Strange times. How many times have we all heard that expression in the past few weeks. I would say that was an understatement. Right now these times are beyond rationalisation, we are all still working out the day to day, and only tentatively beginning to think about the future.
For me the last five weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions, as I’m sure they have been for all. But more often than not my feeling has been of optimism – maybe the sunshine has helped and that probably seems unthinkable to many. But after the initial shock of lockdown, I rolled up my sleeves and tried to make the best of it, which frankly is what I do best. My husband always says a crisis suits me. And in our extremely fortunate situation I would have to say that it really hasn’t been that hard – at times I have known joy in a way I have never known it before..against a backdrop that none of us could ever have imagined possible.
But this week my optimism has started to wane. The anxiety started to creep in..it is something I rarely experience as pragmatism is my middle name, but it came in the form of the long term effect of all this on my amazing daughter. If you want to know who my daughter is, she this week described herself in a school project as a ‘good friend because’…”I try to make people laugh when they are sad…she’s funny, she’s caring, she’s magical”.
Ella is an only child. She has made no secret of the fact that she would still love some brothers and sisters, but since I am knocking on the door of 52, we all know that ain’t gonna happen. And we have known that for some time obviously. But it doesn’t stop the frequent conversations between her and I. She has wanted for nothing in her life, is appreciative of all she has, but the one thing she desires above all else, she can’t have. Yes, I know, those of us with siblings might like to appraise her of the advantages of that situation, and many have, but there you go…
Ella also happens to be an incredibly sociable and friendly girl, and not only that, she is a nurturer. Her overwhelming desire is to look after people, her friends, her peers, those younger and less fortunate than herself. At nursery they picked this up early and enlisted her to help with the babies. At school she has this year relished finally getting to year 5 and becoming a ‘buddy’ to a Reception child – a role cut short by this lockdown. And she almost routinely thinks of others before herself to the extent that I am relieved when she puts herself first.
When lockdown came, the realisation came very quickly to Ella and I that she would have no other children to play with for a very long time. We have neighbours over the fence who are a god send, but it’s not the same. That was what finally brought me literally to my knees after an extremely stressful week of watching the world melt down around me – I’d kept my cool, but that broke my heart and made me sob. But we chatted about it, picked ourselves up, and got on with it. My husband had been away too, and I knew the return of her favourite oversized playmate would help.
As we headed into week 5 this week, however the reality started to bite. It was back to school after the Easter holidays, so the morning was spent doing school work. In the afternoon we wandered over to the village green to buy some veg, and get some fresh air. The green was packed with families (all strictly socially distanced) playing their own family games. Some of Ella’s best friends were flying a kite, her very best friend in the world and her little sister were playing basketball with their dad, and countless other families of four were riding bikes, generally having a good time. Ella asked me if we could sit and watch Alice, Lucy and their dad. That ripped my heart apart. Much as the children have adapted so quickly to accept that they can’t play together, they also don’t know how to act with each other when they do see each other 2m apart. And as all around her played, all she could do was watch.
Early on in the situation we started a Lunch Club at school via Zoom. It was great – it kept the kids in touch, it kept them energised and the novelty of digital communication had them very excited for a while, particularly as they had all been given access to One Drive at school. But digital situations are no match for playing with your mates. They don’t afford you the tactile and imaginative opportunities of running around in the park, or playing mums and dads, getting grubby, making up games, or even picking up some paper and some colouring pens. She now hates Zoom.
And yesterday Ella taught me just how important the freedom of play is even to a 10 year old. Because much as my very grown up 10 year old is independent, clever and confident, she is still a 10 year old. And yesterday, having packed away her much beloved doll collection in the winter when we sorted out her bedroom, she confessed to me that she was lonely and she needed her girls. So out they came – Charlotte, Annabelle and Baby Lulu. Part of my heart was singing as I had been mortified when we had packed them away marking such a significant part of her growing up. Her girls had been so much a part of her first 10 years. One or other, and sometimes all three of them had been her constant companions – we’d wrestled toy prams into cars and shopping trips when you really didn’t need the extra hassle, and doll paraphernalia was always top of her list for birthdays and Christmas. Until this year.
She has told me not to tell her friends which just shows the turmoil going on in her heart right now. But the dolls allow her to nurture, to tell her own stories, to create and to play – the thing she absolutely misses the most right now.
And that is what breaks my heart about this whole situation – how many children are essentially being denied the basic rights of a child…to be a child! I know there are many tragic situations only beginning to unfold, and I sympathise and support all of those. But I do hope that this is never forgotten. I hope that the sacrifice of our children isn’t overlooked, and I hope that as we come out of this, it is recognised and acknowledged so that longer term issues don’t occur.
Don’t get me wrong, as a family we have had some magical times. Spending enforced time together, slowing down, having time to smell the coffee, really appreciating our environment, learning to go back to more simple ideals. But there is bound to be some price emotionally, and we must watch over those who have adapted so quickly and uncomplainingly for absolute sure.
For me, I now know I must learn to be a better playmate – a role I had always struggled with. Too many practical things to get on with to play! Over the last few weeks we’ve painted, we’ve drawn, we’ve even thrown a netball around, but I feel I haven’t stepped up to the mark. You won’t get me on that trampoline though! There are limits!
So I am glad to have the company of Charlotte, Annabelle and Baby Lulu once more, because one thing I can do is dress dollies, put them to bed and help my little girl to create stories so real in her mind that they are a thing of true beauty, just like her!