Last Friday, the day after the Taoiseach announced that schools and creches would be closed until at least March 29th in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, I got a text from a friend around midday asking if was too early to give his three children some dozol.
The text was obviously my
friend's attempt at parental gallows humour, but the underlying sentiment is
one that many parents will be able to identify with if not now, then certainly
in the days ahead.
When Leo finished outlining the
range of measures that the state was putting in place, the first thing that
struck me was the gravity of the situation; democratic governments do not close
down schools and universities and ban large gatherings lightly.
I admit that my second thought,
and I know from talking to other parents in my office that I was far from
alone, was: "What the hell are we going to do with the kids for the best
part of three weeks?"
The message is crystal clear
When it comes to children, the
message from the health professionals has been crystal clear from the start of
the crisis. While, thankfully, the coronavirus has little or no impact on
healthy children, they can transmit it to more vulnerable members of their
community. They are vectors, not victims and for this reason, their social
interactions with others, including their friends, need to be seriously
However, according to numerous reports on social media and anecdotal evidence from friends and family over the weekend, many parents are taking a very lax approach to their children's social distancing.
On Friday evening, last I went for a run along the canal which runs through Mullingar, the town I live in, and I met three separate groups of older children and teenagers walking and hanging out. The last thing that was on their mind was social distancing.
In fact, one group of girls aged
around 11 or 12 were so tightly packed together that the only way they could
have been closer was if they were co-joined.
Although there is a huge amount of information and resources online about how to keep our children productively occupied while they are at home, the next few weeks and probably months are not going to be easy. We have had to alter our routines and behaviour in ways that a few short weeks ago seemed unimaginable.
Many of us also face the prospect
of losing our jobs, as least temporarily, as the economy grinds to a halt.
And, of course, even more importantly we have the worry of the threat that the virus poses to our parents and other vulnerable relatives, many of whom have quite sensibly self-isolated.
Like these people, we will all
have to be vigilant and do our bit to try and ensure that the number of
fatalities in Ireland is less than other countries such as Italy; even if it
means that our cabin feverish kids drive us up the walls on occasion.
At the time of writing, experts
were still encouraging us to get outside, even if playgrounds are to be
avoided. On Saturday afternoon the rain was bucketing down in Westmeath.
Despite the protestations of our six-year-old daughter, we packed her and her
two-year-old twin brothers into the car and headed out to a nearby woods for a
She took a lot of persuading but as soon as we were out of the car, she had a great time playing hide and seek with her brothers. When after about 45 minutes I said we were going home, she and the boys pleaded to stay for another while despite being drenched and covered in mud. They may not always realise it, but children love being out in the fresh air. I think sometimes as parents we need to lead by example on this front. If we start complaining if we get our shoes or trousers dirty or when we're wet, then they will follow suit.
It appears that sadly things are going to get significantly worse before they start getting better, large numbers of people are going to die. However, by following the advice given by the experts regarding social distancing, we can play a major role in determining when life will return to normal and it will.
We should be doing everything in
our power to make sure that what history remembers about the coronavirus virus
crisis in Ireland isn't the number of people who died but how we all played our
part to battle the greatest threat to our nation's physical and economic health
in over 100 years.
Be safe, be sensible and lay off the play dates, it won't be forever.