Today began early. Really, really early.
My son’s school starts at 4:30am Sydney time, so it’s not a surprise when his alarm goes off. With one bedroom and one living room, we decided I would take the sofa bed as I have the least need for sleep, so I don’t mind when he turns on the light, logs into school and talks with teachers.
Then my daughter’s alarm goes off. She has a university physics mid-term at 9am, and needs to study. She hits snooze, three times in a row. By the time she gets up, I’m well and truly awake.
Sending Mum another silent thank-you for the French press, I make coffee and head for the balcony.
Two hours later, the sunrise is beautiful. The three of us watch the pink haze rise over the fig tree and the Qantas building next door, in silent appreciation of our new world.
8am – a sharp knock at the door. It’s the Scottish nurse, in full PPE, and we try not to squirm as she wiggles a cotton Covid-test swab up our nostrils while soothing us with her lilting accent.
Then it’s back to work. We have strict instructions to keep quiet during the physics exam, and after a couple of sharp altercations over talking-during-meetings, we all keep quiet. At 9:50am, my son and I log off the hotel wifi, which still takes a worryingly long time to upload my daughter’s final answers. At least it’s free.
Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve all been doing online school and work for a year now. We’re used to the challenges, the distractions, the workarounds and hacks. Teachers are REALLY used to our pleading emails.
But the Quarantine Hotel adds a whole other level. Luckily, I have leave from my day job in zoo communications, but I’m still managing two festivals from afar: Tacoma Ocean Fest and the brand-new Tacoma Light Trail.
And now, this blog. Which had a slightly bumpy reception at the place of origin.
“Did you start a blog about this?” comes the incredulous voice, scrolling through Instagram. “Really?”
“I thought it would be helpful and fun,” I say, a little lamely. “I won’t mention your name.”
“You already used my picture.”
“I think it’s a lovely picture.”
“That’s not the point.”
Meanwhile, my son pulls out his camera for photography class and artfully rearranges the fruit bowl, a lush still life that testifies mutely to our dietary slackness. I make a mental note to eat a banana later.
At last, school is over and we change into our workout clothes. My daughter has found a YouTube dance workout instructor who’s infectiously cheery, and we kick, shimmy and laugh our way through “Mamma Mia: Part 2” and “Latin Hits”. Inspired, we move onto resistance band and crunches, and I get through 20 pushups in the bedroom while my son does ten backflip burpees.
“I swear, we’re going to be in better shape than ever if we keep this up,” my daughter says. “What do I do for biceps?”
I grab a bottle of Pinot Grigio and try some curls.
There’s a knock. Lunch! Veggie rolls and more fruit for the bowl.
But only two Tim Tams.
(For non-Australian readers: Tim Tams are Aussie chocolate biscuits (cookies) straight from heaven. Chocolate crunch coated in more soft chocolate, they disappear from our kitchen faster than you can say “Steve Irwin.” The first packet my sister sent is long gone.)
I mean, really. Who are these caterers? They clearly know we have three people in the room: they sent us three rolls, three pieces of fruit, three Danish pastries.
So – two Tim Tams? Is this some kind of Hunger Games/Lord of the Flies experiment? Is there a secret webcam in our room to amuse our captors when we fight to the death over dessert?
My daughter rises above, and nobly waives her Tim Tam rights.
I eat a banana, feeling virtuous. Then a Tim Tam.
The afternoon, thick with sticky Sydney humidity, slows down. We read, work, struggle with the wifi, make tea. My laptop is on Tacoma time, like my son; my phone on Sydney time, like me. Every glance at the clock involves a calculation, a translation, like living in two languages.
It rains. We all go out to the balcony to watch, as if we’ve never seen rain before. (Those who share our Pacific Northwest home will laugh at this idea.)
I call Dad, to give him extra love on an important day: his 62nd anniversary of being an Anglican priest. Sixty-two years of deepening his faith, strengthening that of others, serving God, walking in light. It’s as much a part of him as my mother is – they married three years before he was ordained. And now, that faith is giving him – and her, and me – a quiet peace about this journey that’s before him. His roots go deep, like the Moreton Bay fig across the road, drawing water up through a massive underground spread and growing with serene grace through traffic, pollution, drought, smoke.
But it, too, will eventually die. Some of Sydney’s fig trees are around 150 years old but they’re showing their age, despite careful pruning and mulching and fencing off. Connected as they are to the fungi, microbes and other trees around them, and providing so much forest life after they die, old trees presumably don’t stress about dying.
Nothing lasts forever. And, like the tree, Dad is completely at peace with that. I’m striving to get there, too.