Can’t see friends and family, can’t visit the glorious places around us, shopping in M&S is frankly weird now, and the Easter holidays were a write-off compared with what we had planned. These things are tough, but I’m living with them. In fact, there is a lot that I do like about this situation. We are all at home, and we are safe, and we’re being forced to prioritise some of my favourite things – learning and working at home, working on the house and garden, and trying to spend good quality time with the boys.
As a child, I used to play imaginary games where I was allowed by ‘mum’ (played by my younger sister) to skip school and stay at home, so this is sort of a dream come true. It’s a bit like when my parents sent me to my room: all of my books were in there, so it was practically a treat. Unless I’d been in the middle of watching Neighbours, of course.
I know others are not in the same place. I’m more grateful than I could ever express for the key workers who are out there keeping it all running for us, some of them dealing with situations that most of us could never imagine. I am grieved beyond measure about the increase in domestic violence against both men and women, and the abhorrent spike in domestic murders since lockdown. I’m outraged by some of the behaviour of some people, from basic lack of consideration for others, to utter selfishness and downright refusal to understand what’s happening. It’s got to be the strangest time any of us have ever lived through, and our parents lived through the strikes and power blackouts of the 70s.
So while I am not complaining about the situation we find ourselves in as a family, there’s plenty that saddens me. And adjusting to this life has not been easy, either – it’s never as pleasant to do a thing when you have no choice about it.
But the one aspect of all of this that has caused me the most stress is not, actually, the homeschooling; it’s not the clients who have understandably put a hold on outsourcing their writing work; nor is it the massively amplified mental load of managing a houseful of people and meeting their needs, seven days a week. The thing I am finding so hard is the gear-shifting between all of those roles.
It’s because I’m so used to the different compartments of my life, physically and mentally. Work happens when the boys are safely packed off to school, armed with everything they need for the day. We delegated responsibility for their education to the best providers we could find, which left me with those hours to find a career again. Children retrieved after 3pm – now it I turn my attention to what they need, and things around the house: shopping, bills, cleaning, maintenance. It’s defined, organised, and usually effective. Plenty of time to move between the worlds, and keep my thoughts clear.
Now – chaos. Our structure has been swept out from underneath us, and it’s safe to say I spent the first couple of weeks fumbling blindly about in the dark for a new routine. I also felt a huge pressure to come up to the mark as the boys’ homeschool teacher. Suddenly, responsibility for their education – which I had so smugly outsourced, or so I thought – was once again mine, overnight. At the same time, the business I’ve built up over the last two years was crumbling away, as clients quite understandably began to withdraw because of their own situations – and the spare time I sought to fill when my pre-school child-rearing was done had evaporated overnight. I simply didn’t have the time to chase new business, and do the job I wanted to on the boys’ education, and every time I tried to fit a bit of writing work here and there, I would get ever more frustrated by the constant interruptions and (completely valid) demands on my time and attention from family members who are just as dazed and confused as I am. Switching between mindsets quickly became the most stressful part of the whole deal.
BUT – nothing lasts forever. As the last few weeks have progressed, I’ve realised that my problem is not the quantity of things that need my attention, but the time I allot for each of them. I’m creating a new compartmentalisation. I’m making time for the planning, research and delivery of the homeschool lessons that their teachers are giving us. There’s time set aside for producing the work I need to do for my remaining clients, and I’m not taking anything new on for the time being. There’s even a little bit of time to do all of those things around the house that are still patiently waiting for someone with a free moment.
This feels better. I can prepare for switching mindsets, and the mental load feels more evenly spread across the day. Trying to keep on top of all of the jobs, priorities, plans and things to at once is exhausting, but giving mental timeslots to when I’ll pay them attention feels more manageable.
I suspect this “new normal” is going to be with us for a while, in one form or another; and understanding how to keep myself on an even keel will be one of my greatest tools in helping everyone else to do the same. And if they’d start stocking Colin the Caterpillar in my local M&S again, I’d be even happier.