he’s turned this well-honed parenting trick back onto us now. So, by already predicting less than promising GCSEs, anything higher than a grade 4 will be seen as a triumph.
And his school has got in on the act too. Usually, Year 11s are taking exams until mid-June but with the whole off-on-off assessment debacle, all official teaching finished before the May half-term. He’s now been offered a three-week online ‘enrichment calendar’. I optimistically highlighted ‘The love of reading’, ‘Menus on a budget’ and ‘Study skills’ but he just rolled his eyes and refused to be enriched. Instead, he’s created his own timetable with ‘The love of gaming,’ ‘Menus in a microwave’ and ‘Sleeping skills’.
At least that means he’s not anticipating fireworks from the ‘Sixth-Form Preparation’ days, scheduled for the start of July. They were supposed to be in person but are now being delivered virtually so as ‘not to increase the Covid-19 risk’. This is post ‘the end of the roadmap out of lockdown’, making me wonder if the school perhaps knows something the Prime Minister doesn’t…
In the meantime, I, for one, have become pandemically prepared for the worst and therefore delighted when disaster fails to strike. My travel corridor was inevitably going to close. Christmas was only ever going to be a one-meal event. And my traffic lights were always going to be stuck on red. So, this summer, the card game I’ll be playing is Happy Families on the East Coast, rather than Risk in the Algarve. And I’ll forego the pubbing and the clubbing if it means I can continue to see my nearest and dearest in the safety of my own home.
But there again, it’s all very well if you’re a pale-skinned introvert past your dancing sell-by-date. What if you’re someone afflicted with Seasonal Affective Disorder and need the guaranteed sun of the Med to keep you from despair? What if you’re simply young and your default setting is to party? What if your livelihood depends on things opening up?
And on a personal note, we need things to return to pre-Corona days so that Grunting Teen can get a real education. He’s spent most of the last fifteen months with only four walls and a PlayStation for company. He hasn’t a clue what the world of work is like. But the Nearly-Beloved is on the case. A summer job of pot washing, baby sitting and lawn mowing is part of the ‘enrichment calendar’ he’s cooked up for his son.
‘Dad, this is well mean, innit?’ complains the boy whose next few months are now jam-packed with hard-labour. ‘I’ve got no free time now! What kind of summer is this going to be?’
‘Welcome to the real world, son,’ his father says. ‘Just remember we’re doing you a favour. When it comes to September, A-levels will feel like a picnic in the park.’
In the meantime, the much trumpeted ‘Freedom Day’ is coming. For some, if not for all. June 21st was circled in the diary. The day we ditch the masks and the social distancing. Swap PPE for high heels and a Tee. And many had already planned the party. But, what a surprise – now it’s been postponed! July 19th is our new goalpost.
Let’s just hope, when the day eventually comes, that this time it heralds real freedom. The last thing we need is more overpromising and underdelivering.