Dear Mum and Dad, you won’t believe it but…

As I write this to you I’m two days away from having a vaccine for something called COVID-19, or coronavirus. I have to go to the leisure centre where the little boys used to go to gymnastics – it’s now a hospital! I’m not joking! You better sit down.

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Corona what?

I know you’ve never heard of it, none of us had until December 2019 – wild right?

Let me take you back to the start, you’ve missed so much.

Back in December 2019, we started to hear more and more about this virus that was in China. The little boys became poorly on Christmas Eve, they both had raging temperatures and terrible coughs until Boxing Day and then seemed fine so we went away for New Year as planned.

The news began to become more full of COVID-related stories and cases seemed to be springing up in other countries around the world, but it still seemed like something that was happening ‘elsewhere’, no one seemed overly concerned about it.

In February 2020, M went on her school trip to Italy as planned and had an amazing time. She messaged me when she arrived to say someone had taken her temperature when she got to the Italian airport, odd right? I thought so too, how random.

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Panic sets in

A week after she got home, the world went a little crazy. I honestly don’t know how else to describe it to you. Italy suddenly had thousands of cases of this virus and parents at school were panicking given the trip the children had just come back from.

I didn’t panic because these cases were in the ski resorts and the opposite end of the country from where the school trip was. M was fine, all of the children were fine, what was all the panic about?

Day-by-day there was more and more talk of COVID-19 as it was named. It seemed to be spreading quickly all over the world and the number of infections was accelerating. The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on 11 March 2020 – yes, I said a PANDEMIC!

On this same day, the UK confirmed a total of 456 cases of the virus and 8 deaths. The number later increased to 460, with 4 cases declared in Wales, including the first instance of community transmission in Wales.

At this point the news was full of people panic buying. Yes, I said panic buying. The supermarket shelves didn’t have any pasta or toilet roll and people were actually fighting over items in shops. Can you imagine?

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Closing down

Over the next week, the childrens activities began to shut down. Gymnastics, cancelled. Basketball, cancelled. Theatre club, cancelled. Swimming club and swimming lessons, cancelled. Everything was shutting down.

Then came something truly unbelievable. On Wednesday 18th March 2020 the UK were told that schools would be closing due to the pandemic. No, it wasn’t the Easter holidays, schools were just closing. I know, as educators you will find that so very hard to believe, I honestly struggled to wrap my head around it too. We were told Friday 20th March would be the last day of school but then, without warning the big kids came home on 18th and said “that’s it, school is closed, not Friday, now, we aren’t allowed to go”.

I know that you will understand that all 4 children were devastated to hear this. They love school. They didn’t want it to close.

It was the most bizarre feeling. Everyone was told to stay at home and a ‘lockdown’ began. I’m honestly not joking, this isn’t a disaster movie I’m re-telling because it makes a good story. This has been real life!

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Life in lockdown

I know you still don’t believe me, and I’m afraid the story just gets more and more wild. So schools shut and everyone (except key workers) were told to work from home, some schools stayed open for the children of key workers and were staffed on a rota basis.

Parents were told to home school children (as well as do their jobs from home), no social contact was allowed with anyone out of the household and all non essential business closed. We were told not to leave the house unless it was essential.

At this point the UK confirmed that positive test results had risen to 6,650 and there had been 335 deaths. Quite a jump from 11th March!

The bonus in all of this was that we had a few weeks of nice weather. I had no idea what I was doing trying to home school 4 children of different ages, but you know me, I’m pretty resourceful and I plan. I planned a lot. Every night when the children went to bed, I would spend about two hours planning what I was going to do the next day. I even made a timetable…yes, I said a timetable, you can stop sniggering now, I can hear you from here!

The timetable lasted two days. I was making it up as I went along, every parent was. Of all the parenting challenges I’ve had over the years, and you know there have been many, I can tell you this last year has been the most challenging. That said, I just couldn’t stop thinking about other families and other people’s unique situations that were even more challenging than mine. So many people have suffered in so many ways.

I asked my readers recently what has been the hardest thing about lockdown. So many people said not being able to see and hug extended family and friends. In fact, that was by far the hardest thing for so many people. I understand that because I miss you both so much.

People who live alone or those with only one child have really missed social interaction and some of my readers who are key workers have struggled with the guilt of still having to send their children to school, when they just wanted to keep them at home.

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Some people have lost loved ones and not been allowed to hospital with them and some people have given birth during the pandemic – I mean birth is scary enough for goodness sake.

Home-schooling has broken some parents, and juggling more than normal. Some people have been made redundant or been furloughed – I know, it’s more new terminology of the pandemic! In a nutshell, as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic the government has introduced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This allows all UK employers with employees on a PAYE scheme to designate some or all employees as ‘furloughed workers’. Employers can access to Government support to continue paying part of these furloughed employees’ salaries and potentially protect the employees from redundancy. The scheme has now been extended again to the end of September 2021.

Without getting into it, some people haven’t noticed too much difference in the income they have from this scheme, whereas for other people the cap placed on what they can pay out has been catastrophic.

People’s metal health has taken a battering for sure over the last year, and that includes children and young people. Exams were cancelled, universities closed, there was no live sport, the Olympics was cancelled, concerts cancelled and theatres, cinemas and pretty much everything you could think of – closed.

People generally slotted into two camps. Some ate and drank a lot. Some used the time to start new at-home exercise programmes.

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Quite a year

Remember I said school closed on 20th March 2020? So would you believe me if I told you the children didn’t go back to school until September 2020. Bonkers right? No sports day, no school fair, no school trips, no end of school assemblies and for all those children in Year 6, no visits to high school.

Whilst we were allowed more freedom during the summer holidays there were still lots of restrictions. We had to cancel our holiday and we just stayed local to our area.

September brought a whole new set of challenges. With the pandemic still going on, talk of a ‘second wave’, but a desperate need for children to be back in school, children were put into ‘bubbles’, given staggered starts and finishes and mask wearing became a thing for anyone over the age of 11.

The autumn term of 2020 can only be described as a yo-yo. I spent the entire term on red alert. Each time there was a confirmed case of COVID-19 in one of the bubbles, all those children would have to isolate. I know pops that you are well ahead of me here – yes, you’ve guessed it, 4 children, 4 different bubbles means there’s a pretty high chance of this happening frequently. It did. The children yo-yoed through the term and flitted between school life and home-school life. This was a new juggle again.

Swimming lessons and club went back briefly, all be it looking very different to before, but before we knew it cases were accelerating again and Christmas was approaching. We’d had another lockdown, a tiered system was adopted and it was all getting pretty confusing.

For us, December involved none of the children being in school at the same time, due to various periods of isolation and then Wales went back into a lockdown.

On January 20th 2021, the daily number of coronavirus deaths in the UK reached 1,820, the highest since the pandemic began. We were back to home-schooling and everything was closed again.

The children finally went back to school in March, a year on from when schools closed for the very first time. As I write this we’ve now had all four in school for two consecutive weeks which feels like a major milestone. I know, I know – I’ve massively lowered my expectations!

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The new normal

As it stands today, over 70% of the UK population have had their first vaccine and around 40% have also had a second dose. On the subject of the vaccine, would you believe that the first person in the world to receive the COVID vaccine was a 90-year old lady called Margaret from Coventry, yes, that Coventry!

Daily deaths in the UK have fallen to 7 and there were only 10 cases in our area last week. However, there is now an Indian variant that is causing some concern in some parts of England, so watch this space!

Masks are still a thing, as is social distancing here, although there has been some hugging in England.

Shops are open, clubs are starting back up, cinemas and theatres have opened, but everything is ‘within COVID guidelines’.

The big kids do lateral flow tests twice a week for school and I upload the data each time. Basically I swab the inside of their noses, squeeze the ‘juice’ onto something resembling a small pregnancy test and if there are two lines they have to go and get a full COVID test.

I told you you’ve missed a lot – and I’ve not even told you about quarantine hotels and the confusion over the green and the amber list that’s going on this week! Oh, I should also tell you that Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister, but don’t worry Trump has finally gone.

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Not all bad news

Yes this last year has been a challenge for everyone and none of us really know what else is to come, but then, as you know, we never really do.

The planet has had a breather and people have got back to basics. Many people have done things they wouldn’t normally have had time for. I’ve spent a lot of time on the garden – OK mum, you can stop sniggering now – yes, I admit it is relaxing and satisfying in equal measure and one of my new favourite things to do.

I think many people have developed a greater appreciation key workers and their local areas and even just being able to hear the birds sing.

You’d be so proud of your awesome foursome, despite everything they are all doing really well.

We really are very lucky. The picture is not the same across the rest of the world.

Miss you, everyday x

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