We buy a bottle of Vodka in Aldi, marvelling at the price and wondering why we’ve never done this before. Needs must now. We mix it with aloe vera and dispense it into little containers. I slip one into marque 5’s pencil case and tell him to use it often, throughout the day. Not to eat a single thing without it. Such is the fear of the herd. We have a high risk person amongst us.
He sails out of school to us after his guitar lesson. He’s being taught by a band member from the Corona’s. I kid you not. He’s sunny as ever as he climbs into the car and begins to spout his news. It’s been a great fun day. It’s always a great fun day in his ten year old world. He tells us the stories, vivid and alluring, the things that have tickled him and sent him into the danger zone of contagious classroom laughter. He is, I suspect, often the one to spark the contagion. We join him, giggling as we drive off, a little reprieve. Until.
‘Did you remember to use the hand sanitizer throughout the day?’
‘Teacher confiscated it’.
‘What? What the hell?’
‘I was playing with my friends and one of them was talking about Russians, he loves talking about Russians, and I told him we made our own sanitizer with Vodka and…’
Making our own was, needless to say, a last resort after scouring all the shops and pharmacies in Dublin. A tiny bit of control in this maelstrom. Teaching the kids too. Creativity and resilience. Can’t buy it, make your own. Shipping them off to school utterly defenceless had the nausea rising for days before. Tales from the secondary school of no soap in the toilets and one ‘sanitizer’ that squirts a watery substance – without any smell – directly at your jumper. They’re convinced that it is actually just water. This, in a school where countless lads had returned from a ski trip from Northern Italy. On the cusp of the outbreak here. We follow a homemade hand sanitizer recipe from rsvplive and we are delighted with ourselves.
The note in the homework journal tells me that ‘Vodka is not an appropriate liquid for school’. I get the pen out and burn through a page, a delicious rage thrumming. The biggest threat to the vulnerable person in this house will come from the kids bringing it in from school. I try to keep it to an A4 and fail a couple of times, nailing it on the last. Just. Ta-dah.
He sails out of school and begins his story telling, peppering it with the only news I want to hear.
‘Oh and I got the sanitizer back. I’m allowed to use it in school and I used it all day’.
He shows me. It’s half gone. Yay. More on the way. I almost high five him. We will prevail. Mini victories in the war.
The closure of the schools two days later and it’s like a rope has been thrown. I don’t have to battle on to keep afloat, quizzing them about their interactions, the frequency of their sanitizing, whether anyone was coughing near them, whether the ski trip lads have been told to stay home yet. Nope. Excellent authoritative decision making by the powers that be and a little more control for parents in the war. The vulnerable person feels like celebrating his new found safety.
‘Ah go on. I could stay outside with the smokers, keep my distance, just the one?’
The strategies trip out of me in threes. It’s all about seeing the opportunities in this I mutter to my lovely mutt.
‘We’ll buy flowers, play lotto and exercise to get through this’, I announce to marque three.
‘Eh, okay then’.
‘We’ll transform the garden, de-clutter the house and decorate’, I announce to the vulnerable person. He coughs. Manages to get a full fit going. Splutters that he might just need to self isolate in another part of the country.
‘We’ll draw, read, and look, you can enter this children’s short story competition’ I announce to marque 5.
‘What’s the prize?’
‘No way. All that work writing a story just to get book tokens?’ He shudders. Only if you win I manage not to say.
They get gardening nonetheless. A trip to the wonderful Windy Ridge garden centre. Marque 2 and marque 5 bring back strawberry and blackberry plants one day. Marque 3 and marque 4 bring back Valentine and Senetti, Viola Blue Moon and Primrose Princess. Planting. Colour. Growth. That’s the way out of this, isn’t it? There’s barely a drop of anxiety to be squeezed in these veins, what with all the escalating restrictions and plants keeping us safe.
Marque 2 and marque 3 return from a long evening time walk. They’re full of chat and I’m half listening, banging some food together. There’s mention of a shop in the village, how it’s not going to close, not unless it’s forced to. I join in.
‘You didn’t buy anything to eat did you?’
‘Yeah, just a packet of crisps’, marque 2 says.
‘You didn’t eat them though did you?’
‘Yeah, but it was just a small pack, I’m still hungry for dinner, I’ll be grand’.
There’s a thudding in my neck.
‘Tell me you used sanitizer before eating them’.
‘What? No. I didn’t need to’.
‘Was there money exchanged?’
‘Yeah, but it’s okay ‘coz he was wearing gloves and I just used this one finger and thumb to eat them’.
I should take a deep breath, count to ten.
Let it go. Just let it go.
‘He’s wearing gloves to protect himself, not you. All the money that’s been in god knows how many people’s pockets, hands, coughed on, sneezed on. Handed straight to you, to practically put in your mouth. Do you know some places won’t actually accept money anymore? It’s that bloody serious. I can’t believe I’m having to say this to you’.
His post walk rosy cheeked hue has disappeared along with his easy banter. He leaves me to it, sloshing out the creamy chicken tagliatelle onto plates for vanished appetites.
Later he reappears. I try to think of something reassuring to say and as I stumble he takes over.
‘It’s okay. You know how we made the sanitizer? Yeah well if Vodka kills it on hands it could kill it my mouth too so I had some. Just a bit. Neat’.
Creativity, resilience, control.
That’s my boy.