My Coronacoaster: The ups and downs of parenting and working from home

We are in the middle of week 10 of lockdown at the time of writing this and it’s also officially half term which means a break from nagging my eldest about completing his home-schooling tasks. Actual sigh of relief and happy dance at this prospect! Thank goodness! To be fair to him though, he really has engrossed himself into the whole home-schooling thing. Most of the time. It has meant we have been able to have some lovely moments of calm and really enjoy the sunshine in true British style – paddling pool out daily, picnics in the garden for lunch, BBQs for dinner and a fully stocked beer fridge. It’s definitely taken us a while to find our groove though and although I’ve actually appreciated the time we have had at home there have been moments of longing to be back in the classroom, feeling desperate for a girly dinner and yearning for a cheeky McDonald’s drive-thru on the way home. Just all of the things that are normal – things we perhaps took for granted a little before we were hit by this global pandemic.

Being a teacher I was feeling quite confident about the home-schooling aspect that this new way of living would bring to us. I have an 8 year old who is in year 4 and a 22 month old who goes to nursery on the 3 days that I work as a secondary school English teacher. I’d seen on Twitter that many people were sharing their daily timetables of how they were going to manage the home-schooling of their children. Great, I thought, this would be the perfect way to get prepared. I love to feel like I’m on top of things and I think many of my friends would describe me as being organised. So, I sat down over the weekend ahead of day one of home-schooling trying to come up with the best possible way to fit everything in. This is where I encountered my first challenge. I had an internal list of everything I knew I needed to make time for: breakfast, school work, exercise, Isaac’s nap, responding to emails, planning for the kids I teach, sorting lunch, Zoom meetings with colleagues, more school work, break times and dinner time… The list seemed endless and I hadn’t even begun to account for the amount of work my husband, Tom, was going to have to be doing from home too. I already felt overwhelmed with trying to fit all of these things into a timetable because I knew it would be impossible to stick to and so I would end up feeling like a failure from the get go.

Back to the drawing board I went and it wasn’t long before Tom came to the rescue and suggested just having a list of principles that we could have as a basis to follow each day with a minimum suggestion of work to get through. These are what they consisted of:

  1. No screen time in the mornings before lunch.
  2. Three lots of school work (30 minutes at a time).
  3. Read every day.
  4. Times Table Rock Stars every day.
  5. Go outside in the garden every day (weather permitting).
  6. Exercise of some sort.
  7. Choose an activity (before bed) to do the next day.

I was back to feeling confident again, now that we had this basic plan that didn’t tie us down to any timings, we were ready and raring to go with day one of home-schooling. The first day I would count as a success. All of the principles were met, there were no major tantrums (from either of the boys), everyone was fed at regular intervals and all went to bed happy. I would say that for the first week or so everything was going well, a few minor hiccups maybe but we had quickly got used to this new way of living… or so I had thought.

On reflection, I think it was somewhere in the middle of week two when the novelty had started to wear off. I was feeling so behind on my own school work and so the boys were having an endless supply of snacks, in their pyjamas all day and having way too much screen time (that was principle number 1 straight out of the window!) Tom was having to have endless virtual meetings and so I felt as though I had no choice but to leave the boys to their own devices, quite literally, while I played a bit of catch up on the demands of being a teacher.

Cue the breakdown a few days before the end of term. I was feeling huge waves of guilt about almost anything and everything – forgetting to take the chicken out to defrost and having to put together a rubbish dinner last minute, Omari being behind on his school tasks, both boys eating more snacks than they needed to, not being able to respond straight away to my students at school, feeling like Isaac was bored of us at home and wanting to be back at nursery, snapping at Tom for having to be on another Zoom call and not helping even though he was helping and doing more than his bit when he wasn’t working… the list goes on. You name it and I felt guilty about it.

So I escaped upstairs and had a cry. A proper cry. I was sobbing and in that moment it was the end of the world. I was wearing the same pyjama top I had had on for the past two days and crying into it so much that it was now soggy. I was so sad and felt the most guilty about letting the boys down. I couldn’t give Omari the consistent attention and support he needed with his work because it was always at the exact moment that I needed to see to Isaac. I hadn’t ever noticed any real challenges surrounding their age gap until this moment. Tom could sense that something was wrong and reassured me that I was doing a great job and that he appreciated me ‘holding the fort’ while he was working. Then I felt even guiltier for snapping at him when he was being so understanding and supportive. It was good to have the cry and I was already starting to feel better for it. Thank goodness we were now closer to the Easter break where we could ease off the home-schooling and our working weeks were going to be considerably lighter.

The Easter holidays went by quite smoothly. We paused and slowed down again, enjoying badminton tournaments in the garden, family film nights (we introduced Omari to Harry Potter and watched all of the films so now we’re excited to be able to take him to Harry Potter World once it’s safe to do so), baked cakes, learnt Tik Tok dances, had game nights, quizzes over Zoom with our friends and family, collected chocolate hidden around the house in the obligatory annual Easter egg hunt and went on walks to discover more of our village. I was able to get on top of some of my own school work and was already feeling positive about the start of the next half term. When it came back around I felt ready and raring to go again.

The boys before they embarked on their Easter egg hunt!

Although ready and raring to go it was only a matter of days before I found myself snapping at the three of them again. Omari had started to develop a bit of a “can’t do it” attitude and Isaac had decided that sleeping through the night just wasn’t working for him anymore. More challenges and hurdles to work our way through during this new normal. Omari had been doing brilliantly with his school work – he still was doing brilliantly but just didn’t believe it himself. Luckily, (and unfortunately) this is something I am used to in my line of work and so with some gentle encouragement he reluctantly continued to plan his story about going on a journey to Brazil which, by the way, was the best story of any 8 year old that I had ever read! While he planned I tried to convince a more reluctant and now crying Isaac to help me collect all of the pasta that he had managed to take out of the cupboard and spill absolutely everywhere. Tom and I were both exhausted but I was determined not to let it get on top of me this time. I just took a deep breath, we packed away the school books early, turned off our phones and iPads and found a really insightful documentary on BBC2 called ‘Wonders of the Monsoon’ that we snuggled on the sofa to watch together. I had decided that because it was educational it was purposeful screen time and even Isaac sat and watched in awe as hundreds of little red crabs journeyed across the rainforest.

There have been so many beautiful moments during this lockdown and I think the most heart-warming have been to watch the bond develop between my two boys. I had always been so worried because of the large age gap that they wouldn’t bond or get on or something but oh how wrong I have been. They already were the best of friends but it is nice them having this time together to grow even closer. Isaac just watches in amazement at everything his big brother does and clearly adores the time that they play together. He’s also the most loyal toddler I have ever met and whenever he manages to negotiate himself another breadstick, he won’t leave until we have given him one to take to his brother.

My beautiful boys sharing a biscuit in the garden!

Now we seem to be nearing the end of these strict measures (although I do feel it’s all too soon and the anxiety for me that surrounds having another spike is at an all-time high but hey, that’s a discussion for another time!) we have definitely found our groove. This time in lockdown, amongst all of the uncertainty, has allowed me to reflect and take stock of this current chapter and appreciate what is ultimately important. We are fortunate to have two healthy and happy boys who more than keep us on our toes. So if there are days where we stay in our pyjamas all day, do no home-schooling and eat all of the snacks then so be it. It means that I will have to work into the evening when the boys are asleep but that is an easy compromise. As long as they are happy and at the end of all of this, enjoyed the time we spent together then that’s all that matters to me.

A moment of calm while Omari read a story to Isaac.

I hope that you are all adapting to this crazy coronacoaster that we have found ourselves on. If you have had some bad days and struggled to find your groove then remember that all is not lost. Perhaps you just need to hear this: you are enough, tomorrow is another day and you are doing an amazing job at holding down your fort, whatever that may look like.

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