ReadingRoom

In lockdown with Paula Bennett

National's deputy leader Paula Bennett writes on her lockdown life in Te Atatu.

I verge from the what I think is deep and insightful to the banal and boring. Life has taken on a rhythm of its own. It’s something that I live and embrace, and something that I hate.

Day to day it’s work - prepare for the epidemic committee, check on MPs and candidates, deal with the numerous constituent emails of frustration of people not getting the help they need. I sway irrationally between moods of thankfulness for all that myself and my family have, worry about my elderly parents and my “essential worker” daughter and her husband and three kids, and being mildly bored. Drink too much. Eat too much. Exercise too much to make up for it, enough to make my body hurt for a couple of days. Feel satisfied with the pain. I can’t be bothered watching the news. Then I feel bad that I’m not taking more of an interest. Great, now I add guilt to the range of emotions.

I read for pure pleasure. I only do it about twice a year because my compulsive personality doesn’t allow me the luxury of time to be consumed into another world. It’s not just the reading of the book - I like to play with it in my head for days afterwards. Sometimes after a couple of chapters of a really good book I read the end just so I can slow down my reading and actually enjoy the pace and lilt and turn of phrase instead of being so obsessed about finding out what’s going to happen. Having said that, most of my reading is trashy. In the past three weeks I’ve read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (how could her mother leave her?), The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman (I can picture that lighthouse), The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, and I’ve just started When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal.

My husband Alan has torn the tendons that connect his upper muscle from his bicep. He describes it as an injury that was caused by him having the brain of a bulletproof 20-year-old but the body of a 60-year-old. It’s painful and we wait for his specialist appointment next Thursday. There’s a 95 percent chance he’ll need surgery. In the meantime, my outdoors bloke that had about 15 jobs on the go is in pain on the couch. Bored, frustrated and driving himself and us a bit nuts. My inside haven in lockdown is smashed. I had a good combo of work, reading or listening and cooking going - now he’s in my space, 24/7.

But then I feel a resurgence of guilt as I write this and acknowledge how lucky we are. We don’t have a lack of food or money or an abundance of anger or violence in our house. A curt word and a bit of time-out and our marriage is back to normal.

Life goes on its banal way. A bad hair dye for the teenager. She’ll live through it. Shop for my elderly parents. I’ve spoken to my mum more in the past three weeks than I have in the past three months. I walk, I watch the sunrise everyday, I see the colours and the tide on the Te Atatu peninsula and marvel at it all…and then feel guilt again at my relative luxury.

We do the group FaceTime calling with old friends. We wear silly hats. For the first time in 30 years we run out of conversation. There’s not much to talk about that’s happening in your day.

I think about our country and its people. What will we be in 12 months time, in two years? I don’t think much about tomorrow or next week. That’ll take care of itself. Jacinda and her team will make the day to day decisions when lockdown is over. That’s her job. I’m asked about it daily from work colleagues, friends and family but I have no influence on when that will happen. Why worry? At some level, I’m like everyone else. My life is in the hands of something way bigger than me. A virus that spreads in ways I can’t quite fathom and seems to want to take our more vulnerable.

I can’t change the now. But will my role as deputy leader of the opposition - and with an election later in the year – mean that I play a part in our future? My temptation right now as I write this is to get political. I know it sounds weird but I get quite excited about what we can look like as a country in a year or a few years time. A changed economy, an opportunity to readjust and really drive the great things about our psyche and our ability as New Zealanders to suck it up, get on with it and ultimately turn it into something great.

But now’s not the time for a political opinion piece. Right now I worry about what week three of lockdown brings for domestic violence and hunger in some people’s households. I donate more to foodbanks and charities, and hope my little bit makes a difference. I listen to Alan snoring on the couch and although a part of me wants to shake him awake and shout at him I put my headphones on and listen to another podcast, move to another room, and be grateful that I have options.

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