It’s another 4:30am start. My son has a calculus quiz at 6am, so I head out to balcony to write down some of the morning birdsong. Then I hear agonized moans from inside: the hotel wifi has struck again, refusing to upload his final answers before the test times out. I hurry inside and whip out my phone to email them to the teacher, along with the usual pathetic plea. My son joins his next class, only to get kicked off the wifi repeatedly. I retreat to the balcony.
My friend alerts me to a story in The Guardian about the Fijian rugby team, who on their last day of Sydney quarantine all lined up in their individual balconies and sang a heartbreakingly beautiful song as a thank-you to their hotel staff.
The challenge is on. I join the Hotel Quarantine Australia Facebook group (11.9k members and counting) in search of fellow inmates here with balconies. Maybe we can all get together and play a symphony or something.
The top post is from some poor mother of a seven-month-old who, despite testing negative, has just been told she has an extra five days of quarantine because someone on her flight tested positive.
Now I’m worried. On the plus side, at least we’re not one of the 40,000 Australians who are still stuck overseas.
And our food does seem to be better than everyone else’s in the group.
Then it gets even better. Just as I finish up my 9am Zoom there’s a knock at the door. It’s another gift from the manager – Aussie lollies! (That’s candy, for all my American friends out there.) Big packs of Fantales (caramels) and Freckles (chocolate with sprinkles), and a sweet little card bearing the encouraging message “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!”
(Cultural explainer: This is a spoof on the traditional Aussie sports cheer, which usually ends “Oi! Oi! Oi!”)
I can’t help it – I smile in sheer delight. Freckles were my favorite sweet to buy at the local milk bar (corner store) when I was a kid in Newcastle in the 1970s. They cost 2c each, which meant I could get quite a few with my weekly pocket-money (allowance) of 20c. Pretty sure the manager doesn’t know this important piece of history, but it’s a really nice gesture to homesick Australians who’ve made it as far as this hotel.
I pop a Freckle into my mouth just as an argument is blooming in the bedroom.
“Wear headphones! We don’t want to hear your stupid class.”
“My earbuds need charging and I HAVE to be here. I shut the door.”
“We can still hear you! Why do the rules not apply to you?”
“You can wear my headphones,” I offer.
“I don’t want to wear your headphones, they hurt my head. Just SHUT THE DOOR!”
We shut the door.
I go back to reading the news; there’s another story about coping with stress.
Tip #1: Make a list of three good qualities in another person.
Ohhhh-kay. How about –
- Is always willing to speak their mind.
- No problem projecting their voice.
I hesitate. Then I add, to tell the whole story –
3. Generously helps brother with calculus.
Tip #2: Make a list of 10 achievements you’re proud of. It could be something small, adds the author, like making it to gym class.
Hmm. That’s harder. I chew thoughtfully on another Freckle.
- Did not yawn during my 4:30am Zoom.
- Nobly got off the wifi when asked.
- Changed out of pajamas before lunchtime.
- Did not yell when my headphones were rejected.
- Took at least ten minutes to eat all the Freckles.
I decide to leave the other five for later and look at Tip #3: Try new things.
Ummm…I glance over at the juggling sock balls, untouched since yesterday. I look at a Powerpoint I’ve been procrastinating – it’s new, technically, but I don’t think that’s quite what they meant.
Then I open my email to discover a surprise gift from a very thoughtful friend: $100 to spend on a quarantine cheer-up item! I start scrolling through the Quarantine Hotel Facebook group to see what other people are doing for fun and there’s a woman on her balcony strumming a ukulele.
I glance at my kids. I search Amazon. I glance up again.
“Hey, you guys,” I begin, but I don’t get far.
“Ukuleles are the most annoying instrument ever,” says my daughter, a violinist.
My son (a drummer) just shrugs. Ok, maybe I’ll finish that tip later, too.
Tip #4 is the final piece of advice, particularly poignant coming from the author who is dealing with her husband’s sudden cancer: “Live in the moment.”
It’s tough, especially when there’s absolutely nothing happening in the moment. Or the next. Or the next.
When they knock at the door for lunch, we scramble around in excitement, then slide back to our screens.
Another balcony flute session, and finally my scales are paying off. I whip through them, enticing a myna bird to the railing below, when suddenly I hear voices close by. And they’re not my kids. A little shocked, I look around, lean over the balcony to see next door. Nothing. Then I twist into a backbend and stare upwards. On the balcony above are a dad and his two little girls. I think they’re as surprised as I am, but we quickly recover and grin happily.
“We were out here every day looking for the busker,” says the dad, gesturing to the street. “And it was you!”
“Do you mind?” I say, remembering those high, piercing F-sharps. “I can stop if it bothers you.”
“Oh no, don’t stop!” they all say in lilting Pacific Islander accents. “We love it! It’s beautiful.”
I play through more Bach, Telemann and Massenet, watching for birds and living in the moment.
The balcony’s getting hotter, so I head inside. Mum calls, and I coax Dad through a conversation about flute music. He’s in pain and super-tired after yesterday’s scans, and has spent most of the day in bed.
“You know, Dad’s really liking your blog!” Mum says in a cheerful tone. “His hearing is so unpredictable that I think he may be missing a lot of our phone conversations, and this helps him catch up with what you are going through. He really loved that flute video yesterday.”
I’m suddenly really glad I put in all that work with the phone and the ironing board set-up. I think of the two little girls upstairs with their dad, and I remember when I taught my Dad to play the flute himself. I was 17 and he was 53. He’d hated learning violin as a boy, and hadn’t really played anything else since except a little mandolin.
I can’t remember whose idea it was for me to teach him the flute, but he worked at it and it led him into a whole new world of solos, occasional duets with me and the very real ministry of accompanying worship – sometimes while also acting as priest.
My daughter and I make yet another cup of tea (I’ve lost count) and potter around, lazy in the sunshine. We all work out, living in the moment with silly Disney dance moves and a game of hotel-room badminton before dinner.
Then I make a decision. With a covert glance at my roommates, I open up Amazon and use my friend’s gift to buy a jump rope, actual juggling balls and a ukulele. I reckon that’ll hit tips 2, 3 and 4 all at once.
Stay tuned, neighbors.