I read some posts during our COVID-19 lockdown from other solo mamas and felt guilty for not posting too, as it was great to hear from friendly voices in a similar situation. But time and energy had to be directed elsewhere.
Childcare and schools shut down abruptly here on 12 March. The rumours had been filtering through that morning, and when I went to pick up my boy from creche in the afternoon the staff were in shock trying to close everything down by that evening. At that stage, schools were set to reopen in two weeks. How naïve we all were.
By the time full lockdown was called a couple of weeks later, my situation felt a little weird. I’ve worked from home for eight years and haven’t even met most of the people I correspond with on a daily basis. Outside work, I have a pretty quiet life. I‘ve never even hired a babysitter, as my mother, who lives 20km away, can generally look after my boy the odd time I’m out at night. My boy and I do our socialising during the day. So, while everyone was getting used to the revolutionary concept of home working and being in their houses with their kids and not being able to go out to pubs and concerts at night, in many ways life was the same for me but with the one crucial difference of no childcare.
It’s not really possible to work properly from home when you’re alone with an almost four-year-old. Or maybe with some kids that age, but not with mine. So we settled into a routine where we were hanging out during the day, and I was squeezing work into the time after he went to bed. It’s no fun reading bedtime stories while dreading going to your computer (which decided to start dying during this time as well, as an added bonus). And for sure there was no Netflix binging, learning Mandarin or catching up on those classics you always meant to read in this house during those tiring months.
Unusually, the weather gods smiled on Ireland during much of the lockdown, which was a blessing. Our days consisted of walking down to the beach, which thank the universe was within our initial 2km exclusion zone, exploring nearby housing (and industrial…) estates we’d never visited, cycling (him, with me running alongside) or just chilling at home. We were so, so fortunate to have our own house and garden.
I loved spending the time with my boy, and he was mainly delighted to be at home with me. There was a home schooling programme on TV, and he enjoyed much of it. Things like his drawing really came on and he gained confidence on his bike. The poor boy turned four in April, and my family did a big Zoom call with guitars and piano and “Happy Birthday.” But my memory of that time will always be tinged with the underlying panic of not getting work done, trying to dial into calls with “I’ve done a poo!” shouts in the background, worrying when I did check emails, and worrying when I didn’t check emails. Much as with anyone who has been trying to “work from home” with young kids these last months but with the added stress of having no backup person at all to let you get things done, even just for an hour. My family were all outside our 2km zone, and it also felt a bit unnatural and unhealthy for my boy to see basically no one but me for three months. That’s how serial killers get made.
One thing that didn’t help was that early on in the pandemic, someone here referred to children as “vectors” for the disease, and that really stuck for many. So, any time people with kids were out walking, most of them were at pains to make sure the little ones gave other people as wide a berth as possible. This was before the wearing of face coverings became widespread. I found it really heartbreaking to see my little fella plaster himself against a wall and wait to allow other people 200 metres up the road to get by. And it was so sad to watch him gradually learn that he had to steer clear of other kids and siblings playing together on the beach.
As well as for exercise, we were allowed out to shop. I think I speak for many single parents when I say this was one of the most stressful parts of the whole lockdown. In all the weeks of lockdown shopping, we met only one other child in our supermarket, and that was about nine or 10 weeks into the experience. I dreaded our weekly shop and would have shopped less if I hadn’t also been buying groceries for an elderly neighbour. We were only turned away from the supermarket once, when I unwittingly arrived in the new time reserved for healthcare workers, with the explanation “especially since you have a child” (while they let other people in), so in general people were fine apart from reminders to “keep your child in the trolley,” but at times it felt like shopping with a leper. There were some high-profile cases of single parents being asked to leave their kids outside while shopping, or being turned away, and some supermarkets banned children altogether. I also know of some single-parent families who drove with friends in convoy so the friend could pull up beside them in the supermarket car park and watch their kids as they shopped.
Thankfully, things began to loosen up gradually from 8 June, when we were able to visit family within 20km, and then one glorious day I got a phone call from the creche to say they were going to reopen earlier than planned in July and would I be interested. Would I what!
So since 1 July, our little world has regained some normality. My boy fell back into the routine easily and it was a relief to see him interacting with friends again. I have to drop him off at the school door while wearing a face covering, and I have to phone when I collect him in the afternoon so they can bring him out to me. It feels odd not to set foot inside, but this is the new normal for the foreseeable future.
Under the creche’s new COVID policy, a child has to go home if their temperature exceeds 38 degrees. My boy is rarely sick and has, I think, only missed around two half-days of creche ever. So, unusually, I got a call the other week saying he needed to go home with a fever of 38.2. I collected him, and he was isolated in the office with a teacher who was wearing a mask and plastic overall/shoes. It was all very efficient and he enjoyed the special attention. Needless to say, he was down to 37.5 when I got him home and we were back the next day with no fever or symptoms.
It’s tough for many parents at the moment as they wait for schools to reopen. And my heart is heavy for parents of children with special needs who have watched their kids regress since March, with no end in sight for many. I’ve never been so grateful to have a healthy child and decent childcare.