This week marks something of a watershed in our house: our childcare arrangements have resumed. After three and a half months of juggling work and toddler wrangling between us, my husband and I are able to return to our normal office hours.
The feeling is extraordinary. Suddenly, there is time to breathe. There is time to think. There is time to do a second post on this blog this week. Work on the second draft of my new novel, which for the past month has been restricted to two hours snatched at 5am before the rest of the household stirs, surges ahead. Instead of every grown-up conversation being flooded with logistics, we can afford to entertain non-essential matters once more.
This sense of a huge burden falling away makes me realise quite what a strain the lockdown period has been (and I say this in full knowledge that I am one of the lucky ones and that I suffer on an extremely high level compared to many at the moment). It also makes me realise how clueless I was about the ways in which it would affect me when this crisis began.
Back in March, prompted partly by a wave of media and social-media discussions about how people were going to fill the endless hours cooped up at home, I made a list of useful tasks I could accomplish while under a soft form of house arrest. Most of these remain unattempted, with the exception of the simple, practical tasks that could be tackled or even turned into a game with a toddler in the room.
For the truth is that, instead of expanding, time has contracted in this house over the past few months. While I did lose some client work over the period, what remained was more than I could manage in the time I had to devote to it, with the result that evenings and rare stretches when my daughter was distracted were all pressed into service in the interests of getting things done. In the most extreme period, I started work at 5am and finally switched off my laptop at around 9pm.
The hours weren’t the main issue, however. I’m used to long workdays. Back during my year reading a book from every country in the world, such a schedule was par for the course. The difference this time was that, instead of choosing to impose such a punishing routine on myself, I was obliged to adopt it because of circumstances beyond my control. After 12 years of being my own boss, this was hard to take. And it’s only now, as I sit in my writing room with the day stretching out in front of me, that I am beginning to realise quite the toll it took.
That’s not to say that the past few months have been without their positives. There are things I will miss. Although I am already lucky to be able to spend more time with my daughter than parents who commute and work five days a week, it has been a privilege and a joy to have so many days with her. Looking after her for so long without access to many of the groups, facilities and entertainments that we are used to has expanded my resourcefulness and creativity as a parent: these last few months, the hoover has become a hungry beast liable to eat her toys if she doesn’t pick them up quickly enough; freak storms have erupted in the living room forcing us to scramble for cover; and we have learnt to look much more closely at the plants and creatures we pass on our cliff-top walks.
A lot of parents are still in this situation – still juggling work (or the stresses of worklessness) and childcare. For many with school-age children, the summer stretches ahead like a desert, coming on the back of nearly four months of having their kids at home. I can only imagine how tired they are.