IMPORTANT: The mum's survival guide to the 14 day school self-isolation
It can't have escaped any parents notice but there's a lot of in and out of school rumblings going on, up and down the country with classes being sent home, bubbles suddenly popping children disappearing from the corridors and teachers off-work-till-tested. And while we all understand the need for this random sniper fire approach to the education of our little ones, it's polarising the parents at the school gates and beyond. That's right the gossip and accusations are building to a crescendo in the official (and splinter) class whatsapp groups everywhere. We need some rules of engagement. Surely number one should be don't 'out' the so-called spreaders, they are not lepers, they are you and me, or, if they are not today, they will be tomorrow.
It's tough enough this year without feeling like you and your child, are the sole threat to the survival of the human race.
Here's our guide to the dramatic events that will unleash havoc all around you when your child's school bubble bursts...in your FACE.
1. The IMPORTANT text from school
It comes like a thunderbolt stopping you in your tracks. You stop, you read. You let it sink in. Drop everything. Pick up your child immediately. Go home and panic.
You then do the following:
1) Attempt to order an online supermarket delivery. Realise that was only available briefly on July 22nd when a glitch in the system let someone's mum get a weekly Ocado slot in Alderley Edge.
2) You then eat all the snacks in the special snack cupboard in the belief that it has to get worse before it gets better. After you eat all the chocolate fingers it does get better. For a nano second.
3) Finally, you see if Uber Eats does wine.
2. How to decide who will be left holding the baby
For people who can’t work from home* normally, and yes, there's still lots of them out there, you have to take unpaid leave.
But wait a minute! Because you're in a couple, so this should be okay, sort of because you can share, right? Except no, you can't, because your partner earns more/has a deadine/is in a more perilous situation with his job/is the boss, so you both 'agree' that you will have to take the bullet. You find yourself swiftly delegated to the potentially rather two dimensional role of playing a 1950s housewife, so you break out the headscarf, spark up a cigarette and tell everyone 'I want to be alone'.
You get your wish, briefly, although the cough brought on by the cigarette does you no favours.
*For those of us working from home, unless your child is an exceptionally well motivated self-starter (even at the age of four) who regularly sits down to sketch a uncannily lifelike portrait of their headmaster, then brings you a cup of tea...this situation will not be conducive to you doing your job. Don't panic. Or do. Your child won't notice as they will be too busy playing the Playstation/writing on the walls/eating your personal special chocolate stash/dialling 999...you know the drill.
2. Working it like a single parent
For many parents, of both genders - this new (albeit short term) normal doesn't work at all. Not just for the oft-forgotten 1.8 million single parent families but especially for those single parents with one or more small children still at school. Because, how do you do the school run? Maybe it will be okay because you can ask one of the other parents. But actually they can't help because you are that parent, the one who might be harbouring the super-spreader. So it's back to the drawing board and you are faced with keeping the other children at home too. This is not a good idea. You wake up every morning expecting to find someone has daubed a big red 'C' on your door. The fact that this doesn't actually happen cheers you up no end.
3. Even Harry Potter had owls
From your child’s perspective they now feel like Harry Potter for 14 days. Locked away ( they actually take to sitting in the cupboard under the stairs, which is annoying because then you can't get the hoover out...). They don’t see anyone except their immediate family, who swiftly become their least favourite people. They cannot go out but their friends from 3C can, and do, strolling back and forth past your front room windows, swinging schoolbags and hooting like they are having the time of their lives. The hooting only serves to remind your child that, even harry Potter had owls. And you, and they are back to Joe Wicks reruns. This is doubly bad for children without siblings as they are aware that school is still open, they are just not welcome to attend. About as popular as an appointment in Dolores Umbridge's office.
4. Who Dunnit?
Rife in Whatsapp groups and mumsnet forums is the swirling storm of misplaced stigma and vicious gossip, not to mention the indignation - apparently, Millie doesn't even speak to Jayden, so how is it fair that she has to self-isolate? And if it wasn't Jayden then who was it? Which child has the virus and has completely RUINED everything. You scan your brain for thoughts, did Angus cough in Tilda's face last Thursday or was it Summer? Didn't your friend Ella look a little sheepish at the school gates on Monday. Was Mr Ripley off school last night? You are suddenly in an Agatha Christie novel, your wardrobe is infinitely more glamorous, and you have servants. For a moment things feel managable. Then the spin cycle jolts you back into the present and you realise the milk is off.
5. Where's Adeline?!?
With one child at home, even with their constant noise polluting ways and incessant interruptions (especially in those zoom meetings), it’s frightenly easy to forget to pick up the other one at 3pm. Calls from school become embarassing frequent as are the last minute masked dashes worthy of Mo Farah. Eventually your school-going other child begins to feel so very sidelined to the point where they begin to ask 'Will you try to remember me tomorrow please Mummy?" A tiny crack appears in your heart, never to be mended.
7. The test
You bundle the child in the car. Hopefully you are not a single parent, otherwise you bundle all the children in the car, and try not to breathe as you speed to the nearest test centre. You arrive just in time to realise you didn't book a slot online and curse yourself quietly all the way home. Three hours later, after booking, you return, if you're lucky. Upon the second arrival the child, who was previously quite keen on doing the test, has now decided that they definitely do not want the 'gigantic stick up their nose' and you find yourself promising the impossible-to-get-hold-of-PS5 just to get them to agree to suffer this indignity. You also promise a pony, a puppy and a holiday to Disneyworld. This last promise makes you briefly feel filled with hope again and you go home and google flights to Orlando in 2021.
Then there's the wait for results. This head pounding cycle of hell actually physically hurts.
8. What to do with....the children
Okay, so it's not your first time at the rodeo, but somehow it feels different this time. Oh yes, you realise, that's because it's cold and dark at four in the afternoon, Joe Wicks is in bed with a migraine and everyone else's children are at school. With a certain forced optimism, you decide this is the perfect time for you all to master a new skill and get completely carried away with ballet tutorials on Youtube. When it becomes clear that it's only you actually enjoying it, you decide to compile a list of educational but 'fun' films for the children to enjoy. You google Dead Poets Society to check if it is suitable for the under sevens. It's not.
9. Everything breaks, nothing can be fixed
Of course, yet another thing to consider when you have a child at home isolating is that you have to cancel every appointment you had with tradespeople coming to the house, (some not entirely legally) - builders, cleaners, chimney sweepers, dishwasher repair person, hairdresser, shellac engineer, bikini waxer...This results in nothing working anymore, especially your roots. Now not only are you at home but you are dishevelled, and bereft of every time saving applicance and device that even your mother and, often her mother, enjoyed. You briefly consider barbequing the potato waffles and then give up and order Subway on Deliveroo. Even though you are not convinced it has any of their five a day and is really really expensive for what turns out to be a glorified sandwich.
10. The C word
Everything is now insidiously sliding towards thoughts of the last weeks of term. It's a proper nail-biter because if your child gets sent home any time from December 10th onwards that's it. Game over. Is Christmas cancelled? This really could be horrific. Your mind goes elsewhere and you manically bulk buy fairy lights, spending a fortune in the process after deciding that the trees in the road outside need twinkly lights on them too - just like PTA Trish-around-the-corner's house with it's festively bejazzled front garden. If you have to stay home till Christmas, the least you can do is create a holding cell for your family that has a charmingly Nordic scene outside. Even if you are in Wandsworth. Orders of posh cushions, faux fur throws and artisan hot chocolate begin to arrive with alarming regularity. You can only begin to imagine the Hygge you are bringing to the neighbourhood. Legend!
Stay safe, be kind and may the force be with us all.
For ideas of new things to learn in Lockdown so you don't have to take up ballet (not that you shouldn't...) go to our Ideas for Lockdown hub. And for children with really wild imaginations - why not get them cooking up some play inventions for us to bring to life.