Andrea Mara

Official website

Marching On – a Lockdown Journal

My kids have been asked to keep journals as part of their work from home packs. I keep telling them they should – that they are living through history, and they keep telling me they have nothing to write, because they do the same thing every day. Fair point.

But it made me think. And it prompted me to jot down the things we did one day last week, on an unusually productive day – YouTube yoga, baking, a bit of tennis (them, not me), a short run (me, not them – none of them would come with me) along with the usual school-work and work-work.

I decided to fill in the previous day’s activities too, but there was a problem. I couldn’t remember what we’d done. Every day had blurred into one. And in one way, it doesn’t matter, but I know it’ll bug me if some time in the future I look back and can’t remember what we did and how we spent our minutes and hours and days during this strange locked down time.

I pieced it together bit by bit in my work diary, and decided to note what we were watching and reading and playing and baking too (our current reads and TV recommendations are here). I’ve kept doing it each day since, and it’s giving me a little grounding. A bit like in kidnap films, when the hostage makes scratches on the wall to count off the days and stay sane. (Admittedly, doing YouTube yoga and baking is not quite the same as being a hostage, but you know what I mean.)

Something similar – this blurred forgetfulness – happened when I had Zoom Drinks with my best pals on Friday night (classifying that sentence in the “things that made no sense before March 2020” category) . We were trying to remember which announcements and restrictions had come in when, and we were struggling. Because of course it’s all a blur.

So for me, to give me a grounding (and for you, if you need it too) I’m writing it down. (A blog is, after all, a weblog – first and foremost, an online journal.) So here goes:

March 7th

Three and a half weeks ago (or a lifetime ago, a sit seems) on Saturday March 7th, I was out for dinner with friends. We knew about Corona, we knew there was a shortage of hand sanitizer, and we joked about how hard it is to stop touching your face. We didn’t talk about school closures, because that notion was nowhere on our radar. (And yet, five days later, the schools closed.)

March 8th

On Sunday March 8th, my daughter played a hockey match that put her through to another match. This next match was to be played on Mother’s Day, and while we celebrated the win, we lamented the loss of Mother’s Day plans. Little did we know. And we stood shoulder to shoulder on the sidelines, completely unaware of terms like “social distancing”.

March 10th

Tuesday March 10th, radio news reported speculation about school closures, and WhatsApp groups up and down the country lit up. It’s just a rumour, we were told.

March 12th 

On Thursday March 12th, at 11.30am, the Taoiseach made his announcement – the schools were closing. I burst into tears, wondering why I was crying. Talking to people since, I realise I was far from the only one.

March 13th

On Friday March 13th, we tried to settle into this strange new fast-paced slowed-down contradictory world of no school. The first questions were about playdates and playgrounds and playing on the green. Then we moved on to worrying about homeschooling and working from home. It took a week or so to realise that a) schools had sent varying levels of work and b) parents had varying needs for school-work. A bit like everything else, no two families’ needs are the same. And we are all winging it, including the schools.

For anyone still struggling with homeschool, this is a great piece of practical advice from a school teacher in a Facebook group I’m in.

By the middle of the next week, this was how I was feeling about homeschool, and life in our house is still pretty much as described at the end of this:

“The thing is, for every parent who is hoovering up information about activities and resources and ideas for things to do, there are others who are anxious about the pressure to *do* stuff with kids. The sense that if your child isn’t learning Origami and speaking Dutch, you’re wasting this time off.

But of course, like everything else, no two situations are the same. Some parents (like me) have kids who are old enough to do activities unsupervised, and we really want to know about the live illustration class on Instagram and the writing prompts on the Museum of Literature website (kids not always as enthusiastic as parents, obviously).

Whereas when my kids were smaller, the only way I could work from home was with a TV babysitter – Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig all the way.

So whether your kids are watching hours of TV, teaching themselves to type, playing Minecraft, jumping on a trampoline, re-reading old books, playing Nintendo Switch, sketching from pics on an iPad, or playing Subway Surfers on that same iPad as soon as you walk out of the room, it’s all good. Mine did all of the above today. There are no rules, whatever keeps them from fighting and keeps us sane

Pre-lockdown photo!

And for posterity – from week 1 – this:

“For parents worried that every other child is flying through the curriculum, doing extra worksheets, learning a language or perfecting a craft – one of mine is pretending to hide in a drawer.”

March 17th

On Tuesday March 17th, I cried again during Leo’s 9 o’clock news speech and felt glad there were no new restrictions.

March 25th

Just eight days later, I’d done a complete about-turn was glad there were new restrictions announced. That’s the other weird thing about all this – the constant evolution of thought about what’s okay and what’s safe.

March 27th 

On Friday March 27th, in the middle of Zoom Drinks with my friends, the lockdown announcement came. Less than three weeks after my night out during which we joked about hand sanitizer and touching our faces.

The next day was strange. This was my (Facebook) diary entry, copied here so I’ll remember how it felt:

“In a time of weird and surreal days, today seemed particularly weird and surreal. And a bit eerie too. And flat and edgy and confusing. And maybe a lot eerie. But there were gorgeous things as well, the things that bring the happy tears. Like the pharmacist who hand-delivered the medication because she lives nearby. And the people offering to buy groceries for other people’s parents, because they can get to them more easily. And the friend who managed to arrange a new phone for her faraway dad, donated by a complete stranger. And the Aer Lingus staff who helped my sister and her family with their shades-of-apocalypse move back to Ireland yesterday. And Joe Wicks donating all his PEwithJoe YouTube revenue to the NHS

And in between the bouts of happy tears, we muddle on with this new normal, ticking the exercise box and figuring out Zoom and reading and baking and watching and eating. I’m thinking we might just try to read and bake and watch and eat our way through this.”

March 31st

Today, we’re seeing out a March like we’ve never had before. I hope by the end of next month, things will be brighter. I know in my house, the kids will have had a lot more screen time, we’ll have eaten our weight in cakes, and we’ll be dreaming of treats like takeaway coffees and a walk on the beach. There will no doubt be stress and worry and tears. But I hope we’ll have had some good times too, in this fast-paced slowed-down contradictory new world.

In the meantime, here are some of the things we’ve done or plan to do- this is my go-to list when the kids come to tell me they’re bored. (Though the top thing to send them scurrying is, “Great, I need help with the laundry”.)

Note: the number of the below activities done in my house today at time of writing (3.45pm) is precisely zero. Do-nothing days and no-motivation days are common too.

  • Read, re-read, borrow ebooks on Borrowbox
  • Listen to an audio book – free on Audible Stories (no waiting, signing up or reserving required) or Borrowbox (sign up online)
  • Make a comic – Dav Pilkey is doing video tutorials, one for Dog Man fans
  • Write a story (here’s a prompt I gave my kids: “She realised then that while she could hear everyone, nobody could hear her”)
  • Start leaning a language (Duolingo app or this website for German)
  • Start writing a book
  • Learn to do the splits (top aim of one of my kids)
  • Research someone e.g. the Rebel Girls book (one of my kids has inexplicably decided to research Boris Johnson, I think she’s trying to catch him out)
  • Make a stop motion video with LEGO (this is great fun and kids age 7/ 8 can do it without help)
  • Learn to type:
  • GoNoodle videos for movement
  • PE with Joe
  • Yoga videos on YouTube – Yoga with Adrienne
  • Build something – LEGO, Knex, Magformers
  • Research a topic you’ve always wondered about
  • Bake – we’ve made at least half the cakes on The Cake Mum’s website now
  • Learn to sew
  • Learn to knit (from YouTube)
  • Take photos and learn about photography
  • Start a journal – or start a blog!

Editing to add April’s Facebook posts, so I’ll always know what it was like in lockdown:

Wednesday April 1st:

Saturday April 4th: What I’ve learnt so far, and toffee apples

Things I learnt in the first three weeks of *this*:

· If the kids mitch off school to play quietly, and the parents pretend they don’t notice, they can carry on working uninterrupted and everyone’s a winner.

· My husband sounds like a grown-up when he does his job.

· I still don’t know what his job is.

· Making toffee apples is really difficult, toffee can end up tasting like burnt sugar but it killed an hour for one child, and we all learnt a valuable lesson (that is, never try to make toffee apples)

· All the clichés are true – I’ve done Zoom calls wearing a nice shirt with leggings and slippers, we’ve eaten our weight in baked goods, and kids’ PE is REALLY HARD.

· It is possible to be extremely busy and incredibly bored at the exact same time.

I’ve also learnt that as soon as I think I’ve figured out how to respond to *this*, everything changes. And not only are we trying to figure out how to respond ourselves, we’re realising that everyone is reacting differently.
There are some people with no work to do because their jobs can’t be done from home, and they may have time to bake scones from scratch and start writing a book. There are some people with no work to do because they’ve been laid off, and they’re too busy worrying about money to bake scones or write books. There are some people so worried about money, their only way to deal is to bake scones or write books.
There are many, many people trying to work from home while raising small children, and the idea of baking scones or writing books is preposterous (even when writing books is their actual job and ). There are some people at home with small children, for whom crafting and baking is the only way through the day. There are some people who can’t understand how everyone on Instagram has time for crafts. There are some people whose children thrive on structure and can do their homeschool work unsupervised. There are some people dreading getting more homeschool work, because they have actively teach their while holding down a full-time day-job. There are some people whose response to uncertainty is hyper-productivity. There are some people whose response to uncertainty is to turn off the news and curl up with a book. There are some people too distracted to read at all.
There are people writing books and baking scones. There are people just getting through the day. There are people straddling both worlds, fluctuating by the week or by the hour. The only thing we have in common is that we’re all doing our best, in whatever way works for us. (But seriously, don’t try to make toffee apples.)

Monday April 6th: Kwitch

My favourite moment today, while taking a break in the sun and listening to my youngest tell me the entire plot of Bad Dad, was when he said Auntie Flip cooked “kwitch” every night. It took me a few minutes to work out he probably meant “quiche”

Wednesday April 8th: Run-walk

I went out for a run near my house tonight, and ahead of me on the path, I saw a woman walking. She was a little bit further along, walking in the same direction, so I subconsciously (amazing how quickly we adapt) calculated how soon I’d need to veer out onto the road to pass her by.
Not yet.
I kept running. And running. And running.
And she kept walking. And walking. And walking.
And the gap did not narrow.
And I finally accepted that my running pace was the same as her walking pace. And that’s what I learned about myself on day 27 (and now I know why I was always the last one picked in PE).

Saturday April 11th – Easter Saturday:

At the start of all this, I thought I might take up yoga, do online Pilates, teach the kids German, plant windowboxes, learn to cook risotto, and, obviously, put all my photos in photo albums.
I’ve done none of these things. But today, Day 30, I found mint growing in my garden and made a Mojito. I’m feeling really quite productive now.

Thursday April 16th: Box-dye

Talking about lockdown and hair colour at dinner tonight, and my youngest said, “When you go in to the hairdresser, Mum, they’re going to say, ‘Wow, we didn’t think lockdown was THAT long’.”

A week later, I dyed my hair:

Friday April 17th: Friday Feeling 

It’s our sixth Friday in lockdown and the new routine here has started to feel familiar – playdate pizza replaced by Bombay Pantry, extra screen time replaced by even more extra screen time, nights out replaced by Zoom calls, and wine replaced by… well, no change there. But we made it through another week and we are all brilliant

Tuesday April 21st – back to homeschool after Easter was HARD

For 39 days now, I’ve been motivating and cajoling and encouraging and begging my kids – to get up in the morning, to eat breakfast, to start school work, to come down for lunch, to do exercise, to get fresh air. I am temporarily all out of ability to motivate other people and temporarily retiring. This is me having coffee in the garden while they may or may not come down for lunch. Temporary retirement is very nice.

Friday April 24th: Trump being Trump  

I shouted this week. I failed at homeschool. I spent too much time on my phone. I took fewer steps. I quit, a number of times. But lookit, I’m running a house, not a country – and I didn’t tell anyone to inject themselves with disinfectant ‍♀️ Happy Friday

April 30th: Yoga 

I’ve taken up yoga with a vengeance in recent weeks (a relaxed, calm vengeance of course, since it’s yoga). My eldest does it with me, we’ve bought yoga mats, and we’re on day 10 of Yoga with Adriene on YouTube.

This is 10% because it makes me feel good, 10% because it involves a lot of lying down with your eyes closed, and 80% because my leggings are elevated from “things I wear because what’s the point in jeans now” to “Oh this? This is my yoga gear”.

May 1st: The shock announcement

Today was supposed to be a milestone day for my sixth class girl – instead, I decided we’d give her breakfast in bed; a poor substitute but worth a try. The surprised delight on her face and her good humour all day reminded me yet again that kids are AMAZING. We have asked so much of them in the last 7 weeks, and they are struggling so hard with missing friends and school, and yet they keep smiling and finding joy in small stuff, like breakfast in bed.
Her good humour continued all day until just now, when we sat together watching Leo announce that schools won’t re-open until September. That broke her. Now we’re both crying because now we know that her eight years in primary school came to an unmarked end on a Thursday in March. Hugs to all the kids who are sad tonight, and especially sixth class and sixth year kids who can’t get this time back. I have no happy words on which to end this, but it’s worth repeating – kids are AMAZING.

May 11th: Getting to grips, or not…

I don’t suppose anyone knows where one child’s missing Seesaw code is or who plugged out my laptop to charge their tablet or what I did with the Twinkl password or how much ink is left in my tiny printer or how much homeschool-traumatic-stress-disorder therapy will cost all of us or what a book that was written while sitting on a child’s bedroom floor will read like?

May 13th: Sometimes it’s not so bad

Book, toast, sun. Mostly lockdown’s a pain, but this guy likes not having to rush out the door in the morning (and I like that too)

May 21st: Day 70. Big hugs.

It’s Day 70 today: ten weeks since it was announced that the schools were closing.

Big hugs for kids getting through ten weeks without seeing their friends or teachers and big hugs for parents for getting through ten weeks of home-school. I was thinking tonight about what I’ve learned in those ten weeks, and these are my top 8:

1. At least once a day, I decide we are truly dysfunctional and I wonder if other parents are going through this too.

2. Online yoga is way easier than online PE, but feels just as virtuous.

3. Even with only going to the shop once a week, it is still impossible to remember to put everything on the list.

4. The in-built exercise at school – yard-time, PE, extra-curricular activities – is ridiculously hard to match and I will never take it for granted again.

5. Even my kids who thought they weren’t mad on school are desperately missing school.

6. Every day, about ten minutes after deciding we’re really dysfunctional, I decide we’re not a bad little bunch after all, and if I have to spend ten weeks with just four other people, these are the four I’d choose.

7. Kids are brilliant. We knew that, but now we really, really know that.

8. Parents are brilliant too. 70 days. Big hugs.





Click the button below to sign up to my Penguin newsletter.