This week I’ve been mostly self-isolating thanks to the global Covid 19 pandemic. On Sunday night my 2-year-old son came down with a fever, cough and snotty nose. My 4-year-old daughter showed the same symptoms the next day. My wife was away for the weekend so seemed a bit too pleased she could extend to self-isolate externally. She’s a frontline key worker, it makes sense she doesn’t get infected. I’d have to do this solo. It’s the best scenario as she is not good at being cooped up.
Here’s what happened:
Day 1 – Monday
I’m tired. My son has had a fever and whimpered all night long and I’ve been googling the Covid 19 symptoms in kids. I read a new story of a child diagnosed with coronavirus on symptoms. Regardless if I agree he has it or not, the rules correctly state we all need to limit the spread by keeping away from others. As I deliberate exactly what a consistent cough means, I get covered in projectile vomit. It’s self-isolating time. My daughter is genuinely sad to not go to school. So am I, as deep down I know she might not be going back any time soon. I look at my to-do list of things I was trying to wrap up in time, and try to work out who and what I sacrifice to get through this. It’s an absolute fantasy to think small business owners can just take time off to look after kids at the drop of a hat without there being repercussions.
I am knee-deep in work and make no apologies when I put the TV on. How people working are meant to adequately look after kids I don’t know. This is 2020 and in most households, both parents work. The internet has given vast opportunities in self-employment, freelance work and self-coined entrepreneurs have also hit record levels. Add in the growing-trend in zero-hour contracts, and it’s clear the government have ignored this demographic in their financial packages focusing on businesses instead. Even in most PAYE jobs caring for children is unpaid work. And now we are expected to look after kids at home indefinitely.
I get the duvet and we all squeeze on the sofa. I know full well this is a social distancing fail, but nothing was going to stop me cuddling my son to comfort him. Besides, if Walking Dead was anything to go by, swallowing his vomit was likely to infect me too. My daughter was old enough to understand the risks and chose to join us, but I was pretty sure it made no difference as they share toys. I discover typing and working on a laptop is impossible with a kid under each arm so I move to the mobile. I read up on how best to self-isolate with kids and how to prevent spreading. It seems that viruses can remain active after 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel. Great. Contagion was inevitable, and I relax the minimum TV time rules. I spend most of the day talking to clients simultaneously over 5 different communication channels. There is panic in the air, but not with the kids who refuse to join me in the garden. I didn’t blame them, it was cold.
I became aware I had not planned/budgeted for lunches. Turns out appetites were low and “feed a cold, starve a fever” came to mind. Which is incorrect advice incidentally? Regardless Calpol and sleep make it an easy day. I even invented a genius game where we opened the windows to wave at people walking past. Children 0 Fresh Air 1 (yes I am missing sports)
I work to 1am to catch up on missed work.
Read Day 2
Day 2 – Tuesday
Cruising here. Same as the first day with a successful Calpol, TV and sleep combo with two very lethargic children. Further client panic is quashed by communicating and analysing trends. I tell myself 2 bad days don’t make a summer. I’m winning at the parenting and working combo, dispensing reassurance like a tabloid agony aunt. I get a message from the neighbour opposite who is an NHS nurse with a young family, they are self-isolating too.
I call my elderly neighbour and check in on her. She is 90, I’m experiencing her daily life but without the children for the company and the ability to make the most of her lovely garden.
There are lots of chat in friendship groups; the men are trying to keep it light-hearted, the ladies are taking things more seriously. It was like NCT all over again.
Fresh Air extends the lead as I physically carry the duvet with the children in there somewhere out the back door. I realize I should probably wash the bedding which can hold the virus in the fabric. I plan out meals for the next two weeks to see if we can last with what we have. I feel a twinge of sadness for those who shopped like a four-year-old gave Alexa a shopping list. Then chuckle to myself at the image of a man being scolded for buying 16 packs of toilet rolls, when they were meant to get a 16 roll pack. I only wish that was the case.
Again I need to burn the midnight oil to be on top of my workloads. Thanks Boris, still awaiting the self-employed assistance? Only 5 million of us!
Read Day 3
Day 3 – Wednesday
Symptoms update: Cough has gone to the chest and breathing raspy. Energy levels returning.
The third day in and I’m giving myself an internal monologue with a Durham accent about life in self-isolation. My son still has a fever but his energy levels have returned. Which is frustrating as I am trying to do my year-end company accounts which kept getting pushed down the priority list. I feel myself getting more irritable, which happens when people interrupt me when I’m trying to do something. I try to ignore the chaos around me and concentrate. I hear the sounds of my son drawing on the walls, it’s a struggle to react calmly. I bite my fist when I find he has put an entire toilet roll down the toilet, screaming inside. It’s not his fault, and it does make a good pirate telescope I’ll give him that. I consider how kids cope and understand this isolation.
The schools are going to shut indefinitely, I might have months of this scenario and it is going to be really tough to fit education in too. My daughter deserves my complete attention which will not happen. She deserves better, and this week is showing what an angel she is. We continue our daily bedtime reading sessions and have managed a bit of art and writing practice today which we will keep up.
I can feel myself fraying at the edges and snapping at simple requests. I suggest some fresh air. The kids dismiss the idea. I step outside for some peace and quiet and they are instantly out and running around the garden. Children 0 Fresh Air 3
I spend the evening contacting the single people I know, particularly the ones who suffer from mental illness. All are really struggling. I am behind on work but fall asleep with the kids all in the same bed. Another inadvisable thing to do but kids mental health comes first for me. It seems the more energy the kids have during the day, the more draining it is.
Read Day 4
Day 4 – Thursday
I’m starting to feel strained, grabbing at positives there is no school run, but I miss the walk and start wishing I could go for one now. I can feel the cabin fever set in. I’m reminded of the 90’s comedy Game On that featured an agoraphobic character who never left the house and mentally wandered into a fantasy world. My daughter dresses like Elsa, but I’m not sure it’s the same thing. I am definitely going a bit stir crazy as I try to balance the kids with business needs, doing my best to put them first but also aware businesses are at stake. I’m noticeable snapping more, especially with them being personal space invaders.
The world seems to be unravelling. I’ve had my ear to the ground all week and the Wedding industry has been severely hit by cancellations and postponements. I offer some words of encouragement and free marketing tips to boost their online presence. It’s not an empty gesture but I can only do a summary of key things to do and mean to give more detail when I can. There is a lot of arguments about not refunding money and contracts. I ponder how people can happily charge for services they have not done and refuse to refund.
I review my client’s analytics and can see how badly all of my clients are doing and it’s time to start some frank and honest conversations about their business and how to survive. I advise them to cut all non-essential spend. That includes me and I offer to help with free support and advice until things recover. I’m hoping it’s not long for both our sakes.
Read Day 5
Day 5 – I don’t even know what day it is anymore. It’s like Christmas but without the elves.
My wife has a day off. She told me she was coming back for 9am to drop supplies off, and I tell her how much I am looking forward to going outside even for 5 minutes. I have some calls to make and I’m staring absent-mindedly out of the window waiting. A Sainsbury’s delivery van goes past and I expect to see people chase after it like it’s the tanker in Mad Max. I imagine using the kids as decoys so I can steal its precious cargo.
I start lamenting about my previous freedom of movement and look at the family calendar. Tonight I should be out with my friends for the bi-monthly beer and a curry. Boris Johnson is shortly going to close restaurants, bars and pubs. I start thinking about the food shortages and wonder what meat they’ll be using when we finally reschedule. My wife turns up at 5pm, but at least has returned with food so the Delivery Vans are safe for now. Her short return means she can see the kids through the window and talk to them and see the artwork they have done for her. It also finally gives me a little break.
I’m irritable as I’ve effectively lost all my clients but one who is seeing how the months ends, and wonder if I had the same bad slice of pizza as Jerry Maguire. I have to get outside and sneak out the backdoor so the kids don’t make a fuss. I’m lucky enough to have the countryside on my doorstep so within minutes I’m surrounded by fields. People are walking dogs and being really friendly. The walk helps, as does the peace to clear my head. Covid 19 has been the change everyone needed, especially the climate. It’s an interesting window into what the world would look like if we treated Mother Nature with more respect and the world was less populated.
I return positive and driven and my kids greet me at the door like they’ve not seen me all week. The illness is lingering, but at least so is my sanity. I promise myself I’ll work less, given them my full attention. Then I remember I have bills pay and have to work through to 1am again.
Read Day 6
Day 6 – Saturday
We still have snotty noses and mild coughs. Fevers are less frequent but have been joined with upset stomachs.
Saturday is always my favourite day. Dance and football lessons in the morning, and family time. The absence of the professional Football fixtures adds to the days merging with the lack of mile-stone events to break the monotony.
On the plus side, it’s a beautiful Spring Day so we willingly head into the garden. We plant seeds for our vegetable patch, and plant some sunflowers which triggers a distant school memory for me.
I get the Garden Furniture out and the kids love the playhouse, slide and trampoline which gives me time to fix what I can from the recent storm damage. I become very thankful it’s spring and not winter and the forecast looks good for the next 7 days of isolation.
In the late afternoon, I spend a few hours sorting out the fridge, freezer and cupboards to do a stock check and plan meals. We do some skype calls to the family. It should be called Physical distancing, as we are being more social than normal.
One of our neighbours put a card through the door to set up a street-based Whatsapp group. The response is huge, and it’s amazing how many young families live so close that we have only just met. Modern technology has opened the world to us all, but also shut out those geographically closest. We promise to throw a street party once all this is over. People are generously offering assistance and finding out who the vulnerable are. It’s another positive win for this situation.
Read Day 7
Day 7 – Mothering Sunday
My son has woken with dried blood under his nose. It’s the first time I feel any sort of panic this whole time, and I feel like a bad father for not taking him to the hospital imagining it to be empty of overworked NHS staff and the critically ill. I clean his face and will monitor him closely but in truth, he cuddles up and seems no worse.
We skype an emotional mummy, upset we can’t all be together. We had agreed a window separation would come with the temptation to break the isolation so kept it virtual. Our day is spent with play in the garden, painting rainbows for the windows, cooking a roast and we go for a drive in the countryside. We sit in the car in Devils Dyke car park admiring the view. There’s a cold wind to deter us going outside, but it seems popular.
On the way back I saw the queues of people for the supermarkets, thankful I’ve not have to brave it yet. A man is struggling with a lot of Mexican food and I think to myself “Hispanic buying”.
Read Day 8
Day 8 – Monday – Educating Isabella
Is this my new life? After years of training people in Digital Marketing, surely I can handle teaching a 4-year-old? The school have given some work to do at home, but admitted if the kids were in school it would be more childcare than education. There is some pressure from other parents who have lavish plans, pushing my wife to send me lots of suggestions. I try to be realistic about teaching with possibly the worst two conflicting age groups, offering instead to balance creative play with some Maths and English. I say that it’s better to cement relationships that will last a lifetime. That she is 4 years old, not 14. I get shot down for not taking it seriously.
I decide to speak to the school to see their expectations. “Do what you can” was the message, and they seemed more supportive of my nature lessons than academia. Ultimately I have a two-year-old to look after and entertain too, and he’s still poorly. I think about what I want my daughter to gain from my home-schooling. She always seems to come home happy from school, they’ve made education fun. Her mental health is also really important to me, as is our relationship. But under pressure, as I am documenting here, I relent and agree. My plan is set out:
08:00 Get up, have breakfast, get dressed in P.E kit to create a differential.
08:50: Mr Clarke reads the register
08:50.10: Done so we check on our seeds we planted at the weekend and talk about what makes them grow.
9am – P.E with Joe Wicks’s live youtube lesson. It’s the first battle of the day as she wants to do Maths instead. I can’t lose the first test of “who’s the boss”, so I’m firm. She storms off as I remind her that her teacher always commends her behaviour at school. I start off stern and it doesn’t work, so I speak to her honestly; this could be so much fun and quality time together if we do it right. She agrees and all three us join in with much amusement, then enthusiasm starts to wane before the warmup is even over. We persevere but she’s lost interest and wants to do maths again. I see it through with her watching.
9:45 – Maths with cubes for subtraction and adding.
10:15 – She wants to paint, for a brief moment I think she means the garden gate which is on my man-job list. But alas, I get the easel and chair out. Finnley wants to get involved and they fight over the same chair. Finnley is the first pre-schooler expelled from school for disruption. His punishment is to watch TV, and he seems pleased with that although comes in and out sporadically to disrupt things.
11:15 – healthy snack and break outside.
11:30 – Isabella is clearly dictating her own lesson plan; but it’s educational and this is the pitfalls of raising a strong, independent lady. She wants to spell out words with playdoh, which fits with my English lesson so all good by me.
12:00 – Creative play. Free reign to play with some toys and I get to marvel at her role-play skills and impressive array of voices and accents.
12:30 – Social interaction. Another time-scheduled lesson with an attempt at a conference call with some of her school friends. It seems they are all enjoying the spring weather and we are the only ones doing anything.
1:00 – Lunch. I did contemplate following her school lunch rota at one point, but we are limited on options.
13:30 – Garden play and nature studies. While I’m there I converse with some other parents. One sends me a great post supposedly written by a headteacher. I agree with it completely. and decide to join them in having fun in the garden.
14:30 – Writing practice
15:00 – Reading
I came into it with some ideas on structure, but for us free play worked better. It’s easier to engage her if she chooses an opinion from a choice. My children’s mental health for me is a huge priority, I know her childhood will shape her adult life and relationships. On the day she was born I promised her I’d always be there for her and protect her, and that includes her mental state.
In trying times, sometimes all we can change is how we react and our actions. It’s heart-warming to see communities coming together, and I hope it becomes the new normality.
Read Day 9
Day 9 onwards
I was relieved when the teachers started coming out to take the pressure of parents, clearly defining this was not homeschooling but crisis management. They were not prepared for it, and gave out coursework for kids to try and help.
Working or not, we are not trained teachers and have an existing relationship with our children. The Super Mummies were painting an idyllic insta-perfect vision of teaching which was not most peoples realities but one that some felt they had to aspire too. There are no rewards for the best parent in self-isolation. Coming out the other side is winning.
I witnessed a clear personality change in my daughter without her friend’s interaction. Kids suffer the same mental challenges with isolation, but without the understanding and reasoning. As such, I chose to focus on entertainment, which brings its own learnings.
One thing was clear. It was impossible to work from home and educate. Even when I was focused on my daughter, my two-year-old was having great fun entertaining himself. He’s also right at the cusp of potty training where he takes his own nappy off unaware that if he defecates it will go on the carpet. But my kids are safe, they are loved.
We have a happy balance now. An hour of clear education a day, some phonics play on a spare laptop, lots of outdoor fun and scavenger hunts, and some free play which is usually motor skills anyway. Then TV time in the afternoon where I try to get some work done. Before bed, we do some reading. My big concern is how I react to my own stress levels, and in turn how I release that. This is 247 parenting in a confined space, the cracks are there. But we are safe at home, which is all that matters.
In truth, I am disappointed with the lack of Government assistance for the self-employed, as I am unable to fully focus on my kids. The reality is if I did that anyway, I’d have no business to go back to when the assistance would stop. So perhaps a blessing in the long run that I am one of many who have fallen through the cracks. Short term, it weighs heavy on me. No doubt binmen are judging people on their overflowing recycling bins. I’m not envious of those furloughed or without kids, I just don’t think they consider how it would be in the shoes of the self-employed looking after two young kids.
I’ve always put my kids and their needs first. Unless on a client call, I always stop what I am doing for them. I’m happy to lose clients over that practice, and one good thing from this is I am changing the way I work going forward to balance this need.
Coronavirus has put a spotlight on a few things; a living wage and access to health care is a matter of life and death, not just a human right. The fact so many businesses and individuals are struggling after just weeks of no income is a huge indicator of the real economy. Money, ironically, has no value. Expensive clothes are worthless when you can’t leave the house. Regardless of the size of your home, the 4 walls seems a prison without freedom of movement. The NHS is finally being seen for its importance, and it’s underfunding dangerously apparent. We all pay our taxes, we should not have to be subjected to a life or death decision by Doctors with not enough resources. And in all honesty, we are all one lockdown away from a nervous breakdown.
For all those who gloated over their fat salaries, recent times have shown who really is the backbone of this country. Mostly doing jobs considered menial and low-skilled, and now surprisingly realising they are key workers. Here’s to the undisputed heroes of 2020.