It’s week six of Britain’s lockdown and our fourth week of home-schooling. And the first one in my family to show signs of losing the plot is me.
I knew lockdown parenting would be a challenge, so in the early days, I tried to make it fun. On the first day of home-schooling, I dressed up as Harry Potter’s teacher, Professor McGonagall; PE lessons involved jumping on the trampoline or skipping rope in the garden; and cupcake baking counted as a maths and science lesson.
Admittedly, home-schooling has been helped a great deal by the fantastic job the kids’ teachers have done in setting up online lessons and engaging students daily.
Still, I can’t wait for schools to open their doors again, allowing me to reclaim time and space for myself. Because no matter how well designed the kids’ home-schooling programme is, lockdown parenting is bloody exhausting.
How naive I was to think I’d have some fun channelling Professor McGonagall and deluding myself that my experience as a university lecturer and seminar teacher would come in handy at this time. For it wasn’t long before I’d been forced into the role of something reminiscent of a 1950s housewife/Victorian housemaid. Not only am I tasked with acting as an unpaid and underappreciated teaching assistant to my children; I am also doing double shifts as a housekeeper, cook, and butler.
The sole purpose of my existence, these days, appears to be to attend to the needs of my children. In doing so, I’ve taken multi-tasking to a new level; helping my daughter solve tricky maths problems while simultaneously doing an improvised spin class on our exercise bike. It’s a good day when I find a chocolate egg leftover from Easter while cleaning the house. I hide it in the pocket of my frilly apron like it was a precious stone and continue to hoover.
My ten-year old’s room has never been as tidy as it is now, but that’s not because she’s finally learned to clean up her mess. No, it’s because she’s currently occupying my home office, having turned it into her private classroom, leaving me only with a tiny makeshift office on the sofa. My usually tidy and well-organised office is now littered with pieces of paper, pens, rulers, erasers, leftover snacks and half-empty glasses of water.
“Close the door properly,” my daughter commands me as I leave the room that was once my private sanctuary.
What’s worse, my ten-year-old, who typically has to be forcibly dragged from her bed on school mornings, now jumps out of bed at 6 am and is dressed and ready for the day hours before her online classes begin. That would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that she wakes me up as well. If there were any perks to home-schooling and the lockdown, it would be the chance to stay in bed longer in the mornings and even lounge in my PJs all day. But home-schooling has inexplicably transformed my daughter into an insufferable morning person. Unlike me, she wants company in the kitchen as she eats breakfast, someone to chat to about the day ahead. Personally, I’d rather not have to speak to a living soul before 11 am.
I’d like to think there are plenty of things I am good at, but everyone who knows me will say cooking isn’t one of them. Luckily, my husband is a phenomenal chef, and for years he’s been in charge of the cooking at home while I’ve happily done the washing up. But even that arrangement has been upended by the lockdown. My husband is now sat in his study day and night, juggling two different jobs from home. As a result, I’ve had to overcome my 40+ years of profound resistance to cooking, and get on with it, usually while shouting aggressively at whichever government minister is doing the daily coronavirus press briefing on TV.
But sometimes, yelling at Dominic Raab or Matt Hancock doesn’t do enough to relieve my stress and frustration, and I have to take more drastic action. Thankfully, the government’s lockdown regulations stipulate that it’s ok to leave the house to cool down if family tensions are running high.
I avoid the local park though because of all the joggers and dog walkers who don’t appear to have got the memo about social distancing or don’t know how to measure two meters. Instead, I walk on the deserted streets in my neighbourhood, enjoying the sound of birdsong that normally would be drowned out by traffic noise, and I allow my lungs to breathe in the unusually fresh air. In those precious moments, I almost wish the lockdown would never end.