Home (almost) alone
Hello all, I hope you’re all well and coping in these bizarre and unprecedented times. It’s now been a full month since I first had to start working from home and it has fairly quickly become the new norm. Not to say I’ve easily settled into it but I don’t at least have to check myself trying to leave the house at 8 o’clock each morning…
It’s the lack of rhythm that I find hardest. Trying to distinguish between a Friday and a Saturday; between the working day and the evening; between a lunch break and office time etc… Not to say they aren’t different, they are, but only because I’m (or more accurately, we’re) choosing them to be. I’m not the most self-disciplined person and it takes a huge effort on my part to structure the day efficiently off my own back.
The best part is that we are having the highest quality family time. I probably will never get to see so much of Piglet (together with my wife) as I have done in these last few weeks ever again in his life. It takes the full variety of imaginative activities to keep him entertained (my wife is much, much better at this than I am, but I can keep him fairly amused too). He is both thriving and regressing in the immense volume of family contact time. His interest in letters and reading has increased immensely over the last few weeks. It’s fascinating and wonderful to see him start to sow the seeds of learning to read in front of us on a daily basis. On the other hand, he has become really quite clingy and surprisingly reluctant to be independent. I guess it’s understandable; his world has been turned around (arguably more than ours), he hasn’t seen any of his friends from nursery for weeks and he only gets to see any family through video calls (something he’s not very keen on – or good at!). How is he to know that he isn’t suddenly going to find that either daddy or mummy isn’t around next!
In writing that, I meant it as clearly ludicrous that either mummy or daddy wouldn’t be there – but I’m aware that in the current situation that isn’t 100% guaranteed. I’m both terrified but also a little removed from the threat of Coronavirus at the moment. We’ve taken the social distancing suggestions very seriously although it feels as much as out of a feel of social responsibility (i.e. limiting the spread to protect the more vulnerable and try to as much as possible limit the strain on the NHS) rather than for immediate fear of our own safety. I also worry hugely about Piglet getting it, far more than myself, although I realise that the risk to life is very much in the other direction. It’s worth saying, my fear for Piglet over myself doesn’t come from any bravado; it just reflects his level of innocence over mine. He wouldn’t understand why we were scared for him or why it seemed so serious.
Piglet has, generally, been loving his family time and we get the full range of adoration to frustration from him as he deals with the challenges of staying at home. We (i.e. Piglet and at least one of me or my wife) do PE with Joe Wicks every morning at 9am and that’s followed with circle time, with his cuddly toys taking the places of his nursery friends in their absence. That, in turn, gives us a list of things we aim to work through across the day ranging from the highly adventurous (painting easter eggs, writing motivating messages on the windows for passers-by, baking, etc…) to the more mundane and more chore focused of his cuddly toys (emptying the dishwasher, putting out the bins, …you get the idea). Interestingly, most of the time he just wants to “play”, although its become increasingly clear that without being given a clear structure by which to do this; it very quickly lacks any content. Similarly over meals, he generally wants to “talk about something”, although this is actually just a way of him asking for you to “tell him a story” (and by “a story”, I mean “that story”. You know the one you’ve already told 15 times that day and keep being shouted at for misquoting a single line of, or forgetting a nuance of the text that you’d never ever noticed but for Piglet the structure of the world is dependent on!).
In the last few days though he has made a significant step change in his tolerance for self-entertainment. Either ‘reading’ a book that he already knows off by heart or a couple of (invaluable) wipe clean activity books where he can practice tracing letters and numbers, following paths or connecting dots. He’s gone to these himself without us really proposing them, so perhaps he’s feeling the need for some head-space too.
And that is the biggest challenge for me: head-space. I love my family and I am very grateful to be in a situation where ‘lockdown’ for me means spending all day, every day with two of the people I love most in this world. But I am a creature that like his space: to imagine, to play, to explore, and I do find it quite a change to get so little time to myself. I’m not sure I ever make good use of it when I get it, but it’s a bit like sleep for me: I need it just to keep my head in order. In comparison before we were stuck at home, I would spend 15-20 minutes cycling to and from work each day and lose myself in watching football matches or cooking. Whereas now, these all feel like much more calculated time-management decisions to make.
Exercise has been a valuable freedom and I’ve probably been running more just to give myself a chance to leave the house. Although I’m interested to see that I actually covered less distance in March than I did in either February or January. My fitness is changing too: I’ve struggled to keep up the strictness of the diet of the previous months with much less discipline and ample distractions. There has been slightly more home baking but mostly my downfall comes in the form of peanut butter. I think I might actually be addicted! But also, all the morning 7-minute-workouts and Joe Wicks PE lessons are definitely making me stronger. I feel like if towards the end of 2019 I’d become more ‘skinny’, then across 2020 I’ve become more ‘powerful’. A balance of the two is probably what I’d like to be aiming for. But I feel virtually no guilt at all for just eating reasonably in what is otherwise a very weird and stressful time.
The biggest challenge for both my wife and I in this situation is our work balance. My role can quite reasonably be done from home to at least 90% of the way it could be done when I was still in the office. Granted I miss the multiple screens and being able to bump into people at the water cooler; but the brunt of the work is not location dependent. My wife, however, as a teacher, is completely out of her comfort zone trying to prep and set work for students that are suddenly learning from home and with no real clarity over what is expected of them (or my wife) over the coming months, specifically around summer exams. There are some lessons that she is still trying to teach ‘live’ to a digital classroom but much is prepping and marking work to do offline.
The big problem is that we are both still expected to work (quite understandably) our contract hours. For me that’s full-time, so five 9-to-5’s a week, and 3.5 days a week for my wife. However, throw in a 3 year old who is pretty interaction dependant and no childcare (obviously) and that becomes quite a challenge. It’s a funny age too – any younger and I don’t think I’d expect to be even able to think about ‘distracting’ him for a bit while I worked (you wouldn’t leave a baby alone for the duration of a 2-hour meeting), and any older and I would hope to get him studying alongside me while I work, at least for chunks of time. But as it stands, he needs 85%+ of my attention when I’m with him.
As such, my wife and I had been splitting up our days into windows that either she or I can explicitly work. Either whole mornings and afternoons or couple of hour brackets depending on meetings and other commitments. What this means, however, is that a day that has 3 hours of meetings (not entirely uncommon for me) is pretty much entirely written off for anything else. At first I tried to work into the evenings and weekends to make up for this, but it’s become pretty quickly clear that that doesn’t help my work, my sanity or my family. I’m still trying to strike the balance but I have found that carving out time for exercise and relaxation is necessary. Another part of the day that disappears is just cooking time. A combination of our respective allergies, my wife’s fairly restrictive diet and just a smidgen of fussiness means that we spend a fair bit of time cooking lunches and dinners each day. And while I try to bulk cook options at the weekend and evening to help with this, just needing to provide dinner for Piglet around 5:30, and us all eating in turn at this time, pinches the start, middle and end of the working day.
It’s funny, I know a few people who have multiple (3+) kids in this situation and I can’t imagine how challenging that must be. But actually, talking to them about it, I can see why having children across a range of ages in this situation actually helps. Any younger and you just wouldn’t expect to really work at all as you’d be coping with a baby; while much older and they start to help out and provide entertainment and distraction for the younger ones. I feel a bit for Piglet being just on his own.
The other thing that I’ve been really quite surprised by is just how much we spend on food now that all three of us are eating at home 3+ times a day. We’ve been going to the supermarket about every 5 days (trying to stretch the windows as far as possible without running out of fresh fruit and vegetables) and the bill at each trip has made my eyes water! Granted we’re not spending money on much else so it’s an acceptable adjustment, but I’ve started to wonder how certain meals compare to others. For example, I track the vast majority of meals that I eat in my diet-tracking app that I’ve been using since last summer. I can’t help wondering whether a bit of further analysis on the main meals to estimate what each dish costs per portion would show up. For example, we’ve started roasting meat on what were previously known as ‘the weekends’ to provide lunches for the week. But I’d be interested to know how that compares to say eating bolognese out of the freezer… Maybe one for a future Allergen Dad analysis or podcast if I can ever find the time…
We’ve recently been told in the UK that ‘lockdown’ will last for at least the another 3 weeks; so I suppose we’d better start getting used to this. My work have been making economic projections for certain scenarios and quite a few of those involve 6+ months of lockdown to one extent or another, so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. But it all shows how we need to make this work long-term rather than just fudging a way through for the moment. I wonder how much will be done out of our homes once all this is over?
Well I hope that you are well and you are finding your own ways to cope and claim this situation for your own in all the madness. I will leave you with one last positive note (although it’s perhaps a bit of a negative if thought about in the bigger picture). The air quality has changed so much where I live that you can now see and smell the world around us in a way I never could before. I live in fields not that far from Windsor castle and have always admired the view. However, 3+ weeks of minimal traffic and pollution has meant that I can now see the castle in levels of detail I never dreamed of before. Even jogging into Windsor (on some of my longer runs) you can see the detail of the towers of the castle from up close in a way that I couldn’t have guessed was ever previously hampered by pollution. Similarly, you can smell the algae and wildlife in the river in a way I’d never done before. We must find a way to value this and retain some of this when all of this is over and we go back to a new version of ‘normal’.
Hope you’re all well and looking after each other, at least from afar.