WARNING: POSITIVE POST
In writing this blog I am acutely aware that what I am about to outline is far from the reality in many families. Many families and individuals, be they adopted or not, are seriously struggling right now. My heart breaks for these families for whom there is little – if any – support. Cooped up in increasingly untenable situations.
This post reflects the other side of that coin: the sizable number of families who are doing well. I hear from and about them, too.
It seems that COVID-19 is polarising parenting, often to the extremes. It’s taken me a couple of weeks to muster up the courage to write this blog. My reluctance was born of guilt. How could we be doing so well when others are drowning? I did not want to be flippant in the face of the countless who are struggling. Yet there is something profoundly healing going on in our house, especially for our eight-year-old. Something that I gather is happening in other homes as well. This is a story I find worth sharing – for all its beauty and simplicity. Lest I ever forget.
As I write this, our little household of three has been at home in quarantine for over a month. We are settling into life in confinement. We, like millions and millions of other people around the globe, are in lockdown. We hardly go out at all. Our world has shrunk. Our daily life is consequently weird and wonderful. Frustrating and fun. Grumpy and glorious.
We started a little earlier than everyone else when our son fell ill. Then I fell ill. And then my husband. We are all well again now. We are all hoping that what we had was the dreaded virus. It was definitely not nothing!
These are unprecedented times for sure. Unnerving. Unsettling. Uncertain. Any certitude we may have cherished about our future has gone. Almost overnight.
Surely this is a recipe for dysregulation in anyone with a history of trauma? Add to that the hours of strong physical activity and sensory stimulation that our son needs every single day. I thought, how the f… am I going to do this? How are we going to meet his basic physical needs, not to mention his emotional ones in these globally worrying times? All the while not forgetting our own needs. We know that, like on the aeroplane, we are supposed our parental masks on first before we can help him with his. How on earth are we going parent AND home school AND tend to our jobs now working from home? (Not mentioning the cleaning, shopping and normal day-to-day chores tripling, big time financial worries and worry for our loved ones here and abroad, including our vulnerable parents far away.) Self care is waaaayyyy down the list of priorities. Who has time for that?!
Stop right there.
That’s impossible. Plain impossible. If you’d asked me five weeks ago I would have said, I just have to dial all my expectations right down. Survival, baby. That’s where it’s at. Just drop any notion of managing any of it to any degree of satisfaction. Just stay afloat. Focus: safety and basic needs (think food and water).
We are doing well. Really well in fact. Against all the odds.
I’ve been very ill and my son has had to fend for himself for a few days while my husband tried to find his feet working from home. I slept 14 hours plus per day when the illness was at its worst. I snoozed on the sofa, while he watched telly with the volume so low that he had to pull up his chair so close to the screen he almost touched it. I have no memory of what he saw. At all.
Still we were thriving. We are thriving.
Our son is sleeping better than ever. He is sleeping through and there are no nocturnal leakages. Best of all he is in a sterling mood. Every day he wakes with a smile that rarely leaves his face. Of course, I have worried that he is bottling all his worries up, and yes, there is some of that. But mostly, he is just SO happy to have both his parents at home all the time. He’s in heaven. He’s said so.
I cannot overstate the change in his sleeping pattern. Usually he wakes at least once in the dead of the night to be reassured by one of us. We often spent half the night with him, squashed up in his tiny bed. Frozen shoulders, aching backs, broken sleep. This nightly waking and calling out for us gets worse in times of stress and dysregulation. In extremis, he will get up as early as 3am. And stay up. Adrenalin pumping through his little body. This is a killer for us all. But sleep in quarantine: fantastic! On his back, hands folded behind his neck, looking and sleeping like an angel. At the eve of home quarantine, I could have sworn we were in for killer nights again. I was bracing myself.
His confidence in the world shows in other ways as well. He can now enter and stay in a different room to us parents. Even dash upstairs for something – unthinkable just a month ago. Un-thinkable. He spent so much time scared at home. Of rooms, of darkness, of stairs. Of home. Now he is exploring all of it and seems truly at ease at home. Even on his own. He is confident and brave. The list of new things he can now do is long. Cutting apple with sharp knives. Cooking for us. Read novels for hours on end. Each step is self-fulfilling; self-perpetuating.
Curiously, he does not seem to be interested in the outside world. I hear that many of his friends are missing their friends and the routine and banter of school. Not so our son. Sure, he’s had lovely virtual playdates, but it’s me suggesting them to him. He’s not really all that bothered.
And the home schooling…?!? Equally mind blowing. He blooming loves it! (Well, 90% of the time.) We don’t overdo it and exert little pressure, but we certainly do something every single day, weekends included. Yesterday we had the following exchange:
‘Yes, my love?’
‘Can I be home schooled??’
‘You mean… like right now? Shall I get the books?’
“No. I mean forever. You know… when we can go out again? I don’t want to go back to school. I want to be in school back home with you and Daddy.’
We make a schedule every day, and some days he puts himself down for three or four slots of home schooling. Not counting the music he does with his dad (I’m a luddite on that front). Also not counting reading, which he is now doing for long stretches of time (like right now).
Even the physical activity seems to work. And it is not just Joe Wicks.
Never in my wildest fantasy did I think this would be easy. Ever. Of course not. Don’t be daft. But never would I have been able to predict the profoundly positive shift and impact lockdown has had on our son. I did not see that one coming.
Yes, we have our moments. We’ve been watching a lot of You’ve Been Framed (Home videos) and so he now sets me and his dad up all day long. Sigh. Jumps out of cupboards to frighten us and yesterday he faked falling down the stairs. That made me angry – I got so sacred when I heard the noise of someone falling. Ran to him, and hugged him, mightily relieved. I realised it was just for fun. 30 seconds later his idle fingers torn apart a favourite card of mine, made by a friend. It was full of glitter. In the plume of falling rainbow dust, I’m not proud to admit all I could muster was ‘I THINK YOU NEED TO BE IN A DIFFERENT ROOM TO ME. NOW!’ He lowered his head and left the room (again unthinkable four weeks ago). I might of course have blighted a future career of a successful stuntman with my words, but I was furious. It took a while for me to calm down. A little while later he came back to apologise – off his own bat. He understood how scared the sound had made me. Or at least he accepted it. And offered to fix the card. That is another curious thing: our repairs are deeper and more honest than ever. We move on more quickly too.
Why might this be so?
He seems to feel properly safe. Connected in a way he has not done before in his nearly eight years with us. I wonder if it is full on 24/7 immersion in family life that comes out as intense attachment therapy, for want of another term. A basic need is finally met.
Not only are we home. We adults have slowed down our lives too. Some many things that used to demand our attention – meeting up with friends, coffee mornings at school, parent evenings, pub or dinner with friends and so on – have also disappeared. Commuting a thing of the past. So, when we have fitted in our work – or indeed not – we are here. We are present. We have time. Our arms are empty, deprived of touch from meeting people outside the home, so hugs and cuddles are more plenty.
I have time to sink into the sofa and read with him. To giggle and tickle fight. To look at him. To see him. Catch his gaze and keep it.
These days in quarantine, in lockdown, hunkered down with his family, has such amazing potential to catch up with the early days when we weren’t there. There has been regression from our son. Lots of it. Following us around like a duckling. Feeding, talking, hugging, moving etc., like a much younger child. Yet the potential of this lockdown to strengthen our bonds blows my mind.
It is the potential of the virtual womb, the familiar womb, as Bryan Post calls it in his daily dose video themed Parenting-in-the-time-of-Corona.
It’s truly a golden lining for this little family.