When we moved to Panama in January 2020, we were lucky enough to rent a house that has a small pool in the backyard. We never imagined we would spend so much time in it. Between school shutdowns, lockdowns and quarantines, those few square metres of cool blue water have been the kids’ world, their playground, our Friday night bar and a sparkling sanctuary safe from the outside world. Until last week…
I was in the kitchen making supper. My three kids were in the pool, shrieking and jumping on top of each other, in a friendly but noisy game. It had been oppressively hot with low, thunderous skies, occasional lighting and unbelievably sweaty humidity. The kids had been cooped up in the house all week, trapped by tummy aches and temperatures, waiting for Covid test results that would almost certainly be negative. They were finally well enough to be in the pool and were letting off steam after days of being inside. I’d already asked them about 5 times to keep it down, their yelling increasingly rattling me, mostly because it usually ends in tears. I needed to get them out, but wanted to get the supper going. My husband was upstairs working. Honestly, I was kind of hoping the noise might annoy him enough to come and help.
Then, a neighbour I’d never met before, rang the front doorbell. Apparently not to congratulate me on not cracking up with the endless school closures here in Panama. My kids had only actually been back at school for 3 weeks out of the last 15 months, mornings only, and now were all stuck at home again. No, he wanted to complain about the noise they make. Not just tonight, but all the time. In the garden, in the pool, in the kitchen, when we are eating outside. Turns out he can hear all of us, all the time and we are all way too loud. I would have almost felt sorry for him, I mean who doesn’t want to enjoy a quiet drink without all that going on but…
He said he knew what it was like to have kids. I said he had NO IDEA what it was like to be locked in with them for 15 months of a pandemic. I imagine I may have spent more time at home with my three this year then some parents might enjoy in a lifetime. A privilege that might be easier to see with hindsight. Things are getting better here. But still, everything feels so reduced, no birthday parties, not many play dates, the first sign of sickness and everyone has to stay home like it’s the black death. Overcome with anger, I slammed our glass front door so hard I nearly broke it. I would have slammed it in his face, but social distancing allows neighbourly parenting advice to be dispatched from the safety of the street. He was about 20 ft back and hadn’t even actually got off his bicycle.
The storm that had been brewing for days, burst. As I dragged the kids out of the pool, flinging towels at them, my voice thick with rage and frustration, the first few fistfuls of jagged drops hit the pool with sporadic violence. And then I just broke. It’s been a very long year, even as lucky as we are. Staying at home with three exuberant, noisy, messy, crazy kids has been taking its toll on my ability to cope. Let alone gracefully accept criticism.
Luckily my husband emerged (he usually does when there’s an actual crisis) to take over with the slightly terrified children. What is wrong with mummy? As the torrential downpour started I completely lost it, shouting, kicking stuff, slamming all the windows and doors shut to try and contain my erupting rage. Eventually I crouched into a ball and shut myself in our dark closet, drenched in sweat and let my hot tears fall and the storm work its way through me.
This is not supposed to be what parenting is like. The kids need school. They need other children, other adults. Being a mum is not supposed to be a some solo mental health stamina challenge of inventing entertainment while keeping the children quiet and inside. Arriving into a new country just before the pandemic started has meant it’s taken forever to make friends here, to feel part of anything, We need a community. Not masks and distance and no way out. We need a break. Friends. Family. Fresh air. I want to know that I can get vaccinated, see my parents, get home on a flight.
My neighbour is right, of course. My kids do make an unacceptable amount of noise, particularly around the pool. They chase each other round it screaming, somersault into it, dive-bomb each other in it. They play mermaids and sing in it. They pretend to be trapped whales and thrash about it in it; not for very long, and never very late, but nearly everyday.
And thank goodness they do. We are so very lucky they can. I can see that the noise must be dreadful for my quiet neighbour, with his grown-up and gone children, and I feel for him, I really do. Perhaps he could drink more? I find a large gin helps with the noise enormously. Maybe next time things are getting loud, he could bring round a bottle of Gordon’s and see if I’m coping. The answer will be, I hope; only just.