Child’s age: turned 6 in lockdown
What were your initial thoughts about how lockdown would affect you?
I was ready for it – after a surreal few days of watching other countries go into lockdown and in which I continued to commute on trains packed to the doors, with a very persistent cough – I surprised myself by thinking ‘let’s get on with it, the stricter the better’. I’m usually fiercely defensive of my civil freedoms but the whole situation had given me the willies.
But I was very, very nervous about what it would mean to me personally. School closing was a blow. It means a lot to me that Wolfy and I belong to that extended community and I had to blink away tears before I went to collect him on 20 March. Without cueing violins, I expected (rightly) that it would be an amplification of all the things that are rubbish about being a working single parent: loneliness, exhaustion, social isolation, no spontaneity, very, very little downtime. At the same time, I have developed a medium-to-thick skin for those things and I thought I knew what to do to get through it – but the idea of seeing no one at all but Wolfy for weeks was scary, on both our accounts.
What was the reality of those first few weeks of lockdown for you?
We didn’t go out for our famous one hour walk, except twice when we ran out of everything and I had to go into a One Stop with my son…so many anxiety triggers. I had been telling myself I wasn’t really afraid of the virus as we are both basically healthy, but I became preoccupied with the idea of what would happen to Wolfy if I became even ‘quite’ sick. I don’t remember ever being really ill and, barring childbirth and a long-ago car accident, have never even been in hospital. My closest frame of reference was a recurring run-in with severe-ish bacterial tonsillitis a couple of years ago. I managed by lying in bed while Wolfy was in school and wrap-around care, dragging myself out scarf-clad to collect him, doing his tea and bedtime before collapsing again. I never ended up calling on anyone for help, but I could have. One night when I had had to wait three days for antibiotics, I convinced myself I might die. I fell asleep with the phone in my hand; help was no more than an hour away. But now no one could come, could they? A bit of agoraphobia settled on me once I got that into my head, and it still hasn’t quite left.
Getting a supermarket delivery became an addictive video game with awful graphics and very high stakes. A couple of times we ate out of Morrisons food boxes and the house smelled of the block of flats I lived in c1985.
I set up a load of What’sApp ‘sanity’ groups with jokey names and heavily overshared, then apologised, then moaned and vented, then apologised.
I felt jealous of two-parent households and did what a lot of people did – bemoan my own awful situation and then feverishly backpedal with five choruses of ‘some people have it so much worse’. I felt useless and unable to help – without the risk to Wolfy’s wellbeing I would have been asking vaccine trials to stick me like a pincushion or delivering shopping.
If I’ve been lonely, it’s beyond my comprehension how Wolfy must have felt. At least I had What’sApp and work. When I’ve not been available he’s been completely on his own. I worry all the time about that.
Has lockdown changed over time for you as the restrictions have been eased? Lockdown changes were slow to change anything for us. Single parents couldn’t benefit from the first major relaxation that allowed one person to meet one other in a park (or could they? I never quite understood it). Bubbles were the dream but my family live in Wales and elsewhere and every other option is problematic and something like competing for flatmates in the second year of uni. Meeting in private gardens in groups really did improve my (our?) mental health but I was still living and working all alone with an increasingly frustrated, clingy six year old.
School reopening, if for only a few days a week, has been huge. Relief that his isolation would be mitigated. Absolute euphoria that I can get a 20 minute walk and a takeaway coffee on my own, at my own pace, between work meetings.
Have there been easy/positive aspects of lockdown?
I am ridiculously lucky to have a house with a garden and a job I can do from home. I haven’t been at home with Wolfy full-time since he was seven months old and there have been lots of times where we have just relaxed into each other’s company.
Have there been difficult/negative aspects of lockdown?
The absolute lack of adult company for weeks at a time. It’s often tough coming downstairs after bedtime to an empty room, but try doing it at the peak of the crisis when the world seems on its knees and people are using the word ‘apocalypse’ lightly. Everything was so much bigger when I couldn’t laugh or cry it off with another, especially when I’d had the experience of being in a long-term relationship.
Has your work been affected?
I have continued to work from home through lockdown and homeschooling and my employers have been flexible and sympathetic. I alternate work with homeschool through the day. It’s not easy at all – others have said it but I feel like I’m running to stand still and unable to give 100% to any area of my life. Or, giving 110% effort but sometimes feeling it results in 40% output. I don’t know. I know I say sorry all the time – to my son, to colleagues, to friends, to family – for being distracted, waffling and venting and not always able to plaster on a smile for Skype.
Although I’m lucky in my work situation, I hope lockdown will draw focus on participation and how precarious working parents can feel in their careers because they can’t always stay in the office until late or don’t have the energy to respond to emails at 9pm on a Sunday. I have relied heavily on childcare since Wolfy was a baby so that I could work full-time – partly for financial security but also for visibility. Working parents find ways of hiding our parenthood and insisting that we’re as available as anyone else. Working from home because your child has vomited the night before feels career-limiting every single time. Maybe it won’t anymore.
What has helped you get through lockdown?
I’m ashamed to say that not watching the news at all was what got me through the first week or so. Then lots of reading, sunshine when available, making sure Wolfy and I get a treat at the end of a week. I’ve been very careful to make sure the lines don’t blur too far and the time after 6pm is family time. The time after bedtime is my time.
Have you learnt anything, during lockdown, that you will want carry forward as it is eased? Are there things that you might even miss?
People have been very kind. Wolfy had his sixth birthday in lockdown and friends sent him lovely messages and little gifts. I’ve called my parents every night and been in touch with some friends more than I have been in ages. I hope I won’t miss these things but that they’ll carry on as things get better little bit by little bit.