The Lockdown Diaries
'Good morning, apologies for the early email…" so begins almost every pre-6am work email I've sent in the last week. My work window - now that my husband and I both work full-time from home with no childcare - is hideously early. I don't mind the hour particularly as BC (Before Covid) I often worked early while my husband did the morning with the kids (breakfast, lunches, dressing etc), but that work was writing books, not emailing editors at ungodly hours asking presumably annoying questions.
Of course, there is leeway for irritating behaviours in a pandemic - now that handshakes, hugs and close contact are verboten, forgiveness is perhaps the most meaningful thing we can offer each other. Work emails are softer in Covid times, usually terse colleagues are asking each other how we are and meaning it.
We're all experiencing lockdown firsts right now. Last week, we had our first Lockdown Friday Night with my husband having Google Hangout Beers with his gang in the kitchen and me upstairs chatting to some of my friends on Zoom. I had my first Distance Car Date with my mother and aunt for Mother's Day - they parked in a carpark by the beach and stayed safely contained in their respective cars while my kids pressed homemade cards against the windows and mooned them (it's their fave thing at the moment!).
The first week of lockdown was presumably exhausting for every one of us. Healthcare workers, policy-makers, postal workers, parents, the trojan staff of every supermarket and pharmacy on the island, even people self-isolating without young kids or difficult work demands - the fact is that staying afloat mentally in this era of terminal uncertainty is the true challenge for most. To this end, I have clung to my new anal retentive routine like Kate Winslet to those doors in Titanic. Of course, unlike Winslet who selfishly hogged the life raft leaving Leo to sink, I have hauled my whole family aboard. Much to their annoyance, I sense.
Currently, the day is segmented into 30-minute blocks of time and I move from one to the next with an inflexibility and determination that is bordering on pathological. In the past, I have lived in some unusual circumstances - nomadic years in my 20s living in tents and for a time a van in the French Alps - and even then, my days had a loose structure and shape. Studies have shown that as a species we actually deal better with negative outcomes than with uncertain ones. Uncertainty is the enemy of our wellbeing. I've definitely seen this with my six-year-old and three-year-old these last two weeks. They want a plan. They need to know what's coming, even in the shortest of short-term. There is comfort in the consistency for them and for me. Breakfast, play, homeschool, walk, lunch, play, reading, dancing, yoga, movie - it's the same every day, though the weekend was looser.
Parents who've always cared for their kids full-time are probably rolling their eyes right now having known this for years, but for me, a working parent, it was school and crèche providing these structures. So yep, I really am this late to the party.
On the subject of homeschool, I have observed the tide of opinion roiling across social media, radio and my WhatsApp groups this week. I posted a story to my Instagram wondering just how exactly anyone could make me homeschool my six-year-old while working full-time, minding a newborn, keeping a toddler alive and myself sane? I was being flippant and got tonnes of replies more or less saying "don't bother". However, as I grudgingly sat down to go through the to-do list of the first official day of "distance learning", as it's been rebranded, I realised that the homeschool, for my family at least, can't be totally binned.
My little guy is in senior infants and while it's not exactly the pinnacle of his academic career, the fact that he was happily in his second year in school was something special. He had finally settled in. He is bright and obviously, to me, the greatest child since the dawn of children, but adjusting to school was a huge challenge for him. He needs a lot of stimulation and a special approach when it comes to learning. His teachers have been amazing and for me to drop the ball on this side of things could mean that when normal life resumes in hopefully a few months, he might have a harder time than most returning to school. There must be loads of parents feeling this way right now and the situation is doubtless more difficult for parents of children with high needs.
So, I've been doing the homeschool as best as I can. Not to be the top of the pandemic parenting class, but I'm doing it like we are all doing anything at the moment, in pursuit of an easier, better future.