I am at my daughter’s when the news comes, playing hide and seek with five-year-old Rose and three-year-old George. The main rule is to pretend you don’t see the little person who is hiding. “Where on earth is George?” I ask, deliberately walking straight past him.
“I’m here, I’m here,” he shouts from behind the curtain.
“I can’t see him,” I continue to the sound of loud giggling.
“There he is!” bursts out Rose. It’s like a pantomime. (Remember those?)
Then my daughter comes rushing in from the kitchen where she’s been cooking supper. “We’re all going into lockdown again,” she says. “It’s confirmed. And it starts tonight.”
My mind goes back to that first lockdown where for months, I could only wave through the window at my little ones instead of cuddling and looking after them while mummy and daddy worked.
This time, in theory, we are allowed to be part of the childcare bubble. But there is one big problem. My husband is about to go into hospital for an operation. Much as he loves the grandchildren, he’s worried about me having close contact in case I pick up the virus and then pass it to him. Apart from the obvious dangers to everyone concerned, it would also mean he couldn’t have the operation. He’s been in agonising pain for months. I’m not sure how he’ll manage if it doesn’t go ahead.
Even if it does, we’ve been told we have to self-isolate from each other when he comes out as he can’t afford to get the virus while recuperating from major surgery. But it works both ways. Supposing he’s an unwitting carrier after being in hospital? It’s possible that he could then pass it to me and then I might pass it to the little ones or my daughter (who has low immunity) and my son-in-law.
My head is spinning.
Right now, we have until midnight to make practical plans…
“Mum,” says my daughter, “I’d be really grateful if you stay on for a bit and give the children tea while I go to the supermarket. The fridge is empty. Is that all right?”
Of course. I don’t know how many more children’s teas I’m going to be able to help out with after this. A sense of panic is beginning to come over us all.
“I can hardly believe it,” says my daughter as she searches for her coat and mask. “I’ve only just put out Rose’s school clothes for her first day back tomorrow.” She gives a little sigh. “It’s going to be back to home-schooling again.”
At least my daughter is a teacher. She knows what to do when it comes to reading and writing. But it’s not easy trying to amuse a three-year-old when you’re also teaching phonics to a five-year-old. And now I’m not around to help.
“What about my lessons?” I joke, trying to introduce some levity. “You’ll have to give them to me online.”
For some time, my daughter has been trying to keep me up with modern reading methods but I can’t get the hang of this phonetic stuff. It’s rather ironic since I am an author. Then again, in my day, I learned visually. Tell me, do you understand phonics or are you struggling like me?
While my daughter is at the supermarket, my son-in-law comes back from work. “Thanks so much,” he says. He’s always really grateful. So am I. I can’t think of anything better than spending time with my grandchildren. The selfish part of me wonders how I’m going to cope.
Like most of us, I’m also worried about the overall threat. Our part of the country has been reasonably safe but now we keep hearing about friends or friends of friends who have caught it. My son-in-law is a teacher and although he will only be having the children of key workers, he is going to be at risk. Not only that but he has a vulnerable wife. My daughter.
I wake up the next morning and for a second, it feels like a normal day. Then I remember. Lockdown has started.
I take the dog out – and who do I see? Rose and George with mummy along the beach. We were bound to bump into each other… after all, we only live round the corner.
They run out towards me but I have to keep my distance. “I’m so sorry,” I say. “We can’t hug because of the virus.”
“Gan Gan is right,” says my daughter.
But this time, my grandchildren seem to accept it – more than they did during the first lockdown. The papers have been full of the mental effect on children. There is no doubt it’s having a huge impact. But it’s a relief to see that Rose and George appear to be taking it in their stride. It’s us adults which are finding it more difficult.
When I call for a chat later on that afternoon, it sounds like bedlam. “I am really sorry Mum but we can’t talk,” says my daughter.
I totally understand but I do wish I could be there to help out.
My daughter has also had to cancel an urgent contact lens appointment because I’m not able to look after the children. Personally, I thought that might be alright if I didn’t get too close and played with them in the park rather than in the house. But my husband is too worried about the risk.
I won’t say it caused an argument but I did feel pulled in both directions. “I totally understand, Mum,” says my daughter. Yet I feel I’m letting her down.
Meanwhile, my 97-year-old father and my 80-year-old stepmother are still waiting for their injections. Two weeks ago, they’d been invited to get theirs at the local shopping centre. But the logistics of getting there when they’re both immobile were impossible.
Without them knowing, I rang their practice manager who has promised to look into it. But so far we’ve heard nothing.
Another day passes. Newspapers are full of news about hospitals cancelling operations in order to cope with the surge of virus patients. My husband can barely walk with the pain. He never complains but I can tell he’s getting worried. “I do hope they don’t cancel,” he says.
Then the phone pings. Rose and George have sent him a good luck card which they made themselves. I ring to say thank you. Rose answers.
“Mummy is upstairs,” she chirps. “But I’m free for a chat.”
She sounds so grown-up! Every day that I’m away from them, they seem to mature.
“I’ve had to order her some more clothes,” says my daughter when we get round to speaking. “She’s getting taller and taller! But it’s now got to the stage where I need to check the pictures online with her. There’s no point buying her something if she doesn’t like it. She just won’t wear it.”
“You were just the same,” I point out. “It’s called karma! I’ll never forget trailing everywhere for a pair of shoes when you were six. When we finally succeeded in finding some that fitted, you wouldn’t let me buy them because you didn’t like the style!”
We giggle and for a moment we forget the virus.
Good news from the hospital
Two more days pass. Good news. My husband‘s operation goes ahead. Even better, the surgeon has done what he wanted to.
Ironically, given that we are meant to social distance, the hospital have allowed me to drive him home after two days “inside”. He isn’t able to drive himself after the op and I pose a lesser risk than a taxi driver because I’ve probably been exposed to fewer people. So we both wear masks and have the windows down. It’s freezing!
When we get home, my son, I and my husband all have to walk around each other keeping a distance. There are regular calls of “Is the kitchen free now?” and “I’m coming up with your dinner on a tray!”
Then Rose and George ring for a FaceTime call.
“Hello Grandad,” says Rose. “I said my prayers for you last night.”
How sweet. I’m glad she remembers. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve been able to take her to Sunday school. Can it really be that long?
Then as the week goes on, something strange happens. I remember this happening during the first lockdown. The new becomes more normal. We get used to talking to each other on the phone. “Shall I put some make-up on you, Gan Gan?” asks Rose when she Facetimes this morning.
“That would be lovely,” I say.
My son-in-law’s mother in Wales – who always comes up with amazing presents – has sent both children lots of goodies. One of them is a very realistic make-up set. It looks like the real thing but doesn’t leave a mark!
“Stand very still,” instructs Rose solemnly. I do as I’m bidden and she apply some powder on my face with a very careful expression. Of course I’m talking virtually here but it feels as though she’s in front of me in person!
“Now for some Chanel,” she says taking the perfume spray out of her kit. It’s not real but it’s definitely a sign of good taste.
At my end, I’ve started making little videos on WhatsApp and sending them to the children in the morning, pretending they’re from the dog. It’s amazing how all these lockdowns are making me more technical!
Meanwhile, I’m using this time to have more time with my eldest son. You don’t often get an unexpected year with a 37-year-old child who left home ages ago until lockdown forced him to return. We’ve been walking a lot and he’s also helped me dig my allotment. Of course he is desperate to get back to his job in Spain but right now that’s impossible.
In fact, we’re off for a good walk this afternoon. My husband insists that we go. “I’ll be fine,” he says. “I’ve got my mobile and I’ll ring you if there’s a problem.”
I should say here that he’s fiercely independent, even with his crutches. We’ve only been married for 11 years – compared with most of my friends who are coming up to their 40th wedding anniversary. But I’m still learning!
But do you know what the best part of this afternoon’s walk will be? Waving through the window at Rose and George.
Inside, there are times when I feel my heart is breaking. But as every parent and grandparent knows, we have to stay steady to keep the ship afloat. And that means getting used to blowing kisses at a distance.
When I get back, I’ve got some homework. No – not just the dreaded phonetics! Rose’s teacher is organising an online project on family. I’ve got to find some pictures of my daughter when she was little.
What fun! It will give me something to do. I should also glue in those more recent photographs from the past few years which I’d been intending to do for ages but hadn’t go round to.
It’s not just children who need distracting when the going is tough.
Just before I sign off, I’d love to know how you are managing during lockdown. Are you able to see your children as part of a support bubble? Have you got any “coping tips” to pass on? Please email me at email@example.com.
See you next week. And stay safe!
Jane Corry is the author of five top ten best-sellers. Her latest novel I Made A Mistake is about Betty, a grandmother who lives with her son’s family. Published by Penguin, £7.99 in paperback and also available as an e-book and audio, narrated by Emilia Fox. http://bit.ly/IMadeaMistake OR https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Made-a-Mistake/24376830