A small collection of rambling thoughts, a few notes about feelings and a selection of little stories from the last nine weeks of lockdown life which, for some reason, I feel compelled to share. Perhaps simply to document them as a memento of these strange times and maybe also partly so that they exist outside of my head.
Every day I walk along the same trail for my permitted ‘daily exercise’ during lockdown life. I know the route well now after more than two long months: the bridges; the blossom trees; the rise and fall of the pathways. The rhythmic familiarity of it is comfortingly reassuring. And yet somehow I still see new things every single time I walk there. I like that I can still be surprised even after all this time.
After about half an hour of walking I reach a row of gardens with neat wooden fences and painted back gates and tidy flowerbeds. On the warm, sunshiney days that we’ve mostly been blessed with so far during lockdown life, I see the owners mowing their lawns, the buzz of the lawnmower merging seamlessly with the lazy hum of bees. Sometimes the occupants are relaxing in a garden chair reading the newspaper with a cup of tea balanced precariously on the grass by their feet. Sometimes they are diligently tending to their plants, gardening gloves on, stiff knees cushioned with a mat, a small pile of pulled-up weeds by their side. And sometimes they’re just sitting in their sunrooms at the back of their bungalows not doing anything beyond soaking in the moment (and maybe having a surreptitious nap).
These gardens, these people, these lives just quietly continuing… they remind me of my Nana and Grandad. I’m not entirely sure why because my grandparents lived many, many miles from here. Yet somehow I always find myself slowing down as I pass these gardens, making sure to breathe in deeply as I do, almost as if I can inhale the memories of happy afternoons spent at my Nana and Grandad’s home long ago when I was a child. I miss them enormously and walking past these little gardens every day fills me with both intense joy and deep sorrow as I’m transported to another time and place for an all-too-brief five minutes. It’s becoming one of my favourite parts of my daily walk. I wonder what they would make of lockdown life and this world we’re currently living in.
Some days, it doesn’t matter how many miles I walk, or for how many hours, nothing quietens my anxious heart.
I could walk forever: past the gardens described above; past ‘Cloud’ and ‘Chester’, the pretty grey horse and loudly opinionated white donkey that Lola has christened with these names; past the Railway Cottage with the white lilac and pale yellow dogwood roses that spill haphazardly over the crooked fence; past the fairy tunnel and maybe even beyond, through all the towns and villages that follow. It still would not be enough. My heart beats hard in my chest, like the wings of a tiny fluttering bird held closely in cupped hands, desperate to escape.
Other days, just stepping into the garden in the soft glow of the early morning light – long before the rest of the world is awake – and breathing in the smell of the dawn, is enough to calm me and fill me with a sense of peace that lasts for the rest of the day. My heart beats softly, rhythmically in my chest, like a comforting metronome, content to stay precisely where it belongs.
Loneliness and Connection
There are moments in this lockdown life where I feel the loneliest I have ever felt, even though I am surrounded by my family 24/7. I wonder if we’ve run out of things to say.
There are also moments where I feel so deeply connected to them all, so in tune with their thoughts and feelings and wants and needs, that my heart aches at the thought of us ever not all being together. Even though I know it is inevitable that at some time in the future, post lockdown life, they will (quite rightly) all spread their wings, go back to school and work, and fly onwards to their next adventure.
The Old Man And The Church
The delight of discovering a new-to-me hidden path after months of walking in my own footprints is almost overwhelming. I step through and emerge into a small green space dotted with daisies, flanked on one side with a patch of bluebells – the first I’ve seen this year – at the base of a protective tree, and on the other side with a tiny village church.
An old man stands by a grave, head bent down, his life-worn hands holding a modestly small posy of flowers. I step back into the shadows and watch silently from a distance, not wanting to interrupt this tender, sacred moment. After a minute or two he carefully leans forwards and places the flowers on the ground. As he straightens up he wipes a tear from his eye and turns to leave, gently patting the top of the headstone as if it were a faithful old dog as he walks away. He senses me watching and catches my eye as he departs, giving me a small shrug and a heartbroken smile. I feel like crying too.
I used to think that I needed to live in a town or city, to be near shops and supermarkets, to stay connected to busy-ness, in order to survive. As time goes on and lockdown life continues, I’m realising more and more that I might have been wrong. Perhaps I could live somewhere more remote, surrounded by countryside and wildflowers and birdsong. Maybe I was trying to connect to the wrong things.
Lockdown life birthdays are certainly ones to be remembered. I turned 37 and was spoiled with a tall stack of longed-for books; multiple bouquets of beautiful flowers; thoughtful, filled-with-love, homemade birthday cards; and glorious sunshine. I also received thirty-seven hugs from Mimi – one for each of my thirty-seven trips around the sun – and they were just as much of a gift as anything else I was given.
Wake Up Slow
Waking the girls up in the morning for ‘school’ is one of my favourite parts of the day. I stroke Ella’s soft cheek and gaze at her long lashes as she stirs from slumber. Mimi, forever a night owl, still yawns and stretches and makes the exact same face as she did when she was a newborn baby, all puckered lips and a tiny, displeased frown. Lola folds herself into my arms, buries her face in my neck and, as I give her a cuddle, I feel her whole being relax and she sighs that sigh that tells her that she’s safe, she’s home. I stroke their hair and inhale their still-sleepy scent deeply, marvelling – as I do every single morning – that I made them.
A house full of flowers, whether foraged, gifted by loved ones or bought for myself, fills me with utmost joy.
The Man In The Suit
I make up stories about the people I encounter whilst I’m out walking. It’s something I have done since I was young. When cafes used to be open (a mere two months ago pre-lockdown life, although it already feels like decades), if I’d have had the time I would have happily sat in one all day long, just people-watching and creating characters and dreaming up extravagant narratives.
Because I tend to go out for a walk at the same (ish) time every day, usually once the girls are done with their distance learning, I often see the same people – the same man walking the same dogs, the same family out for a bike ride, the same jogger determinedly putting in the miles. I feel a sense of solidarity with these fellow habit-makers, seeking solace in regularity and predictability. I wonder if they notice me in the way that I notice them. Do they feel ‘seen’ or do they prefer to blend in with their surroundings and remain invisible, like I do?
The man in the suit isn’t as consistent with his timings. He’s more sporadic. His irregularity is a conundrum to me: some days he is there and some days he is not. The only constant thing about him is his appearance.
He is about sixty years old, taller than me and with a posture that suggests ex-military. He unwaveringly wears a smart dark suit, navy blue perhaps, with a pressed white shirt and a tie. His grey hair is brushed back away from his kind face and a short pointed beard covers his chin. We’re always walking in opposite directions and as we pass each other I offer a smile. He returns it and I spend the rest of my walk wondering where he is going, where he has been and why he is wearing a suit.
Homeschool has been both exactly and nothing like I expected. Sometimes the girls are all in the same room, working companionably, chatting occasionally. They station themselves at the dining table amidst a myriad of laptops and phones and worksheets and pencilcases. It’s messy and productive. I tidy the kitchen around them and attempt to rattle through my work emails. Every so often I orbit the girls like a satellite, guiding where necessary and being mindful to let them discover their own answers.
Sometimes, if it’s been a fractious morning already (and there have been many of these), they work in separate parts of the house and the husband and I divide and conquer, rotating from one child to the next according to requirements. My attention is forced to flip from multiplying improper fractions; to analysing key extracts from Romeo & Juliet; to plotting the timeline of the Cold War (and back again). My brain feels tired.
Messages from the Lola’s primary and Ella & Mimi’s secondary schools pour into my inbox. Notification after notification after notification – this task is due in on this date, this new piece of work has been set, this achievement point has been awarded, these are the answers to the maths questions from week two (lesson four). This is the new guidance about whether or not we’re going to re-open, this is a message from the headteacher, watch this video, read this letter, do this challenge. It’s overwhelming and hard to keep up but I do. Because it’s important.
I like watching them work. I like them all being home. I like motivating them, encouraging them, helping them and feeling the same sense of accomplishment that they do when they finish an assignment. We high five and hug and squeeze shoulders. I wish I could keep them home forever.
I like exchanging smiles with strangers. I do not like faces covered with masks.
Relaxing The Rules
Lockdown life is bringing with it a relaxing of some of the rules: bedtimes are slowly creeping later and later every night and screen-time limits have (mostly) been abandoned. I have no idea if this a good or a bad thing or if it even needs one of those labels attached to it. It is what it is.
I’ve noticed that I’m saying yes to more things, like painting and crafting and mess and noise. I hope that they’ll remember these ‘yes moments’ more than they remember the things I said ‘no’ to.
Rhythms and Rituals
“Rhythms and rituals, not structure and schedules”. This is becoming a little mantra I say to myself whenever I feel myself trying to control too much (which is less often these days but does still happen occasionally).
Structures and schedules are too rigid. They don’t take into account emotional moods, physical and mental energy levels, learning styles, early bird vs night owl tendencies, personal interests, passion projects, or bursts of creative inspiration. I firmly believe that when an idea or inspiration strikes you drop everything and go with it, regardless of whether you’re supposed to be translating French sentences or factorising quadratic equations at the time – you have to say yes to it before it fades.
It has taken us a while to find our rhythm in lockdown life. We’re mostly there now and each of us have our little routines that are inherent within that rhythm. I’m doing my best to keep everything as fluid and intuitive and flexible as possible whilst recognising that rituals are important in times of uncertainty. They’re our safety blanket, our source of comfort. Whether it’s the ritual of the way we have a shower, the way we make our first hot drink of the day, the way we make our beds… they matter.
I am most definitely solar powered. Feeling the sun on my skin is my own personal bliss. I lift my face up towards the light – morning, midday or evening – and stand with my palms facing outward, offering myself as I simultaneously receive. I soak up the warmth and feel myself recharging, promising in return to be the best version of me I can be.