We are living through some challenging, and quite frankly scary times, and like everyone else we are living in isolation with many uncertainties about the future and no idea when we will get to see our loved ones again. The thing is, and I am not in any way trying to be flippant about this, not that much has actually changed yet about my everyday life at the moment, other than the fact that my son is with me ALL the time and I’m a bit worried that I won’t be able to replenish our food supplies when I want to, or more importantly the wine. If anything the ceasefire of the constant pressure to make plans for the future when I often can’t see past the end of the day is something of a weird relief.
When you have lived as an expat or as part of an armed forces family, you are used to being separated from your loved ones for long and uncertain periods of time. You become adept at living with a certain level of anxiety about that and you also become quite resourceful. I know how to make meals using the ingredients I can find at the time. I have been a home worker for the majority of the last 15 years and know every plus and pitfall it entails. I am used to sitting on my own in the house most evenings because my husband is not here to go out with and taxis and babysitters are scarce and expensive in a semi rural area, whilst friends are often busy or far away. After some pretty long hot Ramadan school holiday summers during our time abroad waiting for schools to be built and annual leave to be granted without relatives on hand to relieve the tedium of childcare, I am also used to spending WAY too much time in the company of my son. It has also occurred to me that being thousands of miles apart rather than trapped in the house together for the next few months may be the thing that saves our marriage! The current situation is unprecedented in our lifetimes, but I feel like I have been in training for it for most of my life. If you’re not used to not being able to see your parents, partner, friends and Granny as often as you would like to (or indeed being with your loved ones ALL the time with nobody else to relieve the tedium) then this must all be a bit of a shock, so here are some of my top tips for surviving self-isolation based on my own experiences as a home-working, single-parenting, rural dwelling, ex-pat, military brat. I hope they are helpful in the long weeks ahead:
Don’t over promise. Be as truthful as you can about the uncertainty we are facing and manage their expectations about what that might mean for them with kindness. I don’t know when my son will be able to see his Dad or his friends again or even what he might be getting for tea tomorrow. Better to be honest about the situation upfront then face the tears and tantrums later if things don’t go to plan.
Don’t try to do everything with them – they need their own space as much as you do. Who cares if they are watching a bit more TV, making a mess in their room or haven’t fully grasped multiplication. Give equal space and time to joint activities and alone time for both your sakes.
Homeschool – keep it fun, don’t enforce it unless you really have to and find more creative ways to learn instead that they (and you) will enjoy. Imposing strict timetables and rules at this time will just create more stress that neither of you need. We have a list of activities that my son has autonomy to pick from each day which he drew up himself so he can’t argue with me (as much) when I ask if he has read a chapter of his book or practiced playing his musical instrument. He has to pick at least three of them each day to do, plus some outdoor activity or exercise before he is granted free access to his various screens and then the rest of the time is up to him. I’ve also been so happy to see all the online daily resources and activities popping up from exercise classes, to drawing, stories, science lessons, Lego, choirs, orchestras… the list goes on and there is something for everyone. More importantly, there is so much positive stuff out there at the moment to teach our children about the importance of human kindness and resourcefulness. Switch off the scary news, stop obsessing about loo roll, put away the maths worksheets and focus on this very important lesson going on right before their eyes which has the potential to help them learn so much about how to be a decent human being.
Get up, get dressed properly, put some make up on so you feel the part. Do not work in your PJs just because you can. It’s not good for your self esteem in the long run!
Stick to your regular office hours and don’t be tempted to do more just because you don’t have to do the commute and nursery pick up. Even if you have stopped to play with the kids, gone for a run when you would normally be in a staff meeting, or put the laundry on, I bet you will still have been more (or at least equally) productive then when you are in the office and distracted by requests, gossip and whatever food is available to graze on in the staff kitchen.
Try and have your work space away from where you relax/eat/sleep or at least pack it away properly at the end of each day so you can shut the door on it mentally if not physically. You do not any added stress in your life right now. It weakens the immune system, so set some clear boundaries and stick to them.
Your family are your new work colleagues, only more annoying. This is a hard one, but try not to take your work stresses out on them. Bite your tongue in the same way you would have to if you caught someone using your favourite mug for their morning tea break. You are in this for the long haul and you do not want to get fired by your new teammates in the first week.
Family & friends
Technology is your friend. Phone, Skype, FaceTime, Video conference. Catch up over a virtual glass of wine, watch a movie online together, read the same book, or invite each other round for an online dinner. Set up yet another WhatsApp group, share a daily challenge, go old school and write a letter. Ask for help when you need it. Check in on the people you haven’t heard from but do not worry unduly if you can’t get hold of them or they don’t reply. They will be busy, it doesn’t mean all of the other worst case scenarios you have thought up are true. Laugh together when you can, cry together when you need to. You may be isolated but you do not need to feel like you are alone.
Make an old school meal plan that gives you ways to use the ingredients you have in as many different ways as possible and ensure you use things up before they go off. Multi meal options are your friends here – Roast a chicken, make some stock with the bones, turn the leftover meat into chicken sandwiches, a risotto or a soup. Freeze your leftovers! Bake if you can get the ingredients, share what you can, and leave the dried goods, freezer stash and packets of biscuits alone until you REALLY need them. Time to think like your Granny now, be frugal when you can and use up what you’ve got before you go looking for something else, even if you do really fancy a pizza. Waste not, want not.
Be open minded and creative, if you can’t get what you would normally shop for to make your favourite go-to meals what can you make with what you can get instead? Google is the answer. I have not yet found a strange food item in a shop that I haven’t been able to find a recipe for within 30 seconds of spotting it lurking on a supermarket shelf. Now is also the time to experiment with all those weird spices you have lurking in the back of the cupboard.
Grow your own or try a bit of hedgerow foraging (loads of wild garlic coming up in the woods at the moment which makes a delicious pesto). If it’s not a veggie patch it can at least be some fresh herbs on a windowsill.
Ok, that’s it for now. I am staying true to my belief that if we don’t panic and try not to be greedy we will all have enough to get by and be able to come through this with our sanity intact, feeling a bit more accomplished and resourceful, and more connected to our communities and loved ones. If we are lucky and look after ourselves properly, we may even possibly be a little bit healthier in body and mind.
We’ll be posting up pictures of what we’re cooking, doing and falling out about on our instagram page or please join me for some online yoga to help keep you calm and active.
With love from our interrupted family to yours,
We’ll see you on the other side.
Good luck! X