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Like a lot of parents, I made a vague rule for myself when my children were born, which was never to lie about their health to get out of something. One of the best things about having kids is that they give you a solid decade of excuses not to go, do or see anything you don’t want to, and there’s a lot of room for tweaking the truth within that.
In my mind, however, I drew a firm line between “we have a play date, can’t come” and the “my kid has a fever” get-out-of-jail-free card, which, on the off-chance that the universe functions exactly in line with my superstitions, seemed too tempting an invitation to fate. I will lie, but not, you know, like that.
Along with everything else, the pandemic has upset this particular accommodation and made it harder to know where the line is. This applies not only to the excuses one gives other people but, more obscurely, to the ones we make to ourselves. These days my first response to almost any demand made of me is an incredulous laugh, followed by a rush of hostility. Of course I won’t be doing that: the pandemic. No we can’t come, the pandemic. My apartment is a mess, I haven’t done laundry for two weeks and I keep letting my kids stay up until 10pm on a week night. On the other hand, what do you want from me, there’s a pandemic on, don’t you know?
Part of this is the lassitude brought on by 12 months of cancelled plans and I’d guess a legitimate psychological response. If action begets action, the opposite is equally true: the less you do, the less you want to do, a maxim that has begun to feel like a hard law of physics. In any given situation, this far into rolling lockdowns, your energy will find the shortest route to the sofa and another night in with Netflix.
It’s also true, regarding a lot of commentary around the demands being made particularly of working mothers at the moment, that it’s OK to be a mess. Looking back to the pre-pandemic world it does seem, from this distance, that we held ourselves to impossible standards. What on earth were we doing loading up our schedules like that, running around doing things, all the while insisting that people were washed before leaving the house?
What remains curious to me is the uses to which we may put the pandemic to explain behaviours that were already there. The question of alibis has always interested me – the extent to which it is permissible or useful to continue ascribing motivations to a single chain of external events. This applies, most commonly, to the way we absorb the facts of our childhoods, references to which may linger well into middle age and beyond. Of course, we are who we are based largely on the things that have happened to us, but it’s also true that most of us are sneaky and, presented with evidence of our own bad behaviour, will find a way to launder it as the consequence of suffering.
I have certainly become ruder and less tolerant over the last 12 months, something I disingenuously put down to stress. “I don’t have the bandwidth,” I will say, as a precursor to cutting off someone with whom, pre-pandemic, I grudgingly engaged and now have the perfect excuse to ditch. It’s a dynamic you see everywhere in one form or another; those who, prior to last March, were inclined to over-communicate, have knocked themselves out with text and call volumes that, pre-pandemic, might have given them pause. Those inclined to withdraw have basked in the pretext of a lifetime to retreat, reject and shut down. If the pandemic has enabled and excused our most antisocial impulses, it has also obscured the extent to which they were always there.
It’s a free pass that will, in the next 12 months, presumably come somewhat to an end. We will have to shape up. It will no longer be permissible to do all the things we were, on the sly, kind of doing anyway but before the pandemic were inclined to feel bad about. I guess this is a good thing; if the sense of a return to business as usual shames me into tidying up, showering more often and making slightly more effort to get my children off their iPads, it’s probably all for the better. But I needn’t kid myself: neither that these behaviours were new, nor that, when it suits me, I won’t be looking back and guiltily using the pandemic to excuse some echo of them for years to come.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The pandemic is the perfect excuse for bad behaviour – so what happens when it’s over? | Coronavirus