Today starts my 4th week at home. In quarantine, or shall I say lock-down. My isolation started ahead as I fell ill early and took Baby S out of school ahead of schools closure. And so far, I have seen it glass half full. Between burden and blessing, I have chosen to see this quarantine as a blessing. No, I have not lost my mind (yet) and I the paintings on the wall have not yet started talking back at me.
I did not start the quarantine the right way, but as I look back, that has partially helped. As I started ill, my working from home experience has been tamed by a lack of physical and brain capacity to do work. Some days I did, some days I didn’t. And most days it was not because of the quarantine situation, it was just that I could not bring myself to do it. So I guess in a way, I phased in into this quarantine “working from home while everyone else is home” situation. Blessing in disguise. I guess if you get the virus early you get an early pass on work and you get the benefit of less future fear. That’s a way to look at the silver lining.
I am also lucky to have help at home that I did not have to give up on. I do not underestimate this at all and I am indeed grateful for it every day. As our magical fairy lives with us, we were all on the same boat. She started the quarantine when we did, but she is around to help with the house, the children, everything. That is a blessing I recognise not that many women had in the last few weeks, and that has been a life saver. It was well worth giving up on the guest bedroom last year.
Living the Dream
For a long time, I wondered what it would be like to be more at home. As any working mum that works too many long hours and has permanent feelings of guilt about it (for either work or the children), I have often toyed with the idea of working less hours, less days, or none at all. It is not a secret. It is only healthy to do so. Think about your options, think about what makes you happy, what you value and what you prioritize at different times of your life.
More often than not I know that work is part of my mental sanity. Even the commute that I so much complain about is part of giving me the me-time that keeps me mentally healthy. But I can’t help but face this time in our lives as an opportunity to actually live that dream, in a screwed up kind of way (admittedly). I am there for wake up and bed time, sometimes even for bath time. I am slowly building a schedule that allows me to sometimes take them out to the garden, bake a cake or do some crafts during the day. Even if only a few times a week.
An Opportunity to re-learn parenthood
I have spoken before on my weekly “confessions” on how I was trying to be a more peaceful parent. It is hard to do that at 7 o’clock after commuting back and forth to stressful Canary Wharf. No matter how many daily inspirations Dr. Laura Markham would try and teach me, I still had a long way to go on my learnings. Now, I can no longer use that as an excuse. I am home all day long. And even though that may be a bigger strain on my patience, it can also be a bigger opportunity to try harder. I allowed myself more leeway when I was ill and frustrated with life and the system. But now, in steady-state quarantine, I know keeping peace is a priority.
As it seems, I am the one home-schooling. I guess it started by virtue of me being ill and not exactly working full time, and it continued by virtue of me being the patient one vs. Hubby B. Him and Little Girl C spark a tiny bit too much when trying to do Maths together. Go figure. They do better at science experiments, so I outsource that.
Despite the enormous test on my patience that her inability to get something wrong brings, I have decided that I am the one that has to learn something different. It starts with me also not being frustrated about her failure, if not, how can she not react the same way as she sees us react? I try and make failure more fun and relaxed. I try and show it is important to try but that failure can just bring us further. We celebrate small bits, take pictures of her whiteboard, make fun of moments that she is about to crack, just in time to avoid a meltdown.
I am not perfect, sometimes I raise my voice, sometimes I cannot deal with how much she needs me the moment I walk away to go to the bathroom, how she cannot stick to a puzzle for 2 minutes if I am not there. But then she writes a story about herself, and one of her favourite things is to do puzzles with mummy, I rest my case. I chose to face home-schooling as an opportunity, rather than a chore. (speak to me in 2 weeks to see if I feel the same).
Overall, I have the confidence (not just the hope) that this quarantine can do wonders to mitigate Little Girl C’s anxiety. It is usually at its peak in the evenings, when I get home and have 45 minutes to share between her and Baby S and the scheduled dinner and bed time. As I get myself in her shoes, I know that it is not enough. Jealousy always takes the best of her.
As we have more time to play, to eat together, to just be together, I see some times she is relaxing about counting every second that I don’t spend with her. She is far from fixed, but I can see a marked improvement in their relationship (or maybe I now see a relationship that I was not around to notice). I also see less tantrums (despite us all being between these 4 walls for 4 weeks), I see less hot-headed moments. And this is despite the fact that I was ill and she does not get to see her friends, which I know is disturbing.
I am also trusting being her teacher is also normalizing her need to constantly please, which generates so much of her anxiety and fear. Fear of not being loved. That is why she hates failure so much. But when she fails, I am still there. And we still move on to the next exercise. It started rough, but we are getting there. At the same time, as I work next to her, I am trying to show her small frustrations that I may also have (in small dosages). Like the time I was trying to do a formula on excel and after googling for a good 30 minutes I found the solution and started a celebratory song. She found it so funny that she could not stop laughing. I took it as a chance to tell her that I did not let my failure bring me down and now I could celebrate. I am hoping I can give her more examples of how to deal with tough moments, which we will certainly have in the weeks to come.
An Opportunity to Be Present
The most important decision I have done for this quarantine is to be present. I have decided to be intentional about it. I am not letting this quarantine happen to me. I may not have had a chance to stop the virus from happening to me. But I do have a chance to affect how I deal with this, how our family moves on, how our children will remember these moments in their lives. Especially for the weekends. I actually enjoyed the last 2 weekends more than many previous weekends we had. Hubby B says I don’t prioritise myself. Maybe it’s true, I am choosing to prioritise our family above anything else. Which I do all the time, but it is less than visible for the kids.
We played without looking at the watch or running for swimming lessons, without being late for a late lunch or church. Don’t get me wrong, I like doing all that, and I will do it even more intensely as we go back to the world that we used to know. But the ability to start in the morning and know that we can chose our steps with no schedule other than meal time (which is pretty flexible) means we get to try more. More arts, more games, more reading, more time in the patio, more Legos, more puzzles, more us. More being. Even more TV because I am less stressed about making every minute at home about “quality time”. Sometimes quantity is also quality.
Quarantine: not all roses
Don’t come out of this thinking this is all roses and that I got this all nailed. Today I was fully back at work and I realised by 5pm I had not seen my son since 9 o’clock when I “took him to school” in his play area. And I had to do some threatening faces when my daughter jumped on the sofa trying to get my attention as I was on a conference call and trying to think through what I was listening. At some point I gave up and showed my manager on zoom the seed she had just planted following instructions of one of her lessons. Needless to say that she was not meant to plant anything, only to learn the concept of instructions and imperative verbs, but I was on a call and failed to stopped that happening… I am not doing everything right.
In fact, what I am trying to do is not to do everything right, but rather focus on a few essentials. Some of these may still be too overwhelming for some, or too little for others. They are what works for me. I am finding our family a routine that allows us to live as a community that lives, works and studies in the same space. And that space alternates between these realities within each day. Because that is our reality now. And it is up to us to make it better or worse. I know, I have it easier. I have help. I have been ill already – we are kind of done with Covid. We could even go out without much fear (though we don’t). But the difference I have is not any of that. Even in confinement we can chose freedom. And I chose freedom to do what can be done, and not more.
We are confined to protecting others by staying home. Whilst we would probably be ok to go out, we stand together with humanity and stay home. 3 weeks ago, before the UK shut down, I was filled with anguish about this fake freedom of going outside. Until I was able to choose not to go to work (which I was very early on) and to choose not to send my children to school (which I was not able to early enough), I felt stuck. I actually felt asphyxiated some days and we debated whether to move to Portugal for a few months and leave this fake sense of personal liberty behind. Luckily, the UK U-turned and everyone is to stay home now. In a weird kind of way, I feel safer. And free.
I feel this confinement is our blessing, our only hope not to lose too many loved ones. I pray that it works and that we will be rewarded with the blessing of life.Matthew T Rader