15 May Families in Lockdown: The Voices of our Lives
Jannah Dennison is an alumna of the Vocational Programme (Wellington, 2018) and works in children’s ministry at Lifepoint Church. She is married to John (Venn Wellington Coordinator and Senior Teaching Fellow) and they live in Tawa, Wellington with their three boys, Theo, Emmaus, and Blythe.
Pre-COVID-19, the airwaves of our lives had more channels. Out in the world, most of us had a melee of voices to engage with each day, full of opinions, observations, and interests. And so the voices of our home life were diluted and compartmentalised; we saw each other for blocks of time, but not, thank heaven, for all the time.
But lockdown has meant, for many of us, that we have fewer voices in our lives. And for those of us in groups or families, those voices sound loud. Lockdown in groups brings a kind of alarming magnification of everything, borne out of a relentless proximity to others. And so our daily habits and practices are thrown up into relief; so too is the stuff that we voice in our conversations–our pre-occupations and our passions.
As parents, this has certainly been the case. The voices in our boys’ lives have significantly lessened. The occasional Google Meet and online chats with friends have been great, but screens have a use-by time; and for much of the day, as far as conversation partners go, we parents are it. Cue extended conversations: on the Marvel Universe; on trains, of all shapes and sizes; on Harry Potter (all seven books…). Their interests are utterly diverse–some fantastical, some steeped in the real world. But here, in the absence of the usual tasks and distractions of life, they are concentrated, with a fervency borne out of isolation. So there is a regular invitation: “Come and see, Mum”; “look at this, Dad”; “listen to this, Mum… Mum… Mum”.
Great patience is in order here, but it is also a chance to revel in the invitation (yes, revel, fellow parents of Marvel aficionados). I remind myself that it is, even now, so good to be invited in. Perhaps the time will come when that invitation is put on hold. So, right now, I am grateful for the welcome. It is the extension of friendship to me: come, join me in the things that I love. Let me share (exhaustively!) the things that bring me joy!
I imagine the scenes in homes and flats across the country, where people who are thrown together are experiencing each other’s worlds–without the same feverish focus, perhaps, but no doubt the same diversity. There is an inevitable imposition here–there’s only so much room in a small flat–but there is also an invitation to enter into another’s world. Bread-making, Les Mills at home, conflicts about bubble expansion, podcasts, board games, mood swings, lip-synching, spoon-whittling, garden-path-making, global news debriefs. So much shared life; so intense.
I am reminded of Lucy Collingwood’s observation from an earlier edition of Common Ground: in her flat, she says, “This time has proved a beautiful time of getting to know each other better, and all of us learning the art of grace. …We now say, ‘what are we doing this weekend,’ rather than asking each other, ‘what are you doing this weekend’”. They have chosen to embrace the overlapping spaces, to learn one another anew.
You could refuse this–after all, such engagement usually comes with the necessity of patience and ongoing grace. And truly I tell you, with the best will in the world, many personal interests will never become mutual, and require instead the exercise of polite tolerance. I do not hold hope that I could ever truly appreciate a Youtuber lovingly restoring a rusty padlock.
But, fortunately, this doesn’t start with us; it’s about the other person, and learning to love them well. And you never know what you might discover–about them, but also, along the way, about yourself. I am reminded of C.S Lewis’ description of “Philio” in his book The Four Loves. Philio friendship is the strong bond existing between people who share common values, interests, or activities. This has always resonated with me. What Philio has emerged in this time, which might not otherwise have been discovered? Who comes to mind, for you? Or otherwise, who have you blessed (or who has blessed you) through patient listening?
The other night, when saying goodnight to my eldest child, he said to me “I talked about trains with [train-mad child] today. He loved it. He lit up like a Christmas tree”. I’m not sure he recognised it as such, but here was love: grace extended, one child to another. The growing of friendship.
Part-way into lockdown I realised, belatedly, that I had been reaching out into other people’s spaces in my household, but not sharing enough of my own. Too much of that is a kind of false humility that just leads to resentment. So, most dinnertimes now, we begin with “my thing”: A Year of Wonder, a book containing 365 short classical music pieces from across the centuries. We listen in silence, accompanied by the scraping of cutlery on plates. And though things began with polite tolerance, they have now developed into genuine interest. The kids ask “what is the music tonight?”. They muse on their favourite piece. And so, to the incongruous strains of Hildegard of Bingen, we are quietly learning one another.
(Image by Darren Bockman, CC Zero)