Lockdown with m six-year-old and 12-year-old has already taught me that they are much more kind, tolerant and patient than I am. Seriously. I’ve been a nightmare. Tantrums, sulking and polishing off chocolate that was meant for everybody.
“You should have quiet time before you make breakfast in the morning,” my six-year-old daughter said recently. And my son found the adult colouring books he bought me at Christmas and downloaded meditation apps on my phone.
The children of single parents often have to grow up faster. Being the only adult in the household means whatever Herculean effort you make to shield them from the pressures you face, they are more likely to witness your impressive impression of Miss Trunchbull, the psychotic headteacher in Roald Dahl’s Matilda, than if there was another adult to ease the pressure or at least shame you into behaving.
Coronavirus has brought with it a pressure I had never felt before. My work and disappeared and with that came the terror of not being able to keep us afloat. I sang “counting my blessings!” to anyone who asked how I was. You can’t seek consolation when everyone is in the same boat.
When social distancing happened, then lockdown, I was overwhelmed with the pressure of keeping my children’s lives “fun!” and “full of wonder!”.
“You can write lockdown diaries!” I trilled to my children. “I assume by ‘write diaries’ you mean ‘play Minecraft’?” said my son.
Luckily, my children are at an age where they can understand why our movement is so limited. My heart goes out to the parents of toddlers. Containing those balls of energy who have no regard for personal safety, and keeping them entertained is the toughest place to be as a parent in lockdown I can imagine. I salute you all and will not judge the amount of hours Peppa Pig and her family are spending in your home.
I was determined my own children would not be plonked in front of the TV or computer for hours. I would rise up to the challenge of homeschooling and my daughter would be fluent in Latin by the time lockdown was over and my son would be the youngest ever consultant cardiologist.
We would all, during lockdown, become athletes with abs of steel and will have read every book in the house and of course, become master bakers. My parent WhatsApp groups were full of suggestions of online activities which I dutifully noted when all the while, buried underneath this maniacal quest to keep them educated and entertained was a voice shrieking, “WHAT IF WE DIE? PLEASE PLEASE DON’T LET ANYONE DIE! STOP ALL THE DYING!” This anxiety spilled out without warning in the form of shouting, tears and throwing in the bin of a perfectly good box of chocolates in a temper, in front of my baffled children. Their crime? Squabbling a bit while opening it.
I apologised, soothed while awash with feelings of shame, failure and guilt. My children knew, as all children do, that when parents lose control like that, they have to parent us. Few things make you feel like an awful parent than seeing your own children tiptoe around you trying to be ‘”good” because you have lost control.
When all is calm, we are able to laugh again together and I’m very grateful for their sense of humour. My daughter lay in her bath that evening and sang to the tune of A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea, “a mummy when went to anger management…to see what she could anger management.” Not the best rhythm, but her point was made and after that, lockdown has been a lot more fun.
Now, on day whatever it is (I have no idea any more) I have let my anxiety go. So what if I’m not the best homeschooler? I took a peek at my son’s science homework and decided it was best for everyone if I stayed out of it and left it all to his brilliant teachers online. My six-yearold and I do whatever we feel like. It might be numbers and then some reading but we talk and look at maps and make up songs and watch TV. I have designated a wall in the house that they can draw, write and paint on as they wish and with whatever materials they want.
After I finish this column, we are going to start upcycling the old desk I rescued some time ago from a skip. There will be squabbling, it’ll probably be a mess, but who cares? My children and I are getting to know each other better and bonding in a way my normal life made it hard to do. I’m still writing my book but I’m home. Work is not dragging me away overnight several times a week. It’s making me seriously think about reshaping my career, finding a way to support us other than through standup comedy. I love performing, but it’s all-consuming and nowhere near as fun as the two little housemates I’m currently blissfully shackled to.