I started to work from home a week before the schools closed. I decided to keep my after school childcare but started the morning drop off myself. The first week was a breeze. I felt totally liberated, morning school run stress had evaporated, I was able to catch up with my school mum friends, I had gained two hours a day from my daily commute, working in the comfort of my own kitchen with no distraction from office banter. I had time to whip up dinner for the children and slip out the back door at 3:30 (before the boys got home with their childminder) to do a few more hours in the coffee shop. Well, it was all very civilised.
Fast forward one week. Schools are shut, my key worker husband is still travelling to work to look after children of NHS front line staff and I’m supposed to work from home with three boys bouncing off the walls. Anyone with experience of young boys will understand when I say; boys are like dogs; they need walking twice a day and require regular feeding. Mine will argue over the smallest issues. Wednesday involved; does the Luke Skywalker Lego figure belong with the Yoda hut model or Annikin’s pod racer? I find myself explaining it belongs to the Yoda hut, Annikin is Darth Vardar as a child, you’ve seen the films, for the love of god boys…
I’ll just order another kit.
Deep breaths. Constant silent swearing, sometimes not so silent.
I had to stop listening to the hourly news updates. There’s only so many times I could hear Rishi Sunak say “unprecedented’. Unable to contain my anger all I could think of was if I wrote him a letter to suggest he explore alternatives, would he even read it? I was still reeling from his incessant “this budget gets it done” speech only a week before.
We’re not allowed to visit the park, but thankfully we have a very small garden. It’s the first time in years I haven’t kept running outside begging them to stop screaming, arguing and fighting to spare our neighbours’ sanity. I’ve given up and assumed my neighbours understand what I’m dealing with here.
So how do you work from home with three small children? The short answer is you don’t.
I naively exclaimed to my line manager, “It’ll be fine. I’ll get up early to do a couple of hours before breakfast, check in at lunchtime and then carry on in the evening”.
The reality is, I wake up at 6:30 and the refereeing begins.
Breakfast, clear up.
Joe Wicks PE lesson (if you know, you know). Rearrange furniture.
Shit! It’s only 9:30.
TV, clear up, games or puzzles (ends in arguments), clear up.
Make lunch, feed children, clear up.
TV, homework (ends in arguments), clear up.
Cook dinner, feed children, clear up.
TV, when was the last time they had a bath? Three days, it can wait another day… I think he has nits? Ok, I’ll comb their hair tomorrow. Bedtime, clear up.
Open wine, watch TV and then repeat everyday for the next 12 weeks. (Scratches head).
In between this all, I’m checking in with friends who live alone, my own parents who are high risk, my four siblings and trying to maintain a normal relationship with my husband. I’m making sure the elderly couple next to me are still alive every morning. I’m scheduling in Zoom calls for my children with their friends, panicking as to whether we are able to get fresh fruit and vegetables so if COVID-19 doesn’t get us, scurvy won’t either. How much porridge do we have left, and who in God’s name is hoarding all the freaking pasta and flour? On top of that the house is getting an absolute battering from the boys, which as you’d expect needs cleaning more often than normal.
How is it even possible to consider working under these circumstances? However, I am one of the lucky ones. Financially, we’ll be fine. Mentally; better than some. When it was announced on Friday that Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Chris Whitty had tested positive for COVID-19, I was fully expecting Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck to parachute in to save the day. Others have compared it to wartime, sort of, except we have super fast broadband, on demand TV, Ocado and Skype. I know families who are freelance (all work has dried up), others in tower blocks with no access to outdoor space, and then those who have lost their jobs in the gig economy. And all the while there is an underlying anxiety that keeps poking me in the side because I really should be working. Then I read an article (sent with all good intention) on how to work from home with children.
All I needed to do was to:
- Establish a routine
- Communicate with my partner
- Make the most of nap time
- Have a designated work space
- Use technology to my advantage
- Be honest with my employer
- Focus on the positives
Well, I’ve been very honest with my employer; the routine isn’t going well. My eldest son learnt to make my mum’s famous sausage curry and dhal with the use of technology. What’s not positive about that? However what struck me were the smug photos of privileged, white middle class families living their best lives. While race has nothing to do with it, privilege and class most certainly does. How lucky to have a routine that involves your garden. How delightful to have a supportive partner on hand to cradle you when work gets serious. Nap time? Sorry that boat has sailed. And a designated work space, are you kidding me? Tell that to the single parents and low income families who struggle in general, on a daily basis. Parents who suffer from anxiety in normal circumstances, let alone during a global pandemic that is likely to kill thousands of people in the UK alone. This applies to every parent right now, no matter if you have five children or one child, raising children through this crisis is going to be tough and that was just week 1.
I don’t know why I was so irritated with that article (I was most likely having a bad day). However, the underlying message of “you can do this” really got to me. We are trying to keep our children alive, I’m mentally and physically exhausted (every evening) and reaching for the thermometer every time I hear a cough. Whenever I let out a sign, my 5 year old asks me “are you ok mummy, is it the virus?” To top it all off the country’s leading divorce lawyer expects a rise in divorce rates as a result of COVID-19 lockdown. Right now, my maternal and survival instincts have kicked in and I’ve forgotten what I even do at work.
As Rishi Sunak says, these are most certainly unprecedented times, but this is just the start of things to come. Every few days I hear of someone else who has contracted the virus, someone else who is self-isolating. I see friends worry about their only child suffering with mental health issues, and others about their parents at the other end of the country. The fear of the unknown is scary as hell.
We have an opportunity here. We have an opportunity to connect with our children, to make sure our children call and connect with our own parents. We have an opportunity to be with our partners, to cook meals from scratch and to share recipes that span generations (and in some cases continents). We’re eating together everyday, the boys are helping me in the kitchen, cleaning the house, playing games, watching films together, dare I they’re even learning to tolerate, possibly like each other.
I’ve had three hour video calls with my best and oldest friends over a glass (or bottle) of wine.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to slow down, to talk, to be still. To wrap our children up in our arms and tell them it will all be ok. We have a chance to save humanity, the chance to save the planet and rewrite the trajectory of our own path. Maybe this is the time we press the ‘reset’ button on all of it. The huge chunk of the human race has decided we didn’t learn the lessons of fascism and others have dived into the depths of consumerism and greed. If ever you need a wake up call that we are all human, and all cut from the same cloth, then this is it. Right now. Most of us will get out of this alive and when we do, maybe we should ask ourselves, so what hell just happened there?
Oh, and can someone remind me how I login again and what I’m supposed to do at work?