Really?

img_5082We’re trying to put a positive spin on life under lockdown. Each day we run an exciting experiment – how will our loaf turn out today? Finding it difficult to buy standard bread flour, we’ve used varying mixtures of any flour we can get hold of (rye, spelt, plain, pasta, wholemeal); I had the most difficulty marketing the bread containing pasta flour in our household – well, it was reminiscent of a brick.

For fun, we make a point of finding the best joke substitute in our weekly shop – soap instead of potatoes is a good one, but the substitution replacing a pack of pencil erasers (for the school work) with a tub of ‘Utterly butterly’ is definitely our best so far. When the shopping is in, we spend the week doing our version of ‘Ready, steady, cook’, trying to make meals out of a load of random ingredients. We not doing at all badly.

I’ve attempted to make learning less of a chore for Amos and Melody – we have planted seeds, written about meerkats (Amos’ favourite animal) and penguins (Melody’s passion), looked at how toilets work (Amos’ choice of subject) and made passable attempts at the work the school has set.

Two of our children have had birthdays in lockdown – we had cake, and people kindly sent cards even though it must have meant them taking their exercise past a post box. The children opened their cards wearing a ‘birthday hat’ given to us years ago and we made their days as special as we could. But it felt subdued – hard to celebrate as adults knowing what is happening around the country, hard to celebrate as children away from friends and birthday outings.

We really are trying to be cheerful, but if I’m honest, we are all exhausted and our efforts to keep positive are flagging. I see images of amazing families in the media. Families that sit round their huge, clean dining room tables with their neat school books, parents smiling and children laughing. Multiple children that are able to exercise in front of the television with room to bounce around comfortably without crashing into furniture/each other/piles of random stuff that has nowhere else to be/the hoover which lives in the room it last cleaned. There are bright pictures on the smooth walls, comfortable settees with perky cushions, flowers in vases and no sign of conflict; huge kitchens with shiny cookers and surfaces empty but for a perfectly arranged fruit bowl… I look around me in this lockdown and despair. Are these pictures really what family homes are like all round the country? Is it a truthful representation, because it’s not true in my house and I find these images difficult to cope with.

Surely it can’t be just me? Is it just me? I am not sitting calmly drinking coffee, catching up with old friends I have lost touch with, taking the opportunity to follow a free university course. My family is not finding a new togetherness, or bonding in different ways. From the moment I wake up to the moment I finally get some sleep, I seem to be breaking up fights, feeding people or trying to persuade people to do things they really don’t want to do. The exams we fought for years to keep Joe in school to sit, were cancelled on the eve of his first practical, and there is no plan for his future – everything is on hold so he is understandably unsettled, particularly as his autism requires routine and a clear plan. Peta is trying to timeshare our practically steam powered computer, keeping to her school timetable and missing friends while Amos and Melody try every trick in the book to get out of doing any work whatsoever – completely understandable given this is their home, not their school.

We are caught up in a vortex, Mark trying to work, children living on top of each other, trying to keep separate from my parents, having nowhere to find a moments peace without demands or questions from one direction or another. Around us whirl images of people being kept alive by machines, statistics that twist one way then the other, plans that may or may not be brought in at some unknown time in the future. It is frightening. People I know have died of Covid-19; although we live in the countryside, our area has now overtaken London in hospital cases – the highest in the country. The leisure centre Peta uses for school PE lessons has been converted into a field hospital by the army. Yet our village is far busier than I have ever known it with cyclists, joggers and walkers along all the narrow lanes and footpaths as people come for exercise – it’s horrible being so scared of unknown passers-by. Melody has night terrors about machines taking out her brain, Amos is upset and angry a lot of the time, Peta oscillates from fine to furious and Joe is trying to control every aspect of our life at home, keeping us updated on the news hourly and loudly. Each child has a different understanding of what is happening, each is finding things challenging in a different way. It’s hard to know how to support them all, and Joe’s autism skews what I am able to do.

But then I hear Amos singing – (he’s started making up songs recently):

‘Our bluebells are out,
That’s what I’m singin about!
Red sky at night,
Our families delight,
It’s a woodland day tomorrow!’

They are the moments that remind me why I have to smile and keep going.

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