‘Organised chaos’: How two parents are guiding their six kids through a fourth lockdown

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Tess Falconer is happy that her six children, aged between nine and 16, are safe at home during Melbourne’s fourth lockdown but admits remote schooling means her home is usually in a state of chaos.

“There are some days, especially with remote learning, that you feel like sitting in the corner and crying,” she says.

Mrs Falconer advocates keeping busy and focusing on one day at a time, while her husband, Darren, says sometimes it’s good for the children to let off steam.

Tess Falconer and husband Darren with children Eric, Nic, Jorjia, Liam, Patrick and Chris.Credit:The Age

The children’s view of this enforced two weeks at home varies wildly from “it’s like being in jail” to “I like the food at home”.

Mrs Falconer, 36, from Hoppers Crossing in Melbourne’s south-west, feels this lockdown is going more smoothly than the previous three for her family – which includes Eric, 16; Nicholas, 14; Jorjia, 13; Liam, 11; Patrick, 10; and Christopher, nine.

Their teachers have smoothed out any technical glitches in conducting remote classes; the children, too, have got the hang of programs such as Microsoft Teams and ClassDojo.

Mr Falconer, 37, who works as a drafter for a steel fabrication company, says he has struggled. “As a family with kids, I’m constantly freaking out that my boss is going to say, ‘I’m sorry, the company’s going to stop now’ … the whole year has been horrible.”

Mrs Falconer is on a break from part-time work in admin but is busy with housework and helping with remote learning.

How are you going in lockdown?

  • Tess Falconer, 36: “There are some days, especially with remote learning, when you feel like sitting in the corner and crying. So you take it one day at a time”
  • Darren Falconer, 37: “As a family, with kids, I’m constantly freaking out that my boss is going to say, ‘I’m sorry, the company’s going to stop now’ … The whole year has been horrible.”
  • Eric, 16: “I’m doing well. I’m able to do my work and I don’t have to walk to school every day. I miss meeting friends and going to the skate park.”
  • Nicholas, 14: “I don’t mind lockdown, but don’t like schooling online. There are more distractions at home, which can make it tough. I miss being able to communicate with friends in person.”
  • Jorjia, 13: “I kind of hate it, to be honest. I just don’t like it. I find I learn better at school, I don’t get distracted at school as much as I do at home. I get distracted at home by all the boys’ noises and by having my phone near me.”
  • Liam, 11: “Lockdown is good because we don’t have to go to school, I don’t like walking to class every day. I like the food at home.”
  • Patrick, 10: “I hate it, mainly because I can’t play games like tag or talk to my friends in person — I miss that very much. Being at home is torture, it’s like being in jail because you’ve got nobody to talk to, and all of them [his siblings] make fun of my arm [which is in a sling from a broken collar bone].”
  • Christopher, nine: “I don’t mind that I am home but I miss seeing my friends at school. I like having more time to help in the kitchen with Mum.”

While 16-year-old Eric logs on to classes in his room, the younger five use a desk in the lounge room. Mrs Falconer says most of the time it’s “utter chaos”, but it’s “organised chaos” and she makes sure the children are ready to log on before 9am.

The three primary schoolers work on set activities while the older ones listen to their teachers on video.

While in previous lockdowns the younger siblings were inclined to get distracted by YouTube or computer games, teachers are now more skilled at keeping them engaged, Mrs Falconer says.

However, 10-year-old Patrick, who Mrs Falconer says “tends to fly through things”, can run outside or play a game if he has completed a lesson.

One bonus for Mum is that the children can help hang out washing, peel vegetables or make a cake. All the children miss hanging out with their friends, particularly Jorjia, the sole daughter.

Jorjia and Liam are missing their weekly DrillDance (marching and dance) classes, while Liam and Patrick can’t go to basketball clinics.

But Eric, who is in year 10, can still go to his part-time job at a fish and chip shop, and the kids can always grab a ball and play together in the backyard or park.

All the siblings and their father play computer games such as Roblox and old-fashioned board games such as Monopoly and Game of Life.

Mrs Falconer approves of the lockdown if it stops the spread of COVID-19. “I would rather be safe than sorry.”

She and her husband miss seeing their friends, but Mrs Falconer says life in lockdown is “a lot slower” so there is time to have more in-depth talks to the children.

Mr Falconer doesn’t like the lockdown but understands the government is trying to protect us. “I’m willing to suffer for the greater good, I guess.”

Darren and Tess Falconer with their six kids, Eric, Nic, Jorjia, Liam, Patrick and Chris.Credit:Penny Stephens

He says the children are “a breath of fresh air” and he admires their resilience. “As long as the computer turns on, they’re fine. I tell myself, let them make noise, scream, run around having fun, it’s not a bad thing.”

He says his wife gets stressed about it. “I just say, ‘Turn off, block your ears and let them tire themselves out.’ ”

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