Lucy’s #MadCovidDiaries 25.6.2020
She’s not a talker, my nine-year-old daughter. Not about her feelings, anyway.
Even when she was in Reception, her teacher commented on how she never cried. ‘Sometimes I can see she really wants to,’ she said, ‘but she won’t let herself.’
She’s like me in that respect. I grew up keeping my emotions locked inside. I, too, was the girl who never cried – even when I broke my leg at the age of six.
But just because my daughter doesn’t show her feelings, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have them. And while she might not always express them in words, I see them in other ways.
When schools closed abruptly at the end of March, we were all plunged into a situation we’d never expected. Particularly cruelly, my husband woke on the final Friday with a temperature, meaning we had to isolate for 14 days, and my daughter had to miss her last day, where the pupils dressed in rainbow colours and took in items for the food bank.
She was heartbroken.
Over the 13 weeks since lockdown began, my bright, carefree, sociable girl has had her life turned upside down. Her bedroom is her classroom; her schoolwork set online. The only way she’s been able to keep in touch with her many friends is on Zoom.
And she’s really struggling.
First came the insomnia. She’s been awake at 11pm night after night, getting increasingly stressed and upset. There have been tears, late-night stories, cuddles and copious amounts of lavender spray.
Then there were stomach aches, also in the hours after bedtime, Calpol being administered on a far more regular basis than usual.
Gradually, her world shrank. At first, she was video-calling her friends for hours on end, and exchanging messages in the class chat with lightning speed. But as the weeks went past, the texts and calls waned, replaced by hours looking aimlessly at YouTube.
Boredom set in, but nothing I could think of captured her attention, other than baking. Crafts, walks, reading and the paddling pool were all rejected. All she really wanted to do was play with her big brother, but in all his 14-year-old stroppiness, he literally shut her out.
Lots has been written about the potential for the pandemic to cause a wave of new mental health problems amongst children. They’re resilient creatures, but everything they know – from going to school to playdates to seeing the grandparents – has been snatched away from them.
The debate over when and how children should go back to school is fiercely impassioned, with insults and judgements being slung around by parents on both sides. I understand that many families would rather their children didn’t go back to school yet, but the government has removed any element of choice by ‘welcoming back’ only a small proportion of kids to school, and often on reduced hours.
What’s clear to me, though, is that after three months of home learning, my own daughter needs to go back to school. She needs the routine, work that challenges her, time with her teachers, time with her friends.
Yesterday, she told me that her self-esteem has plummeted, and there’s nothing that she’s good at – an upsetting thing for any parent to hear. I have to take some responsibility for not praising or encouraging her enough, but I’m sure part of the problem is that she’s not getting the constant positive reinforcement (‘Great work!’ ‘You tried so hard at this!’) that she’d normally get at school.
The decisions the government has made seem arbitrary, uninformed and unfair: how is it right that I can take my children to Ikea but not send them to school? Why should classrooms still be shut to the majority of children, but pubs soon be allowed to open?
Boris and his cronies have thrown our children under the bus. They’re denying them the right to an appropriate education as well as sacrificing their mental health, and it’s heart-wrenching to hear my daughter fretting that she’ll have fallen behind when she returns to school – whenever that might be.
I explain to her that everyone is in the same boat, and in fact she’s doing a lot more work than most, but it doesn’t give her any sense of peace: last week, when a piece of online schoolwork failed to save, she sobbed like she hasn’t sobbed in years.
Frustratingly, I’ve been told that my children could return to school on the basis of my mental illness, and the strain of trying to homeschool them while working and attempting to stay sane. But my daughter doesn’t want to unless her friends are there, and hates the thought of socially distanced playtimes. ‘I want to be able to hug my friends,’ she says.
I worry on a personal level, too. My madness started at a young age, and I’ve always been concerned that my kids would inherit it. Seeing those signs of anxiety and sadness in my daughter reminds me how vulnerable she is, despite the brave front she puts on. Being stuck at home could tip her over the edge.
There’s a huge lack of joined-up thinking on the government’s part. CAMHS is already on its knees; how will the service cope with an influx of young people who’ve been traumatised by the pandemic and the dismantling of everything that was certain in their lives?
I know that school closures were necessary to prevent Covid causing even more devastation, but the government’s approach to easing lockdown for almost everyone but kids proves how little they care about children and families.
I’m scared for this new generation who have had their childhood interrupted and everything they took for granted being ripped from under their feet. Many will undoubtedly struggle long-term with the mental and emotional impact of the pandemic, and yet be unable to access services that are buckling under the strain.
This generation, though, is the next generation of voters. And when they come of age, I hope they remember how the government failed them so badly.
The pandemic was bound to cause collateral damage, but Parliament should have done everything possible to prevent children being the collateral.
They deserve so much better.
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