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The kids are always right

Illustrations by Jim Stoten

While many of us will do our very best to forget the past year, Stuart Heritage finds the silver lining seeing it all through the prism of his young children. With his boys back in school, he takes a break to share 20 things he’s learnt from the wee ones

Nobody will deny that this year has been tough, and that goes double for anyone with kids. Balancing work, home-schooling and the everyday demands of parenting has basically mashed the past 12 months into a big grey smear of non-stop exhaustion. All that, plus we’ve had to think up ways to explain the concept of unstoppable deadly global pandemics to people whose brains haven’t fully developed yet, without causing them a life of terrible unresolved trauma.

So, you know, not exactly a barrel of laughs. However, to completely write off the year as an unmitigated disaster would be wrong. If you dig deep enough — and, yes, that will probably require an industrial-level boring machine — then there are plenty of positives to find. As scary as it has sometimes been to see the coronavirus pandemic through a child’s eyes, it has also sometimes been slightly inspirational, too. Don’t believe me? Fine, here’s a list of 20 things we’ve learnt from children this past year. And yes, I am only writing this now because they’ve finally gone back to school and I’ve actually got some sodding time to myself.

1. ‘Everyone is too sick’ really is the best excuse

My big theory about lockdown is that the hardest part is adjusting to new regulations. But it’s much easier for kids, whose brains are still plastic enough to absorb new rules instantly. Last year my five-year-old asked to go to the zoo. I replied, ‘No, it’s closed because everyone is too sick,’ and he took it on board without protest. Was it sad to explain that everyone was sick? Yes. Was I proud of him for accepting it? Yes. Will I use ‘Everyone is too sick’ as an excuse when the pandemic is over and he wants to do something that I don’t want to? Also yes.

2. Cheese on toast is the lunch of kings

I didn’t realise how bad I was at lunches until I had to feed my kids every day. As such, I would estimate that we have had cheese on toast at lunchtime approximately 85 per cent of the time since lockdown began. By last summer I was so sick of cheese on toast that I would have happily punched the Tesco Express cheese aisle in the face. But my kids still ask for it. That’s a level of tenacity we can all get behind.

3. Walking is winning

For adults, our daily walk has become something akin to prison exercise. But not for kids. Show them the outdoors and they’ll hurtle around as fast as they can, giddy with unbelievable excitement, for 20 minutes, and then go home and sleep for an hour. We should all do this.

4. There is no such thing as running out of TV

A common complaint over lockdown has been that you’ve already binged all the good telly and now there’s nothing left. Tell that to my kids. They have watched the same YouTube video of someone making Sonic the Hedgehog out of clay 20 times a day for the past six months. Are they complaining? No. That’s because they are tough. And also because I am a terrible parent.

5. Home-schooling is prep for the working world

No matter what lessons your children learn throughout their education, the resentment they felt about being stuck in front of a computer for several hours a day without a break will be the one they need most when it’s time for them to enter the world of work.

6. Living in the present is the best kind of life

While everyone else became preoccupied with how Covid-19 might change the world, my kids are usually more concerned with arguing about whose cheese on toast has got more cheese on it. This is because they understand the value of living in the present and not, as it may seem, because they’re petty and fractious and sick of each other.

7. Simple desires are good desires

Ask me what I want to do when lockdown is over and my answer is as fanciful as it is impractical. I want to move to a remote part of an obscure country, quit my job, deactivate all my social media and live a life of total solitude that’s somehow funded by an unexpected cryptocurrency windfall. Meanwhile, my kids just want to go and hug their granddad. I could learn a lot from their simplicity.

8. When the chips are down, it's all about family

Pre-lockdown, our decision to have another child sometimes felt like a mistake. I love both kids equally, but together they’re a loud, argumentative, food-spilling hurricane that has destroyed my house and youth in equal measure. During lockdown, though, everything made sense. Both my sons had a playmate and a best friend when the rest of the world seemed too far away. Families are difficult and complicated at the best of times but, God, they’re good to have around when the chips are down.

9. It's never too late to keep learning

Two months ago a five-year-old told me how to fix something on an iPad that I, a well-educated 40-year-old man, did not know how to fix. What did I learn from children this past year? I learnt how to fix one specific thing on an iPad. Life-changer.

10. Letting rip is more than okay

During lockdown I have tried to get properly dressed for work every day, to better maintain a sense of professionalism. Two days ago one of my children stripped bare in the living room in the middle of the day, because it would sound funnier when he farted. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all be relaxed enough to completely undress whenever we wanted to fart?

11. Super Mario's still got it

This past year has been the perfect opportunity to explore new interests, but has anyone really taken up a new hobby as enthusiastically as my son who, after playing a Super Mario game for one afternoon, stuck a piece of black tape on his top lip and started exclusively talking in an Italian accent? No.

12. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again

Twelve months of lockdown has been 12 months of two children begging me to get a dog. I am a maximum of three tantrums away from giving up and just buying a bloody dog. Put my kids in charge of the Government and everything will be solved by Christmas.

13. The 'worse in my day' mantra is old news

Older kids have been through a hell of a time, finishing school without saying goodbye to their friends, having their exams mucked around with, coping with literal chaos at university. There’s no point indulging in any ‘We had it worse than this in my day’ hardship porn around these people any more. Because this is their day, and they really do have it worse. Let them have this moment.

14. Seizing the day is the only way

I’m tired and fatigued and so depressed that I’d happily stay in bed until lunchtime most days. Not my kids though, who have routinely woken me up at 5.30am every single day of lockdown. Thanks for keeping me accountable, you monsters.

15. If the music stops there will be war

Ever seen two kids fight at the top of their voices about the song that should be played on an Amazon Echo at any given time? If not, you have never been to my house at dinnertime. Technology, I’m learning, is overrated.

16. Kids are just as bored of Zoom as you are

You might be sick of videoconferencing by now, but my kids were early adopters. You think it would be nice to set up a play date with their pals. It isn’t. Unless they’re older than 10, you just spend half an hour pointing a phone at a kid while they ignore all their friends.

17. Seeing friends is not to be sniffed at

When the schools reopened did you see how excited everyone was to be around their pals again in person? That sort of enthusiastic, unfiltered bloodrush is something we should all aspire to.

18. There are two types of people: feeders and feds

My kids quickly sorted themselves into the one who likes to feed and the one who likes to be fed. The feeder spends hours in the kitchen with me, learning new skills that will set him in good stead for the rest of his life. The fed just eats it up and says thank you. It’s never too early to learn your role in life.

19. The Inspector Gadget remake is even better

This might be niche, but lockdown has taught me that the recent remake of Inspector Gadget is much better than the original series of Inspector Gadget.

20. Among all crap exists wonderfulness

This morning, before we left for school, my eldest son hugged me and told me that he was sad because we couldn’t hang out all the time any more. This past year has been a mountain of unbelievable crap, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be able to look back at it with a little gratitude sometimes.