Expensive yes, but the end of the world has a beautiful quietness to it.
Day two and the alarm clock is a distance memory, a throwback to the old world, jettisoned into the past like an old TDK 90. HB pencils to re-wind time. We slept with the windows open. No trucks, no planes, no cars, no helicopters. Just birds, clean air and a lie-in. Alice cartwheeled into life at 8.30. We were going to be late for school.
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength” – Marcus Aurelius
But there is a curriculum.
Gratitude diaries are to happiness as social distancing is to stopping the spread.
Everyone from Barrack Obama, Jimmy Cliff and Oprah Winfrey to Tim Ferris, Richard Branson and Charlie Munger swear by Gratitude diaries. I’m not saying be like them, I was just trying to pass the time so I didn’t look at the latest outbreaks in Papua New Guinea, Vietnam or Peru.
The Queen cancelled a garden party.
I hate to think what’s going on in North Korea.
It’s all about perspective.
My phone flashed up a Corona Milestone. Every international media outlet, synced to the satellites, in unison, like some kind of interstellar information orchestra. Did we win a badge? Like on Strava?
200,000 cases worldwide.
I turned off all notifications forever and asked Alice if she knew who Barack Obama is.
She said, “Do you mean was?”
And I said I guess I did.
Back on track.
Rule 1 – Start every day with a gratitude journal
Have you asked a three (nearly four) year old what makes them happy recently? If not, I highly recommend doing so now.
I will alternate between happy and gratitude because I wasn’t getting anywhere with the word gratitude.
Alice said, “Who is Gertrude?”
And I said, “You know, it’s like happy.”
“That’s silly,” Alice said. “Let’s just use happy.”
So we settled on happy.
And that sounded good to me.
By the time my wife and I had thought of our first piece of gratitude over the last 24 hours, Alice had come up with 17, including, but not limited to, fairies, everything, scary things, yoghurt, maple syrup, mummy, cake, Jupiter, stickers and glue.
We worked on narrowing it down.
She decided on speaking with her cousins over Whatsapp. She can already swipe open the phone, scroll down and press the call button. That’s scary, but she told me I should be grateful of scary things. Welcome to the future. Two cousins, two pieces of gratitude. Screw you Tim Ferris.
As adults we tend to choose concrete, tangible occurrences to be grateful for. Alice wasn’t curtailed by such rudimentary thinking.
She said, “I’m happy to have pasta for breakfast.”
And, like a fool, I said, “But you don’t have pasta for breakfast.”
And she said, “No, but I could, I see in my head. I’m happy for that. Write it on board daddy.”
In fact Alice is happy about everything, fascinated by the tiniest detail, she falls in love every instant with some infinitesimal observation. We saw a squirrel eating a nut from the window and she was happier than you or I would be if it started raining money, cake and wine. Children are the definition of mindfulness, replicas of the Buddha, their mind sitting in an eternal present moment devoid of all notions of past and future. No need for meditation, reflection or Epicurean thought on how to live ones life, just get up and paint on the wall, create worlds, fall into daydreams and bounce on the chair, bounce on the bed, bounce through the day as the adult world tumbles into a new version of its old self.
Role reversal. Now I was learning. Tomorrow I would fill the gratitude board with existential dreams based on as yet unforeseen glitches in the hardware of an unseen universe.
By now it was nearly 11.00 and time for art class. Amazon haven’t delivered the Encyclopedia yet so I did a quick search on art and the five steps, or creative processes, that need to be traversed to be an “artist”. I think I was the first person to ever describe these to a nearly four year old.
I had barely got to peculation and Alice had already gone through the five steps on the sofa, the table, part of the wall, the fridge, the floor and three cupboards. After shutting the hell up about the five stages of art and steering her towards some paper, she painted.
Art doesn’t just happen. Creativity doesn’t just happen.
Yes it does. Every single second of the day.
I’ll class gratitude as philosophy. And we ticked off art. So time for some sport. Our daily physical activity.
That meant filling out the “attestation de deplacément dérogatoire”. This is France after all. You don’t really expect the whole country to be on enforced lock-down and not have to do a little admin, do you? Fill it out, tick box 5, sign it. And don’t get caught outside without it.
I’ve read Brave New World, 1984. I’ve listened to Ed Snowdon. I was expecting this. Alice wasn’t. So I didn’t show her. Instead we went to the skate-park.
I want a sport that will teach Alice resilience. There is no finer example than skateboarding. My biggest fear is that Alice will turn six and only want to scooter. OK, it’s not my biggest fear. At least not this week.
She smashed up her knees, tore her dress, cut three fingers, fell on some broken glass and hit her face on the corner of a very sharp half-pipe. But she kept getting back up. And that was the idea. Unfortunately the police arrived a little after 17.00 and roped off the skate-park, pump-track and basketball court, as well as the nearby park.
“These are shared spaces,” they said. “They are closed indefinitely.”
Even using social conditioning, sorry, I mean social distancing, and our disturbing yet necessary hand washing addiction, it wasn’t enough.
Alice wasn’t sad as we walked home.
Until she told me not to be.
“It’s OK Daddy,” she said, bleeding but happy. “Tomorrow we can skateboard in the house.”