Monday after the Easter holidays hit and I felt a little relief. A new school week, tasks set by teachers for my oldest in addition to the piles of worksheets and books I had collated in a panic before lockdown. I was grateful for some structure after two weeks off at home doing not much of everything, keeping everyone entertained within the limits set out by the lockdown. It got me thinking about routine and why we as humans love it so much and, even if we don’t love it, a lot of us very much need some kind of order in our lives. It means certainty, it creates knowing and understanding what happens next and there are less surprises and ambiguities. Generally, if I have my duties, such as work in place, I get more done, I am more likely to stick to a plan I made and I feel in control (an important thing for me). I love weekends and holidays, don’t get me wrong, they are the best reward for working hard, but sometimes I seem to float around on a cloud of wishy-washiness and I feel like I am doing either too many things at once or nothing properly. Lack of routine also never works for my children. Eventually, they just go a bit crazy and feral, and I struggle to identify which of them is the puppy and who are the humans. Order is good, rules are good, right? We are surrounded by them from an early life and most of our existence on earth is based upon restrictions and certain structures which has been constructed by society and history over time. Especially now, rules and regulations have never been more prevalent whilst we are all fighting the virus. And thank goodness for them.
Back to my home life, my gratitude for the new/ old routine didn’t last long though. Our new normal in the abnormal has us working alongside one another through most of the day. We start our mornings with Joe Wicks. As a child I hated physical exercise because one of my PE teachers compared me to a sack of potatoes (I wasn’t a sack of potatoes, I just took longer to get into a headstand than my best friend who did gymnastics in her free time), so it is so important to me to instil a positive attitude to exercise into my children. The mental exercise thereafter is a little more challenging, at least in the sense of co-ordinating home schooling and working from home at the same time. As a teacher, some may believe that home schooling comes natural to me, seeing it’s what I do for a living anyway. Believe you me, it is not. First of all, I teach teenagers in a speciality subject. Second, teaching your own child is generally more challenging than other peoples’ children. Expectations are higher, emotions run deeper and patience wears thin a lot quicker. Third, having other little people in the house whilst home schooling and working from home resembles a merry-go-round gone rogue. You can’t get off no matter how badly it is spinning out of control. There is screaming, there is squawking, there is yelling and crying, throwing, hitting, biting and falling off chairs, spilling drinks, crunching crisps and spitting out bits of apple. There are constant questions, incessant toilet and snack breaks, puppy-cuddle breaks, stroppy moments and major meltdowns. Take that and combine it with keeping an eye on over 100 other students remotely, whilst planning ahead, answering emails and trying to concentrate on writing two coherent sentences, and you have a cocktail of confusion, exhaustion and exasperation. Regular breaks with hot drinks, leftover Easter chocolate and homemade cakes certainly help but within those breaks the normal work of a household creeps in. Cooking, washing, cleaning, tidying, a quick phone call with a friend or a colleague bring back some sanity at times but often they remind me even more of how much is expected of us at the moment. There are lots of letters from schools and articles telling us that mental health comes first and that learning, education and work in the conservative terms are allowed to take a back seat. I am fully aware that my daughter will not be illiterate later because I didn’t teach her Set 568 of phonics or let her play with dice instead of hiding a frozen pea in jelly (where on earth am I getting jelly from in lockdown, unless I queue up for 3 hours outside a supermarket…). But the pressure is still there. It comes at me from all sides. From the constant “ping” of my emails, from the web portal where I set work for my students, from my personal email, from my social media feed on Facebook (pure evil) and forums of parents who apparently have this lockdown malarkey figured out down to a T. I know I am not alone. The other night I rang one of my friends. We don’t speak often as we both work stupid hours and are, despite challenging jobs, sensitive and overwhelmed by too many outside influences. But when we talk, it’s pure love from a connection that can’t be easily found. She told me how tough she found it to work all day whilst also keeping her two young children entertained. Her husband also works full-time from home, and neither of them get a break. “I can’t do it”, she snaps, not at me, but at life. “We play, we go outside, we learn as we go along. But I can’t sit down and teach them. Not when I am expected to be working at the same time.” Her account rings familiar and I tell her I hear her. Exhausted, tired, overwhelmed and stressed out parents everywhere: I hear you, I feel with you, I stand with you, I sit with you, metaphorically holding your hand and passing you a glass of wine. It’s an emergency. It’s a crisis. The norm doesn’t apply anymore. Normal doesn’t exist. It’s all gone a bit Pete Tong. And you know what I realise whilst writing? I am done with trying to do it all. Because I can’t. I am pretty super but superwoman, I am not, neither have I got any ambitions to be her. I am human, I am anxious and I am doing the best I can. My children are loved, are safe and will learn as and when. My students know how much I care and I am always there to listen and help them. But even with them, my main concern is their mental health and well-being, so why am I giving myself such a hard time? What is it with us trying to be everything to everyone and striving for sheer work-overload?
I am turning my emails off. I am muting Facebook. I am ignoring the unhelpful and patronising email I received earlier from someone without children, trying to tell me how to do my job. I am leaving my desk to go outside to help my boy put on his shoes and my daughter to find magic shapes and creatures in the garden. Normal doesn’t exist. Neither does perfect. Go and have a rest. Get off the merry-go-round. It’ll keep spinning without you, too.