Busy doing nothing: the first 5 days.

Day 1. The Cowgirl comes in at 6:30am (second time that night) with an ouchy tummy. My sleep-fogged brain finally puts together all the pieces and we work out this is an all-too-familiar list of events, which results in a call to the doctor and antibiotics for a urine infection. Normally this means a day of Netflix, sleep and Calpol, and then back to normal. Today it resulted in a text message by 8:30am reminding us that, because urine infections come with a fever, the family is officially locked in for 14 days.

First I refused to believe it, running through everything I wanted to get done before this happened. Then came relief: at least now we knew what the next 14 days had in store. That was closely followed by guilt and a morning spent in Skype, email and Google Classroom as I watched my colleagues trying to plug holes and fight fires as we locked down the college for the academic year, with no exams complete and no certainty of whether this is entirely practicable or a massive over-reaction.

By lunchtime, we can breathe again. Calls have slowed, children have settled, antibiotics have been fetched. We have more food in the house than we had at Christmas, nothing has run out yet, and there are flowers and sunshine.

The evening arrives and I’m buzzing. Life is good and so are the people around us. My colleagues have delivered my left-behind marking; The Vicar’s colleagues have delivered the most beautiful duck eggs you’ve ever seen, and soil-encrusted potatoes from the local market. The paramedics have also revised their opinion: with The Cowgirl responding as expected to antibiotics and given The Vicar’s key-worker status we are given the all clear for him to leave the house if necessary. We are good.

Home working meets home schooling meets our kitchen table, clear for the first time since… well, possibly since we moved in.

Day 2. Can it really only be day 2? This time last week everything was still pretty much normal. How can things possibly change this much in a week? Within the house, life is manageable, apart from occasional gripes when told that we can’t use the playground and a moderate panic from me until I work out that what sounded like dry coughing from the living room was actually just The Paleontologist putting lanterns into her Minecraft mansion. Seriously – who knew the two things could sound so alike? Outside The World’s wheels continue to turn. Fears abound and people continue to behave like idiots. But self-isolation works both ways, and we are as isolated from that as others are from our temperatures.

Rainbow crystals take 1. These followed the recipe. The others did not. They are not quite so pretty…

Day 3. It’s Mothering Sunday. Church and Meeting are in enforced lockdown; we join Zoom so that we can take part in Meeting, catch up on worship on Facebook Live, and take the timer off Facebook so that it stops telling me this is contradicting my digital wellbeing. The sun is shining; the blossom is blooming; The Cowgirl is experimenting with endless rainbow crystal test tubes. All around us people are struggling and suffering and stressed and I am feeling pretty guilty that I am not.

My students have told me before that it is only in England that the work-life balance is so bad that you cannot shop for fresh produce every day. What habits will we all form in this time of enforced idleness? And will we want to return to our great busyness when society returns to normal? There are times that it feels like this is a giant reboot, turning society off and on again. I am aware that there will be many who are unable to trust that this is an answer to prayer. I am aware that there will be times when I cannot feel that myself, and I am aware that I am very lucky that right now isn’t one of them. But we have been praying for years for something to disrupt the destructive, cataclysmic societal structures that are draining the lifeblood of existence on earth. Prayers are very rarely answered exactly how we would like them to be. Is it just possible that this time, they are being answered like this?

Mothering Sunday flowers. I present to you the New Normal.

Day 4. It’s Monday. Schools are shut and we’re juggling children’s activities with trying to maintain a normal work timetable. This is not going well. The morning was pretty productive and the children were cheerful. The afternoon was productive in a very different way: mostly productive of tears. And screaming. And The Paleontologist pretending she’s 15 and storming off to her room, slamming every door along the way. 8:30pm brings the news of Shutdown 2.0 from Boris Johnson, and the day ends with whiskey and chocolate on the sofa. The Vicar’s phone pings continuously from those who can no longer look to any form of church to sustain them when they need it most. His face greys out as the evening progresses and he gives all he doesn’t have while mourning himself for what has been ripped away from the core of his being. There are many who are screaming tonight, as the candles, lit at 7 to show hope, are blown out one by one.

Our joint plan for avoiding going stir-crazy. And to stop me spending all day hiding away with nothing but a bottle of gin and my phone.

Day 5. The cracks are deepening and blood is starting to seep through. There have been tears, tantrums and misunderstandings galore. The kids haven’t been coping brilliantly, either. Things ease once the morning chaos is past, though – the sunshine continues to help us out massively, a local independent bakery are doing home deliveries of chocolate brownies, and school have sent out colouring activities instead of research tasks this morning. This too will pass. All will be well.

As close as we can get to holy ground, in The Room Formerly Known As The Dumping Ground.

Smiling, Spring and Coronavirus: keeping pandemonium in perspective

Spring landed this morning. The sky was endlessly, brilliantly, blue, bigger and brighter than it has been for months. The grass was uncomfortably luminous, real life filters making it too bright for eyes used to winter dullness. The glorious yellow of the blooming daffodils was matched only by the golden arms of the JCBs, carving out new foundations next to still-waterlogged floodplains. Blossom, too heavy now to be contained in scent-stuffed blisters, burst forth in transitory wonder. And driving through this cacophony of new life, my heart is crashing and my tummy is exploding with tension; a volcano transforming my focus and sapping my mind.

We all live in bubbles. Most of the time, we ignore their presence, looking out through their soapy rainbow walls at a world filtered for us by our own prejudices, seeing everything as though it fits perfectly with our own expectations. But every now and again – in elections, in pandemics, when meeting the family of a new and beloved partner – bubbles crash into each other and can no longer remain invisible. At these crunch points, we have a choice. Do we stay within our bubbles, shoring up the walls and hoping it will be enough to keep out the threat creeping towards us? Do we attempt to burst the opposing force in order to maintain our own security? Do we create a double bubble, the sides gelled together, though each remains integral to itself?

The thing that is most exhausting for me in this time of fear-fuelled headlines and anxiety-provoking bulk emails are the bridges between my bubbles. I have one for home, another for work. One for Quaker Meeting, and an adjacent one, sometimes attached, sometimes a lifetime apart, for Church. I carry these identities within me all the time, and the nothing moments, when I switch from teacher to mother, from daughter to counsellor, from worshipper to Vicar’s Wife, are always the points of my day when surges of energy rush me with adrenaline and exhaust me from my painted toenails through to my split ends. In normal times it can be overwhelming; and these, of course, are not normal times.

Keep calm and carry on is engrained – after all, we don’t want to make a fuss over nothing. Have a cup of tea and let everyone else whip themselves into a flap clashes in mid-thought with memories of those around me I know are immunocompromised, or over 70, or pregnant. My natural instinct to be a raging hypochondriac sits in chattering conflict with my deep-seated need to write off as suspect anything promoted by Boris Johnson. Wanting to do my job and do the best I can by my students, labouring over planning and guiding and marking and feeding back, is suddenly the worst thing I can do, and to help them the most I need to leave them alone. Together we learn the new language of self-isolation and social distancing, too new still to come up on the spellcheck. Every day I hear new myths, covering racism, justifying prejudice, anticipating financial hardship. All of it is based on fear masquerading as fact. All of it is spoken with authority and without understanding.

The world, for many, has been flipped inside out, and I feel buffeted along with it. If we cannot trust each other enough to not hoard toilet paper, how will we get through this together? (I was sitting smug on this one until it occured to me that our upcoming delivery from Who Gives A Crap will be sitting outside our front door all day, if it’s delivered at all. I never worried about other people walking off with it before – after all, it’s a box big enough for The Cowgirl to turn into a cafĂ©, filled with nothing but toilet roll. All of a sudden, I feel a bit like I’m leaving gold dust in the front garden all day…) I won’t finish with advice I’m not sure I can follow either. Instead, I will share the three things I have learned today, and let tomorrow take care of itself.

  1. Don’t be like me. Be like The Vicar.* When the news updated us to leave the house only for essentials and work, I bought vegetables and withdrew cash. He bought a case of wine and visited the sick in hospital. It’s all about priorities.
  2. Don’t sing Happy Birthday. Unless it is your birthday, of course, at which point, indulge as much as you can in the singing, as now is not a good time for parties. Instead of singing, say the Lord’s Prayer. I have found little that helps me slow down, be mindful, and hope, as much as that.
  3. Stop. Talk. Share idiotic stories – from a distance of 2 metres, naturally. My introverted nature is close to dancing for joy at the idea of having a legitimate reason to enforce personal space, but even I’ve been talking to people that I would normally just smile at and move on. This is a time when we need every connection we can make, and actually, it’s lead to some great conversations. And the discovery that security tagging Extra Mature Cheddar is a thing. But mostly, it’s made me smile, and I for one needed more of that.
A screen filled with white and blushing pink blossom.

*I decided my husband needs a name on here, rather than just being defined by his relationship with me. After all, I’m very aware how frustrating that can be. I’m going to get in trouble for this name, as it isn’t technically his current job title. But hey, this is my blog, so I’ll stay a Vicar’s Wife, and he will stay The Vicar.