I had an idea last week to write a list of things I wanted to keep in mind while we all stay at home to help reduce the spread of Coronavirus. I’m so glad I waited until we’d actually experienced a full five days at home trying to live and work and look after our toddler before I wrote it. Optimism is essential right now but so is a strong dose of reality, which I think we all got this week.
This is not an attempt at advice. There is no pandemic experience on my CV. This is just a list of stuff I want to keep in mind to help maintain my perspective (and sanity) in the weeks and months to come.
It’s also an excuse to communicate with the outside world. Hello out there, I do hope you’re OK and staying safe. If nothing else, this should at least help you pass a few minutes.
1.You don’t suddenly have to become a different kind of parent
When this all kicked off, the internet became flooded with tips for things to do at home with children, which is great.
But as always, if we’re not careful, we can suffer from the flipside of social media: comparison syndrome. As I’ve discussed before, since becoming a mum I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time feeling inadequate because I don’t have the exact same skills and ideas as every other mother on the planet.
But I want to remember that I don’t suddenly have to become a nursery nurse, children’s entertainer and Blue Peter presenter all rolled into one just because we’re suddenly spending so much time at home. Yes I will try some new things and find nice ways to entertain our daughter. And we’re adapting our routine to make the best of the current constraints. But that will do. Normal life was working well for us, so the closer I can keep our days to feeling like they usually do, the calmer we’ll all feel.
2. Television is not the enemy
People talk so much about children and TV so I won’t harp on – all I want to say is this: my toddler, just like me and her dad, needs to wind down sometimes. She gets tired, she needs a bit of space, and she likes to catch up with the characters she loves. So at certain times of the day, we let her watch some telly.
This period we’re facing is bizarre, unsettling and weirdly knackering, so I’m sure she will end up watching a bit more than usual, should it make sense for us and her in the moment. An excess is bad for everyone, but the odd dose of comfort won’t do anybody any harm.
3. What I wear has a huge impact on how I feel
I gave birth to our daughter in November 2017 and we were then indoors most of the time for months. That period taught me (along with a million other things) how strong an impact my appearance has on my mental wellbeing. To feel like the day is worth doing, I need to look in the mirror and see somebody who would be happy to open the door to a human being who doesn’t love them unconditionally.
I don’t mean I need to put on a chuffing dress and heels to feel like a person, I just need actual clothes. My pyjamas are the best things in the world at bedtime, but if I’m still wearing them too late in the morning, and I’m not doing so because I’m resting, I start to feel sad. So getting up and dressed like I’ve got somewhere to go is a must for me.
4. We won’t all feel the same way at the same time
At separate points this week, all three of us had a moment when our current living situation proved too much. Leon got stressed out. I had to leave the room as the mess, noise and unwillingness by some residents to just EAT THEIR DINNER was doing my nut. And then – because why should she be left out – our toddler declared, if only through her body language and disproportionate irritation with her snack bowl, that she too was finding this situation to be bullsh*t.
It sounds ridiculous, but I hadn’t realised that we wouldn’t all necessarily be in the same place emotionally at the same time, and that that would be a challenge to manage in itself. Sometimes our daughter just needs us to hold her. Sometimes Leon needs to go out for a run by himself. And sometimes I need to eat an entire easter egg in front of The Mindy Project undisturbed. If we can all just do our best to give each other what we need during this time, it’ll make getting through it easier.
5. Any amount of time outdoors is worth having
We can’t go far and we can’t go within two metres of other people, but we can still go outside. Even just ten minutes outdoors can make all the difference. It’s easy to feel like it’s not worth the effort, that if you’re not going out somewhere proper then you might as well not go out at all, but even just a small dose of fresh air can make everything look brighter.
We’ve started going for a run about in our local park in the morning to let off steam and it’s become the highlight of our day. I hope that when this is all over we carry on treasuring every opportunity we have to play together outdoors.
6. Gratitude does everybody good
It’s good for people to know we’re grateful for the difference they make to us, and it lifts our spirits too to step back and acknowledge the things we appreciate. I said at the start of the year how grounding and therapeutic I find jotting down a list of things I’m grateful for each week, however small. I definitely want to keep doing this, to help me spot all the lovely moments that are punctuating our days as a family during this peculiar time, whether it’s fresh air, good health, cuddles with my daughter, or every bite of Cadbury’s chocolate I can get my hands on.
7. Make time to read
Reading makes me feel calmer than pretty much anything else. Because this crisis is so distracting, I’ve found that I’ve defaulted to sitting and scrolling through my phone rather than thinking about what would be a more relaxing use of time. The more lost or unfulfilled I feel, the more I find myself on my phone but it usually just makes me feel worse. So I want to actively decide to use the rare chunks of time I have to myself to read a book instead.
8. Keep creating
I always feel a lot more fulfilled when I’ve found time to make something. Whether I’ve tried a new recipe, drawn a picture with my daughter or written a blog, I feel better for it. I’m not overwhelmed with free time – that concept flew out the window the second I became a mum – so I want to make the most of any opportunities I have to be even slightly creative. For example, baking a batch of rice crispy cakes could class as a form of artistic expression, couldn’t it…?
9. I will never regret having extra time with my family
Extra time together in all its forms, however tricky to navigate it may be, is a gift. I’ve another blog brewing about how much I already know I’m going to miss our daughter being two years old, so I want to remember that this is actually all bonus time with her. And though I wish it was in different circumstances, having her dad around so much more than usual is great.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re a week in, I’m shattered and would not say no to a bit of space if it was available to me. But there are numerous lovely moments to be found amongst the chaos, and we’re lucky to have them.
10. Make the time to communicate
Just because Leon is working here, it doesn’t mean I’ll know how his day went unless I ask. Sure, I’ll know that our daughter decided to join him for a conference call and serenade his colleagues with a rendition of Baa Baa Black Sheep, but there might be other stuff he needs to unload. We still need to talk to each other.
Our daughter remains a two-year-old and, as such, not the best at articulating how she feels. Although this situation is exasperating at times, I need to make sure I stop and explain to her what’s going on, and help her tell me what’s up too. This will never stop being true, our current situation has just highlighted how quickly things will crumble if I don’t.
And regular check-ins with other friends and family are important as well. Finding the energy to get back on your laptop after a day’s work for a video call is a bit tough. But it’s worth it to share laughs and updates with people I don’t get to see everyday. A pandemic is a crazy and scary thing to live through. I want to remember how important it is to stay in touch and help each other through it.
11. If we look back on this time and our biggest complaint is that we felt bored and cooped up, we will be the lucky ones
There are thousands of people who are putting themselves at risk everyday by carrying on doing their jobs. And there are plenty of others for whom this crisis is much scarier than it is for people like me.
Having to stay home, work without childcare and cope with how strange and apocalyptic life feels right now is hard, and I’m all in favour of allowing ourselves to acknowledge every feeling we experience.
I also know that it will help me to keep going when this period feels endless if I remember that these are all entirely bearable hardships, and that if we all just keep doing as we’re told, we’ll help bring this crisis to an end.
Stay strong everyone, and stay safe.