“This is me smiling,” I explain to a friend I’ve bumped into at our local supermarket checkout, while out on my pre-regulation, mask-wearing test-run. (The bumping is figurative, socially distanced and no cause for alarm).
I squint at her through misty specs.
She mumbles something indecipherable, then yanks the paisley-patterned scarf from her own face and announces,
“I can’t get on with this. This whole Lockdown Two thing, now masks, it’s all so… urrrgh.”
That heartfelt, unfettered “urrrgh” sums up what many will be feeling at the prospect of Thursday’s new social landscape in Melbourne, where every face in public will be covered or staring at a possible $200 fine.
A couple of days out from mask-mandate, and the word from Melbourne’s coffee queues and phone-ins is of little else.
A couple of days out from mask-mandate, and the word from Melbourne’s coffee queues and phone-ins is of little else. One prominent discussion thread is how this may impact children - not so much the mask-wearing (those under 12 are exempt) as the possibility that, counter-intuitively, something which makes being out and about more safe might create anxiety into our youngest, most impressionable minds.
But our own kids, aged nine and 11, form a united front in mask-attitude.
Yes, on remote learning this pair may be poles apart, but on the mask-ask they speak with one voice.
And that voice is a maniacal shriek proclaiming “We want masks!”
It’s not that they’re across all the research, have read the latest CDC and WHO reports, been won around by the epidemiological data and now wish to perform their social duty, do their bit to contain community spread of COVID. No. They just want a piece of that outlaw chic, think people in masks look kind of scary and are really, really into scary stuff. Even, evidently, when it pertains to something genuinely scary, like a global pandemic.
They’ve been begging us to buy them masks since they first spotted the occasional pioneer at the shopping mall.
They’ve been begging us to buy them masks since they first spotted the occasional pioneer at the shopping mall back in January, before “COVID” was even in the lexicon, and coronavirus just a whisper (remember those days - back when existential panic was all about climate change? Ah, simpler times…).
We even scored them one of their grandmother’s spares, in April, I’d guess (COVID chronology sure gets hazy). Whereupon our son integrated it into his violent imaginary play-verse - stripping to his waist but for the mask, letting rip with a stream of Bruce Lee-style yelps and caterwauls and then beating the crap out of the old armchair that was just sitting in the corner of our bedroom, minding its own business.
Of course, as soon as his sister clocked how much fun he was having with it, she commandeered and customised the thing with a texta-rendition of a massive, toothy grin, so that any wearer resembles Jack Nicholson’s Joker.
I think it may have ended up in the bin in a gesture of exasperated, peace-making defeatism that will be familiar to all parents of squabbling siblings.
Since then, they’ve formed an uneasy alliance, fighting a steady war of attrition on the mask front.
So when their mother came back from the shops the other day with a bumper pack of 50, the kids were giddy with victory.
“Look! They’re blue! They’re the real ones!”
“Can we wear them to the park?” (Yes…)
“Will daddy wear one when he goes for his coffee?” (Yes…)
“Can I put one on now?” (There’s really no need. And isn’t there schoolwork to finish?)
“Hey, do I look creepy?”
“Yeeeah. Do I?” (No, you both look sensible. Like a pair of humans that care about other humans….).
I guess their perverse enthusiasm for these things gives us a chance to put a positive spin on how life outside is going to look post-Wednesday.
I guess their perverse enthusiasm for these things gives us a chance to put a positive spin on how life outside is going to look post-Wednesday. Though we’ll steer them away from the whole ghoulish/menacing mask-associations they hold so dear, and concentrate instead on the all-in-it-together angle.
Because kids are suckers for the collective experience. That’s what makes the big festivals - Christmas, Lunar new year, Eid, Diwali - such a hit with them. It’s not all about the presents and firecrackers. It’s that sense of every grown-up around them being invested in this special time, this shared significance. This is surely one of those.
And maybe we need to be led by the children on this - to treat public Melbourne under masks as a huge dress-up party (the kind you drop into, occasionally, and only to exercise or access essential services), the theme of which is looking after everyone.
“Now masks. It’s all so….urrrgh,” says my friend at the supermarket checkout.
From behind my mask, I attempt to shoot her a look of sympathy, reassurance, camaraderie.
My glasses steam up. Though I like to think she catches my drift.
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