Will lockdown today shape the privilege of tomorrow?

I have a love-hate relationship with my phone at present (she says, whinging on about screen-time whilst re-editing a blog post). I have done better at leaving it in rooms where I am not than I have done for years, accepting the cost of fewer memory-making photos as worth it for a less-conflicted attention span. At the same time, it is the only thing that reminds me that a world beyond my walls and garden fences actually exists, and is kind of struggling right now.

Yesterday, I was hiding under the dining room table and catching up with Facebook, and came across the piece by Altogether Mostly which has rightly gone viral.* The post redraws the lines of our time and our priorities, pointing out what many of us feel instinctively is true: that missing a few days, or even a few months, from school will be far less damaging than the lessons our children will learn in this time of global shutdown. To take responsibility for filling their own time. The realities of what it takes to run a home, and how even adults don’t think it’s fair when they have to do the same, really boring, housework every day. That genuine relationships are bloody hard, particularly if you can’t just get away from them for a few hours until your head calms down. That it’s not always possible, and it’s very rarely the answer, to just buy another one or a different one or a bigger one. That Daddy cooks as well as Mummy does and makes far more child-friendly food (particularly if you live in a house with a Daddy who suddenly doesn’t have evening meetings every night, and who shares his daughters’ belief that lentils are the only food that will be readily available in Hell). That those who are really essential are not the people who are paid the most, but are the ones we draw rainbows for. That grown ups are better at Scribble Head and “Made you Look” than children are, but these are skills that can be mastered with extensive practice. That it is possible, even when it’s hard, to be still, and listen, and hear a something that is beyond the everyday noise that streams forth for every other minute of the day.


A lifetime ago, in a galaxy far far away, Star Wars (Episode IV) was the first film I have any memory of watching (whilst hiding behind the coats at the entrance of Darth Vader). One of the unexpected joys of Lockdown has been watching through the saga with my own children (who built themselves mountains of cushions to hide behind at the entrance of any of the Darths). Lockdown, once we settled into it, has not lead to the doom and gloom feared, in this house at least. Life has felt more relaxed; there is more time for sitting in the garden and for saying Yes (whilst hiding behind the coats at some of the consequences); more laughter, and more laughter together; less pressure of expectations and comparisons and school hours and rush hour traffic jams.

Being in lockdown makes it even harder than normal to remember that the experiences of those outside this sun-drenched dreamy bubble are carrying on in a way that is utterly different, and far less privileged, than ours; and that those who have nothing to say that fits within the all-pervasive artificial filters of social media are being silenced by default. The golden-tinged experience of lockdown dreamed of by Absolutely Mostly may be how it is for my kids – on my good days, on their good days. It won’t be how it is for kids of NHS staff, separated by fear and exhaustion from the people who care for everyone else and, as a result, are unable to care as fully for the ones they themselves love the most. It won’t be how it is for the kids of the key workers – the delivery drivers, checkout assistants, refuse collectors – who are keeping us alive and healthy but are applauded only as an afterthought. It won’t be the case for kids whose parents are breaking down or breaking up or forcing themselves to stay together, overcome by unbearable hopes or unfightable fears. It won’t be the experience of the kids who would do anything to avoid the inescapable attention of their carers, or their siblings; or of those trapped within the temporary security of a bedsit, a room in a B&B, a refuge where nothing is familiar and the sounds of strangers echo on every side.

It is an amazing ideal that somehow this experience will make our children stronger, happier, the leaders of the future. It gives hope that there is a purpose in all this; that, like in Star Wars, we’ve got some rubbish to get through and some of our comrades won’t make it, and that will hurt – but ultimately, good will overcome evil, a plucky band of all-powerful goodies will make everything OK again, and it will all have been worth it. But who, in this scenario, is the Empire? It isn’t Covid-19. That, confounding the overarching narrative of the day, is not the evil to be overcome but is, in truth, the thing that is allowing us to fight back. The thing that is constraining and tormenting us is a darkness that has been present in our lives for much longer. It is, as Luke Skywalker discovered, a more intimate, personal darkness that hides behind masks of our own making and forces us to live lives we never chose or wanted. We have no one but ourselves to blame for the lives we are not missing, now that we have been forced to leave them at the front door and wish they were not there, waiting to catch us up in their shadows, when we walk that way again. We have no one to blame but ourselves. So, when this is all over, what are we going to do about it? And how will we make sure that it is something that, unlike our current experiences, genuinely does not discriminate; something that we can all overcome, together?

Still from The Empire Strikes Back, interpreted as I want to, with no reference to the official line. And no reference to Episode IX either, please, as we couldn’t get a babysitter and so haven’t seen it yet (sob).

*At the end of all this, incidentally, I think there needs to be a petition to get the inventors of Sleeping Lions and Hide and Seek onto the next Honours List. Absolutely genius, both of them.


Riding the limbo rollercoaster

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times; it is the age of outpourings of Facebook-fuelled generosity, it is the age of stockpiling, panic-driven selfishness; it is the epoch of global awareness, it is the epoch of fake news; it is the coming of Spring, after a winter of floods and wildfires; it is a fridge full of fresh vegetables about to decay, it is reaching for the tinned beans because cooking takes energy that ran out a geological age ago; it is the era of memes of hope, it is the era of gifs of despair. It is a time of limbo, of contradictions, of explosive numbness. It is Lockdown: week 2.

A black and white image of a girl, with a background of line-drawn clocks disintegrating into smoke around her.
Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

No commute into work means that my regular Radio 4 news catch-up now only happens during my blurry semi-sleeping morning resurfacings, and so I am getting most of my news from social media and Newsround (which probably actually makes it quite balanced, though knowing The Paleontologist, there’s no guarantee that the Newsround episodes she’s watching aren’t from several months ago). Social media encourages me to luxuriate in the quality time now suddenly available with my loved ones, and I am excited by the change in pace and in focus and in priorities within the Western world. It simultaneously reminds me that there are oceans of darkness around us, of intensive care units filled with fathers, with sisters, with daughters; of those who are desperate enough to flee their homes into this locked-down society because this is still safer for their children than the communities they are leaving behind; of those desperate and unable to flee the homes that are defined as the only safe havens allowed, but where they will never feel safe, be safe, even be able to stay alive if they remain for as long as this may take. Social media shows me that the most stressful and unifying event in the daily calendar is PE with Joe Wicks; it reminds me of moments of joy and light-hearted mockery; I see crafts I would love to try, and games I am happy to steal, and helps me to stop and focus on the pieces of my heart that share this home with me and make the world a better place. It does all of this while making me feel that I should be baking more, and exercising more, and loving more, and gardening more, and singing more, and painting more, and just Being More. It says “Trust your gut. You’ve got this” while your gut is screaming at you that, whatever else you have (and you quite possibly have plenty) one thing you have not got is This.

Things change and change again, flickering between emotions quicker than a five year old gets bored. There are times (though not that many, as the Age of the Introverts has finally arrived) when I am desperate for any kind of adult company, only to find myself switching off my phone later the same day because I’m all Zoomed out. I’ve never hoovered my home this often, and yet I am driven even more distracted than usual by the piles of paper and cobwebs clouding up every corner. I want to spend our days making and experimenting and playing, but I also want my kids to learn independent time-filling control, which they do quite happily, when I let them, with screen time and convoluted games full of arguments and American accents and make-believe relationships that just don’t need me any more. I turn to binge-eating to avoid facing reality at a time when food is scare and protein-rich comfort food is almost non-existent. I seek others to mourn and grieve and despair with when the world I have railed against comes crashing to a halt.

And so I find myself both loving this time of pausing and dreaming and relaxing, and scared and angry and tense about what can possibly end this limbo. I teeter between absolute joy and utter despair. I try to ride this rollercoaster because at least a rollercoaster moves, even if this one moves only in a continuous seamless loop, a snake of time and timelessness swallowing its own tail. A lot of the time I laugh. Sometimes I scream. And always I look backwards, forwards, sideways, anywhere but right in front of my eyes. If life is what happened while we were making other plans, what else can we do to enjoy this limbo life we are all living right now?

A rainbow of grief and hope and memories of me trying to look after two much smaller munchkins on my own, many years ago. The carpet was never the same again, but it’s always felt worth the sacrifice.