Parenting

In Melbourne's interminable lockdown, my daily walks have gone from a chore to a delight | Amanda Dunn


“Will there be bodies on the beach?”

“No, darling, why would there be bodies on the beach?”

“You know, like on the news.”

Straight away, I know what she’s talking about. The night before, there had been a report on the Covid-19 outbreak in Brazil, and it had shown rows and rows of graves being prepared for the lives the virus would inevitably claim. It wasn’t a beach, but the colours of the landscape were reminiscent of it, and I could see how it might look like a beach to a six-year-old.

“Oh no, that was in South America,” I explain, “and it wasn’t a beach. Don’t worry, there won’t be bodies on the beach here.” She seems satisfied with this and scoots away, her pink helmet receding down the street.

This was stage three, when we could still walk on the beach, before stage four, when we could only go within 5km of home. Every day on this interminable Melbourne lockdown, we have gone for a long walk – or to be precise, she scoots and I trot along behind her. Over the monotonous days and weeks, this daily walk has transformed from a chore to a delight, the part of the day I look forward to the most. It’s here we have learned about our neighbourhood, the details of people’s gardens, the smells of the cafes and restaurants, the negligence of dog owners who still don’t pick up their dog’s poo (which outrages her endlessly), the cats that sit in their front yards, eyes closed meditatively in the late winter sun, ignoring her entreaties to come over for a pat.

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And it is on these walks that I have been able to sort through my own worries – the endless management of work, home schooling, making dinner, cleaning the house, why aren’t the numbers coming down, returning people’s phone calls and texts – while she chatters about whatever comes into her mind. Sometimes it’s questions about the pandemic or when she might return to school, but more often it’s general chitchat about the world as she sees it, punctuated with in-depth analysis of the My Little Pony episode she’s just watched on the iPad.

So often, if I’ve slipped into a Covid funk, she unwittingly pulls me out, her relentless optimism and curiosity hard to resist.

She has been worried at times, and frustrated she can’t do things she loves, but mostly she accepts the situation with good grace, testing out her new vocabulary about masks, lockdown, restrictions, and putting down most peculiarities to “because of corona”. I think about how resilient kids are, and the tendency adults have to underestimate them, to mistake their smallness for fragility.

Our destination is always our favourite coffee shop, where I buy a coffee and sometimes their homemade lasagne for her, and we chat with the women who run it like starving people might fall upon a feast, so excited are we to talk to someone other than each other for a change. The six-year-old, of a theatrical bent, often breaks into a contemporary dance for their, and her, enjoyment, her face pinched with emotion.

Usually there are dogs sitting outside and she exclaims about them all, begging me to ask if she can have a pat. Sometimes she’s brave enough to do it herself. Some of the dogs we have come to know, like the chocolate brown Lagotto that runs like the wind across the oval, or the tiny dachshund called Priya, whose owner often walks her down our street and always stops for a chat.

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“Mum,” she said one day when I was deep in furrowed brow territory. “Wouldn’t it be good if you could just edit your life the way you can edit videos, so that if you have a really good day, you could cut some of it out and put it in a bad day, to make that day less bad?” Yes, I reply, that really would be good.

And then, moments later, “Why aren’t there more blue animals?”

Throughout the neighbourhood we see signs of other people, mostly kids, sharing in her optimism. There are teddy bears in house windows alongside drawings testifying to children’s deep and abiding love of rainbows. There are also messages in chalk on the pavement, lasting as long as the rain holds out. She has done her own chalk drawings on the footpath out the front of our house, exhorting people to “love your pets, they will get us through this”.

“I love lockdown,” she said one day, quite unexpectedly. “Really?” I asked, feeling my own spirits rise with the news. “Yeah, there’s so much to do at home,” she replied, scooting off to pluck a branch of blossoms hanging over a fence.

Like all of us though, her view of the lockdown can change from day to day. “When is school going back?” she laments one day, “I need to see my friends and go on the playground.”

“Soon,” I soothe, myself as much as her. “Hopefully soon”.

As winter draws to a close and the case numbers finally, mercifully, start to trend down, we stop at the oval to watch dogs running madly, parents flying kites with their children and kids kicking a football through the goalposts. She spots a tiny black puppy playing with two little girls and rushes over to join in.

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Later, when I signal for her to come back, she does what she has taken to doing of late – running at me from a distance into a forceful, exuberant hug. I brace for impact and then hold her close, realising for about the millionth time since the world changed that all she really cares about is that I am here.

Amanda Dunn is the politics and society editor of the Conversation



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