There had been a buzz for many weeks that schools were to close to slow the spread of COVID-19. I knew that it was inevitable, and I understood that it was for the best. However, I still couldn't believe that it was happening. In one day, my children were being separated from the routine that they knew, and their friends. I work from home, and had come to cherish the snatched conversations that took place between me and my crew of mom friends, relying on those brief moments of much needed adult human contact. On that same day, my husband was also told that he no longer had a job until restrictions were lifted, and we weren't sure whether he was entitled to be furloughed. Like so many, everything that we took for granted had been turned upside down.
I walked behind my children on the way home that day, trying to hide my tears. I wondered how they would cope, if I was struggling to process the complex emotions I was feeling, and the relentless stream of anxious questions racing through my head with no immediate answers. COVID-19 has been turbulent for us all, and I feel that we have regressed. I had come from stay-at-home-mom, to building a business. Overnight, it was impossible to have a business anymore, and it was put on hold as I became a stay-at-home-mom again. My two children, aged 7 and 6, also regressed in many behaviours. Here's a day of our life during COVID-19:
6 a.m.: Our eldest comes in to wake us (me) up. He will either do this by standing right next to me and staring at me like a serial killer, or gently stroking my leg so that I think that a spider is running across it. Today, it's the spider, and I bite back swear words whilst in deep sleep delirium. I hope that my husband will offer to take him downstairs so that I can go back to sleep. He doesn't.
8 a.m.: The 6-year-old puts in an appearance. He slumps into a chair, in all his bed hair glory, with a glower on his face. Evidently, 13 hours of rest is still not enough for our sleep loving rascal. I have to fight the urge not to let him be my favourite just a tiny bit, on account of our shared love of sleeping in until a decent hour.
8:15 a.m.: I offer healthy breakfast options, knowing that they will rejected. However, offering them is a process that I need to go through so that I can alleviate my guilt when I inevitably frisbee waffles to them from across the room. As soon as breakfast is finished, they ask for a snack. Sigh.
9 a.m.: While the children ask for snacks, I lay out a carefully researched and methodically prepared day's worth of homeschooling activities for them to partake in. Only kidding, we gave up homeschooling months ago, when the children decided that we didn't have any power over to do it, as we aren't their actual teachers. Being their actual parents wasn't a valid argument apparently. They play instead.
9:30 a.m.: The children ask for more snacks, while eyeing up their iPads. What ensues is an interesting volley, where they ask for snacks from the sofa, and I tell them that they know where the snack cupboard is, and can get them themselves. While this conversation takes place, I raid the internet for activities that I hope will interest them, that may have a vaguely educational angle. Because they are the boss of me, they know that I'll eventually give up looking for activities for us to do together, having exhausted them all, and I'll tire of their incessant asking for snacks, and go and get them some.
9:45 a.m.: Yeah, they won. I get them snacks, and I shamelessly peruse celebrity gossip sites online while they look at their iPads.
10 a.m.: I decide that we need to go out, as the exercise and fresh air will do us all good. The success of our outings largely depends on me packing enough snacks to feed a small army. During early COVID-19 days, we found many interesting places to visit, that were both fun and made social distancing easy. Dancing an awkward waltz around strangers to stay apart from them in a densely populated city is now starting to exhaust me. We seem to have now used up all of those options anyway, and the children's enthusiasm for them (or anything) is waning. Sometimes we return in good spirits, with lots of pictures of our adventures, sometimes we drag ourselves home in tears. You just never know what you'll get.
Sometimes I'll go as far as to suggest doing something from before, when the local parks weren't taped off, and I didn't have the stress of shouting "stay back!" at the children every five seconds, on the off chance that they might accidentally come within six feet of a random stranger. It doesn't ever work out like I'd want.
10:30 a.m.: I'm struggling to find somewhere to visit, as everything has to be booked in advance. By the time I think of something "fun" from the Time Before, the only time slot left is 4 p.m., when it closes at 5 p.m.. I mourn the days of spontaneity, and curse my lack of prior organisation and foresight. The kids eat all all of the food that I had planned to take on our outing, and ask for more snacks.
10:45 a.m.: We attempt the Scoot Of Doom, as I think of it. I take the children out on their scooters, and hope that they remember to keep out of everyone's way, and that everyone else has decided to stay in that day to make my life easier.
11:45 a.m.: Scooting is a success! Though it's clearly burnt off the snack calories consumed earlier, and lunch is required.
12 p.m.: Lunch, see also, 8:15 a.m.
1:30 p.m.: The children are eyeing up their iPads once more, as I worry for the future for a while, and wonder if we'll all get our old enthusiasm for life back.
2:30 p.m.: Why is it still only 2:30 p.m.?
3:30 p.m.: I decide to have another go at learning. I put together a hugely successful English project that I found the idea for online. I marvel at its success, and start thinking that I could retrain as a teacher. I quickly quash this thought. But the kids enjoy it, I enjoy it, and I soak in the success of the moment.
5 p.m.: The iPads make another appearance. At least we did some learning earlier so I feel less guilty.
6 p.m.: We eat dinner together. My attempts to get everyone to eat the same meal are scuppered — my husband announces that the food isn't meaty enough, the eldest bemoans the greenness of it, and the youngest sighs that it just doesn't compare to chicken nuggets and fries, because nothing does, does it? I want to scream, but instead I make four different meals, and wonder how I've become the person who does literally all of the things they said they'd never do as a parent.
7 p.m.: The children are be bathed (finally), and I'm thinking about our packed Zoom schedule for the evening. We speak to our friends far more over Zoom than we ever actually saw them in real life. I wonder how we have ended up in a relentless round of online social events, and dream of a free evening where I can luxuriate in doing my own thing.
If we're lucky, the children will go straight to sleep, with one last inevitable snack request. I tell them that they need to start training their school stomachs again, as they don't eat all day when they're there, and will be returning sometime soon.
7:15 p.m. until 10 p.m.: Tonight, we're not lucky. The children announce how not tired they are. I'm up and down the stairs every few minutes like a child-soothing, Zooming Jack-In-A-Box.
11 p.m.: My husband and I retire to bed, where I worry about everything that pops into my head, and vow to sort out everything that is wrong with our lives when the children return to school. A nagging voice tells me that there will be no magic wand when school has returned, and that I shouldn't make ridiculous promises to myself, and set standards too high. I ignore the nagging voice.
2 a.m.: We occasionally get to sleep all the way through the night, but tonight I'm required to soothe the oldest who had a nightmare. I use this time to reflect on what went well during the day, and try to forget what didn't. I remember that my children need me more than ever, and although things aren't perfect, they never will be, and I'm doing the best that I possibly can, under very restricted circumstances. I hope that tomorrow will be better, and remind myself not to dissolve into a ball of anxiety if it isn't — what really matters is that we are all still healthy, and still have each other and everyone that we love in our lives.