So much has changed over the last three months, it seems we need a whole new vocabulary to express ourselves. Shielding, social distancing, bubbles and … oh yes … homeschool. Of course, homeschooling was a conscious choice for many families pre-2020 but, for the rest of us, it’s been quite the learning curve. Despite this, I think my son, James, has emerged from my amateur tutelage unscathed, perhaps even edified. His general knowledge certainly seems wide-ranging – I’d like to take all the credit, but he keeps singing the theme tune to ‘Maddie’s Do You Know?’ and giving the game away.
James is only at pre-school, so I began our summer term in relaxed fashion. I did attempt a ban on television in the mornings, but the determination of a tired mum is nothing against the iron will of a small child. James is now allowed ‘educational’ telly before lunch. He has also come to understand the power of the internet and figured out that Mummy’s phone can answer all the questions that Mummy cannot. Walking round the duck pond today he made me check if birds cough and if the Big Bang really happened.
The nursery James attended has been brilliant during this unsettled period of our lives, giving him activities to complete every day and providing personal feedback and encouragement. It’s one of the reasons that the end of the school year brings me mixed feelings – instinctive pleasure at the thought of long summer days, balanced with a sense of loss. Until recently, our local school displayed colourful posters in the windows entreating us to ‘stay safe’ and ‘keep strong’, created by the children during those final, strange days at school. Together with a caterpillar of painted stones decorating the pavement outside, they have been a touching reminder of the community we long to see reunited.
Meanwhile, James and I continue to occupy ourselves happily enough. We have signed up for the Summer Reading Challenge which aims to promote and celebrate reading among children aged four to eleven. Kids benefit from book recommendations specific to their age and interests, they can earn badges, play games and post messages to other children. James has also joined the Scottish Virtual Summer Camp which promises children daily outdoor activities designed to stimulate their exploration of the natural world. I especially like that James will be able to connect with his pals (virtually) and have a chin-wag about their open-air findings.
Over the last few months, I have adopted a survival strategy of keeping both James and myself super-busy to stave off boredom and bad temper. But I did read about a lovely concept called ‘benign neglect’ where you leave your child to amuse themselves, potter about, daydream. Their creativity will flourish, they will learn valuable self-sufficiency, and handily enough you are freed up to have a cuppa and/or work. Like any normal (weary) parent, I find this idea attractive, but in my world benign neglect all too quickly descends into desperate enjoinders to “Find a way to entertain yourself!”
If my nerves start to fray, I’m no fun for James. Sometimes in the evening I find it soothing to tune in to the teachings of Kadampa Meditation Centre where I attended classes over the last two years. Our local branch is currently closed but, if you feel in need a breather, you can access their calming philosophy and sensible advice via the meditations offered online.
For less noble and more calorific comfort, there are plenty of foody treats offered locally to lift the spirits of the whole family. Many eateries now deliver, and we have indulged in an occasional meal from Tabla, The Italian Corner, and the Fish and Chip Company. They all offer a decent choice of yummy food you can eat at home (in your pyjamas…) After a particularly tricky week, I can also recommend the solace provided by a delivery from Majestic!
Sometimes it’s the little things that are most restorative. James loves to wave at train drivers, and is high as a kite if he gets a toot-toot from their whistle in return. He likes our new automated road crossings (who’d have thought the green man appearing by ‘magic’ would prove so satisfying!) and delights in a simple walk to Mila’s Bakery to pick up an apple pie. James is fascinated by photos sent by his great-auntie, who has been sharing the transformation of her pondlife from tadpoles to frogs. And the day our neighbours climbed up to their guttering to investigate a bee nest, James had his nose glued to our window, enthralled.
As the academic year 2019/20 draws to a close, it seems that James and I have scraped a pass. Despite growing up in the midst of a global pandemic, my little boy remains unfazed. In a recent fit of despair at the state of world, I told James how sorry I was that he wasn’t allowed to have fun with his friends. But a five-year-old has no time for such self-pity. My relief was absolute as he gazed back at me in astonishment, his mouth full of fruit, pastry and sugar, and said, “But Mummy, I am having fun!”.