Zoom call number three, day two of lockdown 3.0. in the U.K. My daughter unmuted my laptop faster than the word ‘no’ could be manifested, and declared, “What you are saying is boring” to all of my colleagues (it landed surprisingly better than the PowerPoint I was presenting). After all, it’s impressive that a five-year-old can evoke that level of savagery to a virtual boardroom before 9:30 a.m. while wearing pink, unicorn-printed pajamas. We all learned a lot that morning.
Covid-19 has cataclysmically changed the working world. Our home and business lives have collided and the smokescreen that existed between the two is outmoded. Managing these two worlds is a delicate balancing act, but we’ve done it. You know what Lee from HR’s wallpaper looks like. You’ve clawed through 10 months without a single event to warrant your shoe collection. (A special nod here to Netflix’s Tiger King and Bridgerton for being the new form of therapy.) Millions of us are at home, while heroes work on the frontline at hospitals, care homes and supermarkets. But it’s really our children and their formative years that have been interrupted in unfathomable ways.
The University of Oxford found that after a month spent in lockdown, parents and carers of children aged four to 10 noted an increase in negative emotional behaviors such as restlessness, worry, and clinginess. This doesn’t take much for a discerning adult to explain; schools have been closed and replaced by sheets of homework and little ones tailing parents who clutch MacBooks like a life jacket. Playgrounds are surrounded by red tape because the swings and slides are potential super-spreader spots, cue: confused tears. The kitchen table was once for meal times, messy play, and board games—now mum’s/dad’s laptop illuminates it daily. The kids must think: “What has happened to our home?”
As a solo parent, I have perpetual jet lag from spinning an extra 10 plates on top of the permanent fixture of the 20 already above my head. The pressure doesn’t let up and there’s a chilly loneliness in knowing that if I don’t do it, then it won’t be done. That’s a reality that prevails day in, day out, but someway, somehow you step up and generate a warrior-like resolve — an invincible tenacity to find more energy and make time elastic. Yes, I’ve cried while mopping the floor at 9pm because this is hard.
Although, I’ve found lockdown has delivered something beautiful: unexpected bonus time with my children who are growing up fast. Through the tiredness and the anxiety, there have been moments where my two young ones and I have danced in the kitchen to blot out the noise of tragic news. We’ve painted the stones outside our little flat to manifest hope in many colors and when the rain washed it away, we repainted each stone brighter still. We tried baking and when that failed, it was funny. Night after night, we read to each other under the covers with torches. My children have taught me mathematics — apparently, I need to do more homework.
“That’s the real kind of homeschooling — I just didn’t think I’d be the pupil”
I was reminded of how to play with Barbies for hours, make kites, build dens, dribble a football, mix mud pies, do finger paintings and conjure up the deepest of bubble baths. My children have taught me how to slow down properly, for all of the right reasons. That’s the real kind of homeschooling — I just didn’t think I’d be the pupil.
British psychotherapist Philippa Perry delivered a sparkling piece of advice for new educators via Twitter: “Get them to teach you something, anything. You then will model how to learn and listen, also teaching something to someone else helps them to learn it. This is great for all ages.”
Noted: close your laptop, pick up their pencil and go back to school. That’s great, but you can’t clone yourself or pause time to enable a simultaneous split where one of you draws an alphabet chart with the first child, the other does maths with the second and you present a report to the boss. And all of this while whipping up a Nigella-like lunch before completing a 1980s Jane Fonda workout?
According to UNICEF, “188 countries imposed school closures during the pandemic, affecting more than 1.6 billion children and youth.” A sobering figure compounded by the reality that 463 million school children don’t have access to online learning — so be grateful if you can’t hear your Zoom call over the murmurs of your son’s Microsoft Teams literacy lesson. We are the privileged ones.
Another statistic that rings loudly in the ears of those able to work from home: “The pandemic could push 142 million more children into monetary-poor households in developing countries by the end of the year.” Not working isn’t an option for many, especially for single-parent households such as mine. I’ve had days where I’ve managed to walk the tightrope like a grandmaster and others where I’ve felt shattered into a thousand fractures. However you’ve navigated pandemic life — crayons mushed into the carpet or not — if you’ve prioritized those needing your cuddles and care, feel triumphant. It will bond you and your carpet probably looks better for having Pollock-esque patches anyway.
“Do my colleagues notice the little painterly fingerprints on my collar? Probably, but I’ll wear it like a badge of honor”
If I’ve unwittingly stood up on a video call to reveal jogging bottoms juxtaposing my shirted top-half: whoops! Worrying about that would be a luxury that busy days simply cannot afford. Perhaps this is a further unique bonding experience where colleagues can see my human side (and witness my high-low styling hacks) and I see theirs — and maybe that’s not such a bad thing?
It’s fascinating to listen to my children’s perspective on where I work and what I do. The joy is hearing them say, “Mum, you like what you do, don’t you?” and knowing I’m doing it for us. My children now know who “Mo from work” is and that he also secretly rates Peppa Pig. The mystery of what Mum did while they were at school has been irreversibly lifted, and vice versa for colleagues, witnessing my home life like some disjointed reality TV show.
I started week one in the first lockdown foolishly apologizing if my kids were loud in the background of meetings. I feared as to how I would do my bread-winning job, balance my domestic responsibilities and perform my most important role of being Mum. The “sorry for the noise” line on calls didn’t sit right with me, so I replaced it with a “thank you” to my kids for being patient and my colleagues for understanding that my kids matter more. If children want to say hello to a virtual boardroom, then let them — it’s real life. It might just be their confidence-building moment to say to a fierce world dominated by Covid-19, “I’m here too, and I’m important.”
In which case, Maya… I’ll have to get back to you later with that spreadsheet update.
With best regards, Mum.