Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Gwenno Uhi

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Gwenno Uhi. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

I’ve always wanted to be a stay at home mother, but this isn’t quite what I had in mind…

I had prepared reasonably well for the inevitable lockdown, because I was receiving almost daily updates from friends in Italy who couldn’t believe that we still didn’t have restrictions in place. I had a clear-out in the house, collected materials for homeschooling, ordered a keyboard and mouse from work to go with my laptop, and panic bought crisps. I made up the spare room for my sister who would be coming to stay with us from four streets away, and I even organised the medicine cabinet. Just in case.

But despite the prep and anticipation, my life hasn’t really changed very much. I’ve come to realise that I hardly ever went anywhere apart from work, pick ups and drop offs to school and nursery, church and the supermarket. This makes me quite well suited to lockdown restrictions, but the realisation of how little I did ‘in normal times’ was quite sobering. (And then I had to give myself a row for falling into the trap of thinking that all the domestic work and parenting I do on top of my full time job doesn’t count.)

I’m very fortunate to be able to do all my work from home, and my husband is a key worker who still goes to work five or six days a week. In this sense our employment situation hasn’t changed, unlike many millions of other people, and I’m extremely grateful for that. I do worry about my husband going out to work, though he would much rather that than have to stay at home all the time!

My “standing desk” set up

But of course some things have changed, and the truth is that I’m busier than ever. The main change is having my children at home all the time. We have a five-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. I often work from home ‘in normal times’, but never under these conditions: fending off requests (demands) for food every 10 minutes, and breaking up fights and arguments in between. My daughter misses her friends and teachers, but isn’t particularly interested in video calls, apart from when it’s to my parents who live near Aberystwyth, who we definitely can’t visit. None of that waving at grandparents through net curtained windows for us. Their other grandparents live over 10,000 miles away.

I think that I would enjoy homeschooling my daughter for a while, if I didn’t also have to work full time. I’ve tried teaching, while working, and also keeping an eye on a toddler, with varying degrees of success (rarely her fault). Most of her school work is now done on Saturdays when I don’t have to type a coherent sentence, keep an eye on my inbox, or worry that one of them will shout “Dwi angen pŵ!” (“I need a poo!”) while I’m on a video call – this did actually happen.

In my head I keep worrying that I’m letting her amazing school and wonderful teachers down, I compare our lack of progress to filtered snapshots of other families, and I know that I’m really falling behind with baking banana bread, learning a new language, dancing on TikTok and exercising with a virtual personal trainer.

The one win we’ve had during the lockdown is the successful potty training of our two-year-old son, who is like the Hulk-man (as he calls him) crossed with a tornado. I still can’t quite believe how well it went.

Instead of constantly comparing myself with others, I try to remind myself of things I’m grateful for, because I know that there are countless people truly suffering at the moment.

These include being thankful that we have a garden (even though it’s a mess of concrete and soil, and features our old fridge); that my sister is here for the lockdown and provides invaluable company and childcare; I’m grateful that we’re all healthy; I’m grateful for the weekly Sunday night family quiz I have with my parents and siblings; I’m grateful for my church’s YouTube channel (Eglwys Efengylaidd Gymraeg Caerdydd, Cathays); and I’m grateful that the constant chaos that comes with our family means that it’s never dull, and the weeks really do fly by.

Part of our local walking route

A few weeks ago our daughter announced that she wanted to do something to raise money for the NHS. So last week, as part of the 2.6 Challenge she rode her bike up and down the grotty alleyway behind our house 26 times dressed as Wonder Woman, once we’d cleared away the broken glass, dumped appliances and two broken trampolines. At time of writing she had raised £920 for the Cardiff and Vale Health Charity. We’re extremely proud of her still, and taken aback by the generosity of everyone who donated, but I think it’s safe to say that she’s over it now.

I often find myself wondering what I would be doing if I was in lockdown by myself. All the books I could read, the box sets I could watch, all those lovely naps. But then I wonder how many people have actually found that middle ground during this time – not lonely or bored, but not chaotic and ridiculously busy either (and also, of course, not ill or suffering).

One of the things I enjoy the most during this time is waking up with the bedroom window open and hearing nothing but birdsong. I will really miss that when we’re back to ‘normal times’.

Gwenno Uhi is a civil servant and lives in Grangetown with her husband and two children.

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