Once the initial anxiety and chaos caused by schools closing and lockdown being imposed subsided, we settled relatively easily and – dare I say it – happily into our new way of life.
Long family walks, more time together, synchronised waking and eating patterns. Home school and work have been more of a challenging juggle than an atrocious struggle.
If it weren’t for the worries for vulnerable loved ones and the anguish of the impact on wider society, I’d even venture so far as to say I have felt grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with my kids and husband that lockdown has offered me.
We’ve had our bad days (there have been a good few), tantrums and nightmares filled the first few weeks (I’m not just talking about the kids), and there have been questions I haven’t wanted to answer, but on the whole I felt the resilience of my children was a pleasant surprise to witness. Kids adapt easily, and they soon got used to their new routine of home school in the morning and occupying themselves in the afternoon (or enjoying chaotic PE, music and art classes with Daddy) while I work.
Their life has no longer involved sleepovers with grandparents or play dates with friends, but it has provided security and emotional reassurance – a novelty and luxury compared to life pre-Corona.
But then, all of that changed. Lockdown rules were relaxed so rather than take a local walk, my husband took them to a neighbouring village park for a change of scenery. He happily piled them in the car and bam! It happened. “Where are we going? Are we allowed in the car? Will we get Coronavirus?”
Two months ago my kids were used to being transported to beauty spots, theme parks, swimming lessons, friends houses, all over the country, in our car. But they haven’t been strapped in to a moving vehicle for more than eight weeks. The situation was strange, unfamiliar, and really shook their sense of routine.
Then came the news that schools may reopen. Again came the questions but they were ones that I couldn’t, and still can’t, answer.
We have tried to protect them from the scarier details of Coronavirus but as a journalist I am constantly listening to the news, and any conversation they overhear between a parent and a neighbour will, inevitably, turn to corona before too long.
What will my class look like? Will I be able to help up a friend if they fall over? What if none of my friends are in my class? Can we still do PE? What if we all catch corona? Why do I have to go back and my brother doesn’t?
I can’t answer any of these with any certainty. Well, apart from the last one perhaps. ‘Because the government wants to use you as a guinea pig, my darling.’
So here we are. We need to prepare our kids for the end of lockdown and it’s a challenge as daunting as the one we faced eight weeks ago.
I’m no parenting expert, but I’m a parent and I’m lucky enough to have friends in the psychology business who have offered me some advice so, subject to circumstances throwing everything up in the air again, this is what we’re planning to do…
It sounds obvious but this has helped us the whole way through this crisis. We might not go into the complexities of the situation but we have always talked about what is happening and why. How it makes us feel (all of us) and what worries or concerns it provokes.
When kids return, whether on June 1st or afterwards, classrooms will work very differently, and are likely to look very different too. We have contacted the school and asked that they send out photos of how the classrooms will look. The teachers are recording videos for the kids to watch ahead of their return so they have some idea of what to expect. We’re talking about the little details we do know – staggered start and break times, smaller classrooms, social distancing and enhanced hygiene practices.
As the end of lockdown approaches I realise I’ve spent so much time trying to juggle work and home school, that I’ve forgotten how important it is to just play with my kids. Playing together, reading together, eating meals together, it all helps instil a sense of security in children, and that’s a sense they’ll increasingly rely on as the world around them changes again.
My kids thrive on routine, although I know many much more fluid families than ours that work just as well (often better and more calmly!). However, I think routine is going to be needed for this next transition as much as it was for the last. Regular waking, eating, and bed times should ease them back into the timetable of school life. My son may wake before 6am every day but it’s still a miracle if we’re all dressed and fed by 10am during lockdown.
Who knows where the next few months will take us. The one thing everyone knows is that we don’t know. We’re all winging this and we’re all facing a future vastly different to anything we’ve ever known.
Kids are resilient, but they’re also really bloody smart and they pick up on a lot more than we often realise. Honesty and adaptability have been crucial for my little unit to survive this period and to be emerging relatively unscathed. But by no stretch of the imagination do I believe we are approaching the finish line with a sense of victory. The race has only just begun.