It began to rain. I opened the window to hear its soothing sound. I remembered how I used to play that sound, on an iPhone app, for my newborn all those years ago… to help her sleep, to feel safe, to feel secure, almost reminiscent of being still in the womb.
I didn’t close the window, although it brought a chill to the room, instead I left it open and listened to the rain pelt down as I typed…
It’s been over six months since I wrote a column about Covid’s arrival back in March. I was probably ignorant of the long days and months ahead, living with this virus. I wrote about taking it one day at a time, and I honestly thought back then that this ‘new normal’ wasn’t so bad. It had forced us to slow down, to turn our attention inwards to our homes, towards our families.
I tried to keep my positive hat on for the sake of the kids — albeit all too aware of the hundreds of thousands of deaths it had already caused in China and Europe. I was fearful the same would happen here. But we were at home, in our ‘cocoon’, in our ‘womb’ of sorts, my husband and children and I. We were safe, happy and healthy, for now and we hoped it would stay that way.
As the weeks and months wore on there were many challenges — for each and every one of us in the household, our extended family too. It would be fair to say that there were some difficult days. The reality in all this is that we don’t know, behind all these closed doors, how anyone is really coping. And yet I count my blessings too, in the knowledge that there are others whose troubles, whose dark days far exceeded ours, in particular those who lost loved ones to Covid.
If the past few months have taught me anything, it’s that there are so many pleasures to be found in the stuff we used to take for granted. This renewed appreciation is something that I hope will sustain me in the weeks and months ahead, as we head into the colder, darker days of autumn and winter and as the numbers of cases continue to rise, with further restrictions a very real possibility. So I’ve stopped to review the simple things that brought me joy these past few months….
They say that the three minutes you spend with your children in the morning and the last three minutes before bed, are the most important in their day. Up until Covid, I didn’t see my children most mornings. I was out the door and gone to work by the time they woke. Or if they did rouse, there was a rushed goodbye… mummy has to beat the traffic!
Some evenings I’d put them to bed at 8pm and not see them the next day until 5pm. That’s probably the way for many mums working outside the home. It had become our norm.
Now mornings are met with a great big hug from both of them (six months on it’s still a daily novelty to me!), we sit and eat breakfast together before they get dressed and scramble out the door with dad to school, while I switch on my computer and set to work.
When they get home, there’s a quick chat to catch up, before I return to my desk and finish off whatever work needs to be done. When I clock off there’s no hour long commute home, stuck in traffic. So they gain another bit of time with me, that we didn’t have before.
Needless to say, I’ve seen more of them these past few months than I ever would have had, if we were still working in our office. I feel it’s brought us closer.
Not to paint a picture of a bed of roses either! There’s been tears, temper tantrums and lots of quarrels too! And I was very glad of their return to school. But I wouldn’t change the extra time I’ve had with them these past few months.
My husband’s hours were so changeable, week to week, when he was working full time that we rarely, if ever, sat down to eat all together as a family. One of the plus sides of him being out of work for so long (if we can take any positive from it) is that we have more time together — especially that hour in the day called dinner time. It’s a pause in the day for us all to be across the table from each other. No TV, no phones, no toys, no other distractions, just us. We catch up, check in with each other — mostly it’s pleasant, unless one of them is bawking at what’s on the menu!
As a family we’ve introduced Saturday movie nights, where it’s ‘compulsory’ for all four of us to sit on the couch together to watch a film, projected on our wall. We’ve probably done 25 movies and counting by now… I don’t think the kids will ever tire of this mummy and daddy time, cuddles, a movie and popcorn — pure simplicity.
I’m conscious that many people have had to weather this storm alone the past few months, no partner by their side, no children… it makes me ever more grateful for the loved ones under my roof.
I’ve lived in my home now for over 15 years — but I wonder how much time I actually have spent there? When you think it’s one of the biggest costs we will ever have in our lifetime, we spend our working lives paying for it — but hardly in it!
Sometimes I felt that this roof over my head was more of a house than a home - as it had become somewhere to eat, watch TV and go to bed. But since Covid I’ve appreciated having this space a lot more. I know there are those so less fortunate not to have such a luxury.
There’s been cleaning and decluttering and painting — and, in a way, being able to make the best of it during this time, was soothing. I’ve lost count of the number of items of furniture and walls I’ve painted into the early hours of the morning…
We also use our home so much more differently now than before —we’ve never appreciated our small back garden as much. We even bought a greenhouse, I planted seeds — flowers and vegetables — some grew and others didn’t. On lunch break from work I often found myself standing in there looking at the pots with a smile on my face as things sprouted and grew… such joy from a simple packet of seeds.
Initially I was jealous of those who were home, without anything to do… people talked about having so much more quality time, a time for personal growth, to learn new things, enjoy some downtime — while I was on a hamster wheel, trying to juggle work and kids at home from school, and support a vulnerable member of the family too, like so many other people throughout the country.
But I realise now how lucky I am to still have at least one solid income coming into our home.
As well as that, it’s thrown up new challenges on a professional level, for my colleagues and I — who’d have thought we’d still be publishing papers from our dining room tables, or bedrooms, or spare rooms, now six months plus — there’s pride to take in all of that.
Whether they were five minutes up the road or thousands of kilometres across the Atlantic Ocean, I count myself lucky to have a small group of true friends. One day, out the blue, probably on a day I needed it most, I received a ‘work from home package’ from a friend — it’s been near impossible to keep in touch, juggling work and family these past few years — but it made by day, my week, my month! it was so thoughtful, packed with treats to get me through the working day. Another friend sent flowers from the US. Albeit we’ve only spoken once, there’s What’sApp messages frequently to ask each other how we are hanging in there —me here in Cork, her in New York, with Trump to contend with!
We all fear what the autumn and winter may bring. It’s typically a more difficult season to navigate, physically and mentally, with darker days, colder weather. We fear with rising cases, that harsher Covid-19 restrictions will be on the way soon for Cork: will we go to level 3?
You may feel despondent, defeated, depressed, deflated at the thought... we had been enjoying the bit of freedom afforded to us these past few weeks and months. We were doing OK in the ‘new normal’. We weren’t living our best lives, but were living it safely, a bit more freely, protecting ourselves and our families.
Many returned to work. We got to go on holidays around our beautiful country. We met up with friends for dinner. Our young kids went back to school. Our adult children came home to visit, after months apart.
Now we fear the goalposts might shift again and it makes us despondent, even angry — but we have to stay positive for all our sakes.
It’s a time to stay strong, to stay informed of what we need to do, to get Cork back on track. Dig down deep and find the strength to keep going.... And remind yourself of the positives — small they may be, but they are mighty!