I had a clear picture of all of the crafts we would do together, the books we would read and the lovely lunches we would share. That was before I realized that I could not be my child's teacher.
Let's start with the guilt because it's the easiest place to start. I don't have to think a lot about this one because it comes so naturally. Since the schools closed I have felt an insurmountable level of guilt about my five-year-old son. I started this journey with a positive state of mind. When the initial announcement was made I started to make plans to distract myself from the panic. I had a clear picture of all of the crafts we would do together, the books we would read and the lovely lunches we would share. That was before I realized that I could not be my child's teacher.
The reality of this time has been worlds apart from the romantic image in my head. I love following arts and crafts accounts on social media and I find myself day-dreaming about how much my son would love the different craft ideas. But they do not translate into reality because it is virtually impossible for me as a working mother. I am two weeks into this journey and I am struggling with the fact that I simply cannot do it all.
I've been working from home for a long time. On and off for years now. I usually do so when my son is in school and while my baby naps. After a couple of days at home, I quickly realized that it's the only way I can manage it at this point in my life. After about three days in I was sick of arguing. Arguing about screen time, about the fact that my son "wouldn't cooperate" and just "do some colouring" or "read a book". The truth is that he needed me to do those things with him. The things that he loves to do at school when he feels part of something. It doesn't live in the same place in his mind when it's alone in a corner of our kitchen while I tap away on my laptop. He needs me and I need to work. That is where the guilt comes in.
I have the greatest respect for teachers. I always did but it's on another level now. My son keeps telling me he's bored and tired. He keeps begging for the TV and tablet and I'm having a table-tennis match in my own mind about the whole thing. I want to avoid him being on screens for eight hours a day. I want to be the mother that's consciously trying to do that. It's as much about me as it is about him because that much screen time makes him over-stimulated, over-tired and cranky. But I need to work. And he's bored. And I need something to entertain him that he willingly wants to do for more than five minutes.
I tell myself that it's OK and I CAN do it all. I'll do that puzzle with him as soon as I "get a bit of work done". I'll read him that story when I've "quickly gone through my emails". But none of it is quick. None of it is realistic. I cannot be a working mum and a teacher. I just can't.
There is something so uncomfortable about being robbed of the little check-points that make up your regular everyday life. I had no idea that those little rituals and routines are what essentially equal my life. I find myself in this weird state of existing in a world that is nothing like the one I knew a few weeks ago, but almost pretending like it is? Does that even make sense? It's the only way I can function because when I acknowledge how different things are now I start to crumble.
And it's not just me. I know that. Another layer of my guilt comes from thinking about those less fortunate than me. Those who have compromised health and for whom this virus could be fatal. But it's all relative and part of my worry and my grief (because it feels like grief, doesn't it?) is worrying about my father who has Cancer. And feeling helpless that I cannot help him. When someone close to you is sick you have to try to not think too far ahead or it feels terribly scary. And yet the nature of this time at home is to think ahead to "when things go back to normal". I cannot merge those two worlds and for that reason, I feel totally lost. We all do. I'm thinking about the front line workers. The single parents. The homeless. The people who were already dealing with sickness, with special needs and with acute mental health issues. We are all in this together and yet we've never been further apart.
I've found myself wondering how everyone else is coping. Is it just me or are other parents juggling working and being their child's teacher. Maybe I should suck it up and stop being so narcissistic about it all? Hearing from other parents has helped hugely though. It's reminded me that in this uncertain and hyper environment I am just one parent in a sea of chaos. Behind every front door is a house that is submerged in varying levels of panic and anxiety fuelled by their own set of circumstances. Those who are not working find themselves fearful of the future. Two weeks ago they were working and dropping their child off at childcare each morning. Now they find themselves at home wondering if the industry they work in will survive this experience. The gift of time is simply too much time to over-think the scary uncontrollables.
Eimear is the owner of award-winning brand accessories4babies and has found that a daily routine has helped her.
"I was putting a lot of pressure on myself at first trying to make sure everything was perfect but I'm taking each day as it comes now and just doing the best I can"
Leah Roche is a mum of one based in Dublin. She's working from home from morning until evening with very few breaks because her traditional "lunch hour" is going towards "wiping bums, preparing snacks and setting things up on the TV". Leah struggles with seeing other people's crafts and home-schooling online.
"I hate seeing all the posts of people doing crafts and baking with their kids. It makes me feel like crap even though I know they are supposed to be positive. Realistically my child won't do those things alone so there's no point setting him up with colouring etc"
I spoke to a lot of other parents and the resounding feeling across the board is that this is hard. We know it's hard but maybe some of us needed a reminder that it's a unifying kind of hard. Nobody is ever going to look at me and think that I should have done more to educate my child during this time. My child won't look back and ask me why we didn't bake more or make that bumblebee finger puppet. He'll remember the novelty of us all being home together and the way we spoke to each other.
So I'm parting ways with Jollie Phonics for now. I'm choosing my battles when it comes to times tables and I'm making peace with the fact that one day of PE with Joe Wicks was enough for my kid. Instead, I'm cutting myself some slack, trying to shout less and remembering that as my child's mother I am his greatest teacher and love, kindness and understanding are worth a lot more than anything a book could teach.
I cannot be your teacher, son but I can try my best to be kinder to myself and in doing so you'll get the very best of me. And she's pretty amazing, if I do say so myself.