When the coronavirus started making headlines I found my social media feed was flooded. Flooded with fear, with negativity, with stress. It was before the kindness pandemic. Before the positive spins, and the stories of hope. It was when the world was still under a cloud of doom. People were scared. And so – with my own wellbeing in mind – I turned off social media. And I haven’t been back (well, except for work, but we can’t avoid that).
Then today, I found myself reflecting on how I’ll look back at this time. I won’t have those glorious Facebook memories reminding me of the moments. Reminding me of the stress. Or the simple pleasures I derived from the experience of being essentially bound to my home for weeks, quite likely months, on end.
Tonight, I found myself trawling through photos on my phone. And what did I see in that six weeks of chaos and stress and fragility? All I could see was joy. Photos of my gorgeous daughter smiling; photos of delicious baking challenges; moments of chalk drawing on pavements; getting innovative with some schooling challenges; a last-minute two days away by the sea – just the two of us – just days before we weren’t allowed; discovering we have starfish and rock pools two minutes from our home. Yup, it looks pretty special.
And yes, sometimes it has been, but let’s paint a real picture for future me to see, shall we? And maybe you’ll find some comfort in hearing from someone feeling the same feels you are.
Being late to the party
So, I’ll start at the beginning. Now, dear reader, I know you’re from all over, so you need to remember I’m in Australia. While the virus was raging through China, we were sitting in a little insulated bubble. Now, the news was pretty heavy early on, and people were all over it. Toilet paper riots occurred in our local supermarkets! I dismissed it all. “It won’t last,” I said, rolling my eyes. I imagined this stockpiling was limited to people with home bunkers and bomb shelters. It wasn’t. All of a sudden we were weeks in, the shelves were empty, and – because we hadn’t stocked up – we couldn’t get the basics. Fortunately, my sister works at a market and managed to get things for us from local vendors, or we would have been eating beans (we had those already). One thing that’s evident through all this is the power of kindness and community.
Working through a virus
The next hurdle we face – again, I just want to reiterate how much of this I know is first-world problem shit, I write to remember, not for sympathy – is working with a five-year-old at home. First of all, we are very fortunate to both be working at capacity at the moment, making our jobs safe. However, doing that and supervising your kid can be tough. The first two weeks of lockdown were school holidays – a time we were meant to be holidaying with family. We had it all planned out, complete with babysitting for when we needed to work. With all that cancelled we made the difficult decision to send our daughter to school holiday program. On day one she was one of only five kids in a program that hosted three schools. In some ways, this put our mind at easy (low risk), and that took us through to the start of term.
Home schooling and working from home
Two weeks ago I could not have written that subhead without sobbing. The unbelievable stress and burden this put upon us was unbelievable. I told everyone else that “they only need a small amount of schooling”, while breaking my own back to tick every task off, because I just couldn’t cope with not being everything to my child at the moment. The lesson is nobody can be everything to anyone at the moment. Not really. It’s too much for us all. I took comfort in the knowledge that no parent I knew – single, coupled, older kids, younger kids, working or not – was coping with home schooling. And it had nothing to do with the kid. She’s great. It’s just hard to do a working day and a schooling day at the same time without working yourself in the ground. Somehow we’ve managed to get into a routine now. It’s not perfect, and I end each week seriously thinking I’m going to collapse, but we’re doing it. The consolation prize for this one? After weeks of every day feeling the same, I now really feel it when it’s the weekend and I’m free of the schooling noose around my neck.
Having an only child
Now, I write this knowing that multiple children bring a whole different set of problems (fighting, FOMO etc), but I can’t talk to that. The tough part of only having one child is they’re alone. And what five-year-old doesn’t want company? Ordinarily we fill our days with play dates and adventures. With all of that off the cards, it’s Mum and Dad and a deck of Uno. And we all know how fast that gets old (for us before her if I’m honest). And early on it was apparent how much it was affecting her. Tears were abundant, she told us how much she wanted to go to school, she begged to see people. This was part of the reason school holiday program was a saviour to us. It gave our daughter the socialisation she needed. It was clear her mental health was suffering too. Not just ours. And I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve allowed the occasional interaction on the street with neighbours to allow her to continue to have that interaction, because we believe mental wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing at times like this.
Having less time
While I have been off social media I’ve still been reading the news with regularity (just hanging out for that headline that says “school’s back!”). I found myself constantly coming across all these lockdown articles. All these people who were baking amazing things, completing passion projects, making amazing things with their kids. People in the articles spoke of all the time they had on their hands. I found myself feeling bereft. Why wasn’t I doing this? I still have albums sitting in the spare room, waiting to be filled with photos from my 2012 trip to Japan. Should I be filling them? Instead I was filling my wine glass. I imagine most working parents feel this. Hell, most parents home schooling would feel this. Time is a luxury we don’t have. Every morning we get up, and make lunch like it was a school day (it’s just easier than constantly feeding the beast, believe me); then we home school or work (and switch), then it’s dinner, bedtime, and maybe an hour of Netflix before we collapse in a heap and do it all again. I mean, I’d love to spend that hour doing something productive, but I can’t be arsed, and I just don’t want to. I consider it a win if I manage to floss.
The best laid plans
I haven’t had a chance to write about the lead up to school. The stress I felt, the anxiety I had, the worry I had. I basically spent the months of October through to January just worried, and desperately trying to ensure I did everything I could to mentally prepare missy for school. Transitions had traditionally been hard for her, and I was so worried she was going to suffer. I also worried about pick ups, and drop offs, about her having to go to after school care, and what that might be like. We got through that.
By early March missy was settled. She was loving school. We had the perfect family routine. I was about to be promoted at work, and it looked likely my husband might enjoy the same. We were counting down to June, when we were going on a much-needed overseas holiday together. All that is gone.
I spent a few weeks mourning this loss. I seriously think I went through all the stages of grief, and am only now hitting acceptance (I languished in the anger phase for quite a while). I mean, seriously, how blessed are we that that’s all we have to worry about? But I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t suck.
And what about the positives?
Four weeks ago, I don’t think I couldn’t have given you any. And maybe tomorrow I won’t be able to either. It’s up and down, and left and right, throwing you around. But today, I think I can. So here are the things I’m enjoying about lockdown:
- Occasionally meeting in the kitchen for lunch – today we had lunch as a family. Missy ate from her school lunchbox, I had treated myself to some soup from the local cafe, and hubby made stodgy two-minute noodles. It beats the office kitchen huddle any day (sorry to my colleagues).
- Spending more time together – some days this is not a positive, but it’s been lovely to be together as a family unit so much. I mean, we spend a lot of time together anyway, but at the moment there’s just a lot of love in our house.
- Getting a glimpse into missy’s school life – one thing that was difficult when school started was no longer getting a lot of one-on-one feedback from the teacher. I’d gone from hearing how much missy had eaten, pooped and napped to nothing. So it’s kind of nice now to sit alongside her while she works. Every day I’m amazed at just how much she knows can do. I had no idea!
- More exercise – I’m running every second day. Sure, I sit at a desk for eight to nine hours before that, but I’m getting to run more than ever. It’s even better when I have missy riding her bike alongside me and chattering about all the wonderful things she sees along the way: “Mummy, I’m never seen a seagull chase a crow before”. I didn’t get that on my work lunch breaks either!
- Working from home – when missy was still at school it was wonderful to be able to pick her up and drop her off every day, and be at the school gate. I’ll miss that when I’m back to the commute.
- Choosing what to do on the weekend – this is kind of bizarre, but the fact that there’s nothing to do makes our weekends a little more easy and relaxing. We bake, we watch a movie, we play on the street. There’s not a lot to it, but it’s all kind of lovely. And it’s kind of night for missy to get more of a say in what we’re going to do for the day (helps when you have nothing to do). Now if only she would sleep in … !
So, I guess it’s not all bad. Today I spent 20 minutes of my working day with my daughter cuddled up on my lap because she’d had a fall and she needed a hug. A good hour this morning was interrupted every five minutes to guide some Lego building. Missy attended two meetings this week, just because she felt like saying hi. It’s not life as we knew it, but the messiness of it is kind of wonderful. And all I hope is that when we get out of this, we start to see some real positives about the blending of family and work life, and accepting that we can be both a parent and career-focused, and neither needs to come at the detriment of anything else.
Hell, if I can home school and do a very busy full-time job, while being stuck at home with no other outlets (not even one of the dodgy massages I’m partial to) I can do anything!
Stay safe out there everyone x