Our Family in Lockdown
When I had my firstborn, I was besieged with advice about everything – from feeding, sleeping and nappies – to regaining my pre-pregnancy figure. Some of this was solicited from health visitors, some unsolicited from an ‘old dear’ in the Boots queue. I learned to filter out the unhelpful suggestions.
The first few weeks of lockdown felt like that again, with the surge of ‘productivity porn’ on social media; with seemingly every parent in the UK proudly championing their home education projects. Six-foot towers made from paper clips and corrugated cardboard! I suspected their civil engineer dads were rustling these things up before breakfast…it was like turbo-charged Blue Peter!
As luck would have it, an unexpected pearl of wisdom was shared by my younger daughter’s headteacher – saving my sanity:
I could relax. I didn’t need to write a Booker Prize-winning novel, and my girls didn’t need to learn Russian whilst riding a unicycle backwards in the rain during lockdown.
I am a single mum with two daughters – aged 7 and 12. I am menopausal; my eldest has ASD and my youngest wears an eye patch to correct her “lazy” eye. We all have something to contend with in life. I am lucky enough to work from home. There are many families worse off than us.
The biggest challenge in the first few weeks of lockdown was the girls trying to come to terms with not being able to see their dad. We are separated but he usually sees them several times a week. He has asthma though – and once he was furloughed, he decided to stay in isolation. However, he phoned daily – always with a trembling voice of fatherly, unconditional love.
War with coronavirus
When the Queen did her speech, during the time Boris Johnson was in ICU, she mentioned wartime evacuees. I think my girls did feel like evacuees, marooned from their dad.
And it does feel like we have gone to war with coronavirus. The daily cabinet briefings bring the daily death count, healthcare workers are our soldiers on the front line, and the public are all doing their bit for the war effort: manufacturing visors, sewing PPE, fundraising for the NHS and clapping with gratitude every Thursday at 8pm.
We muddled through the first few weeks, bleary-eyed, expecting to wake up from this dystopian sci-fi at any moment. We all fixated on something, like a life jacket. My eldest binge-watched Roswell – a 90’s sci-fi series. My youngest built LEGO all the time, and I painted the downstairs rooms.
In hindsight, we were following Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ (1943) – a five-tiered model of human requirements: After the basics (food, water, sleep), comes safety. These distractions were not simply borne out of boredom, but were subconsciously chosen to reassure ourselves that we were safe; if we were able to do normal activities then we’d be fine. Right?
verywellmind.com/ Joshua Seong
Once the nation stopped panic-buying food, and we could buy pasta again (the only food my youngest will currently eat!), we were able to start scaling Maslow’s pyramid. We now needed to cocoon ourselves – to take refuge from the fear of COVID-19. We read child-friendly explanations of coronavirus – the ones where the pathogen is reduced to a snivelling, pathetic virus and the healthcare workers are championed as superheroes. In addition, there were bedtime stories lovingly recorded by my youngest daughter’s schoolteacher and put onto the school’s website. These allowed my youngest to maintain some semblance of stability. The rainbow on our window, along with millions around the country, made us feel part of a wider, collective movement – safety and power in numbers.
We gradually shuffled into the third tier. This is where apps like Zoom have allowed us to chat with family and friends. We’ve set dates and enjoyed a cup of tea together. The satellite time-delay have become one of the familiar quirky dysfunctions. Interestingly, my girls prefer speaking to people on the phone, rather than Zoom. A phone voice is more measured, genuine, the gaps in conversation more natural than the theatrical spectacular of video apps. Beyond immediate family, our neighbours have become like an extended family – perennial flowers, always there, growing alongside our house, but somehow blooming into magnificent sunflowers overnight. Any essential food items were being added to their home delivery lists and homemade cakes were being dropped off by neighbours and friends out on their daily walks.
We hadn’t felt as thought we could dive straight into home education without first making sure that we felt safe and loved – but we were certainly now feeling a gush of love.
We were now finding our own rhythm (not the one that’s been imposed on us for so long). We seemed to naturally adopt a more Mediterranean lifestyle – going to bed a bit later, waking later and eating later. Our circadian rhythms were changing; everything shifted. It worked for our family. Even the cats started following our new way of living. As a Mediterranean matriarch, the only things I insisted on were: daily exercise (courtesy of Joe Wicks!), lunch outside to maximise our vitamin D intake, and my youngest had to wear her eye patch for three hours every day (by order of paediatric ophthalmologists!).
We did have a few WiFi squabbles early on but I soon realised that electronic devices were background accompaniments in our house. My youngest had ‘Bananas in Pyjamas’ on a continuous loop – but only as a background noise – not the centrepiece of entertainment. Similarly, my eldest would have her Amazon playlist on whilst following more creative pursuits.
This is my family secret ingredient, passed down through the generations: I let my kids get bored, really painstakingly bored. Once they realised I was not going to relieve their boredom every five minutes, something beautiful happened: My eldest started writing. Not typing – actually writing in her notebook. It started as single words when she was younger and now, aged 12, she is writing her own YA (young adult) novel. She will sit for hours, scribbling in her journal. Writing certainly seems to be is what she was put on this planet to do. She is happily in the zone – tier 5 of Maslow’s hierarchy.
My youngest likes inventing. She will spontaneously build a slide out of cardboard for her teddies or a soft play centre for her LEGO pieces. She often wears her white lab coat whilst inventing. If she’s not inventing, she is scooting. She has placed towels and blankets across our semi-open-plan ground floor and rides a scooter circuit with a customised delivery box on the front, held together with sellotape. We have our own Deliveroo service!
Both girls have found what makes them happy. And of course, this is mutually beneficial when I need to work from home.
We’ve had our challenges. My eldest hasn’t left the house since lockdown, except for her daily lunch in the garden. She has refused to go for a walk. Perhaps, when all this is over, she will reflect on this and be able to tell me what was going on. It seems, for now, she just needs the safety of the cocoon.
At dusk, both girls seem happier to sit in the garden. Here, we have giggled at our chalk drawings on the slab concrete and marvelled at the star constellations whilst lying on sleeping bags on our rather old and rusty trampoline.
An unexpected blessing
Lockdown has been an unexpected blessing for me. I went back to work when my eldest was nine months old and my youngest was three. I always felt regret that I hadn’t had more time at home when my children were younger. Although my eldest is now 12, she is secretly still a big toddler inside. She now lives in the same, oversized t-shirt – much like the pink dress she lived in when she was three (I will have to prise it off her to wash it at some point soon). Her reluctance to stop reading at night and go to bed reminds me of when she was little and wanted to stay up and dance all night.
What I’ve learned is that you need to find your own family rhythm; build your cocoon and marvel at what your kids do when they get bored.
Some handy lockdown tips & ideas:
- CBeebies have most of their bedtime stories on YouTube. Great for helping little ones sleep;
- Joe Wicks daily workout at 9am on YouTube (hilarious for children watching their parents do a workout!);
- Skyview – a great free app for identifying stars and planets;
- Family Lockdown Activities, Tips and Ideas Facebook page: dip in and out, lots of daily, creative inspiration for little ones;
- Centre of Excellence, have reduced prices for their online courses during April – perfect for mums and dads wanting to learn something new. The Open University run lots of free courses too;
- Handy Coronovirus explanation stories for kids:
Or a social story, great for kids for autism:
- Kiwi boxes – great STEM packs sent through the post – for younger children to teenagers (monthly subscription available).