The Darkest Day

I’ve been re-reading my old blog the past day or so. Some lovely, timely reminders about the lonely, sad and exhausting nature of living away from friends and family – as well as some observations about expat life and motherhood that made me giggle and miss the chaos just a little bit too. But the main thing that struck me was how alone I was during those years. I forgot just how much I flew solo, trying to cope with a small child without a support network and missing my old life so much I would ache with the misery of it. It’s not dissimilar to how many of us are feeling right now, and reading it back, I realise just how much resilience I managed to build up over that time, that’s being redeployed over and over again this year and especially during this bleak, dark winter.

Writing that blog didn’t just kickstart my career; far more importantly, it helped me to work through any number of painful or difficult moments in time when I would have otherwise felt like I couldn’t cope. I supposed it’s what inspired me to write again, today; the move into yet another lockdown, or Tier 4, or whatever you want to call it – the cruel cancellation of Christmas, the shortest and darkest day of the year, the rain, the incessant underlying stress of holding it all together for my family when really I just want a break from the utter relentlessness of it all.

I read, I write and I remember; I know the demons that will come if I let them. So I push against them; I let myself have a cry, but I don’t let myself dwell on the situation. Instead, I get on with life. I write, finally: I’ve spent long months not writing, or pretending to write, or writing but finding it so hard to be motivated. I’ve missed the flow, the smile it brings to my face when a thought or feeling invokes words on the page; but suddenly I am filled with the want, to make the words come again. I have been inspired by that person I used to be, who wrote herself through everything once before and can do it again.

This period of our lives will pass. And the realisation, from reading words I wrote nearly a decade ago, that I’ve got this, has given me the boost I needed. My first novel was born out of my time in Dubai and a difficult re-entry back to London life; my second will come from the wastelands of 2020. One day soon this terrible year will be a memory, something we refer to in passing. In place of the misery and sadness we’re surrounded by right now will be a summary phrase adopted to encapsulate the time: ‘during lockdown’ or ‘during Covid’ – and just like saying ‘when I lived in Dubai’ to people who weren’t there, it won’t seem real or relevant. But the strength that we gain, the knowledge and power we hold tightly in our fists right now as we battle against the endless ocean of personal challenge – that’s real and relevant. It’s time to wield that power and begin again, even while the days are at their darkest.

Angry woman alert

Okay. I’m ANGRY. So if my ranting makes you feel uncomfortable, move along, defriend me, whatever. But I have to get this off my chest before I explode. 
“…the economy is clearly being prioritised and education is not being prioritised at the same level. From everything that’s been said, [children] could be going to theme parks and sitting in pub gardens with their parents, or they could be shopping, but they will not be in school.”
Taken from the Guardian this morning.
The Government washing their hands of a no-win situation because it’s just too tricky and leaving it to headteachers to figure out makes me furious. I don’t know about anyone else’s kids, but mine needs his friends. His peers. His teachers. He needs the stability and the sanctity of school. His education is not the only thing suffering, far from it. And as far as I can see, the decision not to open schools any further before summer is not based on data that it will drive up the R rate any more than opening John Bloody Lewis and telling everyone it’s okay to go back to work. Arguably, if statistics are to be relied upon, far less. The situation is frustrating, upsetting and it’s making my blood boil that a better outcome for our children hasn’t been found. It destroys me every time I think about what our kids have been denied these past months. And now, that this will continue for the same time period all over again until September, when apparently we are all just supposed to cross our fingers and hope ‘someone’ has found a solution. NOT. GOOD. ENOUGH.
I have a theory that the decision has been taken so that the population of people who are actually able to return to work (and therefore come out of lockdown) is vastly reduced until after the summer, to really try and see this virus off. But this hasn’t been specifically said out loud. And to address it would be to admit that a very distinct subset of the population who are not vulnerable and who should be able to return to a ‘new normal’ are being denied access to their lives along with their children, and sacrificing their health, wealth, job and mental wellbeing along with it.  
Because, while all these children are home for six months of their lives, who is taking care of them? Mostly women, because we mostly aren’t the main breadwinners, because we mostly already sacrificed that privilege by being women and having the children in the first place. We are a generation who have spent our whole lives battling misogyny, glass ceilings, equal pay, equal rights even though we grew up thinking our mothers had already done all that. Many of us started businesses that would flex around families after we had them – businesses that are running into the ground or running us into the ground, as we juggle working late into the night with home schooling our kids the next day. But that’s okay, I hear you say, because ‘we chose to have kids.’ If you follow that logic through, we’re ‘choosing’ not to go back to work right now too. But let’s be clear, this isn’t a choice. There are many who work part time jobs so they can care for their kids and still make ends meet. There are many leave their children in the care of others so they can work full time to support their families. Some women with children even go to work instead of being full time mothers because (whisper) they find it fulfilling. Whatever the reason, we have no hope of returning to those jobs while schools are closed, or even partly closed. It will wreak havoc on our ability to do anything except be at home. We’re told that ‘your employer should understand if you can’t return to work.’ But that’s missing the point. We are being denied the right to access our lives and are instead expected to shut up and put up, hold our families together, queue for food, clean the house, look after elderly relatives, home school and ensure the safety of our children while the men go out and earn the money. It’s like the clock went back 50 years and no one is talking about it and that scares me a little bit. If it’s so easy to revert to this model, did things ever really change at all?
This period of time has been difficult on everyone in many different ways. I know people who’ve been placed in terrible situations, had extreme hardship and awful losses during lockdown, and I make no claims to have a hard life, far from it. But people talking about when shops will open or when can they go on holiday or when they will be able to get a pint is making me mad. The government casually dropping the responsibility of getting our children back into school is making me double mad. Schools ALWAYS should have been the priority. Because until education is put back to rights, there are a whole load of us completely paralysed, unable to contribute to the economy or society.
Unless, of course, we were never that important to begin with.