Normality, in the new sense of the word has begun to return. After months apart, and much anticipation, my children have finally been reunited with one set of their grandparents. It was an emotional occasion, particularly for the adults. Video calls and photographs are all well and good, but nothing in comparison to real-life contact and conversation.
“Did you not bring chicken tikka masala?” the second youngest asked his nana, his expectation that all should be as was, evident in his surprise. “Next time,” she promised laughing. He’ll hold her to that.
“I have a broken bone,” the youngest informed his grandparents, proudly displaying the sling that supported a collarbone broken by a heart-stopping fall down our stairs.
But more than the need to update their grandparents with news, was the need to celebrate their grandad’s birthday. Hiding behind the door, they jumped out on their poor unsuspecting grandparents as they arrived, blowing birthday horns and whistles and roaring birthday wishes. If worries about mixing again hadn’t my parents’ nerves shot, this was sure to do the job!
Moments of normality
For several days that followed I was on a high. I had struggled with the separation, even feeling aggrieved as previous phases prevented a reunion.
But now we can all see each other again. I’ve even been to a restaurant and though things have had to change for safety reasons, there were fleeting moments of normality as we enjoyed being out out. The school holidays are here and already the uniforms are in the shops. The booklists with their usual crippling costs have been issued. Hello normal my old friend. I’ve come to talk to you again.
Only it’s not quite normal. It’s the “new normal” – a phrase I’ve come to hate almost as much as the buzzword of the moment “blended learning”.
When I started out as a parent, the one consistent piece of advice I received was about the importance of a routine. As time passed, demands changed and my family size grew, I learned that keeping a strict routine wasn’t always practical, or even desirable. But there were some things that needed to remain consistent for their sakes and mine – so that we could function as a family and they knew what to expect.
All routine and certainty has gone out the window since March 12th. Though none of us truly expected that schools, colleges and childcare facilities would only close for two weeks, few of us wanted to consider the possibility that our children might not return to school until September.
Yet, here we are four months on, hoping and willing that a full return will actually take place in September. Our children have sacrificed so much, educationally, socially and mentally. Milestone occasions have been missed. And all families are not affected equally. For some, the weight of no school is an unbearable burden.
“We are going back in September?” the youngest teen asked me recently as the story made the news once again. “Oh yes,” I reassured. “Though I’m not quite sure how it’ll look yet,” I continued, keen not to lie to him, but conscious also that he needs hope having played his part for so long in keeping Ireland safe.
My youngest is due to start school this September. Ordinarily, by this stage, my over-sentimentality has kicked in and I’m lamenting another child growing up too fast. On this occasion however, I’m wondering how on earth I’m supposed to prepare him for what lies ahead when I don’t know myself.
His world has been turned on its head since his Montessori closed. He was unwelcome in shops, viewed with suspicion out walking with his family and taught to become rigorous about hand hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette. I’m only starting to appreciate now how much of an effect all of this has had on him.
These days, his big blue eyes well up if he inadvertently touches something. Though he can’t yet read, he worries excessively when he sees the familiar yellow stickers of coronavirus, keen to ensure he is stringently following the rules.
I worry for my teens too – the only group possibly more vilified than young children during this whole crisis. There has been equally little consideration for the effects school closures have had on them. As “blended learning” is touted as a workable solution because they are older, it shows little regard for their needs for connectivity, peer support, social experiences, motivation and access to learning support.
Who is supposed to oversee blended learning as parents return and continue to work? The stress and demands on parents over the last few months as they attempt to juggle the impossible is unsustainable.
The new normal is plagued with uncertainty and it’s very unsettling.