We have quickly moved to ‘Seems a bit dramatic to build a hospital in China for the flu’ to ‘stop absolutely everything, NOW! Build as many hospitals as you can’.
No work, no education, no planes, no cars, no hugs, no pasta. In the space of a few hours. It felt quite apocalyptic. One week I was muttering how bored I was at work and next I’m thrust into homeschooling and house arrest for un unspecified period of time. I felt I’d only just got back into work after having two kids and suddenly I’m back to meal planning and smelling kid’s pants to work out if they came from the dirty or clean pile.
For someone who lives with quite a high base line level of anxiety this pandemic is something of a relief. AT LAST, I think smugly – you can all feel as neurotic as I feel every Monday morning of a regular year. Hoarding food, making sure we have enough Calpol, planting up veg patches to ensure we have enough food this summer. This all comes quite naturally to me. An over anxious planner this is absolutely playing into my skill set.
I set to my new role with the commitment of a character actor. Out come the dungarees, the home coffee machine and the calendar. I read through the school advise and immediately create a home syllabus. I would like to say this is all bragging but I adore panic and change so really it as if a genie had granted my wish. A fire has been lit inside of me and I accept the challenge of teaching my kids not only about the ‘outdoors’ (of which I know absolutely nothing) but also how to bake, how to spell ‘their’ and how much fun it is to have me as a teacher. I am quite an all or nothing sort of character so the children are going to need to buckle up for this ride.
I have moments of utter fear but mostly it feels like every single societal expectation has been taken off me, like a giant and heavy back pack has been released from my straining shoulders and I’m breathing a sign of relief. I can just cruise for a bit. I don’t need to fight for the next promotion or run for a commuter train. I don’t need to feel guilty for missing parent’s evening or missing bed time (again). I just need to keep everyone alive from day to day and the low expectations is relief to my battered, middle class, Boden wearing, commuter soul. Finally, I get to step off from the hamster wheel that is my life.
We used to have no tv in the. mornings. Now when I’m woken by their scruffy little faces I pass them their iPads unquestioningly. I tap in the code and roll back over to go back to sleep for an hour. My husband might get up, but only to play computer games in his pants. I do this for two months before I’m even half caught up on the sleep I’ve missed out on over the last few years.
Breakfast takes an hour each morning, it starts to develop courses. I wonder how I ever used to fit in everything before my 8am train.
Once I’ve finally roused myself from a deliciously long lie I put on the same jeans and top as every day and I drag those kids to some nearby woods or common, a payoff for all the iPad time no doubt. Initially it’s with big coats on and Otis has to be carried because he’s only 2. I don’t have one of those snazzy kids back packs so my hips and back start to hurt. We have picnics in the garden, we read and write and learn about countries and wars and animals and seasons. We paint cardboard boxes, make posters, make awful (really awful) art and I revel in their company as if it’s a new found joy.
There is not one single aeroplane in the sky. We hear a wood pecker for the first time and then it becomes so common we hear it every time we go walking. I hear the sound of trees creaking – I thought this was something that only happened in books. We live beside a road and for once the land is ours. There are no lorries or cars or noisy motorbikes. We could use the motorway as our own walkway to the heart of London.
I’ve slowed down so much I start to see the very beginnings of Spring blooming. I smell it. I see it. We blow dandelion seeds. We can’t take long walks any more because the kids stop every two paces to pick and blow them. I won’t be able to look at dandelions again without remember the agony and the beauty of that slowness. Walking with children when the dandelions are in full bloom is an exercise in mindfulness and patience. We feel the softness of the first oak leaves. Their leaves almost sticky and transparent as they unfurl.
I take up two hobbies almost immediately – painting and jogging. They are both counterweights to the extraordinary intensity of being home and needed every moment of the day. I’m thrilled that I can actually run, that I’m not so lazy that I can still move, it’s as if it’s a surprise that I’m not that old, there’s still life in me yet and the act of running away from the house makes me giddy on occasion.
Painting also begins in the evenings. I’m not sure what to make of this. It feels like a very old friend come to visit. Sometimes we sit and shoot the breeze, sometimes we get drunk and silly, sometimes I hear the most hateful things about myself. But I still make time to meet with them.
I can’t hug my mum or dad. I can’t visit or see them other than in the digital realm for a while. It feels necessary and as long as their safe it seems a decent trade but sometimes it catches my breathe. I don’t think Coronavirus will go on past three months and so I make an easy pact that for 6 -12 weeks I can manage the social distancing.
We celebrate my daughter and son’s birthdays quietly, without the usual parties and giant cakes. We video call the grandparents and they sing from the iPhone as I bring the cake to the table. We buy a shed, we buy bikes, we buy Portals, we buy every single thing we didn’t even know we could buy off Amazon.
I figure by May we will have a big family celebration. None of this will really change me because normality will resume. I may as well make the most of these few weeks with my family. This will all be over soon enough.