Short Story – Lockdown (and the Problem With Parents)

You know the problem with parents? They’re always there.

I mean, it’s usually bad enough, but since the whole coronavirus thing it’s been worse. Much, much worse. Lockdown? More like lock-up, am I right?

Look, I’m 17. I should be in school. And, on paper, this whole situation sounds like a dream come true. If a few months ago you’d told me I wouldn’t have to go to school, all my exams would be cancelled, and I’d have pretty much unlimited time to chill at home, I’d have bitten your hand off. Hell, I’d have bitten my hand off if it helped make it happen.

I guess… the reality is a little different. It’s like I’d wished for all that stuff on one of those cursed monkey paws or something.

The result? I’m stuck at home. With my parents. 

And my GOD do my parents annoy me.

It started off fine – playing computer games, watching TV, that sort of thing. Like a sick day without the annoying downside of being sick. Plus the parents mostly left me alone.

But as time went on they started expecting more from me. Chores. Errands. That sort of thing.

I had to help mum with the washing up.

I had to go with dad to do the food shopping.

I had to sit and watch movies with both of them.

“Come on, we’re a family,” they’d say. They’d ask what I wanted to watch and I’d just grunt, annoyed that I had to be there at all.

The socialising stuff was the worst. It wasn’t just being made to do stuff with them either. It was constant calls with family, video chats, online quizzes…

It was… a lot. Too much. After putting up with it for two weeks, I couldn’t take it anymore.

So I snuck out.

First I tried stopping by my girlfriend’s house. Her parents are still working, so I figured she’d be happy to meet up. She wasn’t. Something about her parents “being key workers” and me needing to “be more responsible”. Never had a fight through a letterbox before.

So I tried the shops. Most were shut, and those that were open were… pretty boring. But I bought some snacks, hit the park and text all my friends to see who was up for hanging out. Twenty messages sent. All saw it. None came. Boring.

After a couple of hours I gave in and went home. Snuck back in the window, so my parents had no idea I’d been out. At least I wasn’t going to get any aggro from them.

That night we watched the news together. Again. The five o’clock briefing telling everyone to stay at home was as boring as ever, but a big part of me felt it was more bearable because I knew it didn’t apply to me anymore.

I snuck out the next day too. And the next. The secret that the rules didn’t stop me made me feel… powerful. It even made the boring conversations a little easier to tolerate.

That was, until mum got ill.

It started as nothing really. Bit of a cough.

“Oh, it’s probably just hayfever,’ she said, shrugging it off as she always did. Mum didn’t get ill. She looked after us when we were ill. That’s what mums do. So she popped an antihistamine, kept calm and carried on. 

But then the cough got worse. 

“I’ve just been burning the candle at both ends,” she said. “Just need a good night’s sleep”. So dad cooked dinner while she went to bed.

The next day she felt worse. Had a temperature too.

“Right, that’s it,” my dad said to me, “I’m sorry, Dan – but we’ll have to go on complete lockdown now. No going to the shops. No nothing. We have to”.

“Yeah, of course,” I said. And I meant it. Really meant it. Because something had been worrying me for days now. I wasn’t worried about getting ill. I was worried about something far worse.

What if it was my fault mum was sick?

The news kept mentioning that some people didn’t get symptoms. They still had the virus, and could still spread it to other people. But they might never even know they had it. What if… what if I’d caught it while sneaking out? Someone in a shop, or the park, or on the bus had given it to me? And then I came home and passed it along to mum..?

As the days went on, mum started coughing more, which meant she was sleeping less. I was really worried. And dad was too. He didn’t say anything, but I could tell. He was joking less. Cleaning more. 

He’d always been the more casual one when it came to keeping things tidy – using a million pans while cooking, leaving washing up for days to ‘soak’, that sort of thing. But not then. He was like a man possessed – all he was doing was cooking and cleaning. And every time I tried to help, he’d stop me and tell me to go watch TV. Play computer games. That sort of thing.

But I wanted to help. To do something. To make myself feel better.

Auntie Hayley dropped off some shopping for us – she left it at the door and retreated back to the car before we opened up to collect it.

Dad said it should be enough to see us through. He said it with a smile, but I could tell it was forced. And then he went back to cleaning.

I kept trying to help. He kept stopping me. Eventually, without even meaning to, I snapped.

“Let me do some cleaning!” I practically screamed at him. “Let me do the bathroom! The washing up! Something!”

Then my dad, elbow deep in washing up water, stopped. He looked at me. And he said:

“I don’t want you helping, Dan, because I’m so scared you’ll get sick too. And I don’t think I could take that.”

It was too much. The words, the warmth behind them, broke me. And I started sobbing. And as the tears came out, so did all the secrets. The worries. The fact I’d snuck out. The fact I was worried mum was sick because of me. That it was all my fault. Everything.

Dad just stood, accepting it all. The sobs. The screams. The confessions.

When I was finished, he took a deep breath. He dried his hands on the tea towel, and started to walk towards me. Part of me thought he was going to hit me for being so selfish, for making all this happen. Part of me wanted him to hit me, in the hopes it’d make me feel better. But he didn’t. He did something that made me feel even worse.

He hugged me. And he started to cry too.

Not the big, heaving sobs I was doing. Just a few tears – maybe two or three – trickled down his face. But it was still more tears than I’d seen from him in the 17 years I’d been alive.

“None of this is your fault,” he said to me “None of it. OK? Say that back to me, right now”.

So, between sobs, I said it. And he smiled at me, as he said:

“These things happen. She could have got it from anywhere. All we can do is try to help her get better, and to do that we need to look after ourselves too. We’re no good to her if we can’t look after ourselves.

So that’s what we did.

Dad let me help out a bit more, which made me feel better. He was able to rest a bit more, which I hope made him feel better. And most importantly – after a few days mum started to feel better too.

Within about a week, she was fighting fit again.

“See, told you,” she said, “I’m mum. I don’t get ill. I just needed to catch up on a bit of sleep, that’s all”.

Now things are pretty much back to normal. Well, lockdown normal. We’re not going out, and we have no idea when we can again. 

But things are also a lot better.

See, the whole experience changed my attitude. All those things I was annoyed to have to do? They don’t annoy me anymore. 

I don’t have to help mum with the washing up. I get to help mum with the washing up.

I don’t have to go with dad to do the food shopping. I get to go with dad to do the food shopping.

And I don’t have to sit and watch movies with both of them. I get to sit and watch movies with both of them.

Because now I finally understand – the problem with parents isn’t that they’re always there. The real problem is that they’re not always going to be there.