Keeping on keeping on

At the start of our nationwide lockdown, I began watching the Harry Potter movies again, one every week.  I wanted escapism, immersion in a child’s world of chocolate frogs and butterbeer.  Now, our hero Harry has grown facial hair and developed muscles.  I’ve reached the end of the franchise and, back in the Muggle world, our lives have changed profoundly. 

I find it almost impossible to picture the future, which is disquieting.  Face masks, social bubbles, plastic partitions…? How will a five-year-old make sense of such things? But my little boy takes life one moment at a time and perhaps the best approach is to try and do the same.  With the challenges we all continue to face daily, family life in uncharted territory, and anxiety levels high, it seems we must keep on keeping on.  

Fresh air and physical activity continue to be my key coping strategy for good physical and mental health.  I jog as James cycles, we play Frisbee and football, and added to this are gardening, an occasional clean of the house, and PE with Captain Serotonin himself, Joe Wicks.  When I found myself doing an abs workout I wondered if I’d taken things too far.  My legs feel like lead and my knee has started to click climbing up stairs.  I can’t stop though, exercise keeps James and me in good spirits, and I need something to combat my Cadbury habit.   

Combining body movement with brainpower are the upbeat BBC Bitesize Daily programmes on BBC iPlayer.  These lively lessons in English, maths, and other core subjects are tailored for specific age groups.  I had assumed that the 5-7 age group would be too advanced for James, who hasn’t yet started school, but this isn’t the case.  These sessions are short, accessible and varied.  James loves the songs and dancing, the history and science, and the Book Club and wellbeing sections.  Best of all, I get 20 minutes to myself.  

James now claims BBC Bitesize is his favourite TV programme, though I don’t think Octonauts will lose that crown for long.  A demonstration of potato printing prompted us to try it ourselves, causing me to dredge up some very old sprouting potatoes, not to mention distant childhood memories.  Our arts and craft activities remain an endless source of satisfaction for us both.  Friends recommended Toucan boxes, which arrive addressed to your child and contain everything you need for two crafts, along with a kids’ magazine.  James made a lovely solar system poster complete with glow-in-the-dark stars.  

Last year James and I enjoyed a visit to local ceramic studio For Art Sake, and they are now offering bespoke take-home painting kits including your choice of ceramic, brushes and paints.  The British Library has a wealth of online learning resources – Discovering Children’s Books features Alex Scheffler teaching us how to draw a Gruffalo, and there are articles showing children how to write a mini book or their own poetry, create an animal character or superhero, lose themselves in a fairy tale, and much more.  The V&A has started its LetsMakeWednesdays design challenge for children, offering a creative challenge every week of lockdown inspired by objects in the museum collection.  And a friend also suggested the YouTube channel Art for Kids Hub which provides family video tutorials on how to draw anything from a cherry tree to a firefighter.  

These are all fantastic resources, but I worry that both James and I are spending too much time in front of a screen.  This has always been a concern but it’s exacerbated now by his learning being provided remotely and our reliance on the internet.  I asked some other local mums what was working for their children, and it was amazing how much success they are having offline.  Foraging for wild garlic, camping in the house and garden, making a scrap book or diary, fairy gardens, tea parties, treasure hunts, baking pizza, quiet time in a cosy reading corner, or letting off steam at a kitchen disco.  All brilliant ideas and no tech in sight.

Sometimes I just need to slow down completely.  As the unactioned notifications from nursery stack up, and I scurry around, spinning and dropping plates … I have to remember to pause and breathe.  Sometimes it’s ok to leave James in the great old-fashioned company of Mickey Mouse, or Tom and Jerry.  I recently discovered the small joy of savouring a pot of leaf tea, rather than making do with a hasty teabag.  Sometimes my downtime involves simply staring out of the window, watching birds and people.  

As the days merge together and the weeks slip past, I’m still regularly struck by the kindness and goodwill I see all around.  Strangers who smile and say hello as they walk by.  The thoughtfulness of someone crossing the road to give James and me space (we can be wieldy – boy, bike, ball).  If we can hang on to this sense of community, we may yet come through this experience as much more than a nation of well-tended gardens, neglected teeth and amateur haircuts.  We just need to carry on – for a little bit longer.