Four years ago we arrived in the UK, excited, exhausted, and naive. It was a big enough culture shock that it took longer for us to acclimatize than our previous across Canada moves (which were also a culture shock but in different ways).
After five months we had adapted to most things. The driving, the lingo, the food, the people, the house, the keys, the schools, the laundry, the TV tax. It took me a few months further to convince my partner to go anywhere. Our house had become our safe zone. Our bubble where we didn’t have to exert extra energy. Little did we know that we would end our time here in our house as a safe zone. A bubble of hopefully virus free living space.
We should be leaving England this week, but instead, we are sorting out our autumn schedule of homeschool, work partially from home, and a plan to move back to Canada within the next six months. A plan that will include an airplane journey that we really need to be possible even though our ten year old autistic son can only wear his mask for about four minutes at a time, he is getting better at it and we are practicing. At first he would not even put it on at all! A plan that will include quarantine in a Canadian winter, buying a house, buying a car… during a pandemic and on a quick timeline. I could not have imagined this in my wildest dreams/nightmares. So we have a few more months of hanging all our laundry to dry and living without screens on our windows. Apparently it is spider mating season right now, so if you are religious, please keep us in your prayers.
As my seven year old Mr. L reminded me, “a mom’s only relief is when her children go to school.” So there will be no relief until autumn 2021 at the earliest it seems. We decided that since we are moving, I have a background in education, I am lucky to not be employed outside the home at this time, and our children are actually doing quite well at home, that we would remove them from school officially. I feel like I am helping by giving the teachers three less precocious students to look after, smaller classes can only be beneficial at this point.
England has been really strange in offering no options for parents in regards to school. Apparently all classes will be back full time next week with fines in place for those who do not comply. In the UK, there are always fines for missing school for reasons other than illness and we once got a warning because one of our children’s attendance dipped below 95% during a term when they had a bad flu. I am jealous of my Ottawa friends having choices for in school time or online learning. We opted to deregister our children even though the Prime Minister has been spouting that it is “our moral duty to get all children back in school.”
Of course, every family is different, and all we can do is make the best choice in our particular circumstance. Going back to in class learning is doubtless the best option for many people. I hope that whatever we are all doing this autumn that we can have peace with our decisions and that our children will be happy and healthy.
I do fear that we are losing our humanity as we report numbers of deaths and daily cases in such a casual way. Every life is valuable and 832,000+ deaths, however you calculate it, is tragic. I think of people whose lives were cut short and died alone. People who sacrificed seeing their families to work on the front lines. I think of them and I wear a mask and keep socially distant from others and I refuse to let it all be in vain.
I have learned that I do not know how to be a good friend in a pandemic. I only see my family and that is what we are comfortable with. I have actually been grateful that extended family is so far away because I feel that having them nearby would add a level of complexity that I do not have the energy for. I realize that it is a balancing act between mental health and physical health and that we are all going to balance this differently. So to my friends, I apologise. Now that I have lost my only source of childcare (school), it is not like I can really get together with anyone anyway. My kids most definitely would not social distance if they were face to face with some of their favourite friends (I am thinking of you Katie and the Mans).
While everyone we know went to Cornwall and the radio continued to advertise “staycations” that included holiday accommodation (it is not a staycation unless you sleep in your own home and don’t even get me started on the misuse of the word selfie, which is a photo you take of yourself, not a photo someone else takes of you), we enjoyed walks, hiking, picnics. We do not do restaurants or public places because, to be honest, we were barely comfortable doing them before and always kept to slow hours. Going out in public with my oldest can be challenging, he has some difficult behaviours that draw attention and with social distancing, extra queues and waiting times, it is just not worth it. He literally licks things. We can’t take him anywhere with people around. So we will just spend all our time together this year and get weirder and weirder. Recently we have added playgrounds to our outing repertoire but only if it is raining and there are no other children present. Lest I sound insane, this is basically how we did it before. My children are charming and hilarious but they are not easy nor typical.
These past months have been a time of intense learning for me. I have realized that although I would not classify myself as racist, I was definitely not living in an anti-racist way, and I have had a shift in my understanding. I talk to my children more openly, I am educating myself and standing up for others in a way I didn’t before. I have mentally gone through things that I have said or done when I was younger that were not right. The casual racism that we accepted growing up in the 90s is appalling. I apologize for participating and not questioning how things were.
I have learned that we are strong. The human spirit is limitless and inspiring. The service, art, music, humour, that I have witnessed during this time have comforted me. When we are suffering, we turn to the arts and I hope that we all realise this and support our local creatives. Someone in my neighbourhood has put lovely inspirational messages all around Cheltenham that have really cheered me on my walks. I recently solved the mystery of who this person is, but I will keep their secret unless they ask me to write an expose.
I have learned that I need way more alone time. That anytime I escape with a cup of coffee and a book, or draw a bath, or go to the toilet, a child will need me immediately- this has been my biggest challenge. I have learned that health is priceless and fragile and I try to take better care of myself, to rest when I need it, to listen to my body.
I have learned that my children are the most precious experience I will ever have and I have made an extra effort to connect deeply with each of them every day. This extra time at home has been beautiful for this, I just have to compete with Minecraft. I have learned that my partner is still my best friend and thank goodness for that. I have learned that I am far more Canadian than British in my sensibilities. I have learned that my children will never fall asleep or be quiet in the evenings and I have no choice but to ignore their yelling, singing, laughter, at 11 pm.
I have learned to spend less time on my phone and more time in a book. I have learned that I have a better day when I put on makeup, get dressed, do my hair, even if I never see anyone (I thought I could become one of those natural beauty people but I cannot). I have learned that I will never not want a clean house. I have learned that I will always be tired. I have learned who my true friends are. I have learned to wash my hands more and touch my face less. I have learned that we will all experience this differently. I have learned. I am learning. I am grateful.