The Eldest turns seven tomorrow and I have been largely plonked in front of the TV for a week, (in both senses of the word!) And so today is all about cake, and the planning of an entire birthday indoors as absolutely everywhere we could possibly think of going is closed.
Thankfully, it turns out that my new Christmas Elf also does birthdays, and so we spend the evening sculpting a castle of cake and planning a treasure hunt, while Husband hangs decorations. (Actually, truth be told I am an absolute control freak on the cake, and so we take a job each, which is even better!)
We have a seven year old!
After Husband’s special breakfast, the Eldest unveils her main present- a big wooden castle I found on FB market place, complete with a set of beautiful fairytale characters. The characters, however, have been kidnapped! The evil Snow Queen has put a spell on the sleeping princess, locked the others in a box, hidden it and thrown away the key! Dun dun dun…
The Eldest and The Boy then embark on a house-and-garden treasure hunt, largely planned and executed by the famously fabulous Lodger-Elf.
They eventually discover the mysterious key, before completing a challenge to uncover the new, lockable toddler-proof toy box!
After which… The Eldest becomes very emotional about the fact that the exciting treasure hunt is over.
“I want to do it again!” She sobs
“You can! Shall I ask Lodger to hide the clues again?“
“No, it won’t be a surprise! I want to live it all again!”
“Oh, love. I know the feeling…“
“Have I got other surprises today?”
“Ok.. I want to do that after tea time to spread them out.”
“What are we doing now?”
“Anything you like. Play with your toys, play games, get ready for your princess lunch…”
“Will there be surprises there?”
She wipes her wet and sticky face and then runs upstairs to, apparently, cover it in brightly coloured eyeshadow like a mini-drag queen. Excellent choice, Mother.
In the meantime, I make frantic steps toward the kitchen to produce a last-minute something she can be surprised about…
Later, we go for a walk, enjoy a “posh Italian meal” at the Eldest’s request, and finally decimate the cake…
An overdose of sugar, quick wash and late-night Disney movie later and we are done.
Lockdown birthday: nailed.
Just a couple more weeks until the next one…
Still… at least they’re back to school on Wednesday, right?
This morning, both Husband and The Lodger are back to work with a Zoom, bringing the Christmas holidays to a sad end. The kids are still off, but the atmosphere has changed and the mess of the last few weeks is starting to bother me. The fact that the other adults in the house are suddenly preoccupied is a shock to the system too. As such, this is the result of my leisurely morning shower:
I bustle about trying to clean and tidy but am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of grot . Husband keeps trying to remind me that the house will be emptied in two days’ time and, with all groups suspended, I’ll have nothing to do but clean again. But deep down, although the announcement is yet to be made, I have a feeling this might not be the case. In that vein, Husband endures a very long, drawn-out meeting with fellow leaders to discuss whether or not to continue opening Churches, which is eventually disbanded without conclusion. Another government announcement is scheduled for tonight and they agree to wait and see what is said.
Meanwhile, the very idea of another school lockdown is turning me into a tutting, grumbling, nit-picky Mother Hen, and although I don’t like it, I can’t seem to stop it. Eventually, I annoy myself so much that I insist we go for a walk instead.
Good, cold, icy plan… although you know it is really time to get back to school when the kids are throwing popcorn at the ice-skating swans and shouting, “keep the change ya filthy animal!“
The announcement comes at 8pm that evening. After the kids have been put to bed and The Boy has donned his PE kit for the second night running, desperately counting down the sleeps until it is time to return…
Until at least February.
Unexpectedly, the tears flow. I had expected a couple of weeks- not at least six. Not probably more.
And the silly thing about these tears is that practically, we are fine. Big house, unaffected jobs; all the skills and resources we need to make this work. Heck, I have even been feeling useless. This will give me something to do!
I can’t begin to imagine what this news means to all of those people effected in more frightening, life-altering ways; because, for someone relatively healthy and happy, who agrees with all neccessary merasures… my heart still sinks.
The Boy is going to be devastated. Utterly devastated.
I quickly check in on Bubble Mum. Her kids are in preschool and can still attend. I don’t know how we are going to keep supporting her at the level we have done, but at least she has nursery each day. I go to bed but don’t sleep.
Schools are closed to most pupils. But Churches remain open.
Husband doesn’t sleep either.
The car battery is flat again and so it ends up being towed off the drive.
“At least there’s no school run!” Husband jokes.
He has already broken the news to The Boy, who is upset, but appeased. He doesn’t cry hard, like I imagined he would, but instead laments at various points in the day and changes his mind often about how he would like to proceed. The Eldest, of course, is thrilled!
I tell them they are on a free day today, because I absolutely must organise this house before we even think about home-schooling again. They agree, and The Boy even helps me to do his room, which is nice.
The process is even more therapeutic than imagined; every single cupboard and box is pulled out and cleared out and sorted and rearranged. In fact, I only manage to do the upstairs rooms because it takes so long. But if feels SO. GOOD.
Almost like… I dunno… trying to control what you can control while everything outside is a mess?!
Husband’s follow-up meeting is better than expected. Owing to the fact that Churches have mainly been frequented by the vulnerable, and will probably continue to be despite advice to shield, the leaders have agreed, with the local council, to close for at least two weeks. This is a relief.
Later, I cook sausages and fish fingers for tea while busy cleaning. In my distractedness, however, I miscount and serve the Youngest one less sausage than everyone else. I give her extra chips and hope she won’t notice. She does. She cries and tries to take The Boy’s. A fight breaks out. I try to calm everyone down and, thinking I have succeeded, ask the Eldest to pray. Opening one eye, I see the Youngest take this opportunity to crawl across the table, grab the Eldest’s sausage while her eyes are closed and shout, “Amen!” when she plonks it onto her own plate!
None of us can stop laughing long enough to tell her off.
In the evening we celebrate the life of a friend who passed away ten years ago; ordering a curry in his honour and talking about him to friends we haven’t met with for a long time. It is good and strange to take time out of this crazy situation… to remember a full and inspiring life passed; to take stock and to gulp at how fast those years have passed with him.
I wonder what we will remember, if we are able, ten years from now?
We are supposed to start schooling today. The Boy is adamant he doesn’t want to do it. The Eldest couldn’t care either way. I am itching to clean downstairs. Husband tells me that the school WhatsApp group (of which he is still a silent member!) is going nuts with frantic messages about IT issues and the likes.
I can’t face it.
I stick on the TV, open access to the tablet, and refuse to feel guilty about any of it. I clean downstairs. Every single toy box cleared and organised. Every anxious, twitchy nerve in my body given a job to do with a successful, practical outcome.
It feels fantastic!
Later, I put the Youngest to bed while the older to two watch Narnia with the Lodger. I make a cup of tea, sit alone in the quiet with the laptop and start to work out all of the school technology. I watch the videos, look at the work set today and try to get an idea of the type of stuff we are going to have to do.
I had initially sat down to come up with a timetable, like last time. However, after looking at the volume of work set for the Eldest, the only way I can envisage doing it is to set her up on the laptop as independently as possible, whilst helping the Boy to access his videos on the tablet and attempt to involve the Youngest in his practical activities wherever possible.
However… just as I am forming these thoughts, he enters the room and sees his teacher and classroom on the screen.
He throws himself on the floor, cries real full-bodied tears, and screams at me to turn it off.
Inconsolable, I carry him upstairs where he finally tells me that seeing his teacher and classroom is too painful. He doesn’t want to do home-school, or video school, or anything that reminds him of real school. He just wants to forget about it until he can go again.
I say OK.
“My main concern is that you are happy. That is the only thing that matters. If you want to play until school starts, you play until school starts.”
We hug. Read a story. He goes to bed.
I turn off the laptop.
There is no planning for this today. I will attempt to set up the computer for the Eldest and entertain the younger two. See how it goes. That’s all we can do!
The Boy wakes me up in the morning wearing a Spider Man costume, jumping up and down and shouting, “I’m so excited for Mummy School!”
What the …. ?!
“What are we doing first? Can I take the register? Who is doing snacks? Will there be carpet time? Shall we do PE?”
I jump in the shower. Put on a smart-ish dress and make-up and try to look and feel like a motivated educator. He wants to do school. I better crack on!
I come downstairs full of beans and cry, “Kiddies! It’s carpet time!”
“Noooooo!” The Boy- who is now in full school uniform– throws himself on the floor and cries.
Seriously. WHAT THE ACTUAL…?!
“OK… OK… PE?”
“NO! I’m not doing it!”
“Guten Morgen… let’s learn German!”
“Ok. Which one of you is register monitor?”
“NO NO NO NO NO!!!”
“OK. Shall we play a game?”
“Do… you want to just start your school work?”
I set the laptop up for the Eldest, who watches a video in peace, while I read out some practical instructions to the Boy. The Youngest is watching TV half naked and refuses to get dressed, but this is fairly normal. I am not sure at what point things nose dive, but it escalates quickly.
The Boy decides that he does, in fact, want to watch his teacher now and so I quickly try to set up the tablet. It won’t work. I tell the Eldest, who is struggling now to navigate her online worksheet, to take a break, while I access the Boy’s account on the laptop. This worked fine yesterday but obviously, refuses today.
He starts to get upset. In the meantime, the Youngest is throwing a tantrum about something or other and the Eldest is bothering Husband. He comes in to find me flustered and, attempting to be reassuring, tells me “it’s easy on the tablet, here, I’ll do it.”
Fifteen minutes later he confirms that it is not compatible on the tablet.
The Eldest, now back on the laptop, is asking for help, while the Youngest is crying and The Boy is shouting at me that he does or doesn’t want to do something- I can not remember which.
I hide in the kitchen and he follows me, crying loudly, until he spots that I am also crying and stops to give me a hug. I pick him up, take him to an armchair and sit down. He asks what is wrong but I can’t explain.
“I just love you, OK? I love you and I want to make this better but I don’t know how, OK?”
Husband walks in on this scene and gives me a look like, “already?!”
“You know they’re all really happy, don’t you?” He shrugs.
I shake my head. I don’t know what they are- and they certainly don’t know either. But even so, I am far from happy.
“I can’t do six weeks of this!”
“Do you want me to see if school will take them?” He asks.
“Of course not! I am an ex teacher, with access to technology, whose sole purpose in life is to look after my children! If I can’t cope what chance has anyone else?! Just let me be dramatic, OK?!”
The realisation is just setting in that this is nothing like the first lockdown. The novelty has worn off- for all of us. The creative, educational freedom is reduced. It isn’t home-schooling, by any stretch of the imagination. It is school set and heavily reliant on technology. Everyone says, “just prioritise health and happiness“, but that is harder than it sounds. The kids’ moods change every minute, let alone every day. I don’t know how to make them happy and the inability to make a plan for it is already driving me mad. What’s more, they know exactly what is happening this time around and they are just as tired of it as I am.
I worry about Bubble Mum. We have agreed, with the kids, one day a week that they can come round. But… how can you bubble with a vulnerable family and only offer them three hours of contact in a week?! I chew over various hours in the day that might work, but I simply can’t imagine it long term.
It all feels too much.
So much, in fact, that I find myself secretly drinking Tango behind the fridge. No Vodka in it… yet!
We have restarted the Bible in a year, and I also find myself carrying the Psalms around with me all day as well, muttering “The Lord is my strength,” over and over. I’ll let you imagine how crazy this looks with Tango eyes.
Still. My own meltdown seems to have knocked The Boy out of his and he decides he would like to do some practical things now. He goes outside to collect snow; the Eldest sees him, follows, and they play outside for a good hour. I don’t go out but watching them is good enough.
Enough for now. Try again tomorrow.
I send out a plea to some other Church friends and a few individuals offer to take socially distanced walks outside with Bubble Mum. I call her with their offers and my limits: I can’t manage more than three hours a week. I am so sorry, but this is our new reality and I have to set those boundaries.
She … is fine! More than fine, delighted, actually.
This is all good news.
Husband is off today!
We talked about moving his day off to do fun things on a weekend, but, after yesterday, decide to keep it so that he can help with schooling. Which is ace.
He works 1:1 with The Boy all day, who loves the attention and completes everything. I sit with the Eldest, who flits between enthusiasm, independence and… typing with her elbows and her tongue. Still, there’s enough intervals between those moods to mean that I can both motivate her, and also sit with the Youngest and do things that aren’t TV. Which is lovely!
It also turns out that the mountain of work uploaded by the teacher on Wednesday actually stretched across more days than communicated, so it wasn’t half as overwhelming as it looked. By the end of Friday, both kids have submitted all Maths, English and phonics work. There’s a bunch of other subjects we haven’t touched, but that’s bonus material, as far as I’m concerned. If we can do this minimum, by the end of each Friday, that is now good enough for me.
On Friday afternoon, the Lodger has decided to do a special assembly to make up for the schools experience she is lacking in her work- which works out well for all of us! It is a write-off this week, but we do end up showing her all of our videos from the last lockdown… followed by the kids’ videos growing up. THIS, I think, is the best thing possible for my soul. Not least because the backdrop to those lockdown videos is absolute carnage! Not just normal mess… like half-built furniture, stacks of junk and scruffy pictures all over every wall mess. And do you know? I don’t remember it!
It won’t be the same this time. This has been established. But the fun we are capable of having; the joy, the love, the evidence of time well spent; is enough to boost me out of my pit.
All will be well.
All will be well.
We have done it before, we can do it again.
All will be well.
And even on the days when it is not… we still have Hallmark Christmas movies and enough chocolate to feed a giraffe. So…?!