Just over three weeks ago, I lovingly got Mabel’s little blue school cardigan out of the wardrobe and gave it a fresh wash. The next day, I waved my four-year-old daughter off to school for the first time since lockdown began.
She’s in reception and it was all a bit strange watching her go back after so long being off. Mabel was in a minority too, as many of her classmates were still being kept home.
As I approached the school gates, I saw that the haggard-looking bunch of parents lining up (social distancing observed) all wore the same expression: guilt.
We walked in silence through the gate. Even the kids talked in hushed tones – then I realised there were only five children in her class being sent back by their parents.
We were the few who had decided to take that risk. So why didn’t I feel guilty at all?
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My guilt came flooding in a few days later, but it was more about my lack of empathy; the feeling of no guilt. I needed this.
The thing is, my older daughter Ruby, aged 12, is in one of the years not being invited back before the summer holidays, so she won’t be in school now until September.
She’s hanging in there, missing her friends and finding homeschooling quite hard to concentrate on. She’s had a lot on her mind too.
Her dad James – who I’d split from but lived with as best friends – passed away in March after sudden heart failure.
It was a huge heartbreaking shock for everyone. As it happened at the beginning of quarantine the funeral was for eight people only, along with all the other limitations that went along with that.
So to say Ruby hasn’t had the easiest time is an understatement and it felt like quite a bind sending Mabel back to school – to some sort of semblance of routine and to her friends – but not her.
Even though I feel protective over Ruby, if she was in the years that were going back to school I’d send her back in a heartbeat too.
Why? I’m exhausted, I’m fed-up and I’m grieving. I am working from home as a freelance writer and PR and I’m feeling the strain. I’m also punching my way out of a corner and fighting back, trying to get in the right mind-frame by getting enough sleep and throwing myself back into work.
But I can’t do that without space and quite frankly – a bit of a break.
I’m Ruby’s lone parent now and that’s taking quite a reluctant adjustment. Initially, in the first term after lockdown was instigated, I didn’t cope at all. I was a mess and I missed James like mad. Understandably, Ruby didn’t want to lift a finger to do any work – and I didn’t have the strength or will to make her.
The next term was different. I enlisted the help of her aunt and uncle, Sophie and Dave, who run their own catering business to ring Ruby every day and sort out what subjects she should study. It was a Godsend, and has been ever since.
But I still needed more respite. Praying that your four-year-old doesn’t want a glass of apple juice or have a general complaint about her toe isn’t really the thing you want to be doing mid-Zoom call.
So Mabel going back to school was a little light at the end of the very dark tunnel we had found ourselves in.
But not all parents thought the same – in fact, my Facebook feed was full of vitriolic mums who wouldn’t dream of exposing their little darlings to any prospective nasty germs.
I kept schtum online. What did they bloody know about other peoples’ lives?
Sending my tiny girl back into a so-called ‘death trap’ was something I couldn’t wait to do, whilst the other one stayed at home. By then, my older daughter was making her own timetable and wearing what she wanted to every day – a stark contrast to Mabel’s new routine.
And while it is lovely to have more time with Ruby at such a horrendous time, I still need to make sure she’s set for the day before I can even think about what’s on my to do list.
Juggling homeschooling, working from home and parenting alone in isolation has been one of the hardest times of my life. I don’t ever want to repeat this feeling. But I’ve done it – and I have to feel a sense of accomplishment about that.
It’s been nearly a month since Mabel walked through the gates and I know I made the right decision for us all.
We’re back into a routine that we didn’t realise we missed so much and my head is better than it was.
I know for sure that there are other parents out there that needed this too. Maybe they’re sending one child back but not another. The point here is this: Who are we to judge how one parent has coped with this lockdown than another?
I needed my child to go back to school so that I could survive better. Is that the most selfish, or most noble of acts? Either way, I refuse to feel guilty about it.
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