My little family in lockdown. One husband, two homeworkers, three lads, 3 cats, 3 chickens.

First of all, it’s really important to state that there is nothing good about the present situation, though I have seen many acts of extraordinary goodness through it. I hope that you have been able to see such things, too. I cry most days because we are all aware what people are going through and how many are grieving. It feels intolerable, doesn’t it? I have strong views on what our government has failed to do and what Trump has enacted in the US – our family is Anglo-American and we worry so. I worry about how people are and how they will be. I am sure we all do. But, still, this piece is about what I have reflected on during this period – and reflected on for us, as family. As I write I am recovering after many, many weeks, from pneumonia. GP thinks it may be a secondary infection after Covid, but we don’t know for sure. It has been a time. I am high risk anyway, so have to continue to isolate.

Anyway, here we go. Ned (husband) and I have both worked at home. He turned our bedroom into an office; I am doing Skype teaching, rewriting another book, editing, getting my new book out and preparing for another one being published in the autumn. Lines are busy at at all times. Most days it has been chaos. One some days I have muddled appointments and the kids’ music stuff or the doctor ringing. But some thoughts. Before those thoughts, let me tell you that I would rather stick pins in my eyes than sound smug or rather be misconstrued as smug. Please forgive me if, at any point, I have the tone wrong. x

  1. I am more grateful than I have ever been in my life that I have a home. To the point that I have sat on the stairs and thought, I HAVE STAIRS and wept and I was weeping partly because I knew other people did not have a home.
  2. There is, for us, some strenuous work here. We are both now self-employed for a start, but we also have three offspring at home and they have had to learn to muck in a lot more. It’s hit and miss, but there has been the odd moment of pure help-joy (I just made that up): our youngest, who’s just turned nine, was out in the garden at six thirty, sorting out the chickens and pegging the laundry out with a huge grin on his face when he saw me notice. That is a moment I will always remember.
  3. Ned and I decided that we wanted, as far as was possible, to make this time feel safe and cosy and, if possible, for the kids to derive good memories from it. That would mean letting some things go and some things slip. Sometimes we have been stressed and shouty. Last night we had an awful row and the neighbours in the terrace were ear-wigging and pretending not to. It was over some stupid thing like I thought he said something in an off sort of tone and it escalated just like that. Me, not him. Overreaction owing to ongoing stress and feeling knackered. BUT what I want to say is that we have tried, notwithstanding intermittent failure, to keep it cosy by being a bit slovenly. I have done some home learning but not a lot with the youngest; partly time, but partly because I could see he was tensing up. There has been a lot of telly and I am pretty sure crisp eating occurring at breakfast. But I have turned a blind eye to the crisp eating and decided not to push it. How people with more than one young school age child and a home learning roster have coped, I cannot imagine. My older ones have been moreorless free-range within the home. I am sure this horrifies some local parents.
  4. We began this period with one exam year offspring out of school long-term with ill health and little or no back-up. It would be inappropriate to detail what happened and what is ongoing, but lock-down means I cannot be helped along as I was by my carers’ support folks and ongoing work for offspring has to continue by phone. There have been some very dark days. Another exam year offspring is SEN and has been badly failed. I feel like I have been battling for absolutely years for the two of them. I would do it again in a heartbeat but, suddenly, the battles had to stop because school suddenly stopped and, aside from admin and new directions, there is nothing I can do. Sometimes it is freeing to know that there is nothing to do. I am all action bias, me. I want to be doing and sorting. I cannot. I appreciate teachers and schools very much; it’s my background too and I love it. But school for my older ones has often been a shitstorm. I had a period of intense anger and grief – at least I think that’s what it was – shortly before lock-down and shortly after it began and allowed myself to feel it fully because these are my kids and time and again I have found myself tacitly blamed for failures in their educational provision. Anyone who’s battled knows how exhausting it is and how you question yourself to a point which is not healthy. Suddenly, it’s over. About the road ahead, in different places, well…can’t worry about that because don’t we know yet that today is all we have? The past is a different country and the future is up ahead, where we cannot ever BE.
  5. Related to those last lines, I have found this has been a seminal lesson in living in the present. We are all scared to some extent. (Clearly some are more insulated than others from the stresses of it all.) We are all mortal and vulnerable. It is well to look about us and appreciate being alive and that we have the capacity to love and be loved.
  6. I am not neurotypical. My brain is bamboozled by a lot of social activity; I have triggers in many situations and suffer from dissociative episodes. I find some situations very hard to deal with and the school run brings me out in hives. I have never, ever liked parties. This does not mean I don’t enjoy other people. I adore them. I am also still – STILL – shit at self acceptance, with the result that I worry about being like this. I love being on my own; I need to be on my own and I’d be really happy if I hibernated for a bit and only saw the postman and had a chat with him or her. Do I love my extended family, friends and people in general? YES. But I start to feel poorly and stressed with a lot of social contact or (it’s all coming out now) certain types of social contact where there is unspoken conflict, oneupmanship and the like. That happens, for example, in parenting situations and it lowers my mood. I know I am not the only parent to feel this way because I have compared notes; sometimes people telling me things weepily in a torrent that were a snap with mine. During this period, I have had a chance – not because of lots of time but because the lack of certain troubling social situations pressed upon me – to reflect upon my need to focus more on certain situations and less on others and to stop ignoring what are very real psychological needs. And however lovely the participants, I am never, ever, joining a whatsapp group again. My brain cannot cope!
  7. You know, I was going to do 10 points.
  8. I could have stopped at 6 because 6 is an even number and, ever since I was tiny and could understand them, odd numbers have unsettled me a little bit when I see them on a page.
  9. But 6 seemed a strange place to stop.
  10. So here. 10. That’s good. Phew. 10 asks you to take as much care of yourself as you can and also, please know – I am saying this to myself but maybe it could comfort you; that would be the best – that weird is good, that you should come as you are and that the sunshine on your back, the smile of a kid who knew you’d be pleased (needn’t be your kid; needn’t be a kid at all, really) and the moment the apple blossom opens are the most precious and decisive moments of your life. They are small, but fancy stuff, big plans – they are infinitesimally unimportant, after all.

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