I think I drew the long straw. As I write, my husband is herding the children around the telly for a Joe Wicks PE session. The eldest (12) is making excuses and heading to the kitchen pretending she needs more water. The youngest (6) is rolling around on the floor getting under everyone’s feet and screeching when she gets trodden on. The middle (9) is diligently stretching in preparation and has a Rubik’s cube in each pocket for when it ‘gets a bit boring’.

I’m in the next room avoiding the drama. I started work at 8am; my homeschooling shift doesn’t start till 1pm. 

This morning was similar to yesterday’s, in a planned attempt to structure a day of homeschooling three children and holding down two jobs. I’m in marketing and my husband is a freelance market researcher.

Day 1 (yesterday) was a Good Day. Husband instigated a morning meeting with the Board members (kids) and together they planned the day.

Eldest had a lot of clear instruction from her secondary school and was happy to crack on with this, only coming downstairs to annoy her siblings or to steal food from the fridge. Middle needed a lot of tech support and had to have his stash of 23 Rubik’s cubes locked away until the designated break time. Youngest had the most support from school in terms of suggestions for work, but needed the most hands-on help. 

When Eldest was downstairs trying to distract everyone, Middle was demanding immediate tech support in near-tears frustration.

Youngest, refusing to wear her hearing aids because ‘it’s not a real school day’, began broadcasting at deafening volume:

DAD! HOW DO YOU SPELL LADDER? DAD! DAAAAAD! 

And these moments, when all three needed attention, were stressful. From the next room, I could hear Husband’s voice straining, finally erupting with “I CANNOT do everything at once!”, which made me want to go in and help, while also knowing I wouldn’t. Everything is funnier from a distance. 

I had a video call when they had their music practice. I could hear Eldest’s rendition of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Photograph’ on the piano jarring horribly with Middle’s guitar strumming. Youngest opted out and began a complex interpretive dance, weaving between both while wearing an earnest yet wistful expression.

Husband flitted between them, offering endless positive reinforcement. I muted the microphone and tried to concentrate.

With the hum of family life in the background, I managed to get some work done. Whatsapp was in hyperdrive, however, so I had to turn the sound off and hide my phone. When I picked it up an hour later, I had more than 100 messages, mostly from the three class groups I’m on. There were tech questions about how to submit work. There were pictures of children doing a Joe Wicks workout. There were Mums frantically trying to work and entertain the kids. 

And there was a lot of support. Messages in smaller Whatsapp groups with close friends saw a lot of sharing of tips and of encouraging words. Lists of kid friendly films and teacher resources landed like rain.

Requests for video calls with my children came in. I scheduled them according to the finely tuned schedule Husband was resolutely sticking to in the belief that structure would be our saviour. 

Quiet times came when it was snack time or reading time. I’d wonder if they’d gone out as the wall-to-wall sound from next door stopped suddenly. But then one would start laughing or shouting and the agenda moved everyone on again.

Work is strange. Teams are keeping in touch via Slack and Zoom, Google Hangouts and email. It’s not the same, but it’s working. I now have more than 25 Slack channels, with new ones springing up to share positive thoughts on working from home or to share non-work exploits which would normally have been talked over at our desks. There’s definitely a novelty to it at the moment. People are saying ‘Strange times!’ a LOT. 

I’m not missing the London commute and we’re seeing a bit of sun. I read Caitlin Moran’s column about home working where she’d predicted we’d become obsessed with the birds in the garden. Soon after, I noticed a family of blue tits in the garden and the novelty of our current situation seemed a gift.

It’s not all plain sailing though. My Uncle has the virus and while not in mortal danger, is struggling. His wife is in the at-risk group, having recently recovered from cancer. Some friends have some symptoms and are not leaving the house. Some have family who have the disease who they can’t visit. They feel helpless and sick with worry. 

It’s easy to forget that when the kids are drawing rainbows to stick in the windows (it’s something to show solidarity and to give passing kids a bit of distraction) and while Husband and I are sharing chores which would usually be down to one of us, there is this looming coronavirus. 

It feels like a silent wave about to crash. All we can do is hunker down, cede control and hope for the best.

I asked the kids individually if they were worried about coronavirus. Eldest said yes. I knew she was because she’s had a “sore throat” and “nausea”, both psychosomatic symptoms she gets when edgy. But she’s not scared for herself – just for her grandparents and great grandad who she understands are more at risk.

Middle was fine until they closed the schools. All he could say was that that made him realise it was something he should perhaps be scared of. But then his Rubik’s cubes won’t solve themselves; coronavirus is way down his list of worries compared to achieving a personal best on the 4×4 cube, if he’s honest. 

Youngest one is concerned but can’t grasp the nub of it. 

Me: “How do you feel about the coronavirus that people are talking about?”

Youngest: “Ummmm. Not sure.”

Me: Do you understand what it is?

Youngest: “Yes Mummy” <rolls eyes dramatically> “We must wash our hands a lot and not cough on people.”

Me: “Exactly. So you feel okay about it?”

Youngest: “Dead.”

Me: “What?”

Youngest: “Dead.”

Me: “You’re worried people will die?

Youngest: “Only old people like Grandad and Grandma. Mummy, can we play mermaids now?”

 

So, although a certain amount of worry exists, we’re not in anxiety territory. 

As far as my first shift as pseudo teacher went, I can report that things went smoothly. Youngest and I planted a bean and talked about the giant that would doubtless soon be living at the top of the stalk once it grew big enough. Youngest, Middle and I went in the shed to do some painting.

Somehow I’m a bit obsessed about having different places to be for different activities; I’m relieved that the sunny weather has meant I can repurpose the shed into a classroom. Even if it is full of spiders and garden forks and plant pots.

Middle painted a dark sky onto which he stuck a picture of an iceberg for a school Titanic project.

Youngest lay on the trampoline and wrote a list of all the signs of summer she could think of. I looked at her from the other end of the garden. As she carefully wrote in the new homework book from school, the petals of a magnolia tree gently fell around her. The sun caught her hair and I caught my breath. I was gripped at once with fear. Fear that she would succumb to the disease. Fear that I would get it and not be able to look after her. I felt love for her I can’t get close to describing.

Deep breaths. 

Middle set his painting out to dry and asked if we could play football. As we played I could see Eldest in the fridge illegally snaffling snacks.

We all then went to the shop to get milk and food for dinner. Not having stockpiled, I feel faintly nervous about our lack of provisions. What I did have though, was a pocket full of chocolate to bribe them there and back with me, which they would get only if they could show me they could stay more than two metres away from anyone we might come by. I wondered how much longer we’d have the freedom to nip to the shops.

After ‘school’ ended, the rest of the day was like most others. A bit of play, a bit of telly. All cushions from the sofa settee stacked up in a huge pile for jumping on – always ending in tears when one falls off and hits the wall, but I no longer issue this warning knowing that they’ll do it anyway. One then fell off and hit the wall. There were tears.

Dinner is now together. Pre-corona, the kids would eat before we did. This made me make a mental list of all the positives I’m seeing now:

  • More family time
  • More time to talk and listen
  • Less time pressure: no swimming lessons to get to, no school run to stress over, no getting out the door at 8:45am on a Saturday for basketball
  • The sun is out, so more time in the garden
  • Opportunities to fix annoying things in the house, like the lampshade that has been wonky for two years and the mouldy ceiling in the bathroom to paint over/disguise

Of course there are negatives. Youngest had to cancel her birthday party on Saturday. There’s something about losing our freedom which hasn’t hit yet, but will. There’s an unease: the slow, silent wave. 

I know we’re in a honeymoon period and know that much of what is negative has yet to be felt.

In the meantime, I’ve made a list of jobs around the house that need doing. I’m going to learn crochet, I think. I’m also forging a deep relationship with the blue tits outside. So for the time being, the sun is out – metaphorically speaking too. 

Wish us luck.

Lex Young