17 Today – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 38

When we marked G’s sweet sixteen this time last year, we were looking forward to a year filled with next steps and new adventures. Her GCSEs were looming and plans were slowly being made for her Sixth Form choice and beyond. And then COVID-19 hit and everything started to look a little different. Weeks on lockdown at home together have flown past, the new school year arrived before we were really expecting it, long hair was cut into a stylish and far more grown-up look that I certainly was ready for and just like that, here we are celebrating G’s birthday once again.

This year continues to be unlike any other and G’s hopes for a small dinner out with her closest friends have been put on hold as we linger in the restrictions of Tier 3. Instead, it will be just as she has asked – a quiet day together as family with a film of her choice, a Chinese takeaway supper and the one thing that hasn’t changed since she was small, a birthday cake baked and decorated with all the love in the world.

Happy 17th birthday sweet girl, love you for ever and always xxx

Going that extra mile – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 37

There is no question that the last 9 months have had a huge impact on the mental wellbeing of all in the UK and worldwide. The rapid change to our usual routines left many feeling extremely discombobulated and the uncertainty of knowing when we can get back to anything that even vaguely resembles our old “normal” can lead to a sense of a loss of control, which itself can drive anxiety levels sky-high.

As we’ve all adapted to a life that is a great deal more home- and family-based than many of us are used to, so have many organisations similarly changed how they work in order to continue providing their services in whatever way they can. The benefits from doing 4 weeks of Stagecoach on Zoom were absolutely tangible for G and M, and it was encouraging to hear them giggling their way through the 3 hours of classes on a Friday evening. They’re delighted to be able to be back to “real life” classes this week and seeing some old familiar faces, both teachers and friends.

One organisation that has definitely gone the extra mile is Over The Wall. I’ve written numerous times about the amazing impact their camps have had on G and M over the last few years and this year was no different. It would have been so easy for them to simply shrug their shoulders when it became clear that camps couldn’t be held as normal, but instead they rolled up their sleeves and worked hard to produce the fantastic online “Camp in the Cloud” sessions for all who had applied for camp places. The week-long activities broke up the mundane experience of life in lockdown and challenged both children in a different way that they very much needed. That opportunity to connect with other young people who really understood how they might be feeling once again proved invaluable. Some might think that this charity’s determination to still deliver their regular offering as best they could despite the circumstances is going the extra mile, and I wouldn’t disagree, but I’m actually speaking about that something more they’ve now gone on to do.

Following the resounding success of their online camps, OTW has gone that one step further and continued to hold cabin chat sessions via Zoom on a monthly basis. G and M were both keen to participate and that hour or so at the start of each month has been a real lifeline for them. Cabin chat was open to anyone who had attended the virtual camps no matter where they are based and so both children have found themselves in groups with others from across the UK. It has been an hour to chat, laugh, accept and set challenges and just generally share how the last few months have and are affecting them. They’ve both made new friends and once again the boost to their mental wellbeing has been evident immediately. The planned chats have now finished, but we’ve all got our fingers tightly crossed that they will start again in the New Year.

Of course, none of these things could happen without the dedicated team of staff and volunteers at Over The Wall and we can’t thank them enough for going that extra mile and once again supporting G and M as best they can. Over The Wall have announced today that they are planning to continue with the virtual camps next year and beyond, even once the residential camps are able to start up again, which is quite simply the best news ever.

Left in Tiers – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 36

Yesterday’s announcement of the proposed tiers that the various councils will be going into next week when second lockdown ends has left many up in arms about what central government is suggesting. Social media is buzzing with commentary, criticism and complaints about the allocations made, especially with the change to rules for the Christmas period adding to the general confusion.

The news for our area has come as no surprise to me at all as I’ve been predicting our tier for the last 8 or 9 days and have been proved correct. To be perfectly honest, the tier level we end up in makes little or no difference to us. Since lockdown began 9 months ago, we have reduced our activities outside of our local area and taken every precaution we can when we have to be out and about. I now work predominantly from home, with just 1 day in our Head Office weekly to ensure that there continues to be a finance presence there, which gives me an opportunity to catch-up with colleagues face-to-face and not just via Zoom. M and G continue to enjoy being back at school and despite the odd hiccup with required self-isolation or the alternatives to traditional learning needed, are thriving in both their academic and extra-curricular activities.

The next big question for us all is about Christmas and my Mum and I have had many lengthy conversations about this to date. We’re both very much of the opinion that having been so cautious over the last 9 months, it would be a shame to throw it all away by having our usual family get-together without due consideration. No conclusion has been reached as yet, but I’m very much leaning towards spending the time at home in our separate bubbles, with a organised present opening and family quiz via Zoom. It won’t be the celebration we would love to have, but it may be the one that will best allow us to have a better one next year.

Today on our local radio I heard this comment, which I understand was made by Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford about the opportunity to break from our assigned tiers and meet together in social bubbles specifically during the Christmas period: that we should be choosing to do the best we can do and not the least we can do in the current climate. For some, this will unquestionably be getting together with family members over Christmas for the sake of their mental health and wellbeing, but for others that decision may simply add to the anxiety they feel about an increased risk to either themselves or to loved ones and so they opt to stay at home. Both will be the right choice for those individuals and we need to not judge others on the decisions they choose to make.

Stagecoach on Zoom – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 35

When we headed into lockdown last March, one of the activities that G and M missed the most was their weekly Stagecoach lessons. With G marking 13 years and M 11 years of attendance at our local Stagecoach school this Christmas, the loss of it was palpable. Between them they’ve only ever missed a handful of lessons, with M continuing to go weekly no matter what – feeding tubes and broken limbs have barely slowed him down.

Like so many organisations and schools, Stagecoach Head Office attempted to introduce an online platform for their weekly sessions, but neither child really connected with it and found their own ways to explore their creative tendencies at home instead. With September and the return to school, so also came the return to weekly Stagecoach sessions and the children have really thrived from being back with their friends despite the necessary restrictions in place. An unexpected and forced 2 week hiatus due to M’s need to self-isolate was a disappointment, but G and M embraced the challenge and took to practising their dance routine in M’s bedroom whenever they could instead.

With the second lockdown coming into play before they managed to get back to actual lessons, G and M were worried that it might be weeks until they could get back to what they love, but the local Principal had different ideas – and so Stagecoach on Zoom was launched. Every week they log on to join the rest of their stage for their usual 3 hours of Stagecoach and our sitting room is cleared, with the furniture pushed to the sides to make room for their dance and drama. It’s been something of a learning curve for everyone as they learn to navigate the finer details of Zoom sessions, but it’s also been a huge success.

It’s been great to have this touch of the normal back as part of their weekly routines and whilst G is missing her regular dance teacher – who knew she’d miss his criticism and yearn to not be told how amazing they all are – the benefits they’re reaping are definitely tangible. I’m even enjoying being able to reclaim a few hours of peace and quiet to myself, even if it is just in a different room!

Remembrance 2020 – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 34

A few years ago G was asked to do some school work about the Second World War and contacted my Gran to ask for copies of any photos she had of her and my Granddad from that time period. These were duly sent, along with some memories my Gran had of that time and in was handed a very personal reflection of WW2. Two years later, or thereabouts, M was asked to do something very similar and as well as using those sent to G, he also asked for any photos or information about my Dadcu* and also Mike’s grandparents.

These are the images the children received with a small insight into the work their great-grandparents did during the war:

Walter (Mike’s paternal Grandfather): volunteered as a sailor during WW1 and was injured when an explosion happened as he was boarding a ship which led to him being sent home to recuperate. During WW2 he again volunteered, but this time was late in joining the Canadian war effort and the war ended just 2 weeks after his paperwork had all been completed.

Dudley (Mike’s maternal Grandfather): was still in Jamaica during the time of WW2 and so didn’t fight.

 

Daniel (my maternal Dadcu): Joined the RAF during WW2 and was based in Canada and the USA for most of the war years. We have a wonderful photograph album of his time there, which I remember pouring over both before and after I travelled to Ottawa for university. It was amazing to think that my grandfather had spent time in the same places and walked the same roads that I did so many years later, although it was near impossible to identify where many of his photos had been taken. He also spent time in Berlin after the war before returning home to the Welsh Valleys.

Josef (my paternal Granddad): made the decision to leave Czechoslovakia before Hitler’s invasion and joined the Free Hungarian Army to fight for the Allied forces in Egypt. From there, he then joined the Free Czech Army and eventually ended up in England, where he met my paternal Gran, who was also doing her bit for the war effort. They married before starting their family in the post War years and then settled permanently in the UK. I wish I knew more about my Granddad’s wartime experiences and those of the family he left behind in Czechoslovakia, but sadly most of those stories have died with them before we had time to capture them.

#timetoremember #remembranceday2020

* Dadcu = Welsh for Grandfather

 

 

Lockdown 2.0 – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 33

My predictions weren’t quite accurate as I had thought we might be heading into a second lockdown either in the lead up to, or during October half-term, and whilst my Welsh family, friends and colleagues did so, Boris held off for another week before finally giving in to what had seemed to be inevitable to many.

I know that there are many out there who do not think this is a good idea or what is needed, but I’m not in that camp. Working for a regional care provider for adults with learning disabilities, I am seeing the increasing infection rates of COVID first-hand. Fortunately, I’m not on the frontline and despite my own health risks, can continue to work from home, much as I have been since our first lockdown back in March. For those naysayers out there, the risk is very real to those who are vulnerable and this lockdown is an attempt to help them as best we can.

Lockdown 2.0 looks very different this time round. G and M have gone back to school after half-term, and after the required self-isolation that kicked it off early for them, though all bets are off for how long that will be the case. This continued opportunity for learning as well as socialising with their friends is undoubtedly essential for their mental well-being and the benefits of being in a routine installed by someone other than Mum are also easy to see. Their out-of-school activities have paused again, though their Stagecoach classes are moving to Zoom from tomorrow. G and M are as intrigued about quite how that will work as I am, and I’ve no doubt an update will follow in due course.

Mike is also still working, despite our initial doubts as to whether he would be able to or not. We had been preparing for the possibility of a return to furlough, but he is delighted to be able to continue to work and is squeezing in as many valuations and surveys as he can at the moment. Both he and the children continue to take precautions to reduce the risk of them bringing the virus home to me and have been good at adapting to our new routines.

I’ll be honest, this lockdown is not looking all that different to the last 33 weeks or so for me. We haven’t been spending hours out shopping or at the pub, and we haven’t been spending time with anyone other than occasionally my Mum. Whilst I’ve stayed with her 3 times since March, she hasn’t set foot inside our house and nothing will change there for the foreseeable future. We will continue to do our daily exercise, although that becomes less attractive now we’re heading into winter and seeing less sun.

Whatever your thoughts about, or approach to, this second national lockdown, stay safe and keep looking after yourselves and those who are higher risk around you.

16 Years – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 32

16 years that feel like a lifetime, but, at the same time, have passed in a flash. How is it that it has been that long since I last got to speak to you, to see you, to simply spend some time with you?

16 years that have seen so many changes and I can’t imagine what you’d make of the year we’re in right now. I’ve no doubt you’d be up to your ears embracing the technology of Zoom and FaceTime to see family whilst in the depths of lockdown.

16 years and we’re teetering on the brink of the next stage of our life as G and M grow into incredible young adults that I know you’d be so proud of and start to plan their own next steps.

16 years of making memories without you and yet you are a part of those 16 years nevertheless. Much loved and much missed.

And so it begins – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 31

We knew it was coming, but we just weren’t quite sure when it would hit and Tuesday came and so did the phone-call from school…

A confirmed case of COVID-19 in M’s year group and so with a quick dash to school to pick him up, home-schooling has started again. I’m not quite sure if I’m glad it’s happened this week or not. Whilst both he and G now have to self-isolate for 2 weeks, which pretty much puts pay to our tentative half=-term plans, they will only miss a few days of school as we have already been told they can return on the first day of Term 2.

It’s thrown my week into disarray as I readjust to having 2 teens back in the house as I juggle remote training for my new team member, numerous mid-year budget review meetings all via Zoom and what feels like a plethora of other deadlines that need to be hit before I too go on my half-term break.

Of course, with much of the North heading into Tier 3 over the next few days and the rest jumping between Tiers 1 and 2 as numbers start to rise again, and with Wales now in its fire-break for 2 weeks, I feel like we’re in good company. Half-term isn’t going to look like what we hoped it might, but then again, what has in 2020?!

 

Birthday Celebrations – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 30

All things considered, we’ve been extremely lucky as, until the last month or so, we haven’t had to celebrate a birthday in lockdown. M managed to sneak his birthday celebrations in at the start of March just before lockdown happened, but now we’re heading into what is a busy season of celebrations for us with birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas all happening in fairly quick succession.

We started with Mum’s birthday in mid-September, which was celebrated in a much quieter way than her 70th birthday last year spent at Bluestone in South Wales. Mike, G, M and I spent the weekend with Mum, took part in an online quiz, enjoyed a family dinner including an allergy-friendly birthday cake and simply spent the time together as a family. Mum has spent lots of her time in lockdown on completing jigsaws and this was reflected in the plethora of new puzzles she received from family and friends for her birthday. It will certainly keep her busy over the next few months, no matter what they bring and I will benefit too as she lets me borrow a jigsaw one at a time to do at home.

Today is Mike’s birthday and that has been a little bit different again. With both Mike and I working from home, and G being able to come home from school when she has a free period, the three of us were able to enjoy a family lunch around the kitchen table before heading back to work. Dinner tonight is a special treat of a Chinese takeaway with menu favourites being chosen by each of us, and will be accompanied by yet another quiz before we settle down to watch the new series of “Taskmaster” on TV. Another family celebration adapted to fit our new circumstances and a school/work night.

Happy birthday Mike – love you always xxx

Summer’s last hurrah – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 29

The glorious weather that we’ve seen over the summer months made a welcome reappearance for the last weekend of September, so we decided on one last hurrah and headed for a family day trip out. Our destination was the beautiful organic gardens of Yeo Valley in Somerset, tucked away in the peaceful countryside near Blagdon Lake. Mike had stumbled across the gardens when he was searching for a location we could visit safely without travelling too far and this seemed to be the perfect place to enjoy the late summer sun.

As with so many other places, Yeo Valley was operating a restricted visitors rule and required us to book our tickets and time-slot before we went. Our entry once we arrived was easy and the gardens large enough that we rarely came across the other visitors there. We weren’t sure whether our 2-hour time-slot would be enough to explore the gardens in full, but they aren’t extensive and we found ourselves at the end with about 20 minutes to spare. It’s hard to decide which was my favourite bit, though G and M certainly enjoyed the rope swing over the stream, the rather rickety lookout point and racing around the teepee.

Our afternoon visit complete, it was a quick hop over to Chew Stoke for a fish and chip supper courtesy of the wonderful Salt & Malt. I’d read some great reviews about their allergy-friendly offerings online and the food did not disappoint, with generous portions that both children wolfed down with the food barely touching the sides. G chose the gluten-free cod and chips, whilst both Mike and M opted for gluten-free haddock and chips and I settled for some scampi. With glorious views across Chew Lake, we decided to eat in the warmth of our car, although they also have a small restaurant on-site which can be pre-booked.

All in all a great day out, and one I would thoroughly recommend.