So, Christmas happened. It wasn’t the Christmas we had hoped for. But, if we have learned anything in 2020, it’s to roll with the punches and adapt our routines and plans.
Some – but by no means all – things were worse. It was just different. And sometimes different can be good.
Tuesday 15th December
Well, that escalated quickly.
Over the weekend, Kara and her fellow Year 4 classmates were instructed to self-isolate for the final week of term because of a positive test in her bubble. Then yesterday the entire school was switched to remote learning because of further outbreaks. So now Toby’s home too, leaving only Isaac to commute to Reading for the rest of the week.
In many respects, we’ve done well to get this deep into term without disruption to our kids’ schooling. Not everyone has been so fortunate. I’m increasingly dubious about whether they will return as normal after the Christmas holidays, though.
Thursday 17th December
What did I say?
Schools will now have staggered starts after the Christmas holiday. Secondary schools are scheduled to return the week of 11th January, with primaries still returning the previous week.
I say ‘scheduled’. I’m hugely sceptical this will actually happen. My guess is secondary schools will end up remote teaching for longer – at least a month, maybe even beyond half-term. It also wouldn’t surprise me if primary schools returned a week or two late, as a circuit-breaker to mitigate a spike in infections over Christmas.
I do have a little sympathy with the government, as I’m not sure how much earlier this decision could have realistically been taken. But I feel most sorry for the schools who, one day before the end of term, now face significant uncertainty and planning challenges at the end of a long term.
Hang on to your hats, folks. January could be quite a rough ride.
Saturday 19th December
Hello, tier 3. And goodbye tier 3.
Berkshire moved from tier 2 to tier 3 today. And then this afternoon the government announced that we (along with London and most of the rest of the South East) will be placed in a new Tier 4 at midnight tonight.
Straight into and out of tier 3 in just 24 hours. Impressive. People stuck in tier 3 for months have been asking what regions have to do to get their status changed. This wasn’t really what anyone had in mind.
With case numbers and hospital admissions rising rapidly, it’s not difficult to see why the government is enforcing extra measures. The five-day Christmas window which permitted up to three households to form a bubble is gone: mixing with another household is now banned.
Our plans are unchanged, as we had already decided not to meet up with my family at all for Christmas. We considered the risk too great, and I’m relieved that we don’t have to deal with the disappointment of changing our plans at just a few days’ notice.
At the same time, I do wonder how many people will simply ignore the new rules and continue with their plans – either just for Christmas Day or for longer – regardless. Quite a few, I’d bet.
Yet again, the government’s communications have been shambolic. They announced the five-day Christmas window as a done deal and people made plans accordingly. There was no “we may have to review arrangements if the situation changes”, merely a simple “Hurrah! We’ve saved Christmas!”
I hope people will be sensible and change their plans. But I know many won’t, and I find it difficult to blame them entirely. They were misled that Christmas was ‘guaranteed’. They bought food which will now go to waste (or didn’t buy any because they thought they wouldn’t be at home). Their hopes were raised and dashed. And all because our government has – yet again – overpromised and underdelivered. Sigh.
Yes, I’m quite angry about this.
The return of Zoom
During Lockdown 2, we resurrected Zoom calls and quizzes with friends. Yes, I know the novelty soon wore off for many people, but for us it’s been a real anchor. We’ve kept in regular contact with local friends we would otherwise have barely seen since March. And it’s been a lifeline for others who have been stuck on their own without immediate family for regular contact.
In fact, there have been some real plusses. It’s fired up our kids’ enthusiasm for quizzes. More regular chats. And tonight we even did a five-household murder mystery party over Zoom, something we haven’t done since we started having kids.
Sure, it’s nowhere near the same experience as doing it ‘live’. But it’s still an opportunity to immerse ourselves in a different world far from the current depressing one. We drank, traded bad Irish accents and puns and laughed more in two hours than I think I have in the whole of the last nine months combined.
So, of course, we’re going to do another one between Christmas and New Year. You’ve got to have something to look forward to, haven’t you?
Monday 21st December
Our kids have been remarkably resilient throughout the last nine months. However, I’m still learning that the signs of stress aren’t always obvious to spot.
It’s never as simple as Cause X leading to Effect Y. And, while we’ve never had a proper meltdown from any of them, there have been plenty of (often indirect) indications that not everything is well in their world. Small outbursts. General grumpiness. Difficulty sleeping. A lack of motivation, even when doing favourite activities. Sometimes it’s the absence of something that is the tell-tale sign. And sometimes the cracks are only visible when you get them one-on-one.
We’ve been seeing all of the above in Kara these last few days, but it has happened to all three children at various times.
As parents, I’m not sure there’s anything we can do to prevent these emotional ‘down’ moments. I’ve struggled enough with my own mood at times, and I’ve got four decades of added experience to draw on.
All we can do is to keep a watchful eye for these small signs of stress – and deal with them when we see them. It’s important for our kids to know that we’re here for them, even if we can’t solve every problem. It’s okay for them not to be okay all the time. That’s true at the best of times, doubly so this year – and sometimes all we can do is to acknowledge reality and push on until we can create something positive.
Maybe the best example we can set for our children is to not pretend that everything is rosy in the garden. Let them know that we feel a bit down sometimes too, and that’s alright. The way we get through times like this is by doing it together.
Thursday 24th December
The UK announced a deal with the EU today, avoiding a catastrophic No Deal Brexit. (Although there are some who still choose to believe that this would have been no big deal regardless.)
Of course, it’s been presented as a triumph for the UK.
Of course, it’s nothing of the sort. Better than No Deal, certainly. But behind the bombast and Boris Johnson’s boasts of delivering a Christmas present for the nation – unwanted by many and non-refundable – is there any actual substance behind the Churchillian rhetoric?
Colour me dubious. It is what it is, but I rather suspect it isn’t what the Prime Minister tells us it is either.
Friday 25th December
In the end, Christmas Day was surprisingly good. The kids missed not being in the same room as their grandparents and uncle, but we did open presents together over Skype. A pale substitute for the real thing, of course, but better than nothing.
There were definite upsides, though. We’ve never had a Christmas where it’s been just the five of us before. As much as we love having my folks over, there’s a lot of additional stress and pressure involved in hosting guests for 48 hours. So everything was just a bit more relaxed. The kids could take themselves off whenever they pleased without worrying about appearing anti-social. Each of them helped out in some small way with Christmas lunch. We did what we wanted when we wanted, without having to worry about guests’ needs.
It wasn’t better, and it wasn’t worse. It was just … different.
Saturday 26th December
I walk around our local area a lot. And I’m particularly familiar with the comings and goings on our estate: who’s in, who’s not, which houses have cars missing from their driveways and so on.
In theory, hardly anyone should have left their houses over this holiday period, and certainly not outside of Christmas Day. But when I went for a walk yesterday, it was noticeable how many people were absent from their homes. One car fewer on the drive; no signs of life inside the house.
It was similar today. A few cars had returned and more lights were on inside houses. But maybe one house in every five or six was conspicuously unoccupied over Christmas and Boxing Day.
It’s clear that a significant number of people chose to ignore the new tier 4 rules. I do think people need to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions, but as I’ve said I can’t lay the blame entirely at their doors. We did what we thought was the right thing to do; other people made different choices, for whatever reason.
All we can hope for now is that we don’t look back on Christmas in 2-3 weeks’ time as the inflection point that broke the NHS and plunged the country into complete chaos.
Sigh. I seem to be sighing a lot at the moment. Like so many others, I want to look forward to the New Year and the prospect of 2021 being better than 2020. I do believe it will be, but I’m far from convinced we’ve reached the bottom of the curve just yet. It could be a long, hard January, or even a long, hard first quarter. There are definitely grounds for optimism, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Not by a long chalk.
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