This whole thing is dragging on a bit now, isn’t it? The sunshine’s gone away, there’s no end in sight and everyone is sick of each other. So it’s lucky that two of our favourite theatres are premiering new online content this weekend, to keep us going through the gloom.
Firstly, Chickenshed are sharing their 2017 show “Blowing in the Wind“. It’s a powerful piece that takes Martin Luther King’s famous speech as a jumping-off point to explore civil rights and the struggles of marginalised communities. It’s more relevant than ever now, against the backdrop of the recent Black Lives Matter protest and I’d urge you to take some time to watch it. It’s one for older kids and adults, due to some thought-provoking issues but the Chickenshed Online YouTube channel has tonnes of other content on it too.
Then on Sunday, Little Angel are premiering a new show for children, called “Don’t Worry Little Crab”. It’ll be on their YouTube channel, which is filling up with other delights for little ones, so do have a look over the weekend if they’re getting restless.
One day, we’ll be watching theatre IRL together again but until then, enjoy these online treats!
It’s the spaces I miss. You’d think that in lockdown, we would have all the space and time we could ever want but, although we have time, space is a precious commodity, both mental and physical.
Our lives used to have natural spaces built in. Train journeys to church and drama club, where we could just sit and stare out of the window. Walks to and from school, idly chatting about our days. Times when we didn’t have to be doing some kind of activity and could just kinda do nothing.
Now, our days have to be filled. As soon as the kids finish one activity, they need to have something else to do. If they’ve had too much screen time, we tell them to do something else but you can see them struggle to think of something fun to do that they’ve haven’t done 70 times in the last 70 days. They need constant stimulation and distraction to stop them dwelling on the bigger situation and that’s something that even the grown ups are doing to some extent.
I miss my commute and the buffer zone between work and parenting. I never realised how much I needed it until my buffer zone disappeared and then became something of an anti-buffer zone, with Eva lolling over me as I try to finish up for the day. The time pressure is off at the weekend but there’s still no space to just sit around and be. There are demands and requests. We are all bored and restless and not meant to function in this environment. We miss those natural spaces.
One day I’m sure we’ll rose-tint these days and remember them as quality family time while the children were just about still small enough to snuggle in while we worked. But right now, the present doesn’t feel rose-tinted. It feels stuffy and airless. It won’r be forever but it feels like forever.
I haven’t blogged much recently. It’s hard to know why that is, given that this is a blog about being out and about around London and I’ve been out and about loads. I know I have because I got my Google Maps “Month in Review” e-mail today and it showed trips to at least three different convenience stores in the Highams Park area, sometimes with as little as three days in between outings. Somebody stop me.
Because yes, we are still home. It’s getting hard to tell when all the papers have been so positive this week:
but it doesn’t seem like any kind of real ending is in sight. So, what have we been up to in the last 50 days?
Well, there has been a lot of work. And the kids have spent hours on screens. We still aren’t homeschooling, despite pressures from pretty much every direction. Roo continues to self-school and Eva is unschooling. That’s pretty much the best we can hope for in these times.
But there have been some positives. Our food waste is down and our laundry basket is under control. I cleared out a cupboard and Nathan started clearing a path behind the shed, which Eva promptly got herself stuck in. We’re eating more fruit and vegetables because I’m having to do more frequent shops due to lack of delivery slots…..but on the flip side, I’m also consuming way more chocolate and Coke Zero. I’m still doing SwingTrain online and have been recording lots of silly songs about being in lockdown. You can hear them here if you want:
But the weeks drag and while we’re very grateful to be surviving a pandemic, it doesn’t feel like much more than surviving. And when bad things hit, which they have done, it’s really, really tough going to have to cope with them without the support of the community.
So if you’re feeling similarly, you are not alone. We all go through a sine wave of coping/not coping, sometimes on a daily basis. It might be starting to feel like normality but it’s still a crisis. It’s OK to feel lost and anxious. We all know why we’re doing this but it doesn’t always make it easier to do. All we can do is sit tight and wait for this thing to finally blow over.
In the last post, I promised you more positivity….so here it is. An A-Z of ideas for social media posts which could help to spread a little joy in these tricky times.
Now is a great time to show off your talents to a captive audience…I would love to see what you’ve been creating, especially as I have no artistic talents of my own
Again, I enjoy seeing the beautiful bread you’ve made (even if you forgot to add the salt) or the yummy chocolate brownies. I might not be able to share a cake with you but I can live vicariously through Facebook, right?
C Cat Pictures
Everyone loves seeing what those little fluffballs are up to, right? Even if it’s probably just sleeping all day.
D Dog Videos
Dogs are like cats but much, much better. Videos of adorable pupsters are a never-ending source of entertainment round here.
E Exercise Classes
One of the only positives about this whole lockdown situation is being able to start SwingTrain again, albeit online. So suggestions for other fun classes to burn off the piles and piles of chocolate I’ve been eating would be good.
Now could be a good time to read up on all those bits that didn’t make it into your favourite books. What was going on with Snape and Filch that time? Just remember to give it an age rating if needed
G General Ramblings
This is what social media is for, right? All your random thoughts that currently have no other outlet. Especially if you’re an extrovert living with an introvert and you have LOTS OF THINGS TO SAY
H Harry Potter memes
Another way to keep the kids entertained for hours. They don’t even need to be particularly funny….they don’t have much of a filter when it comes to these things
I Interesting facts
We all love a fact! The nerdier the better
Again, they don’t have to be good jokes….the kids will love them anyway
K Kid shizz
What ridiculous things have your kids said or done today? The world needs to know
L Life at your house
This is the kind of thing I want from Facebook…just seeing what’s happening in my friends’ lives all the time. And I really mean, ALL the time at the moment.
Music has pretty much always been my coping mechanism…playing it, listening to it, dancing to it. So yeah, bring it on.
N NHS Appreciation
NHS Workers are doing an amazing job…so there can never be too much praise for them
O Online gaming
Anything that might entertain a tween-age boy is very welcome….and a 40-year-old boy for that matter
Again, show us your creative work. I love to see it.
Diversion, diversion, diversion. Which Charlie Bone character would I be and which 80s song would that Charlie Bone character listen to? Let’s find out!
NHS rainbows or LGBT rainbows…it’s all good for brightening up my news feed
S Six Fan Arts
A random meme that Nathan recommended and Reuben did the other day….basically drawing six characters from various fandoms or history. Reuben was given Wolverine, Groot, Baby Yoda, Woody, Batman and Hitler. The ultimate patriarchal dinner party.
T Theatre shows
Whether it’s live streams from the National Theatre or shows your kids are doing in the front room….it’s all entertaining.
U Ukulele tutorials
I know I’m not the only person to have picked up a uke in the last few weeks. So any ukulele challenges or tutorials welcome.
V Virtual versions of everything
As well as virtual SwingTrain, we have done virtual church (virch), virtual choir (voir), virtual Dnd (errr….Virgeons and Vagons?), virtual movie nights….it’s amazing how much of your life you can move online with only a few days’ notice
I want to see your non-poetry writing too! Everyone is going to have written a novel by the end of this, right?
X X-Men memes
Yes, this is a total filler but I swear after I thought of this yesterday, Nathan spent an hour looking them up.
Y Yoga Stretches
I tried some of these yesterday after WFH all week in uncomfortable postions. It was lovely to stretch out a bit.
We are all on social media a LOT at the moment. It’s our primary form of social contact but it is, as ever, a double-edged sword. What used to be a means of distraction has become an amplifier for the current crisis…our news feeds fail to take our minds off things like they used to because every other post seems to be Covid-19 related. Now, I’m not one to dictate what anyone else posts on social media but it’s worth remembering that we are all suffering some level of anxiety at the moment and we’re all processing this anxiety in different ways. So your manic homeschooling timetables might be triggering someone else’s non-schooling guilt. The rules are straightforward enough – consider who might see your post and whether they’ve requested to hidden from anything C19-related. Custom Privacy is your friend right now. A little bit of research among my imaginary friends has suggested that certain types of posts do tend to be more triggering than others and so I’ve put together An A-Z Guide to Unhelpful Social Media Posts. But just so you don’t think I’m all about the negativity, I’ll shortly also be posting An A-Z Guide to Helpful Social Media Posts. Ready? Let’s start at the very beginning….
A Apocalyptic Posts
Yes, this feels like the End of Days but it’s not necessarily helpful to keep reminding people of it, unless you have some kind of get out clause. Is there a Vogon construction fleet passing ahead? Do you have the intergalactic equivalent of a raised thumb? Well good for you. Don’t forget your towel.
B Bad Science
We all want to understand this virus better but that doesn’t mean sharing anything which has even the vaguest of scientific credibility. Fact check, look at the background of whoever’s written it and don’t believe them just because they’re wearing a white coat.
C Conspiracy theories
Similar to the above, we all want to know more. But blaming the virus on 5G, the KGB, the FBI or anyone else isn’t necessarily helpful. If Big Pharma really invented the virus to sell more medication, wouldn’t they have…yknow….come up with a cure by now?
D Daily Death Toll
No one is scrolling through their Facebook feed waiting for you to publish the latest death stats. If they want the information, they will go looking for it. We all know that lots of people are dying but we don’t all need it all over our newsfeeds because that is hugely triggering.
Think before you post.
E EU Baiting
Is now the time? Really? Do you think this would have gone better if we’d have left the EU two years ago? Really?
F Fake News
Obviously everyone loves a bit of spoof news and I’ve been known to dabble in the writing of the same myself…but I’m talking about news which is close enough to real to fool people with dangerous misinformation, especially when it comes to relaxing the lockdown restrictions. April Fool’s has been and gone…trust me, I know because the stuck-at-home kids had a lot of time to plan pranks this year.
G Guilt inducing memes
“This is what happens to your child’s brain when they spend 90% of their day watching Netflix/using laptops/massacring people on Fortnite”. Yeah, it is probably is. Pity I don’t have many other options for keeping them quiet while Mummy takes her 50th conference call of the day.
This can be as dangerous as fake news. Just cause someone heard that something was happening doesn’t mean it’s true.
I Irrational Advice
“Just carry on life as normal. It’ll be fine” It probably won’t. Please think it through before posting.
J Judgy posts
Especially on local groups. So you saw two people from the same household shopping together? Well maybe ask someone to make you a purse with “Observation Award Winner” written on it. The majority of people are trying their best to follow the rules as best as they understand them and you don’t know everyone’s circumstances. Try not to judge.
K Kid Shaming
Our kids are doing incredibly well in the face of very tough circumstances. Go easy on the kid-shaming memes.
L Links to phishing sites
This should be self-explanatory but you’d be amazed. Check where a link goes to before sharing a post, especially if it’s promising incredible riches.
As ever, the media tell you what they want to tell you. A particularly virulent story recently managed to change a budgetary adjustment for MPs’ staff equipment into some kind of NHS-dissing MP payrise. The result pitted hardworking nurses against hardworking constituency caseworkers. Think about the implications before you share.
“In my day, we never died of viruses”. No, YOU didn’t because you’re here, posting on Facebook. Others did. Move on
O Out of Date Advice
Guidelines change quickly these days….always best to make sure it’s the most recent version before sharing.
P Parent Shaming
Like their kids, parents are doing their best in difficult times. Now isn’t the time to tut about our shortcomings.
Q Queen is Dead
OK, so maybe I was struggling with a Q. But there are always rumours about Her Maj during a pandemic. Of course, feel free to listen to the classic Smiths albums if that’s your lockdown jam of choice.
Other, non Queen related rumours are also unhelpful…celebrities that you think might have the virus, celebrities you think might have died…speculation isn’t particularly useful at this time. Similar to the above though, if you want to listen to some classic Fleetwood Mac, go for it.
S Supermarket shortages
It was interesting for the first week, seeing our local stores stripped of food. But now it’s just kinda depressing. Let’s move on.
T Threats of revenge
Yeah, some people think they can beat sense into this virus. Don’t be one of those people.
U Unverified Updates
Like rumours, check sources of any updates before sharing
Lots of us have a low emotional capacity right now. So sharing violent content can affect people more than usual. I’ve tried explaining this to the tween child but, as mentioned above, he’s too busy killing all the dudes on Fortnite.
W World War II comparisons
WWII was a national crisis. This is a national crisis. Why do we need to weigh one against the other? They’re both bad, OK?
Anti-Chinese feeling has shot up since the start of this crisis. Make sure you report it to Facebook as hate speech if you come across it.
Y Youth Shaming
Our teenagers are having a tough time too, with their uni applications thrown into uncertainty and not being able to see friends. Try not to add to that pressure by attacking them on social media.
Z Zoom Derision
Yes, I know it has security flaws (though the irony of posting this on Facebook…) but a lot of us are pretty reliant on it right now, so unless it’s really, really important to say, consider not saying it.
So, bottom line is….post whatever you want to post but if you want to emerge from this with the same number of Facebook friends as you went in, it might just be worth skipping out a few of my list. And don’t forget the A-Z Guide to Helpful Social Media Posts if you want what my niece would call “inspo”…
It seems crazy that, less than a year ago, Eva and I were sitting in the sunny back garden at Chickenshed in the interval of “Mr Stink“. And just a couple of months ago we were at Little Angel for “The Paper Dolls“. It’s scary times for our favourite theatres – the arts are always getting by on just enough and there’s no end in sight to the lockdown. Luckily, the creative types have got creative and gone online to keep sharing their magic with kids who desperately need a distraction right now.
Chickenshed has launched “Virtual Chickenshed” – there’s a bit more explanation in this video but it looks like there will be specially made YouTube episodes from the “Tales from the Shed” guys and a screening of their most recent show, which I was hoping to get to see in March…but March went a bit awry, didn’t it? It’s called “Waiting for the Ship to Sail” and it’s a show for older kids and teens. Go to www.chickenshed.org.uk for more information.
Meanwhile, Little Angel Theatre has created video stories and online stay-at-home activity guides on their website with craft ideas as well. Have a look at www.littleangeltheatre.com for stories like “Jack and the Beanstalk” and tutorials on how to make a troll puppet.
One day soon, hopefully, we’ll be back at these places in real life but till then…enjoy the virtual versions!
I’ve just finished reading “After the Party” by Lisa Jewell. It’s a sequel to “Ralph’s Party” and is based in Herne Hill, an area I lived in for a few months back in 2002 when I first moved up to London and visited often in the later years of living in Camberwell and Kennington. Reading her descriptions of Brockwell Lido filled me with nostalgia for carefree summer days spent there before children – a stark contrast to the days this weekend which are the opposite of childfree and carefree. I loved Brockwell Park – even though there was that time when the water play was switched off and I got some extreme pregnant rage…and then there was another time when a 3-year-old Reuben started scooting down the hill and I couldn’t keep up with him because I had a tiny Eva in a sling. There were bad times in that park but good times too. So I was happy to revisit it in my imagination while I was reading.
I wasn’t quite so happy to read about all the people who were visiting it IRL this weekend. I know it’s been sunny but we really need to start taking this whole virus thing seriously. It defeats the object of all of us who have been sticking to the rules – 2m distance, once a day for exercise – when 3,000 people don’t. It would test my patience more than a little if these 17 (?) days of extreme isolation had been for nothing. I know I speak from a privileged position – we’re very lucky to have a garden and would never want to deprive anyone else of a bit of greenery but we have to share nicely and we have to be sensible. Large groups of people spending all day in the park are not going to see off a killer virus any time soon.
So, what’s the alternative? Well, we’ve found ways round things. Lots of zooming. Zoom housegroup, zoom playdates, zoom work socials, zoom choir socials…I have a corner of the sofa that’s kept almost entirely free of clutter so that I can record worship songs for church there and host Facebook live singalongs at the weekend. During the week, that same corner is my office space. It’s separate to my relaxing space on the other sofa or Nathan’s office space on the dining room table. I take most conference calls in Eva’s room because our room at the top of the house is too far to walk every time – I save that for one special conference call a week, and make sure I pull the blinds up to see across the horizon to the Promised Land of Enfield. I took one call in Reuben’s room – the height of luxury as it has an actual desk in it – but he made it clear that he needs his desk for himself so that’s not viable most of the time. I do online SwingTrain in the kitchen and if I’ve just cooked the kids’ dinner it feels like doing Hot Yoga. Basically, we have moved out entire four lives’ worth of activities into one smallish house.
But it’s what we have to do. And if you live in London, it’s what you have to do to. Today, Nathan and I travelled the length and breadth of London – from Upminster in the East to Uxbridge in the West, from High Barnet to the fiery pits of Morden. But only in jigsaw format:
And that’s our lives for the foreseeable. Let’s carry on going out for food shopping or exercise within the rules but let’s all buckle in for now…it’s gonna be a long ride.
I promised you more positivity after a very gloomy last post…so here it is. A week on and we’re mainly through the raging stage, into the coping with our new normality stage. It’s still hard work but we’re finding ways to keep connected online and there has been a lot of public ukulele practice to fill that need for a creative output. Still, one thing we’re not really doing is homeschooling – Reuben is diligently working every morning but Eva is mainly filling her time with art and computing, neither of which are key components of the Year 3 curriculum. But I’m at peace with that. I posted something on Facebook this morning, which I’m just going to copy and paste here because apparently it chimed with a lot of people:
“Fellow Parents – as you’re staring down another week of kids-at-home, let’s remind ourselves why this is *not* homeschooling. So, reason #53000 – this is a trajectory that no sane homeschool parent would take. From full time school to complete social isolation in a day? It’s the kind of abrupt change that would normally warrant a call to social services or maybe the police…”So the LWAT children have been pulled out of school, stopped attending church, quit their drama and swimming lessons and now the parents won’t let anyone into the house and the children can only communicate via video link”? Honestly, it sounds like something out of the Virgin Suicides or that Lisa Jewell novel about a cult that I just read. Point is, these are extraordinary times and we are all suffering a bit of culture shock. You shouldn’t have to suddenly become a full time teacher, especially not if you’re also a full-time or even part-time somethingelser. Survival mode is fine and for a lot of us, it’s our only option. If the kids read a book, bonus! If they spend all their time doing “computing”, well they’re learning some kind of skill there, right? Enjoy your restful Sunday guys!!”
So, if you’ve been giving yourself a hard time for not filling all the gaps that have been left by the school closures, please so give yourself a break. We are in crisis management mode here. Some people cope with that crisis by pouring all their energy into timetables and useful links and online PE but everyone else copes in their own way. I’m coping by giving the kids as little direction as possible – their timetables are made by themselves and whether they stick to them is their own business. As long as I get four or five hours every weekday where I have something of a chance of working, then we’re all happy. That itself might seem like an impossible dream to parents who have preschoolers or even small schoolers so please forgive my older-kid smugness. I’ve been where you are now, admittedly not in these circumstances, but I feel your pain. You are doing an amazing job. And one day, even this will pass…it just might not feel like it right now.
Last week, I was watching Roo play Fortnite and he was standing under a wooden platform, using a chainsaw to cut through each of the pillars that were holding it up. I thought it was a daft thing to do because there’s only one way that was going to end but what I didn’t realise is that a week later, all my pillars would be sawn through just as brutally and the fallout would be just as messy. We all have our support systems that maintain our sanity, whether that be routine, freedom, fresh air, socialising or any of the other things that are no longer readily available. To lose them all at once is challenging.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand why this needs to happen. We are doing what needs to be done. But that doesn’t make it less painful. Birth is a necessary process to get a baby out of a woman but no-one can deny that it’s a painful process and has weeks of pain afterwards, whichever way it happens. As a country, we are in that painful labour right now and there’s no epidural and no anaesthetic available. Oh, and no foreseeable end.
When I started this blog, it was to reassure myself and other new mothers that our lives weren’t over. That we had the freedom of the city and that having a baby wasn’t a kind of prison sentence that restricted us to within our own four walls. I encouraged us all to get outside and see things and be part of society. That’s not going to be possible for a while and society when we do join together again is going to look different. We’re going to have to re-learn how to interact with each other.
I had a different kind of post in mind, one that would cheer everyone up and inspire you with fun things to do at home. That might follow. But for now, I don’t have any words of inspiration because I’m struggling to find my own sense of self in all this. The things that define me – my job, my choir, my church activities – are all only just within my grasp and the role that I’m perhaps least-suited to – parenting – is now my full-time and relentless responsibility. Every family finds their own way to co-exist and ours has always involved a lot of being out in the world and mixing with other people. Maybe these next few months will show us what we’re really made of but we have to be prepared for that to be an uncomfortable process.
Stay safe folks, stay in touch. I promise some positivity soon.
This probably isn’t the week to be reading about motherhood. The secondary school offers came out and, inexplicably, one of them had Pippin’s name on it. The toddler is toddling off to big school. So it’s no surprise that this collection of essays about motherhood left me feeling a bit tearful about the inevitable passage of time. That’s not to say I’m planning on following in Jodi Bartle’s footsteps and having a brood of six (why would you stop one short of a full Von Trapp?). But the stories about birth and the early days made me more than a little sentimental.
There’s a lot of variety in here, with women writing on all aspects of motherhood including veering towards the less discussed motherhood roles – the adoptive mother, the stepmother and the tragedy of a mother who never carried a baby to term, to borrow editor Katherine May’s words. There were some I connected with on a personal level – especially Saima Mir’s “Maternal Rage” – whereas others were interesting because they were so different to my own experience. There were essays about cross-cultural families and a mother dealing with her own autism, which I found fascinating. One essay on gender by Michelle Tea threatened to raise my eyebrows so far that they zipped off the top of my head but I ended up nodding along. I too reject the oppression that gender roles impose on children, or I would do if my children weren’t so goshdarn gender stereotyped. So I was relieved that even the most militant rejecter of gender roles has found herself in a similar predicament and has taken a similar journey to be at peace with that. I thought I was going to be lectured on how I shouldn’t let my girl wear tutus but it turned out to be one of the essays I had most empathy with. As Michelle Tea says “Acting as though the dismantling or upholding of the patriarchy rests on the shoulders of my two-year-old is madness”
What I liked most is how open and honest the writers are. Every one of the darkest moments of motherhood appears here – cracked nipples, birth injuries, postnatal depression. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for someone who is tentatively considering trying for their first child….it might make them run a mile. But for the battle-scarred among us who recognise all of this with a wry smile, it’s a good read. You might not agree with every opinion in every essay but whatever form your motherhood takes – conventional, adoptive, step – there will be something for you in here. Enjoy it.
“The Best Most Awful Job” is released on 19th March and available for pre-order now.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own.