The last 3 months of lockdown have been hard for all of us. As a family, we have made it through it largely unscathed and hopefully can now look forward to better times ahead (without a dreaded second wave, fingers crossed). I’d like to say that the reason we were able to persevere was a strong sense of parental common purpose, with a consistent approach to keeping the kids occupied and no small bit of love, but undoubtedly I’d be lying. Yes we kind of ticked some of those boxes, but the reason we survived lockdown is mainly down to my sister-in-law Orla or aunty Orla as she is known in our house. At the start of lockdown, Orla found herself to be in housing limbo, in between apartment rentals. So when we agreed that she could stay in our spare room, I think she was under the misguided perception that we were doing her a favour whereas in reality it was completely the opposite!
Orla is my wife’s youngest sister and despite the fact that she works for the dark-side (AIB), she has always been held in high regard due to frequent babysitting and organised day trips with the kids for birthdays (the fact that she is a big Liverpool supporter is also a big plus in my book). However the last 100 days have been on another level altogether. Now I won’t go into the intricate detail of how managing the home-schooling of three primary school boys is a pretty full-on job and isn’t really compatible with simultaneously minding a 3 year old (including frequent toilet breaks and endless requests to go upstairs to interrupt mommy’s non-stop work video calls), but the release valve of having Orla there has been a godsend. Just when I’m about to lose the rag altogether, Ella (my 3 year old) will ask if she can go and visit aunty Orla’s room. Being a female, Ella is quite adept at perceiving when Daddy is near boiling point and in particular when it is best to vacate the area, a gift her brothers are certainly not blessed with! In fact towards the end of lockdown, Ella wouldn’t even bother to ask and would just disappear into Orla’s room for hours on end happily building a pillow fort and playing with her toys.
The other area where Orla has excelled is by entertaining the boys by playing board games at the end of her work day. I’m not sure if you are aware what it is like to play Monopoly with 3 hyper-competitive brothers, well I can tell you that in the words of John Barnes advertising a well known sports drink “It is 90 minutes of pure hell!” and I say that as a hyper-competitive board game player myself. All board games quickly descend into an endless squabble over rule technicalities, illegal dice rolls and occasional cheating. In the end, whichever brother wins (normally the eldest) will gloat without shame while the other two will spend the next hour in a huff. Despite this set of unattractive circumstances, Orla would continually step up to the plate and become the perennial board game victim (just like Dr Black in Cluedo) allowing myself and Niki some precious minutes of piece and quiet, well unless it was Trivial Pursuit in which case I would happily join battle with my progeny (strictly only first answers accepted).
All parents will know that kids bedtimes are a traumatic time full of complaints, stalling and general misbehaviour. The usual scenario is that after half an hour of cajoling, threats and eventually physically dragging our kids into bed, myself and my wife would collapse into the sofa downstairs. Eventually one of us would glance into the kitchen (let’s be fair it was always Niki) and see that all the post dinner cleaning still needed to be done. Like zombies we would trudge towards the kitchen (me trailing behind Niki or being pushed by Niki depending on my motivation) to finish the daily chores. That all changed once Orla arrived, while we were fighting the good fight upstairs she would be cleaning up, doing dishes and even hoovering like some magical genie summoned from a lamp but without the blue skin! Then as the cherry on top of a very tasty ice cream she would compliment the chef (usually yours truly) on a very tasty dinner and I’m directly quoting her here “I like all the food that is cooked in this house”.
The benefits of having an extra adult in the house didn’t end there. The fact that we had a live-in babysitter meant that myself and Niki could actually leave the house at the same time without a whole troop of kids tagging along and this did occasionally happen (twice for a jog and once for a takeaway date as per my previous blog). There was also an extra person to go to the shops when we inevitably ran out of milk (I always underestimate how much milk 4 kids can drink!), or bread or cheese or other staples.
So where is Orla now? Well she departed our house at the end of June and was last seen in an isolated cottage on the Wicklow and Wexford border (this is true). Undoubtedly recuperating and recharging her batteries and probably just enjoying the sound of silence. Come back soon Orla, keep away from that tricky property market for as long as possible, the guest room is “Orla’s Room” from now on.