The Coronacoaster

I’ve tried to write about lockdown life and the impact of corona virus so many times over the last 7 or 8 months but I’ve never managed to finish- unfinished tasks are the story of my lockdown life! I read it back and it sounds too whingey or miserable or self indulgent! But I’m determined to get to the end of a blog today so here goes!

I believe the official term for what we are all currently living through is called the ‘coronacoaster’! The fluctuation from one mood to another and one extreme reaction to another is like nothing I’ve ever experienced! I’m caught between being desperate to go out and live a normal life, seeing people I care about; to being terrified that its not safe out there and we should board up the windows and doors and hermetically seal them all with the frog tape left over from early lockdown decorating!

It feels like over the course of the last year, we’ve lived a number of different types of life.We all saw the meme on the internet in those early ‘lockdown lockdown’ days… our grandparents were asked to go and fight in a war- you’re being asked to sit on the sofa and watch Netflix. Don’t f@£k this up! And on paper that sounded easy didn’t it! Just stay at home. Read books, watch a film, organise all those things that need a good clear out, spend time together… but in reality it was not quite that straightforward… 

At the beginning of all this, someone made a snarky comment on a Facebook post I’d put on about how overwhelmed I felt at the prospect of lockdown. Something along the lines of ‘yeah try worrying about all that while living in a refugee camp and having nothing to protect you!’ And I get it. We’re lucky. We live in a decent sized house and we have a garden and we’re healthy. We’re not shielding someone at home with a health issue for whom this virus could be deadly. I’m not a single parent balancing it on my own. We’re not stuck in a one bedroom high rise flat with no access to outdoor space. I’m not an NHS worker on the front line putting myself at risk everyday. But this is not a competition. Just because there are people worse off, doesn’t diminish the fact that lots of people are finding this really, unrelentingly, bloody hard. Missing their families and friends, living with intense uncertainty leading to worrying levels of anxiety, grieving the life we had before all this and wondering if we’ll ever get it back; managing the worries and emotions of small children who are frightened and frustrated and don’t really understand why they can’t play with their friends. Make no mistake- this was hard, whatever your circumstances. 

And in reality, we were not just being asked to sit on the sofa and watch Netflix. We were being asked to home school and work from home and manage a house and be creative and do mundane jobs like a weekly shop with an extra layer of drama and stress. And we were being asked to do all that without the support networks we’ve normally got around us. Without being able to pop over to our Mum and Dads for a brew with the kids when it all gets too much. Without being able to meet mum friends for a coffee and a chat to talk over whatever strange phase your child has now entered and to seek reassurance that it will pass! Without having a catalogue of places to go to while away a rainy afternoon or to burn off some energy. This was like an extreme reality show were parents are dropped on a desert island without all their usual creature comforts and have to wing it! 

I’m going to be honest, at the beginning of lockdown, when Boris did his ‘you must not go out’ speech, I momentarily dropped fairly sharply over the edge! It felt like the house was closing in around me and I needed to stand at the front door and gasp at fresh air! The house was clawing and cloying at my skin and I had an overwhelming urge to go out- I think it’s a fairly natural reaction to being told that you can’t! The equivalent of ‘don’t think of red’, causing your mind to flood with images of crimson!! In reality it was 9 pm on a Monday evening and I was 2 hours into being in my jamas so I’m not entirely sure where I intended to go; but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I needed to escape and check that the world beyond our front door still existed! I can’t recall a day pre lockdown where we’ve ever stayed at home ALL day! Our kids are bundles of energy- they need parks and play centres and regular changes of scene. Being told we had to stay within our own walls felt entirely insurmountable!

But we did it. We made it through the phase where we couldn’t even see grandparents, even on special days like birthdays. We went on long walks and we got through home schooling (barely but relatively unscathed long term!!) and we found ways to tolerate being locked on top of each other every! Single! Day! But we made it through it all this because we had hope that one day it would be different. Three weeks Boris first said. We’ll be locked down for three weeks; Not ideal but in the grand scheme of things, doable! Then they casually cheated us out of a few days by putting the briefing later in the week but another three weeks came and went. Then there was talk of 12 weeks being the magical marker! Just give us 12 weeks and we’ll have it completely under control! But the equivalent of VE Day never came. The magic day when everyone threw open the doors and ran into the streets and hugged again never materialised and right now, on a damp and miserable October morning, I’m left with a unshakeable fear that it never will.

Towards the end of the official lockdown, it was the monotony that got to me. I remember hanging washing out on the line on a nice sunny day and going out to check on it an hour later. Upon realising it was almost dry but not quite, I found myself stood in the middle of my garden, waiting for a t shirt to dry!! It would appear that this was how I now rolled on a Saturday afternoon- standing in the garden, waiting for water to evaporate from my clothes! Every day was the same, every evening was the same. I missed interactions with people (other than those I’d agreed to marry 12 years ago or those I’d given birth to!) I was sick to death of refereeing arguments between the kids that I had absolutely no interest in but that were life and death disagreements to them because they were living on top of each other and bored to tears! I missed being able to pop to my mums for a brew! It just felt like Groundhog Day!

And in September, when the kids finally all returned to school and nursery, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief! I momentarily felt like a terrible parent when I saw all the social media posts about how much they would miss their children and how special this time had been while I literally ran to school, barely letting their newly school-shoed-feet touch the ground, pushed them through the school gates and shouting ‘so long suckers!!’ But I made my peace with my lack of remorse saying goodbye to this period of our lives! It is not normal or healthy (in my opinion) to spend very waking hour of every day living on top of each other! We all needed some structure and routine and space! Space to be with other kids their own age and away from siblings and space to hear the voices in our own heads for a change! Yes September was the dawning of a new age….

Oh no hang on! August and September were just a brief interlude in what is now undeniably the shitshow of 2020! A chance to just briefly remember what it was like to consider seeing the people you love and care about and do the things that make you happy before cruelly snatching them away again. And this week in particular I am in the mother of all grumps!!

My decline in mood started a good few weeks ago when the old ‘rule of 6 came in’! Cos’ let me tell you! When you are already a family of 5, six is neither use nor ornament to you! Am I supposed to invite my parents round for Sunday dinner and make one of them sit in the car, posting plates of roast chicken throughout gap in the window and being creative with the gravy pouring?? Or make them play Rock Paper Scissors to see who gets to come round? I cannot meet up with any friends with kids in the holidays or at weekends because we instantly break the rule of 6! We can’t go out for dinner with other people. Can’t meet in a park. Can’t have the usual after school play dates of a friend each. And now Sheffield is in tier 2 restrictions, we can do even less.

I feel really detached from the world, and from the kids in particular. We drop them at the school gate with little or no contact with the people they will spend the next 6 hours with. No popping your head round the classroom door to tell them that Esme is going through one of her bouts of insomnia and can you keep an eye on her because she’s shattered?? I could email, but there is something about writing it down that makes it feel like unnecessary fuss! We are not having parents evening this term- a written report with a phone call if we want one instead. But I want to look in their books; tell them how proud I am of the work they’ve done,  see what we need to work on, see what they are learning, see the progress they are making. Absolutely none of this is their schools fault- they have been exemplary throughout this whole experience! But the guidance they are working to cuts us as parents out of their school lives. I drop Esme off for 4 hours of gymnastics training a week- I leave her at the door then pick her up- I can’t sit and chat with the other mums to shut my mind off from work or to do lists, I can’t watch her and see the progress she’s making, its another thing that she now does and we don’t see. Swimming lessons the same. Georges football matches and training the same (technically we can all still go to watch this but we have made the decision as a family to reduce the risk by only letting one person go!) All of a sudden it feels like they are having this life that just runs parallel to ours and I miss them and the life we used to have!

And it’s the kids in all this that make me want to cry the most. I feel like 2020 has just been a massive pause on their childhoods. No birthday parties. No friends round. No exciting trips in the summer holidays. No days out. No Halloween disco at school. No trick or treating. No visit to Santa in a rubbish shopping centre grotto. I could cope with these things being cancelled when I thought it was short term. I could explain away the novelty of a zoom party for George on the day he turned 8 and no one was here to argue over who got the face from the Colin the caterpillar cake. But I’m about to have the same with Esmes birthday next week and I’m still not sure how I explain to an almost 4 year old that he can’t invite all his big brothers friends (who are his favourite people in the world) to a football birthday party he’s been planning for months because that’s now illegal. And my biggest concern is that Georges 9th birthday will roll back round at the end of March next year, and nothing will be any different.

I feel detached from my friends, many of who I’ve not seen at all this year. My head feels so full because those opportunities you get to moan and complain and natter with friends between running after kids in play centres are just are not happening. The old adage that sometimes the best therapy is sitting down to coffee with a friend is entirely true! We need time to hear about what’s going on in other people’s lives and catch up on their news and give ourselves perspective on our own lives from their experiences. And the problem is with current lives is that just because the world has hit some kind of strange blip in reality, it doesn’t mean anyone is less busy. So its really hard to find time and space to do that via zoom meetings or FaceTime. It’s just not the same anyway! Jon and I have been out twice in 2020. Once for our wedding anniversary and it was the night that they cancelled travel to Spain ten days before we were due to travel so the night was effectively spent trying to work out a plan B and save all our money! The second time we went out with friends a couple of weeks ago and it was lovely- but everywhere around you are the reminders that we are living in a strange and frightening time and the c word dominates your conversation as no one has anything else in their lives.

When the tiers where mentioned on Monday, Jon reassured me that he wasn’t sure that Sheffield would go into the top tier anyway. And we didn’t. But the only real difference is that the pubs and clubs are shut and to be honest, that makes no difference in my life. What makes a difference is when you tell me in winter I can’t mix two households indoors. And I understand the reasons and the science. I am terrified every time we go to visit my Nan that one of us has it unbeknownst to us and  passes this hideous bloody bastard of an illness onto her. But the reasons we can’t go and visit my 81 year old nan who lives alone is exactly the reason we want and need to. I don’t want to continue to feel detached from my life and I definitely don’t want to do it indefinitely.

I’ve concluded I’ve reached a point this week that the cool kids refer to as ‘meh’! It’s the continuous loop of school run, folding washing, unloading the dishwasher; repeat that is causing me to go slowly mad. I know there are definite positives to be taken out of this time. More time playing at home with Ted, a more acute appreciation of the connections and people we have in our lives, time over the summer to spend as a family and to pause in the massive rat race that is life. I just think I’m finding that the longer this draws on, the harder it is to draw on those reasons to be thankful and the easier it is to fall further into the pit of grey uncertainty that this is casting over us. SO, I will endeavour to continue to be grateful for our families health and the fact that we have so far skirted any serious collisions with this hideous disease; try to make the most of the time we do now have together and try to stay connected to people in creative ways. I’m also going ALL OUT on Halloween and Christmas this year and just ordered a 21 foot spiders web to hang on the front of the house! Putting that up should at least keep me busy for ten minutes!

Stay safe (and as sane as possible!) xxx

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