Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Heledd Francis

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

Before the lockdown we saw family every week and missing them has certainly been the hardest part.

We are now in week eight of lockdown, and I feel that to some extent that it’s taken us as a family this long to get into the swing of things. In the weeks beforehand, I was fiercely optimistic about how we would handle it, created a timetable of daily activities for myself and the children, imagined the books I would read and the new dishes I would cook, and resolved to make this a positive time for family.

A few days in, and I realised the reality would be different. With my husband at work as usual from Monday to Friday, working at the Heath, it felt like a rainy day during a school holiday, but with the added pressures of completing my own work and some work for the children.

I swung from feeling extreme pride that we were a household of two key workers, to guilt for sending our children to an unfamiliar school on the few occasions per week where I myself went to work in an unfamiliar school. I resented my husband somewhat for having to make very little change to his daily life, but then worried about him as more and more staff at UHW began to become infected. I kept trying to remind myself that we were lucky to have some semblance of a routine along with job stability but also fretted about the risk associated with our work.

But then a few weeks in, my daughter’s fifth birthday arrived. With it, came a change in pace, and a time to reflect on how different didn’t necessarily mean difficult. With no party to plan or family to accommodate, we asked her what she wanted for her special day. It was simple, she wanted pictures of family put up around the house, toasted marshmallows, and a piñata. We added in a few extras – a kitchen disco with face paints and a sing-a-long family zoom. Despite missing family and friends, it was a brilliant day.

From that day on, we relieved the pressure.

I began to follow the advice I was giving my own students, to attempt little and often with regards to school work, focussing on the essential skills.

We got into the swing of cooking together on the days that I was at home, and sending weekly post to grandparents and cousins that we missed terribly. We used the weekends for family bike rides and films, and appreciated the simple things – a garden, sunshine, birds stealing grass seeds from our undernourished lawn, packages in the post from friends.

The week before lockdown, our son was due to go into hospital for an operation to insert grommets. We expected the operation to be cancelled, and completely understood when we received confirmation that it was. I worried somewhat that it could now be another year before he was able to have the operation, and that his hearing and speech would continue to be an issue for him. It may be that this would have happened anyway, but we have really noticed that his speech has improved significantly over the past few weeks, a result perhaps of being at home and constantly listening to and speaking to his sister and I. This has been an unexpected lockdown positive!

Another lockdown positive has been the Zoom calls with friends far and wide. It’s taken a pandemic for my university crew to arrange a transatlantic virtual drink and we can’t understand why we didn’t do it sooner. The children have engaged in similar conversations with their friends, which they find difficult, but they enjoy seeing each other’s faces at least.

Before the lockdown we saw family every week and missing them has certainly been the hardest part. We send daily videos and have all planted seeds with the idea that as the flowers grow, the time we are back together will get closer (I can’t take the credit for this idea).

Although I work in a Hub school once or twice a week, this is based on a rota system. I miss my wonderful colleagues, but a weekly staff quiz over zoom helps with the lack of contact.

Despite my profession, I find homeschooling as frustrating as the rest of the population. My daughter in particular regularly wants to cycle past her school to remind her of her happy times there and to look forward to going back. All the staff at the children’s school have worked incredibly hard over the past few months to ensure that there are plenty of resources available for the children, they’ve provided regular feedback and reward points and spoken to them over the phone. They’ve even posted videos of themselves introducing activities to encourage the pupils. One two minute video of their wonderful teachers has inspired them far more over the past few weeks than their mother’s homeschooling has!

Grangetown in particular has shown an incredible sense of community during these difficult times. Everyone seems to be supporting their neighbours more than ever, but the visits from ‘Spiderman’ to make the children smile, a ‘plant swap’ for residents, free Candyfloss Fridays for children, Ramadan Relief food packages and the set up of the Grangetown Covid Mutual Aid to help those self-isolating receive food and medicines are a few of the wonderful things happening in our local community.

I often find myself using the phrase ‘when all this is over’ these days. When all this is over, I’m sure we will remember and continue the sense of community that this pandemic has encouraged. The world around us looks particularly beautiful at this moment in time, and I hope that we can continue to work together to keep it that way.

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