Return to the Kitchen Table:

A Parent’s Perspective of Lockdown 3

Mamma Mia, Here We Go Again

Lockdown Three is grim. Firstly, we’ve been here before, the novelty of Lockdown One is missing and, as a parent, the energy to make this time memorable is much harder to find. Secondly, it’s grey outside and, by the end of the home-school day, it’s too dark for a run in the park. Even though we may go outside for unlimited exercise, the question is, can we actually do so? Thirdly, as a nation we are coping with an ongoing sense of loss that is tantamount to national grief. Whether it’s a social life, a holiday, public exams, a job or a loved one, coronavirus has taken something away from us all. This month, are we all finally facing our Waterloo?

Super Troopers

At the beginning of the month, schools faced chaos as the national decision to open or close real classrooms was debated. Schools closed overnight. The next day, before you could open your break-time packet of crisps, many schools re-opened. Online. And the online classroom is a remarkable phenomenon. In Lockdown One, the novelty of Zoom lessons came with many and much-discussed frustrations. In Lockdown Three, this has been replaced by a regular timetable of smoothly run, virtual reality experiences in full school uniform (excluding Harry Potter slipper socks). We’re seeing inspiring assemblies, house competitions, sports clubs, academic challenge, strictly regulated breaks and permission needed to go for a wee. Whilst the routine in the online classroom is firm, the mood stays as familiar and upbeat as an Abba song. Remote learning is never going to be the real thing, but our schools are coming close. Teachers are our super troopers this month. They are real heroes in the war on coronavirus, ever-present in the remote classroom, as well as staffing key worker school places on site. I’m deeply relieved that, this time around, I have no need to WhatsApp HELP?*±%! to help my daughter solve her maths problems.

SOS

What is tricky is preparing food to order in the timetabled breaks of the day. Families with siblings at different schools are finding timetabled breaks particularly hard to cater for – working across multiple timetables feels like a day in a fast-food joint for many. How to get out for exercise during the regulatory lunch break with younger children, when their siblings’ break times differ, is another parental problem. Add in your own, and your partner’s, work-from-home meetings schedule and the competing logistics of combining all virtual aspects of our lives in the same physical time and place start to overwhelm us. Working on my own tasks within the learning time limits of a ten-year-old is my personal challenge. Forty-minute work slots, a bit of Joe Wicks and hasty sip of coffee doesn’t do it for me. Then there’s the well-meaning, trick-question quiz round from the form tutor: What did you have for lunch? It’s a competitive mum-at-home moment worthy of a Motherland episode. Home made soup crops up a lot. Pesto pasta is probably as low as you’d want to go – and only with cherry tomatoes on the side, of course. This is not the moment for a pie and a pint – we’ll have to wait until lockdown’s over for that. 

Meanwhile, how are pupils with less IT support faring? It’s all very well saying gimme, gimme, gimme a laptop: there must first be the money, money, money in place to do so. The wider press has been quick to point out the disparities in lockdown education. Right now, it’s hard to argue that it’s a fair playing field for all. But the pandemic is hitting out at everyone. As parents, let’s try to help these locked-down kids as much as we can at home. Oak National Academy is a truly awesome resource for home-learning, including a wide-ranging library of e-books, supported by the National Literacy Trust. BBC Bitesize is doing the nation of home-learners proud. The National Theatre and classicfm.com also have some exciting resources available for wider curriculum challenges.

The Name of the Game

In March, April, May and June I revelled in nature as new characters danced through the changing season on the outdoor screen – daffodils, wood anenomes, bluebells and foxgloves all played their part in The Good Life of Lockdown One. But this is Lockdown Three. Last week, I resorted to picking up my ancient hockey stick and hacking at more mud than ball in the park. I was taken aback by the physical memory that soon came into my play, and delighted by my daughter’s gleeful giggles as she tackled me. It was a timely reminder that children need to play, and that play is defined by it’s spontaneity, not by the weather. Another day, we invented our own version of basketball with tree trunks for goal posts, the highlight of which was when the ball got stuck in the tree. Searching near and far for a stick to dislodge the ball, I turned around to find my daughter staggering towards me with a fallen branch in her arms, all of three metres in length and completely ruining the front of her white school blouse. We pushed, pulled, poked and prodded Brian the Branch for the rest of our break time, even finding him a friend – Bruce (the spruce). Next, we might find a bit of rope in the garage and string it up between a couple of trees, for our mid-January version of beach volleyball. There’s no beach. But the trees will shelter us from the worst of the rain. 

I Have a Dream

Since March, we have been living in uncertain times. But one thing’s for sure – we have all experienced loss. Our children may be grieving the loss of a grandparent, loss of a Leavers’ Ball, loss of a place in the football team, loss of travel plans, loss of a friendship group, loss of our inherent freedom to run and shop and dine and learn and play where we like, when we like, how we like. On some days, it feels like a collective sadness sits on our shoulders, as grey and heavy and endless as the January skies. The renowned psychologist, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, identified the five stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As parents, we may be seeing elements of these emotions in the behaviour of our children and struggling to recognise, understand and support those behaviours for what they are. However, Kubler Ross’s colleague David Kessler has recently added a sixth stage to this description of grief: finding meaning. Perhaps then, in Lockdown Three, we are ready to look for meaning in our coronavirus experiences. Are we able to look for something good in what we see? Lockdown remote learning has highlighted the joys of a real classroom buzz. State of the art sporting facilities will never be taken for granted after weeks of a muddy patch of grass in the park. Friendships will be cherished and we will make an effort to see our friends in person because we’ve missed out on giving them a hug for so long. We will appreciate the freedoms we never even knew we had until they were taken away. Perhaps, as parents, we can find the meaning in this extra time we get to spend with our kids during lockdown. It’s a time we never expected to get, and a time that may never come again.