The shifting shape of time
Parenting during the worst of times is a terrific way to figure out how to parent in normal times
Day 1 of lockdown with two toddlers: It’s fine, we just have to take it a day at a time.
Day 14 of lockdown with two toddlers: We just need to take it 4 minutes at a time.
Time shifts shape when you have children.
When my first daughter was born and the three of us were alone in New York City with no nannies or nurses or family living with us, I started reading more poetry than ever before, more short stories, fewer novels. I was reading in stolen moments, rarely more than a few minutes at a time.
Particularly because I was working on a novel of my own. With the luxury of long hours no longer at my disposal, I discovered that if I maintained laser-sharp focus on my own writing for enough 15-minute increments through the day, I could put in the equivalent of a full work day. Remarkably (and possibly thanks to having a poor work ethic to begin with), I found I was able to work the same amount as I had before having a baby.
Time morphs even more when a pandemic hits and you are stuck at home with two children all day. Even space seems to change and, fortunately, expand.
In theory, raising toddlers is quite easy. All you have to do is tire them out. Unfortunately, this is nearly impossible to do. Even more so during a lockdown.
Before the pandemic hit, our daughters went to playschool, music class and dance class. Every evening, we would take them to the park for at least an hour and let them chase a ball and bubbles around. From the minute we set them down on the grass, they would go running, tumbling, falling, chasing crows, pigeons and each other, stopping only when scooped up to go home for baths and dinner, after which they would tumble into bed exhausted.
Now there is none of that, nowhere to roam and run safely. We are stuck in our two-bedroom apartment but the children still have as much energy to burn.
We set up an obstacle course—they run and jump from sofa to coffee table to love seat to their toy tunnel over and over again. Thank God kids thrive on repetition. They help us sweep the floors and dust the counters. I toss their books off the bookshelf so they can then put them all back.
We discovered our building has a small roof so we cleaned it and take them upstairs every evening. Delightful, eager to be happy, they love the roof now and that small little 20 sq. ft space seems much bigger. They ride their bicycles around and around in small circles. They chase bubbles 6ft up and down, and, like my own work, we learn that 6ft done enough times becomes a hundred metres eventually. If they wore clunky little Apple watches, they would be like those crazy runners who are managing to squeeze in half marathons on their driveways.
After dinner, fuelled by food, they have a final surge of energy and chase each other around the living room, slipping and sliding on the hard marble floors. “Stop that!" I shout. “We cannot go to an emergency room right now."
Parenting during the worst of times is a terrific way to figure out how to parent in normal times. Navigating a Mumbai monsoon or a New York City winter with two toddlers no longer feels daunting.
As for me—in lockdown, my cardio comes from trying to outrun my husband when the children start fighting. And I am down to reading only tweets.
Diksha Basu is the author of The Windfall (Bloomsbury). Her new book, Destination Wedding (Bloomsbury), will be out in June.
FIRST PUBLISHED17.04.2020 | 03:58 PM IST