“What do you like on your pancakes?” Mum asks.
It’s our first day working from Mum’s house and she’s made morning tea. My kids’ preferred condiment is strawberry jam and Mum’s face drops: “We’ve got none,” she says.
In my peripheral vision I spy Dad lacing up his shoes and scurrying off to the local shops to find some.
As Omicron numbers spiralled, my partner and I decided that sending the kids to childcare was too much of a risk. But our relief at deciding to pull them out was tempered by the knowledge we’d have to work from home with kids. Having scraped through the last two years of lockdowns – working till midnight, peering at spreadsheets through bloodshot eyes while trying to stop two small children from hurling themselves off the dining table – we braced for the next push.
Then my mum suggested we work from their place instead. She and my dad could look after our children. We gratefully accepted. What could go wrong with three generations going about their business under one roof?
As Dad onboarded us with the wifi password and Mum explained where the pens were, things were going swimmingly. The girls were capering about the garden looking for tomatoes; getting tennis lessons with their grandpa. Reflecting that this was the stuff of work-from-home dreams, I took a call.
Suddenly there came an almighty clanging. Peering into the kitchen, I saw Dad, in a powder-blue floral apron, beating the heck out of the wok as he prepared lunch.
“What” [CLANG] “is that?!” [CLANG] my caller asked, alarmed.
“Oh, renovations next door,” I lied.
Having both retired some years back, in ye olde days when meetings were done in person, Mum and Dad were unaware of Zoom etiquette.
Halfway through a weekly catchup with my manager, Mum materialised from my blurred background to serve me a smoothie in a 70s punch glass. Later, I spent an entire stakeholder engagement meeting on edge. I knew she’d just poached a chicken in rice wine and there was a chance the fowl would make an appearance at any moment.
Those quirks aside, the WFM’s (Work From Mum’s, that is) arrangement is paying dividends. We’re spending quality time together – something that felt impossible for long stretches of the past two years.
During the day I see the girls whizzing outside on their bikes, with Dad patiently clomping after them. I catch snatches of conversations as they enjoy ice-creams on the patio, gaze out at the lettuce patch and discuss their favourite animals.
Dad, a retired accountant, has taken every opportunity to shoehorn in a maths lesson. No matter how long the girls take to get the right answer, he’ll exclaim, “Top of the class!” or “You’re no slow coach!”
The catering is outstanding, a world away from a hastily ripped-open tin of tuna. Dad’s speciality is stir-fried tomato prawns and spring rolls, while Mum will have baked a slab of zucchini slice or 50 sausage rolls.
At 3pm, knowing that the mid-afternoon slump is upon us, Dad will be jiggling tea bags in cups. “Biscuit?” he’ll ask, thrusting Scotch Fingers our way.
At the end of the day we back out of the driveway in a shiny car (yes, Dad throws a car wash into the deal) with two clean girls and enough snacks for a village.
Countless people have struggled in this pandemic. Many have no friends or family whose help can be enlisted. I know how lucky I am. The devotion and patience my parents show their grandchildren is legendary, and I salute them and all the grandparents who have stepped up to help their families get through this time.
Back to that jar of strawberry jam – the girls refused to eat it. They’d moved on to Dad’s spring rolls.