Music box and fairy wings
How did it all start again? Oh, yes, the music box. The lovely wooden music box playing high-pitched notes of “Schneeflöckchen, Weißröckchen”, while my daughters play barefoot in their fairy outfits on our snowy balcony.
The time of panic
Actually, it started a few hours before that, on Thursday 12th March 2020, early afternoon, after watching a press conference with officials. It felt like Norway was closing down, fast. Apocalypse now. Newspaper articles were asking people not to “hamstre” (‘stock up’) on food, and were relaying the new rules of quarantine and social distancing – the 2020 handbook for behaving as a good citizen. For me, who had wished to not follow the news very closely in the last few days, it seemed that all had come at once. It was like a tidal wave immersing everything, rushing people like myself into panicked actions. I jumped on my bike to get my children early from kindergarten. On the way there I thought it was excessive, but as I arrived, many other parents were there, too. I had to fit all of my daughters’ rain clothes, spare clothes, sets of shoes and boots into the bike trailer, plus the two packs of nappies I had picked up at speed just before getting them, allowing us to last for a month. All of that under heavy rain.
It was strange. I talked to other parents and we said we would catch up anyway, as our children probably had passed on the virus to each other already. We had indeed had a particularly bad run with illnesses at the kindergarten in the last few weeks, and quite a few children had had to stay home… But measures strengthened in the following days, and as we saw our suggestions for catching up taken with unease, we stopped asking.
It was the four of us, on a little island where time was suspended. And that afternoon, after the rushed and strange kindergarten pick-up, our daughters were barefoot in the snow, sun shining through their fairy wings, playing with the music box that my husband had brought back that same day from a work trip in Switzerland.
The time of slow and cosy life, and of fatigue
The semi lock-down was both a nice and challenging time. It was made up of walks, picnics, painting, playing library, cooking, rides on the new ‘sparkesykkel’ (scooter), watching the live streaming from the Aquarium after lunch, dancing to Vaiana every morning and posting candies and drawings to friends by bike.
It was also made up of very little work, staff meetings attended by our daughters, cold weather, fatigue, “you take both girls this morning, I will go out with them this afternoon” type of negotiations, short nights, discouragement as we didn’t know how long this would last, “are they watching too much TV?” interrogations, and days with no naps.
And it was also made up of hesitations as to which friends will accept a hug, weariness about the competition of uncertain numbers: “how many cases do you have now in your country?” – which we found deeply meaningless, and sadness when imagining a world that is clean, sanitized, and where keeping distance is the new way of being responsible, caring, selfless. Luckily, there were feelings of sincere connection and hope when we would find in friends and colleagues the echoes of our own thoughts about the crisis management and measures in place.
Time has passed, and some things have remained
As I am writing these words, exactly seven months have passed since the rushed pick-up from kindergarten, and we are still surrounded by posters showing us the responsible way to sneeze. We are still surrounded by messages telling us that keeping distance is caring. The intimacy of our private lives is still being governed by new and fast-changing norms. In that time, my youngest daughter has learned to walk, but she has also learned to place her hands under a hand sanitizer when she sees one. In that time, my oldest daughter has learned the crocodile and monkey song, but she has also learned the song about how to wash her hands without forgetting a finger.
Time has passed. But they still wear their fairy wings and play with the wooden music box.
I am Anne Bremer, born in Germany, French by nationality, living in Norway and married to a New Zealander. I am a researcher at the University of Bergen, where I look at how we can think about responsible research and innovation in interdisciplinary ways, and implement it in practice in different settings, such as in medical research.
I have two small daughters, and this really shapes my thinking about the 2020 events. When I see what has happened this year – the long-lasting state of exception, the rising power of a police state (in particular in France), the general restrictions of fundamental rights and liberties in the name of the public good, to only pick a few – I feel a little bit scared and saddened. Now, more than ever, I want to tell my daughters that there are many possible and meaningful ways to care about themselves and about others. I want to tell them that pain is also a part of life, and that trying to control everything might lead to missing out on important things.