If you’d said to me a year ago, “You’re going to be on lockdown with your kids for ten weeks, home-educating and working,” I would’ve pictured myself educating my kids for 6 hours a day – delving into GCSE chemistry and biology, a riot of English literature, singing and howling along to Spotify, 5-10 km runs most days, the kids painting and drawing, or helping to make dinner, and a bit of grudging gardening. I’d have nailed it, for sure, if real life was that rosy.
Real life involves me getting up at 5am, sometimes earlier, swotting like crazy for two hours at my keyboard before throwing down three strong coffees and joining my mostly EU colleagues at about 8am for emails and teleconferences. My children wake to an eerily quiet house, make their own breakfast and instead of coming to our lounge/library to receive big, fat mum-hugs and a school itinerary for the day, they’re met with closed glass doors with a charmless, scrawled sign stuck to the glass with a blob of Blu-tack.
By mid-morning, I’ve normally managed to wedge a coffee break into my schedule and can quickly wrap up a school program: elder kids, get onto the school website, find your lessons, and work through. The eldest has already done it, his brother nods. We talk briefly about electron shells, valencies, and atomic mass, then they log on. My youngest isn’t ready for independent learning so we’ll work through a package. An hour later, he’s yelling that bus stop maths is a bag of – while I’m back on telecon making apologetic, mum-fail shhhh signals with one hand and trying to beckon him for a silent hug with my free arm. He won’t come. This sucks. One of his brothers steps in to help; he’s good at maths, wants to be a teacher. They work together and I’m proud and happy and sad at the same time.
I break for lunch and we write a poem about water. I envisaged a sweet little leather-bound notepad with artfully crafted, black ink poems and sketches – he scribbles a limerick about wet things on the back of an old reporter’s pad and then he and his brothers are shrieking around in the garden having a water fight. I’m glad they’re getting fresh air and sunshine, exercising, letting off steam. The floors of my house are spattered with water, mud, grass and crushed daisy stems, and my children are shivering in their sodden clothes. Brightly coloured plastic pistols and yellow buckets are scattered across the lawn. We’re lucky to have a little garden. I sit at my desk, analyse numbers, and regret not joining in.
By 2pm they’re all in clean, warm clothes, and fighting over the X-Box. I give them an hour each; the others are to read books, yes, hard copy. X-Box boy yells and curses his pixelated FIFA team while I’m on client call again so I throw pens at the back of his head while my mouth shapes international strategy. I’m so mad, I uninstall the game, you don’t curse your team while Mum’s on telecon, and anyway, just don’t. We argue. This never happens, we’re really close. This sucks.
His brother watches sadly as his FIFA team doesn’t load. It’s not fair; I reinstall it in 0.1% steps. I don’t want them to play on the X-Box but it’s a portal to their friends, whom they can’t see – we’re all missing lovely friends. I say that I want to read Tom Gates with my youngest, just give me half an hour to finish my emails – but he’s had enough of reading by then, so I’ve missed my book hugs. I take everyone for a walk and we kick a ball around in a local field. The dog loves it. (The dog loves everything.)
We hug, laugh at ourselves and eat chocolate chilli cake that my younger children made yesterday. It’s good, but I’ve put on fifteen pounds of body fat; I’m uncomfortable in my own skin and disappointed in my own lack of self-discipline. I blame lack of sleep, desk work, and the inability to go on 10km runs. I complete a scientific review while the kids play on electronic games and my body grows bigger and softer. First World problems.
I make a plan. From this week, we’re allowed to go outside to exercise as much as we want, so I am going to get up before 5am each day, and run 5-10km until the fifteen pounds of fat are all gone. I did this same exercise when losing my baby fat, years ago: it took 9 weeks. In 9 weeks’ time, it’s my birthday. Goals. I’m going to be hungry. That sucks. But I’m going to get back to being me, and that doesn’t suck at all. Maybe I’ll take the kids (perhaps 7am…) and we’ll all get fit. I have a sheet of circuits to do, too – core strength. It’s a plan. It’s going to hurt, I think, but also feel good.
We spend the evening eating salad and missing people. We call the grandparents whom we’re not allowed to go and see. They brave their technophobia and make it onto Zoom and I’m inordinately proud.
On TV, the Prime Minister talks about sending some children back to school, but doesn’t discuss when we’ll be allowed to visit our elderly loved ones. Government will extend the furlough scheme till October, but there’s no mention of the homeless, or PPE, or why we have the worst death rate in Europe. He must know that the children will not remain socially distant, that they will both catch and carry the disease – everyone knows that. Why aren’t people just saying no? Brexit is media history; the July timeline for extending transition dismissed and forgotten. December is going to come as a shock. I nibble a tomato, watch the PM’s face as he talks, and dream of stocks. The medieval kind.
“No,” I say. Someone has to.
We watch a film, play a board game, laugh, hug, and everyone goes to bed except me. I open up my PC, try to catch up on the work I would have done if I’d spent an uninterrupted 8 hours in an office. I finish at 2am. I need to be up at 5am. My desk is littered with sweet wrappers and coffee cups and I feel leaden and sick. This sucks.
On the way to bed, I look in on my kids. They’re all asleep, curled up in clean, warm rooms. If I say goodnight, they smile in their sleep. They don’t suck, at all. They make me the luckiest person in the world.
Tomorrow, in 3 hours’ time, I’ll go for a run. The dog will love it.