02.04.20

This is not the first time for me. I’ve been stuck at home and unable to go out for an extended period of time three times before. Each with pregnancy sickness that rendered me unable to get out of bed for weeks and weeks. About 20 weeks at a time, or thereabouts. I’m not sure which time was the hardest.

There are those who know, having been through it; hi to you. We’re in a strange, secret club. A brief conversation and we recognise one another. The horrific taste in the mouth, the trips to the toilet bowl every 20 minutes (minimum) and the isolation. And the teeth cleaning issue. Still not quite sure what that was about.

There was one big difference.

I’m not sure which pregnancy was the hardest. With the first, the sickness was the most violent. The second it went on the longest, and I had a toddler to look after. The third was a surprise, which took a while to get used to. Drugs helped with that one though.

The difference was that I knew when the sickness would end. If not before, it would end with giving birth. And that would make it all worthwhile as well as providing a goal to aim for. At the beginning of each pregnancy, it seemed like such a long time to wait. Lying at the ceiling, making patterns out of the knots of the wood in the mirror frame. But I had some idea when it would end. I remember thinking about how for people with chronic health issues there was no end to look forward to.

This time around, there’s a good reason for this isolation (as good as a baby? I’m undecided on that), but we don’t know how long it will go on for. I suspect when it comes to an end we might feel had we known the length beforehand we might have found it easier, having something to aim for and knowing when the end would come. On the other hand, this is good practice for life. We don’t know how long, and we have to keep going either way.

And I don’t have to stay in bed vomiting the whole time. That’s definitely a bonus.

30.03.20

There are times when it’s important to feel the feelings, and this was one of those kinds of days. My Nan was buried today. I wasn’t there. Those are not good feelings but still, it is good to feel them. I spent some time looking at some old photos and remembering again how I loved her and my Grandad.

A strange parenting experience is that you feel all the feelings whilst cooking poached eggs (I have them down to an art), sorting socks (yes, simultaneously that can be a problem, but you need all the skills..) and working on maths problems. Just don’t try to change a nappy at the same time. It’s not always easy to keep the feelings out of the children’s sight but I also sometimes feel it’s not helpful to try. They are sensitive and we are tuned into one another, so they notice pretty easily. Not explaining and not being open about how I’m feeling can be scary for them, scarier than sharing with them I’m feeling a bit sad but that’s ok, it’s not something they have to hide, and nor is it something I have to conceal from them. And if I do try to hide it, it usually shows itself when I am more snappy and short-tempered than usual; again I wonder if that is the more harmful expression of emotion.

This seems particularly relevant while we are all cooped up together. It’s an opportunity to be honest and to model healthy ways to manage feelings. We are all going to be feeling all the feelings over the next few months. Days like this are for hugs and quiet moments by the fire, talking and sharing and figuring out how you move forward together.

Time to snuggle up with my feelings and a hot water bottle for a while and remember some really special memories. Those moments have passed, but the moments to remember come round often enough.

27.03.20

This is so much easier for me than for so, so many people. Someone reminded me this week that this is not so unlike the time we lived in Kent. When Red and Myrtle were little we lived in a picturesque cottage in Kent with a big garden and not too many people around. By which I mean, no-one around apart from the landlord who cut the grass on a ride on mower and addressed me as “M’lady”. For good or ill, it was a title that suited me quite well.

There were two big differences though. Red and Myrtle were 0 and 3, or 1 and 4 at that time. Now they are 11 and 8. And Ben worked 10-12 hours in London. That made it much harder. We really were on our own. We also had the choice to go out; usually after a prolonged afternoon nap to wander the tranquil gardens of Hever Castle.

For a lot of people that sounds like every part of their worst nightmare, but for me whilst it was tiring and hard work, it was also peaceful and settled. It was a choice. It suited me pretty well, but we began to realise that our children might need a little more. That was one of the reasons we moved, and I’m glad we did.

Now what I realise is that that life suited me pretty well, but it didn’t give me the opportunity to help anyone else. It didn’t challenge me to recognise the needs of others or look beyond my own situation. I could focus on my own needs but not consider what might help someone else.

Now we are in isolation at home. Red had a temperature last night. Maybe it was coronavirus, and maybe it wasn’t. He’s been feeling poorly today but well enough to also be a bit bored. And now I can see that we are reliant on the help of others and there’s not much I can do to support those around me. 14 days at least, at home. Not so big a challenge for me, but now I can see what’s missing.

We’ve done a week of home school now. We’ve completed or attempted to complete the tasks set by school. One literacy, one numeracy. Something creative in the afternoon.

Generally speaking, Red completes them quickly and easily and once he’s done I decide Myrtle is done too. Often she has completed what she’s been asked to do, but sometimes the effort she has made I consider to be enough. The tasks are not always equal and their different approaches mean in the same amount of time she has done what is needed. This time is not about pushing and struggling. It’s about acknowledging effort and making the most of the other opportunities that this time presents. If you’re feeling I’m doing better at this than you, there are a couple of things you should consider. I don’t find the isolation as challenging as anyone else I know. And we’re spending about 40 minutes a day on structured school activities. The rest of the time we are playing outside, drawing, imagining, bouncing, painting. Not doing anything; staring into the middle distance and contemplating the view.

Sometimes it’s all about context.

I hope in 14 days we will be in a position to support and help others. In the meantime, we are very grateful for the bags of shopping and the treats tucked inside them.

 

25.03.20

So many things to be grateful for, and so many good things to notice. I’ve always quite fancied trying homeschooling but have felt that I just might not do a good enough job. This gives me the chance to try, without the pressure.

And so far, it’s going well.

It’s exhausting. Fortunately, Birch usually naps and now that we dumped the dummy (a week ago, was that good timing or not?) he especially likes me to snug up with him which provides a good excuse for an afternoon nap.

Our afternoons are mainly taken up with creative activities. Today the kids created fantasy worlds to begin planning a fun story whilst Birch and I napped. Mmmm, this is my favourite kind of parenting. Of course, this was only after creating playdough animals (the cow went well, the sheep less so) whilst explaining mathematical concepts to Myrtle (we both prefer English), retrieving from the annuls of time how to work with negative numbers with Red, and then working through converting nouns and adjectives to verbs using -ate, -ise, and -ive, as endings, I feel like perhaps I’d earned it.

The highlights today were realising we could have a mid-morning snack of fruit salad that Myrtle would love to prepare and we would all enjoy eating and managing to walk the long way with all three children to post letters they had written to their friends. In the most glorious, warm sunshine. The first, early spring sunshine might just be the sunshine I appreciate more than anything all year. We could stroll slowly and spot bumble bees, Birch’s most recent fascination. A good day.

I’m still remembering the first flat Ben and I lived in when we were first married. We had two rooms (one of which was the bedroom) and a bathroom we could just about stand shoulder to shoulder in. It was totally fine for a first flat and it was in a nice village in Kent. Upstairs there was a family with a little girl. I’m imagining what it must be like for families like that, maybe in those high rises that you drive past on the M6. If I were living with a family in one of those flats, I think I might feel I needed to get out more than once a day. I hope people in that situation can find a nice place to be, outside. That takes some organisation with small children. I’m feeling tired, but I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

I have to say, I’ve been wondering if maybe we are too ready to complain. There have been many people throughout history who have lived in more difficult times than these. I think it’s important that we keep reminding ourselves of that. We’ve never experienced anything like this, but people in other times have. And much, much worse.

In the meantime, I am feeling tired. It’s 20.38pm. I’m ready for bed. G’night x

23.03.20

Writing this might turn out to be a mistake. Still, this is without value if it is without honesty.

The thing I am finding most challenging so far is all the negative invective directed towards those who make a different judgment about how to handle all this. That’s not to say I agree with them. I think we should follow government advice. I think we should buy only enough food for the week ahead. I think we should stay at home.

I also think we should use language that embodies the principles we try to uphold; to be compassionate and thoughtful and understanding. Society is fragmented enough. Humans can be divided along every line you can think of. And on the other side of the line, they are always the “other”. It might or might not be true. The people meeting up might be “very selfish”. “idiots”, whatever other unpleasant word you wish to apply. They also might be misinformed, lonely, desperate, trapped, struggling. Those things may mean that they are not making the best choices. They can still be wrong. And harsher words, at least to some might be applicable; that doesn’t mean we have to use those words. We have a choice. How quick we are to use those words, how quick to condemn.

I appreciate people are really frightened and they are really concerned that people should start following the advice we are being given. I realise the government are trying to shame and scare people into doing as they are told. I can see that people are trying to support that aim. I just don’t see the need to be so strong and judgmental in the language we use. It polarizes people, suddenly they have a position to defend when yesterday, they just thought they’d go for a walk. All the meanness is getting me down.

Shouting at children doesn’t make them do as they are told.

Maybe I’m naive and trying to keep my rose-tinted view of the world in place. I don’t want t make excuses for people. I just want to choose kindness. It’s very fashionable until there’s a group of people who the world decides don’t deserve kindness.

The first day of home school has been warm and sunny. In between tasks we’ve been playing in the garden, enjoying the breeze and the newly opened tulips. For today at least, the children have realised that the only friends they have are each other and it might be more fun to get on with each other. Some of the time. It was tricky getting going and the 2-year-old was not a help and he was a hindrance, but then he found he could collect stones from the garden and arrange them in important and time-consuming ways. I’m realising that the fact that the older 2 have already learning to read and write makes this a lot easier. They are used to getting on with tasks independently and generally, their teachers’ explanations are sufficient for them to be clear about what they need to do. Leaving me free to do jigsaws with the 2-year-old.

It’s been a good day.

21.03.20

The supermarket is one of the strangest places to be at the moment. A place where it’s harder to maintain the sense that life is going on as usual. The most peculiar thing was that at first sight only the rather fraught shoppers signal that anything is wrong. Buckets of flowers, baskets full of fresh fruit and vegetables. Nutritionally this will be fine if it continues as it is now. We may have to install a bidet but personally, I feel this if I can buy avocados but not toilet paper I can’t view this as very straitened.

The woman with purple-red hair scraped back into a high ponytail couldn’t keep her hysteria in check when she came to the aisle where the tampons should have been. Perhaps she isn’t aware of the women for whom that is the norm across the UK and the world. Maybe it’s a good thing she hasn’t read about menstrual rags. The victims of Jack the Ripper had their possessions itemized and recorded. They were typically carrying menstrual rags. Use, rinse, repeat.

For today at least, I’ve devised a list of jobs to get the children to clean the house. So far today they have vacuumed the kitchen, the lounge and the hall (twice, the first time wasn’t good enough), cleaned the sinks and the bath, emptied the dishwasher and written cards to 2 friends. Even if (when) the novelty wears off, at least we’re starting this time with a clean house.

So here we are, late afternoon with a roast dinner roasting, sitting together at the dining table, writing. If this never happens again at least for a few minutes today my parental ambitions have been fulfilled.

And if we really can’t get by without loo rolls the Fair Price Supermarket is selling a pack of 24 for £30.

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I don’t suppose we will be able to have a funeral for my Nan. A quiet burial with just her children, not her grandchildren. Perhaps a get-together in the future when we’re allowed to get together. It feels strange; to defer grief is not really possible but not to have the opportunity to come together as a family to share, not just the sorrow but also the joys and memories leaves a gap. I have shed most of my tears, perhaps. It would be good to talk together about the good things. There were so many good things.

20.03.20

That’s an only slightly unsymmetrical date for a day that had a strange, somewhat unwelcome symmetry.

Myrtle came home from her residential, but rather than rushing to greet her family she was ushered into the hall to be told by tearful teachers that this was probably her last day in Year 3.

Red’s last day in Primary School.

And then, at last, my Nan died. She was the kind of person who had such an enormity of character that it wasn’t a great surprise that it took 5 full days of unconsciousness before her body gave up. She didn’t die of coronavirus. She was just really, really old. We’ve thought she might die for quite a few years. Today, finally she did.

I’m still quite looking forward to months of family time, as though our little house is on the prairie. Already we’ve had conversations about “being nice to each other”. Clearly I am naive and deluded.

Whilst Nan’s death was expected, peaceful, a merciful release, still I feel really sad. Sad for myself – in her arms, I am a small child, inhaling her sweet, lavender smell and her overwhelming love. Sad for my Mum, knowing something of what she has lost. Seeing that more clearly in Myrtle’s love for me and her ever-present fear, that she will one day go through such a loss.

This is what those people are afraid of, this, before the time. The odd thing is that this lurks in more ways than Coronavirus. That’s still the more unlikely way to go.

The tears of the teachers, the male senior management, they were a surprise. Not quite so funny after all, all this. How much they care. For my children. My precious, beautiful, infuriating children. I didn’t realise they cared so very much. That they are losing something they feel so much for. What a privilege to have my children taught by people who care so much about them.

Red seems a bit confused. The last day of primary school, rather sooner than he was expecting. My memories of my last day of primary school were mostly feelings of excitement, growing up, a new adventure. It’s a long wait for him, for an adventure which will start..sometime. Probably. No wonder he feels confused.

I would imagine we won’t be able to have the funeral I had been imagining. Now I don’t even know if I can be with my Mum to try to provide some comfort.

I am beginning to understand what isolation means. The removal of the opportunity to be together and to feel the same thing, together. That is what we are missing. What we have is the sense that there are others, somewhere else, feeling the same things we are feeling, but instead of the comfort of sharing those feelings they are magnified by being apart from one another.

19.03.20

4 days before lockdown. Or is it 2? It’s hard to be sure. Either way, I’m finding it hard to suppress my excitement. Staying home with a 2-year-old does somewhat magnify the mundane.

Trying to home educate Red (11) and Myrtle (8) might be rather less mundane. We’ll sit around the family dining table being creative. Even the 2-year-old. I’ll suddenly be the mother-of-all that I’ve always imagined I’d be. We’ll emerge into a ravaged landscape as lights in a dark world, blinking in the sun and basking in our own productivity.

A lovely moment this, when the vision has been not yet been sullied. We’re even all healthy. Apart from Ben’s persistent cough. Maybe this did not all start in China after all. Perhaps it started in a Staffordshire village in a family not overly concerned about hygiene and a mother who really, really doesn’t like being told what to do. That’s what happens when you have an absurdly capable older sister who is supremely good at bossing and, unfortunately, turns out to be (usually) right.

We’ll just have to keep the fact that maybe coronavirus originated with us quiet, whilst we demonstrate to the world how lockdown is done.

As an introvert married to an extrovert I’m thrilled that I’m not the reason we’re not meeting up with all our friends. Coronavirus is my saviour. Weeks at home with my family and no need to say yes to any invitations. We’d love to, but you know, for the greater good….

Just try to avoid thinking about the people worrying about making ends meet. Worrying about dying.

Not to worry, I have a plan. Mainly that the children can do my household jobs in order to earn very small amounts of screentime. It’s so hard to get the cleaning done, and they do so love screentime. And isn’t that what home education is all about? Sure, you need maths, but you need to know how to do the washing too.

There’s so little opportunity for creativity within the National Curriculum, isn’t there? And boredom is the progenitor of creativity, so we’re good to go. Congratulations kids, this is going to be fun.

And in the meantime, we will sit by the fire playing scrabble and drinking wine. Perhaps I’ve already died of something like flu and gone to heaven. Hang on, I don’t believe in that so this must be how the future looks. For some people, it might be a hideous nightmare. For me, it’s all I ever dreamed of. And in my online scrabble games I have had 2 seventy-pointers in 2 days. They have no chance.

Probably worth pouring another glass of wine. Tomorrow’s Friday, after all.

Welcome home

We moved in to Rose Cottage on the 1st July. We’ve been here nearly half a year. We didn’t build it ourselves, that dream is on the shelf for now. In fact it’s a while since this house was built and it has a tangled history of being two homes, then one and finally (for now), our home. Ben is building a studio /office in the garden. We’ve just sourced the straw bales. It’s enough of a project.

So why not Ivy House Cottage? We were close. But we couldn’t get a resolution on the overage clause that said that we might have to pay ten of thousands of pounds on receipt of planning permission. There was no way we were going to go to court to fight that battle. In the end it wasn’t worth it. We began to wonder if it wasn’t worth it in other ways too. It’s a pretty big deal, building a house. Red turned 11 this autumn. We don’t have time to spare, as far as our kids are concerned.

And we saw Rose Cottage and the estate agents told the vendors to go with our offer because we were renting and ready to go. And suddenly here we are. With a green woodpecker in the garden and a neighbour who feeds the foxes. We intend to feed the hedgehogs.

We are very thankful for what we have. It is more than we ever thought of. What we have learned is that a house is a place for people. We have had opportunity to fill this house with people and it something from which we all benefit. When a house is full of people, then it is a home; then it becomes alive. That’s the best kind of building.

For Christmas we were 19, including some of the most inspirational people I have ever met. They are also refugees. It is a privilege and a pleasure to have our home made full and complete by so many. We hope this is only the beginning.

This has been an exciting year for us. In between our old house and our new one I’ve started to get paid for writing, and I’ve started writing stories for which I doubt I will ever get paid. It’s good, I’m enjoying it.

Maybe one day, when we are grey and our children our grown we will build a tiny woodman’s hut. Or perhaps we will live in a campervan. We may not get that far; one of us might have to go on alone, or not.

There’s no need to look too far ahead. There’s plenty to be getting on with now.

Metamorphosis

The last week or so has been like travelling through a dream. I am walking past the various homes we have imagined in the last year, long grass snagging my feet to which I pay little attention. I look backwards through a field. Clouds are grey, wind is pushing at my left temple, hair blows across my face. I turn my head into the wind once more but the wind has turned into a soft, warm breeze. The scene has changed. The field is gone. Instead there is a cottage. Roses climb over the front door, sunlight falls in shafts through the trees across the garden.

We waited and waited on the land. It looks like we have exhausted all the possibilities. It has all come down to the overage. This is a covenant with several beneficiaries, many of whom are charitable organisations. It states in very ambiguous language that if more than one dwelling, or perhaps if one dwelling with a larger footprint than the current house is built, then we would have 60 days to pay 30% of the increase in the value of the land. We could possibly get a figure on what that would be; almost certainly within the tens of thousands. But no one except the beneficiaries can tell us if our plans would trigger it. The ones we’ve never actually heard from at all, despite having asked several things of them. We tried surveyors; we tried solicitors. These types of case are really unpredictable if they go to court. And there’s no way we want to go to court. So we kept on waiting. Maybe they would respond.

And then we saw Rose Cottage. It’s not far from the land; a more sheltered spot with weeping willow and birch in the garden and roses around the door (not so much in February actually, but a front garden full of snowdrops). It has the kitchen/dining/living space we hoped for. And some really horrible carpets. Surely this can’t be ours? Seems like maybe it can.

On one hand, I don’t want to let the dream of the land and a self-build go. On the other, I know things change. Maybe when the kids are grown we’ll build a little hut in a field. Or maybe we will keep living this dream; it’s a good one. It’s not something we need to know. We have found contentment living in a little rented house. Now we need to take that with us into the next steps of this adventure.