Seeing the world with new eyes can turn the worst of times into the best of times, says teacher and tired-out mum Marie McCoy.
My three-year-old struggled to get to sleep last night. It’s the second time this has happened in the last few days and I wonder if she is under-stimulated due to missing out on pre-school, not getting enough exercise to tire her out, or if her little mind is worrying about all the strange things that are happening at the moment.
Whatever the issue, I eventually allowed her to stay up late with me to watch a film – a rare treat in our house where screen time is strictly rationed. While it spoiled my own plans for the evening – watching re-runs of ER and being in bed for 9.30pm – there was something special about cuddling together under a blanket in the dark as we watched Alvin and the Chipmunks.
It’s definitely not something I would want to do every night, but these are unprecedented times and we might on occasions have to move away from our own ‘normal’ in order to offer others the comfort they need to make the best of the situation.
‘Finding a new normal’ is a phrase we are hearing frequently at the moment from politicians, scientists, and medical professionals. Even once the lockdown is eased, social distancing measures will have to stay in place for the foreseeable future as the race to find a vaccine for COVID-19 continues.
As usual in a society intent on pushing us to be as perfect as possible, it comes as no surprise that the internet seems to be awash with suggestions as to what this ‘new normal’ might look like. There is a plethora of online articles advising us to use this time wisely: Learn a new language! Declutter your home! Bake! (Surely, you’ve already baked the obligatory lockdown banana bread?)
While it might help some people to be offered so many ideas as to how to fill their time, others might find this simply adds to the pressure of what is already a very stressful experience.
Those of us who are parents are also embroiled in a battle to work out how we can best continue with our children’s education without adding to their anxiety about the changes happening in their lives.
My husband and I are currently being allowed to work from home but with no childcare or extended family to rely on, the reality of this is that we have to split the day in two so that one of us can work while the other entertains our two children (aged three and one).
Despite both being teachers, neither he nor I teach early years, and although I know that everyone is in the same boat, I can’t help feeling anxious that my naturally shy older daughter is missing out on a full term at nursery. I feel under pressure to try to engage in the kind of learning activities she would have taken part in had she been there. Even though I know she is learning through play, it is the social aspect of nursery that she is missing most of all.
Yet, despite all this, I have not found lockdown the distressing and frightening experience it might have been. Several older friends and relatives have remarked to us how it must be a very challenging time to have young children, but even as I’ve politely hummed and hawed in (half hearted) agreement, I have secretly felt that having young children is the one thing that has made this experience easier.
I have experienced two periods of maternity leave and recently moved to part-time working, so I have some experience of making the most of life outside the work environment.
The time I have spent at home with my girls has been, at times, sleep deprived, chaotic, and fraught but with all this effortlessly beautiful.
We are extremely fortunate that the role we are being asked to play in defeating this disease is to spend this extended period at home as a family. I feel very strongly that it is our duty to appreciate all the little blessings which have come about as a result.
For me, there has been something very special about having such a long period of ‘quiet’ time. There are no play groups or play dates to get ready for. There is no nursery run or swimming lesson to be on time for. With one big weekly shop and the milkman providing all our groceries, there is not even the pressure of having to nip to the shops.
Over the past few weeks, we have read hundreds of books, painted pictures, baked cakes, prayed together, and played the same games over and over again. We have planted and watered seeds and watched them begin to grow. We have spotted slugs, snails, beetles, and butterflies, all of which have brought us a level of excitement and delight that I could never previously have imagined. We have seen bullfinches and blue tits flutter and land in our garden and called grandparents to pass on this good news.
We have even watched as the cherry blossom tree in our front garden, so barren and ugly in the wintertime, has begun to sprout tiny green buds which have, little by little, bloomed into scores of candy pink flowers.
Our world has got smaller, the pace of life has got slower, and my children have reminded me of all the things I had stopped noticing long ago. I hope I never forget again.
Yet this is a scary and uncertain time. We have all had our fair share of tears and tantrums and deeply miss friends and family, especially those who live close by and whom we are used to seeing on a regular basis. As teachers, my husband and I know only too well that there will be thousands of families who are struggling to feed their children and many young people for whom home is not a safe place. We are forever grateful for the immense sacrifices being made every day by key workers and we feel deep sorrow over the many lives which have already gone and are continuing to be lost.
Yet, one of the ways we can best pay tribute to all those who are suffering as a result of the corona virus is to live our lives as we have been asked to do – quietly and on our own for now, making the best, day by day, of what we have.
The words of Elsa in Frozen 2 have rung loudly in my ear over these past few weeks – and not just because we have watched the film too many times: “These days are precious; don’t let them slip away.”
Yes, these days may not be the ones we had planned, but they are precious, nonetheless. I hope that considerations like these will help my daughter – and all of us – sleep a little better tonight.
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