Desperately Seeking Sanity
Updated: May 1, 2020
Six weeks into lockdown and I am starting to wonder if a) I am a good parent b) I was ever any good as a teacher c) I have the stamina to be a writer and d) I am slowly losing my grip on reality.
Until now, I would have said that as a family, we were coping well with the enforced period at home. Homeschooling was going well, bar the occasional minor hiccup, we were all still getting on as well as normal and although our usual activities had been curtailed, we were finding other ways to amuse ourselves. We'd spent some quality time together, the house was clean and tidy and things were going relatively smoothly.
Then this weekend hit.
I don't know what happened between Friday night and Saturday morning, but somehow, our four year old went to bed at the normal time, then woke up as the devil incarnate. The reasonably obedient (most of the time) and happy child had somehow been replaced with a moody boy who not only refused point blank to do anything he was told, but also who was capable of throwing the most horrific temper tantrums I've seen as soon as he was told 'no'. Coupled with the sudden ability to answer back when he was being told off, it led to a very stressful weekend. We consoled ourselves with the fact that Monday was on the horizon when we would be back into our normal 'school day' routine and surely this would make things easier? Not so... if anything, Monday was worse. By Monday night, everyone except my husband had cried copiously (he substituted crying for copious amounts of gin!) and I was feeling like a complete failure. My goal of typing up the short story I'd written over Easter was a distant dream, as was the foolish notion that I could get any writing at all done. The deadline for my next assignment is looming and I still have editing to do, but how do you even begin to think creatively when your children are alternating between screaming at each other and crying on you? My normally level-headed 14 year old had a breakdown over some Maths he couldn't do (it turned out he was right and the question had the wrong information in it - not the teacher's fault!) and a confirmatory message from his teacher was helpful, but did nothing to lift his spirits.
Yesterday was a better day, but still ended with both children in tears and we decided that today we were giving them both the day off. The eldest in particular, had chosen to work over the Easter holidays (but did it in his bedroom so we didn't notice) and we'd kept the youngest doing some reading still, all with the best of intentions, but they were both at breaking point. Today has not been great, but at least the eldest doesn't look quite as haunted as he did yesterday. We Skyped my Mum and I cried to her - it didn't solve anything and I hate worrying her, but I desperately needed to hear her tell me that none of this was my fault, that I wasn't failing my children. My Mum is always brutally honest with me and I knew if she said it, then it must be true.
I am very lucky that my husband's job is secure and although he's a key worker, he's relatively safe when he goes to work. It's taken six weeks for this to really hit home for us, others have been dealing with it for far longer and having spoken to many of the mums from the nursery, I know that I'm not alone in how I feel, or in having small children that are behaving in such an out of character fashion.
But here's the thing, whilst knowing that is nice and on one level it helps, on another level it's no help at all, because in the middle of the maelstrom it's hard to hear the voices telling you that you will get through it. I can't give my kids a way out, I can't give them coping strategies because I am at rock bottom myself. I've tried to be cheerful, I've tried to stay positive for them and after six weeks I am exhausted, but I have to keep a lid on it because if I don't, then how can I expect them to?
We got an email from the school today congratulating our eldest on how well he'd engaged with the work that had been set and there was lots of information about what the school were anticipating doing to ensure that they caught up with the work next year. However, it didn't tell me what to do with a teenager who seems to have aged five years in the space of a week, it didn't tell me what to do with the boy who has taken it on himself to be strong for his Mum when she has a wobble, who is struggling with his own life, while simultaneously trying to deal with a difficult 4 year old who won't leave him alone and who is terrified of being left on his own.
What it boils down to is this: life is just a bit pants at the moment (I would use stronger language, but my Mum might read this and I don't want the telling off!). Knowing that doesn't solve it, but as someone far wiser than me said, 'This too shall pass.'
What it has made me realise are the following things: 1. I am very grateful to have a husband whose emotions are far less volatile than my own and who is supportive 2. I am immensely proud of the eldest human being we created together (I've always known this, but I grow prouder by the day) 3. Much as I want to copy those people who are continuing to write during this time, I have to accept that I am not superhuman and sometimes, it's good to take your own advice and give yourself a break. Not writing every day at the moment does not mean I am not a 'true' writer, sometimes, just keeping small (and not so small) humans alive and sane is enough. 4. Despite the fact that he is being a monumental pain in the rear end at the moment, there are enough flashes of the old Arthur for me to keep the murderous tendencies under control for now. We've always expected a lot of our children and it's easy to lose sight of the fact that he is still only 4. This is hard enough for us as adults to cope with and we have a (reasonably) full understanding of what's happening and why all these changes to our lives have happened. To a four year old, who thinks an hour is a long time, trying to conceive of not being allowed out for weeks and not seeing his friends for potentially months is monumental.
All we can do is to take a deep breath, maybe have a small snifter of something strong and try not to think about what tomorrow will bring. Who knows, maybe it will be something good! For now, it's enough to know that the people I love are safe and ultimately, that's all that matters. Everything else can wait.