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Goodbye, freedom: the start of my parenting quarantine

Quarantine Dad, Andrzej Lukowski, 2020
Photograph: Andrew Parsons

Time Out Theatre editor Andrzej Łukowski is father to two young children, who he loves very much – in moderation. Now, they’re locked in together 24/7. Find out how he’s coping in this new series about parenting in the time of corona.

March 20 

Anyone who says they like to spend time with their children is lying. Or at the very least, they’re exaggerating. Obviously it’s nice to spend some time with your little treasures. Obviously it’s adorable when they run around smashing up stuff while pretending to be a succession of increasingly esoteric dinosaurs. Obviously. Within limits. But as parent to a two-year-old and an almost-five-year-old, the prospect of simply being locked away with them for an indefinite period of time with no possibility of a break is something that a week or two ago I would have probably counted as one of my greatest fears. 

However, times change. Pandemics happen.

Today is my birthday. A week or so ago I was under the impression I would start it alone in a hotel in Paris, having attended a French-language production of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ the previous night. As the designated ‘morning parent’ (ie I always get up with them), not having to deal with my own children for one morning was going to be a sort of present to myself. I would sweep magnificently into St Pancras in the early afternoon, saunter into Time Out’s King’s Cross office, sign off the magazine pages that would have included my review of that week’s big West End opening, ‘The Seagull’ starring Emilia Clarke, then head home to deepest, darkest Zone 4 for some sort of meal out that would also not involve children. 

Instead, I begin my (mercifully insignificant-numbered) birthday dealing with a howling four-year-old, in genuine hysterics over misspelling the word ‘exhibition’: I dictated the spelling to him, but he thought it began with two ‘e’s and is in mortal anguish because I crossed the first one out for him, and it was the one he liked the most. (‘My plummy-looking “e”! I miss it so much!’)  

This is not even the first day we’re at home with the kids. This is the last day they’re allowed to go to school before they all close. This is the fun bit. The prospect of precisely what we’d do with them in these social-distancing times even if we didn’t have full-time jobs is daunting enough. But we do have full-time jobs. Will I have to ‘teach’ them stuff? I’m a theatre critic: essentially my only life skill is staying out at night while trying to make the works of Harold Pinter all about me. The idea of working, housebound, with two children charging around, feels like a cruel and unusual punishment. Certainly this birthday is not going the way I’d hoped.

Then, a birthday miracle happens. My wife, an editor who works for the government, is apparently technically considered a key worker. And the government line on journalists suddenly becomes promisingly unclear, with the suggestion being that all journalists might count. A key worker is somebody deemed so important to the running of society that their kids are allowed to keep attending school, so the parent can actually get some damn work done. And society probably would collapse without, er, theatre critics with nothing to review, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it? Oh God, probably not. After a brief conversation with the school, we decide it’s probably not the right thing to do. To be fair, we’re somewhat influenced by the fact that they sound massively unenthusiastic about staying open (‘it’s not teaching, it’s babysitting’). In the end, my birthday present to myself wasn’t a Parisian breakfast but a short-lived fantasy of childcare assistance.

So here we are. What for some of you fuckers is surely just working from home plus a lovely opportunity to catch up on reading and work your way through Netflix is, for us, round-the-clock childcare plus our jobs, with no possibility of turning to our traditional helpers, grandparents. Oh, and we can’t go to the playground.

Really, are parents not the true victims of this terrible outbreak? Well, apart from the immuno-compromised and the over-70s, obviously. And NHS workers. And people who’ve lost their jobs, or are being forced to continue their jobs, the mentally ill, the lonely, the self-isolating, supermarket workers, tube drivers, teachers, construction workers… oh, and people who’ve actually had Covid-19. Okay, we’re probably not the true victims. But it’s going to be ‘interesting’.

Things we’ve been trying

Coach Joe 
Yes, I thought he was a dickhead before. Yes, I basically think he’s Jesus now. His full half-hour PE lessons are a bit much for the (now) five-year-old and the two-year-old, but the first 15 minutes or so are fun.

Learning about currency 
The school provided us with a single PDF page of teaching ideas, the first of which was teaching the children about coins – which has been quite fun, but we have also had to explain that you’re not allowed to use them.

Ninja-ing around the park 
More on our attempts to socially distance our children next time, but after extensive canvassing of randoms on Twitter, my current approach to our daily exercise routine is to play in the park but only in weird, obscure spots reached by stealth. 

For ways to connect with your city under lockdown click here.

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