Lessons From Lockdown: From A Melbourne Dad

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What one of world’s longest, most-restrictive lockdowns has taught me. By ellaslist Melbourne editor, Paul Chai.

Melbourne, it’s been a long winter. Longer and harder than usual with no fireside pub chats, no friends allowed in our homes, closed playgrounds and home schooling. And we are not there yet. Who would have guessed in April that we would still be locked up in spring?

In our house, it has been a rollercoaster of tears, frustration and moments of great pleasure. We have had two lockdown birthdays, found joy in visits to the market and endured the deep longing for our friends and family.

But in the spirit of home schooling, we have learned a thing or two as well. Here they are in no particular order:

Hobbies Help

I have no hobbies except eating, drinking and flying. Don’t get me wrong, they were fine hobbies, but when they were gone there was a very big hole. Not big enough for me to faff around baking sourdough, lockdown was frustrating enough, but I did try out a few new skills. I grew mushrooms, made tortillas from scratch and farmed – and then pickled – some watermelon radishes. I baked my first cake that did not all come in one packet and I uncovered a lot of new music. The key lesson here is my hobbies list did need expanding, for my mental health as well as my wallet and liver.

All Screen Time Is Not Created Equal

Imagine lockdown 30 or even 20 years ago. Teenagers the world over fighting with their siblings over access to the rotary dial phone as parents watched one of five or six channels. So, yes, our screen time has blown out but communicating, sharing and laughing with friends via Fortnite is not the same as staring blankly at a TV. I caught my youngest not even playing a lot of the time, just chatting away with his friends as they sat in the gaming lobby. These days we learn on screens, play on screens and lately even armchair travel on screens, so we were kind to ourselves about the uptick in screen time.

Exercise Is The Tonic Of A Locked-up Populace

Along with the increase in screen time we saw interest and participation in exercise skyrocket, thanks in part to a sticker chart that ended in a cash prize (and going on walks being the only state-sponsored activity allowed). For a family that is not particularly sporty this renewed emphasis on physical exercise helped not only stave off the darkness, but create new habits that we will keep after lockdown ends.

Lessons from Lockdown

Teachers Are Undervalued…

“Can you help?” became the three-word mantra of my primary schooler, usually uttered a full two minutes after I had sat down at my desk to try and do some work. Home schooling was by far the hardest ask of lockdown for those of us trying to claw together some semblance of an income from the wreckage that was COVID. It was not so much the schoolwork as keeping my student engaged, energised and positive. Also, for all the hassle, there were some amazing moments of craft or achievement that I would not have missed for the world. Plus, I learned how to do long division again.

…But There Are Gaps

Seeing what, and how, my kids were learning also alerted me to what they didn’t know and sometimes that was a shock. Geography was a particular weakness for both my primary schooler and Mr High School and they have resulted in regular Saturday night geography quizzes at our house. Turns out it was good to know what they didn’t know.

No News Is Good News

As a former news journo, I have been very keen to be informed about what is going on in our weird new world. This deep dive into the news cycle started off cathartic but soon took a less positive turn when you compare our handling of COVID with other countries – both good and bad. When it became clear that the Melbourne lockdown was an ultra-marathon not just a marathon I found switching the news off was better for mental health.

Lessons from Lockdown

Life Without FOMO

I really noticed how much FOMO I have on a daily basis. With an almost complete stop to the arts I was no longer wondering which gigs, shows and theatre I had missed. I knew exactly what all my friends were up to (nothing!) and who was down the local pub (no one). I will probably still be the first in line when the Tote reopens, but I can do without the staggering levels of pre-COVID FOMO and chill a bit.

The Importance Of Friends

As a sometimes-grumpy, working-from-home-before-it-was-cool only child, I tend to yo-yo between social and misanthropic. With these skills, I should have been the Lord of Lockdown but boy did I miss that social contact. That first day this year when we could sit with a friend in a park and just chat was better than any night-long bender. It also made me acutely aware of how lucky I was to have friends within by 5km limit, and not to be living alone. 

We Got Through It

For all the drama, the worries and the sadness, we did pretty well. Our little foursome was there for each other, we learned and laughed and loved and fought and we came out stronger. Well, we will, when we eventually get out…


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