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Life Chez Dee Episode #81 : A positive perspective

Lockdown; stay at home; protect the NHS; stay safe; phrases we hear day in day out at the moment; everywhere we look, everywhere we turn; on the news, on the radio, on posters, and banners, printed or homemade, all displayed for us to see as we walk around our neighbourhood.

So we stay at home, work from home, educate our children, help our elderly and vulnerable, take our allowance of daily exercise, shop as needed, watch the news, and wait for the next instructions to follow.

There is no doubt about it; Coronavirus will have been, and will be horrific for many. There are those who are sick with worry, for themselves, their families, those in their family who are elderly, sick and vulnerable, unable to visit them, unable to care for them. People who have had medical treatments delayed or even cancelled; numerous COVID deaths, as well as numerous deaths associated with and caused by the virus, yet not the virus itself. I’ve heard heart breaking tales of families unable to be with their loved ones in their final hours, and those who have had to make difficult choices as to who should and should not be invited to the funeral of a loved one, and those who have had to make remote funeral plans, and remotely attend funerals.

There are those who must carry on going into work, whilst their children go off to school, mixing with many others, neither they or their children are socially distanced, and of course the teachers who take it in turns to go into schools to look after the children of the key workers, putting themselves, and their families at risk; and there are those who are working from home whilst also supervising the education of their children.

Hundreds of people who work in retail or the food industry, farming, preparing food, distribution or selling; an inordinate number of people carrying on their lives as best they can under the circumstances, facing new challenges and higher demand. Small business owners struggling as they are not able to open the doors to their premises, some thinking outside the box and using imaginative and innovative ways to still reach their customers and clients; others unable to do so.

NHS workers are probably the worst affected. GPs, paramedics, care workers, ambulance crews, but particularly those on the frontline, putting their lives at risk, doing a very stressful job, which has been made even more stressful without correct equipment, and putting in substantial and prolonged hours, thus increasing the risk to their health. Exhausted and mentally drained they carry on witnessing the heartache and pain of being unable to save so many, and being with so many at the end of their life, being the person who holds the hand of the sick, reassures them, relays messages between them and their family, and stays with them in their final moments. The mental trauma of this shouldn’t be underestimated, as PTSD haunts them for a very long time afterwards. Add that to the less fortunate of our frontline staff, many of whom have fallen victim to this cruel virus, who at best have been incredibly ill, or at worst have lost their lives.

All feels very different; very surreal in fact. It is a very different way of life for all of us; different at home, and very different when we’re out and about. The roads quieter; beaches are empty; towns quiet; people giving you a wide berth. So many basic ingredients sold out in shops indicating that so many families are now enjoying homemade cakes, bread, and hearty meals rather than buying convenience, pre prepared or fast food which they can grab and go.

Police are implementing government restrictions, challenging the public who aren’t adhering to the simplest of instructions … and we haven’t been asked to do much … stay at home we’ve been told. Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives. It isn’t difficult to comprehend; and it isn’t difficult to do. We haven’t been called up to fight, we haven’t been asked to risk our lives every day; we’ve been asked to stay safe, at home, with our loved ones, whilst those on the frontline fight our war here at home; fighting the virus; saving lives.

There are so many negatives talked about, or written about. People are bored; unable to socialise; fed up with teaching their kids; businesses going under; unable to go to restaurants or the cinema or theatre; unable to go on holiday; have parties; or meet up with friends.

But I wanted to tip all this on its head; I wanted to write about all the positives, because there are lots, and indeed for me, for us, for our family, there aren’t many negatives, only positives. I don’t want, in any way, to either criticise or negate any of the feelings others may have which are the polar opposite of my own. I merely wish to offer another point of view and bring a positive story in the midst of all the negative, and hopefully put on record another perspective on how families have been affected by Coronavirus.

I feel extremely fortunate, and very privileged that I’ve been able to educate and home school Oliver, and we’ve done some fabulous things. He’s learning loads, and I expect that his time with me he’s come on leaps and bounds. He’s had one to one attention, without having to contend with 30 or so other children in his class. He’s had individually prepared bespoke lessons, focussing on his ability and interests, and challenging his thinking on many levels. With imaginative lessons, I’ve encouraged his academic skills, with specific reading and writing tasks, but also linking this with practical tasks, so that work doesn’t feel like work. He’s happy to put the hours in, and it feels normal for him to have this structure given that both his dad and his brother are also working hard, and this provides the right environment for Oliver to concentrate on studying too, as long as normal school breaks are observed; in which he usually rushes to chat with his friends over skype, and I think has had far more conversations with them all than he would if he were in school.

We’ve read books and done book reviews; studied poetry and written our own poems; stories; comic strips; letters; balanced arguments; reports and opinions. He’s been introduced to many styles and genres of art, music and literature, with music and art encouraged as part of his daily routine, alongside English, Maths and of course starting each day with a Joe Wicks PE lesson. Practical skills in cooking, baking, gardening, painting and woodwork have also provided, more opportunities for learning life skills.

His music progression has been phenomenal, now having surpassed the graded exams he was ready to enter, and is now learning the pieces for his next grade in piano and saxophone. Piano lessons have continued for him via Skype, and although very different, has worked really well.

We’ve studied aspects of WWII in our history lessons led by Western Approaches in Liverpool. The lessons have been interesting and informative and we’ve covered lots of extra areas of related topic work in art, geography, maths and English. Learning about wartime rationing, eking out food, salvaging and reducing waste has been both relevant and enlightening, in today’s situation.

An enormous amount of cub challenges have been set, and Oliver has risen to each and every one of them, so no doubt there will be an enormous amount of badges to be sewn on later this year.

This week we had a telephone call from Oliver’s school teacher, asking if all was ok with the work. I said that I was actually doing mainly my own planning, a couple of the topic based ideas we’d looked at, but on the whole I found much of the online work for SPAG and for maths far too easy and repetitive for Oliver. She asked if Oliver was ok, whether he was worried about the situation we were in. Oliver isn’t worried in the slightest, indeed I’d say quite the contrary. If I’m honest, I’m at a loss as to why so many children would be so worried, but if this is the case, I’m thankful that mine aren’t. We’ve obviously been talking about the virus and what the current situation is, as we watch the news and listen to the radio, but we talk about this, as we would with anything going on in the world currently, we discuss openly what is happening, and if Oliver has questions he asks them.

But for Oliver there is no need for him to worry. We are his family, and we are all at home together. He is with us; he is safe; he is happy. He is being educated, he is being entertained. He is learning so many things, gaining academic knowledge, gaining practical skills. Playing in the garden, helping to do lots of DIY projects with Justin; games of table tennis and football; gardening, baking. Time with both his parents … and with William. Justin is at home with us rather than having to go into work, and is not having to travel and work away, and so that in itself is hugely wonderful for Oliver.

Oliver has lived through the most unimaginable horror already. At only 6 years old, his brother died. His best friend, playmate and partner in crime; the brother who taught him so much and had his back always. Oliver misses Edward terribly, every day, nothing will ever compare to that. He coped at the time of Edward’s death, and still copes day after day. He is resourceful and resilient; a well rounded, well balanced, intelligent, polite, talented and grounded individual; a lovely young boy; and I think because he copes so remarkably well, that people forget what this little boy deals with, with understanding and compassion way beyond his years. He has to. If he could deal with the death of his brother, which has had a profound effect on him, then anything which is thrown at him now, pales into insignificance compared with the enormity of what he has already dealt with.

My parents are elderly and my mum vulnerable due to underlying medical conditions, and therefore apart from me taking their shopping to them, have been unable to see us. Oliver, however, has played Battleships with his Grandad every day. They talk on the phone daily, for about 15 minutes, whilst they both take a few turns at guessing the coordinates; then they leave the game, to be continued another day. Oliver has now won three games, which he’s thrilled about. He’s really enjoyed this, and it’s rather a nice thing for him to do with his grandad, since chit chat over the phone isn’t always the easiest with children. Mum and dad aren’t technical and haven’t got skype or facetime or anything else like that, but a daily phone call between Grandad and Oliver has been lovely, and probably one of the things which Oliver will remember about lockdown.

Although it feels relaxed, it is also a very busy and tiring time. I have to work out of school hours, and therefore I’m trying to keep the charity ticking over by still putting in hours of work after home school has finished, and working well into the evening. This is my work for which I’m not paid for; I don’t take a penny, and therefore I will not be receiving any government pay out. The charity relies on me being out and about, talking to people, educating people, visiting groups, schools, businesses, which I am unable to do; and it relies on support from the public, as there will be no government hand out for that either. Whilst there are many difficulties to people going about their work, most will be paid, and most will be compensated. For most they will be inconvenienced, but will have financial protection. For those who have been following my journey, I have started writing, and have recently began some freelance writing, which I’m thankful for. I’m grateful that it is well received and worthy of payment, and since I don’t have an income, this is some welcome pocket money for me. Indeed, if anyone would like me to write a piece for them, please get in touch.

Our children learn so much from the way we handle situations. I firmly believe that my children have coped so remarkably well with the death of their brother because of the way we have handled this trauma. We have shown togetherness, strength, compassion, empathy and resourcefulness. We have done our utmost to bring so much positivity to a horrific, and unimaginable situation for many, and we have kept love at the heart of the family. Thankfully for us, we haven’t been exposed to the horror of this virus … and I’m glad; I think we’ve endured enough horror to last a lifetime; I think watching my son take his last breath, watching him die, will haunt me for the rest of my days. The situation we are in now is in no way comparable, I’m aware that I’m one of the incredibly lucky ones, but our family unit is strong and united, and it is this bond of strength, unity, togetherness and love, which is testament to the way we manage to cope through times of crisis, uncertainty, or any other day for that matter.

In years to come, when we reflect on this time, and there are so many stories of seclusion, isolation, boredom, stress, worry, financial hardship and of course illness and death; when history tells of such a horrid time, which brought the world to a standstill; I hope Oliver will be able to say that this isn’t as he remembers it. I hope that he remembers this time with fondness, a time when all our family was together, spending quality time together. Chatting to each other, helping each other, supporting each other, it has felt like a holiday, home from home. Holidays are a break from the norm. This is a break from the norm; a chance to slow down, reconnect, spend family time together. I hope that this is a positive story which is told, offering an alternative perspective, illustrating all the good that came out of this situation. No doubt when lockdown ends, lessons will have been learned, there will be new ways of thinking, new ways of working, shopping, and educating our children, and hopefully a lot of the good and the positives we’ve experienced will carry on. I hope that my children will think back and smile, feeling nostalgic about those warm halcyon days of a safe, happy time at home with their family.

[Originally written for and published by Lytham St Annes News; republished on Life Chez Dee by Elizabeth Dee 18th January 2021]

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