What a week
I woke up this morning at 5am as the birds started calling, thinking about how I should chop up the peppers to freeze them so they don’t go to waste.
It’s hard even to know where to start.
What a week.
For us all.
I spent most of last weekend reading and trying to understand it all and worrying about the implications of it for my son who has asthma. I’ve got an old school friend who has been amazing at unraveling the statistics for me but still there has been so much uncertainty. In the end, a cough and a temperature, settled things. A cough that I would usually have just calpolled and sent into school while I went to work.
But not now.
I last saw my A’ level students on Monday and tried to reassure them and answer questions, knowing that no one really knew. The next time I met them was on ‘Teams’, virtually, after their exams had been cancelled causing them so much confusion and upset. I’ve already written about the changes in education here: Let us hope that out of this chaos comes the dancing star (Nietzsche).
My emotions have been all over the place. I have felt like a traitor being at home with my son, who apart from the cough, has seemed perfectly OK. A traitor for being safe when colleagues in the schools I teach in and pupils who I am there to support, carried on stoically. I’ve felt such guilt that my sister who works for the NHS has had her back to the wall all week, doing who knows what planning, because unlike me, she has been too busy to speak. I never take time off work, nor do my kids take time off school and so to be here has just felt wrong.
I have also missed being part of a flesh and blood team at a time like this. Yes I’ve been on phone calls and online rooms, but I miss faces and voices and the banter and the sharing. I have typed too much and hugged too little. I always thought I would like to work from home, but it turns out working from home is fleshless and screened. It is also complex when kids are about with their own needs, and laughing and squabbling when I’m on an online call.
I felt relief with every decision taken to shut schools, now pubs. Relief that now, I hope, we are taking things seriously and asking people to hibernate.
I have felt flashes of terror. Watching Friends again, I had a moment of how beautifully normal it was to be watching it and laughing with my kids, as if the world were the same as it had been weeks before. Then, like a scythe, I had a flash of fear at losing them, at losing the safety and ease we have taken for granted for so long, of not being here to see them grow up.
Going to the local shop each morning just to get bread and milk has been a heightened experience. ‘Don’t touch your face. Keep at least 2 meters away. Is anyone here who has it and isn’t showing it yet? Will I be able to get milk? Do I need to sterilize my purse? Wash my hands for 20 seconds’.
Then yesterday, the grief wave came as we went out for a walk to a place I love. A place where I carried my babies in my belly, on my back, where I have brought friends and been alone, where I walked with my mum and with so many friends throughout the years. Grief at not knowing when I will be able to return. Grief at not knowing if I will return. Sadness at wondering how life will be different by the next time I return. Grief as I looked at the mossy rocks, the golden river, the V of sky between the spring hills and knew that it would still be there even if I wasn’t. Grief at the certain knowledge of uncertainty. At the knowledge that so much is closing down and ending when we can not see what is to come.
I breathed the place in. Stroked the stones, let my fingers freeze in the flow, hugged the mossy trees, noticed the robin hopping along the fence and the buds finally stretching in the cold, bright equinox sun. The vernal equinox, the paradox of the first day of spring, new beginnings and new life, just as the old ways, autumnally, are shedding leaves and closing in.
And yet, here’s the rub, there have also been moments this week when I have felt hope and almost the excitement of something new being born, the phoenix growing in the ashes of the old. Hope for the earth which is healing herself from our emissions. Hope for communities who are working together to support each other. Hope for our values in a world gone mad with consumerism, now finally valuing the NHS, the farmers, the drivers, the firemen, the teachers, having devalued and underfunded them for so long. I have felt more connected across the world this week knowing that other people are living this too, and that this is a very real reminder of how entwined we all are. I have felt excited by how education might be changed by this, by how living more simply might reconnect people with each other, nature and them self.
I have also felt immense pride. Pride in teaching colleagues who have held and reassured the pupils with such care even though they have felt the same worries and fears themselves. Pride in my own kids who have adapted remarkably well to the rapid change, who have maintained sense of humour and found ways to stay in touch with their friends. Proud of the NHS and all that the people in it are doing for us all.
It also turns out that for us, at least, a crisis is a helpful aspect of relationship therapy. We’re working as a team to look after the kids and have been surprised by how we have each managed each other’s stress. But we know, that for many families, this will be an enormously testing time with worries not only about the virus, but about money and business and food supplies. We know that domestic violence and abuse rises when there is stress and uncertainty (free resources here) and that more vulnerable young people will be at risk from the dealers and abusers with less protection from the schools and social services. We need to look out for each other at this time, and not just turn away, but find our courage to protect those who need it.
Family has never felt more important or harder. My dad is over 2 hours away but going to visit him, puts him at risk from school based germs. So many of us have parents in one place and homes in another. In my recent blog my friend in Norway spoke eloquently about not being able to see her parents and her worry of the danger to them. We have so many of us, moved so far from home, I wonder if this will gather us all in.
Finally, I have felt such gratitude. I’m grateful for the internet and our connections beyond these four walls. I’m grateful to my younger self for moving to a small, rural village out of the London overflow. I’m grateful that we have food and warmth, that I can still work, albeit from home. I’m grateful for all the friends who are connecting, for the neighbours who are walking and talking with me 2 meters apart. Most of all, of course, I’m grateful for our health.
It is still only 7am. The window is open, my hands are cold from typing. Today is the first day of pubs and gyms being closed. Today is the first day of a further hibernation. So yoga, walking, reading, writing, cooking and some OU marking.
I hope this finds you safe and well. Please stay home. My sister, other people’s brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters are facing this virus daily to look after us and all we need to do to support them is to stay at home.