Tag Archives: parenting

Back to School – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 25

After more days off school than we ever dreamed was likely, G and M have returned to school this week. As if the move to A-levels and GCSEs was not enough, they’ve also gone back with face masks, social distancing and a very different looking timetable as their new norm. Our annual first day of school photo showed other changes that have happened in the last 6 months – a growth spurt for M, a dramatic hair-cut for G and a mop of lockdown hair that has caused much debate in the household. With less than half an inch in it, G is adamant she is still the taller and only M hitting 5’6″ will convince her otherwise.

Summer Photo Round-up – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 24

A summer like no other, but still filled to bursting with sunshine, laughter and huge amounts of safe ice-cream!

Lockdown Exam Results – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 22

Exams aren’t easy at the best of times and there can be no question that this year has posed the current cohort of exam students challenges that no-one could have even imagined when planning for the GCSEs and A-levels to be taken this summer. G has been working hard for her GCSEs over the last 2 years and, since the true extent of her anxieties became clear, having additional tuition and learning mindfulness techniques to help her manage the exam sittings as best she could with increased confidence in her own abilities.

Add in the stress following the fiasco with the A-level results day this time last week and it is easy to see why it hasn’t been an easy week at home. G has obviously been massively impacted by the confusion over how her final GCSE grades would be calculated and the huge sigh she gave after the latest government u-turn was announced on Monday evening showed just how heavy that burden has been. She and I have spent a lot of time talking about her results and what they will mean for this next step in her life journey. G knows what A-levels she wants to study and is fortunate to have 2 offers on the table from our local secondary schools, but still has to make up her mind as to where she wants to go for the next 2 years. It is nothing short of a miracle that I have not turned more extensively to alcohol and chocolate to see me through, although there’s still time before we’ve finished ploughing our way through the chaos and reached final decisions!

In many ways the decision to use the centre assessed grades (CAGs) is good news for G as she hasn’t had to undergo the stress of the exams, but this is a concern in itself as she will have no direct experience of how to sit an exam when it comes time for her A-levels. However, we have time to work on managing those anxieties and will continue to work with her tutor to make sure she has the opportunity to experience timed assessments to mimic the pressure of an actual exam.

More importantly, G knows how proud Mike and I are of the hard work she has put in, including her decision to continue following her GCSE revision plan during the first few weeks of lockdown without any prompting from either of us. We hope that her results will reflect her efforts, but G knows that as always we have got her back and are prepared to fight her corner if needed to make sure her next adventure starts as she wants it to.

2020 will always be the year when the exams weren’t sat, but that shouldn’t distract from the hard work and effort put in by all these young people throughout their school careers and the hellish void of information that they’ve been living with since March. No matter what their results are, they all should be commended for their fortitude and determination to succeed in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

End of Term – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 17

And just like that it’s the end of the school year and the end of G’s secondary school career. From September she’ll have moved to the heady heights of further education here in the UK, although she’s still not decided as to exactly what she’ll be studying or where. It’s been an odd culmination of the last few years of hard work and has left us all feeling a little discombobulated. It’s not quite the end of the 7Y2D home-school as I have already warned both M and G that I fully expect them to keep up with some studies over the coming weeks and M has already been set some tasks by school to challenge him in preparation for his GCSE courses that will soon be starting.

They do have some fun activities planned for the summer too, with both children being invited to join Over The Wall’s “Camp in the Cloud”, something they’re both excited about as this photo of M opening his box shows. We will also no doubt take advantage of the freedom of more movement by embarking on a few hand-picked and carefully chosen day trips starting and ending at home. Our plans for a summer extravaganza to celebrate the end of G’s GCSEs have been put on hold for the foreseeable, but we will make sure that her results day is still marked in style. Truthfully it’s not the summer we had planned, but then 2020 hasn’t really been the year we were expecting it to be either. One thing’s for certain, this is a year unlike any other and we’ve all experienced life in a new way in the last 17 or so weeks.

Re-opening the World – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 15

How has the easing of lockdown affected you and your family? Have you gone back to life as it was pre-lockdown, are you still following strict social distancing or shielding rules, or are you slowly working towards finding your feet in your new normal?

The last few days have been interesting ones for me as I’ve started to receive phone-calls from local services and businesses as they begin to re-open their doors and are keen to get people in after months of self-isolation. I’m sure there are those that will think I’m being overly cautious, but my answer to each of those enquiries has been simple: thank you, but no thank you, not at the moment. Having strictly restricted my movements over the last 15 weeks, I’m not in any rush to get back to the way things were before lockdown happened and will be keenly watching to see what happens over the next few weeks, particularly as pubs and restaurants reopen this weekend as well as some other businesses.

We’ve also been prepping to make sure we have everything we need as we do start to move towards relaxing our own version of lockdown. Despite the reluctance of the UK government to mandate the wearing of face masks or coverings when out and about in England, we have discussed the importance of them with G and M and agreed that the whole family will be wearing them once we start to venture further afield. Mike is already wearing a mask daily as he travels for his work and M has independently decided that he will wear his when he goes into school next week for an hour-long “keeping in touch” session before the end of the school year.

Both children had input into the face masks that they wanted to have and are happy to wear them when needed. We knew that having their buy-in was important, not least because there is a requirement to wear them when going into hospital for appointments and sooner or later that will be necessary for M and me, although we both currently have either telephone or video appointments booked for later this month.

Whatever your movements this weekend, be it to your local pub, restaurant or simply more staying at home, stay safe and keep well.

Working from Home – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 12

The last 12 weeks have seen thousands of people starting to work from home on a much more regular basis than they might have done before and I know that for some, that situation will continue for the foreseeable future, if not as a permanent change to their work location going forward. The reality of lockdown has meant that businesses have had to review and consider how they work, and can work in the future, especially where this means that potential savings could be made and help them to survive the current financial crisis.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I am carrying on working from home and will be for an as-yet-to-be-determined amount of time. Working for a charity within the care sector, we are taking a very cautious approach with our work processes in order to protect our service users as much as we can and that same approach is being applied to those of us who work in the Head Office. Our Board of Trustees and Senior Management Team (SMT) are anticipating that our regular meetings will continue to be virtual for several months and our Head Office will continue to be manned by a skeleton staff whilst the rest of us work from home until further notice.

Working from home can come with its own challenges, be that about motivation and focus, or working excessive hours because it can be difficult to switch off mid-task; or, these days, the juggling act required to manage workloads, team dynamics and meetings alongside homeschooling and childcare. I attended a webinar a few weeks ago run by recruitment consultants, Robert Half, which looked at the pressures that working parents have felt during the lockdown period and the importance of changing the way we look at things for our own mental wellbeing.

One of the key messages from this webinar was that those of us who are working parents should aim to be a “good enough” parent, rather than a “perfect” parent. We may have started lockdown with ambitions to conquer the combined dizzying heights of homeschooling and working from home, but many, if not all, have struggled to achieve their own goals and the knock-on effect on motivation and wellbeing has been huge. Seeking virtual support from friends and family as well as setting more realistic goals for what can be achieved each day and not beating ourselves up about if we don’t manage to tick everything off the list is critical.

There were also some great suggestions about how to help yourself and your children get through lockdown. My favourite ones included using your usual commute time for some me-time however that looks like for you; or as a family making notes of the things we’re missing doing the most and saving those into an empty box or jar. Once we’re out of lockdown completely, you can pick those notes out and work your way through each experience. At the end of the day, succeeding at working from home might not look quite as you imagined it would, but getting through this time relatively unscathed is, without a doubt, the most important thing of all.

Awareness in Lockdown – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 9

This week has been a focus for raising awareness for 2 causes close to our hearts: National Eosinophil Awareness Week (NEAW) and Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW). It somehow feels apt that these two go hand-in-hand this week as we have so often experienced first-hand how closely linked life with EGID is with the mental health well-being of all in our family. This year that is even more important as so many of us are struggling with the changes that the coronavirus lockdown has brought with it and none more so than the young people in our household.

National Eosinophil Awareness Week: We have been very active in raising awareness about eosinophilic diseases for a number of years, but decided to start taking a step back from that last year. Eosinophilic Colitis (EC) was the initial diagnosis that we received for M all those years ago from his consultant at GOSH, but in recent times, the diagnosis criteria for this condition have faltered and existing diagnoses have been actively questioned by many within the medical community. These days conditions such as mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) have been bandied about in relation to M, but ultimately the root cause of his health problems still remains a mystery to us all. As I’ve said so many times, having a name to put to his health issues has helped us all, even when very little is known about it, and I continue to use both his original diagnosis of EC and the newer one of MCAS when filling in paperwork or talking about M with other people.

Despite our own uncertainty about whether EGID is the correct diagnosis for M or not, I will always continue to encourage and support the fundraising and awareness-raising efforts of organisations seeking to research and understand this family of conditions more. Lockdown maybe stopping us doing anything active to raise awareness this week as we have in the past, but it’s good to be able to do my bit even from within the constraints of my own home.

Mental Health Awareness Week: Mental health well-being has been a buzz word in our household for a number of years and never has that been more important than now as we see the impact of 9 weeks in lockdown on us all. I’m a happy introvert, who enjoys spending time in my own company and so, in many ways, lockdown life is suiting me quite well. Regular contact with my work colleagues through Zoom and conference calls, webinars and online catch-ups with other friends is keeping me in touch with the outside world, which is especially important at a time when my T1D is keeping me at home.

However, I see a greater effect on Mike and the children and I think a lot of that is due to the changes to their daily routines. I am still working 9-5 every weekday, albeit from home and more often 8-7, but the 3 of them are going through a very different experience to me. Mike was furloughed from his job as a chartered surveyor on 1 April and for someone who is very used to being out and about as he values or surveys properties every day, the restriction of staying at home has been difficult. He is also much more of a social bug than I am, so not having daily face-to-face time with anyone other than the children and me has also taken its toll. However, that being said, the online capability to chat to family and friends across the world is something he has definitely embraced, even taking part in his regular whiskey-tasting evening via Zoom the other night!

As for the children, well G and M are almost a perfect reflection of Mike and me. G is comfortable entertaining herself and being in her own company, whereas M thrives on spending time with his peers as well as being constantly active and mentally challenged by them. Both have found lockdown difficult and we have worked, and continue to work, hard together to find the best outlet for their emotions as well as effective ways to meet their social needs. Chatting on WhatsApp or connecting via the PS4 has been a good solution and both are also having tutoring sessions via Zoom or MS Teams every week. This connection with people from outside of the family has been key to giving them something that is a very faint semblance of what they’re used to experiencing daily. Keeping them in a routine has also been important as Mike and I are very conscious that their return to school in September, after the best part of 6 months home-schooling, will exhaust them physically, mentally and emotionally from the minute they step through the school doors, if not before.

The buzzword for MHAW has been Kindness and considering what random acts of kindness you can do for others has been much encouraged. However, I think it’s key to remember that, whilst showing kindness to others in all situations is important, so is showing kindness to ourselves. We truly are living through extraordinary times and we shouldn’t feel guilty if we are not coping as well as we perhaps believe we should. Be that by taking some time to do something we love to do as an individual – bubble bath anyone? – or spending time relaxing with our family or even reaching out to a friend because we just need to talk, being kind to ourselves will improve our own well-being, which is something we all need right now.

Food Boxes – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 8

One of the many things that have changed hugely during lockdown for everyone has been the process of buying food and this has been particularly challenging for those families living with food allergies. In the initial rush to panic buy the bare essentials – loo roll, pasta and flour to name but a few – those individuals who needed to buy freefrom foods found their usually more plentiful supplies being depleted by others who chose to buy allergy-friendly when their “normal” stocks ran out.

Thanks to my hoarding tendencies and the regular “big” shop that I do twice a month, we had enough safe milk, bread, flour and pasta to keep us going for several weeks and initially had no problems in buying more rice milk as that seemed to be the one dairy-free milk alternative that no-one else wanted. However, for a family who goes through around 40 litres of rice milk a month, the restrictions introduced where we could only buy 3 of any product proved to be a little more challenging in keeping our cupboards full. G and M have been brilliant at switching to drinking water, or occasionally squash, during the day, rather than the huge quantities of milk that they both prefer, which has certainly helped to eke out the supplies we have had at home.

Its been a case of not only trying to find the food you need and can eat, but also how you actually do your regular food shop. This has been especially true for our household as my T1D places me squarely on the clinically vulnerable list and as such, the advice has been clear that I should be staying at home. Fortunately for us, we already do a lot of our food shopping online, using our local food co-operative for our fresh fruit, veg and meat as well as Sainsburys and Ocado for our store cupboard essentials and, most importantly, the more specialised foods we need to keep G and M healthy and safe when they eat. The increased need for home delivery caused huge problems for many people at the start of the coronavirus crisis, but as we all settled into our new sense of normal, supermarkets and other food suppliers rose to the challenge of how to help more people in any way that they could and found a solution by introducing a variety of food boxes.

Now this will come as no surprise to anyone in the allergy community, but it took a little longer for these same organisations to realise that there was a whole group they were forgetting to cater for and now there’s a reasonable mix of freefrom boxes available too, though they do predominantly focus on the gluten-free market as far as I can see. We have ordered 3 different food boxes over the last few weeks and I thought I’d share our experience and opinion of each in turn:

Morrisons Food box (starting from £35) – one of the first food boxes to become available as far as I am aware and as the weeks have gone on, they have expanded their offering beyond the basic meat or vegetarian essentials boxes they started with. I ordered a meat essentials box, which arrived promptly and was well-packaged, including ice packs to keep the fresh produce chilled until I had time to put the food away. Our box contained, as it said, the essentials needed to keep us eating well: milk, bread, pitta breads, pasta, butter, cheese, meats, fruit, vegetables,tinned goods and the much-need pack of loo rolls were all included in it. Whilst it wasn’t the solution we needed in terms of safe foods for the children, it kept Mike and I going for another week at least and supplemented well what we already had in the house.

Marks and Spencer Food box (starting from £15) – with Easter coming so quickly after the start of lockdown, my Mum had managed to buy dairy- and soya-free chocolate for G and M, but apologised to me that she hadn’t had time to buy an Easter egg for me or Mike. Instead, she sent us a Marks & Spencer Fruit box and what a wonderful treat it was when it arrived. Again, it was a well-packaged delivery and contained a great variety of fruits to satisfy all tastes within the family. Whilst we order what I would term as our basic fruits every week (apples, bananas, oranges), the box also contained some more exotic fruits which, to put it simply, brightened my day. We received a plentiful supply of those regular fruits, which are always needed as we’re living with a 14 year old who lives for his regular smoothies and has a growing appetite at the moment, but I enjoyed the fresh mango and pineapple as part of my breakfast or lunch for a few days too.

Doves Farm Gluten-free Food box (£25) – this was an unexpected find, but a much welcome one. Surprisingly, I hadn’t seen anything mentioned about it through my usual allergy community social media platforms, but rather spotted it as a photo and post by an old friend on their FB feed. Discovering a box that not only catered amazingly for the gluten-free needs of our household, but also included 3 bags of safe flour was amazing and I couldn’t wait for this one to arrive on our doorstep. Add in the pancake batter mix, boxes of cereal and 8 delicious cereal bars that are safe for both children, there really was nothing to complain about. It was also great to find a new safe snack for M and I will definitely be looking to buy the apricot freee oat bars again.

Getting Back to Nature – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 7

One of the advantages of living in a village surrounded by expansive fields and glorious countryside is that our walks for the government-mandated daily exercise are many and varied. During the week Mike and I tend to venture out in the evenings once my work day has come to an end, although we tend to stick to the same few routes which are long enough to reach at least 10,000 steps and safe enough for even my poor eyesight to manage as dusk falls. G and M spend their time out in our garden: running around, climbing trees, building obstacle courses and bouncing on the trampoline as well as performing regular dance routines inside and out, from G in particular. However, at weekends, we insist on taking both children out with us and go for a much longer explore, along numerous trails which have taken us past our village’s Jubilee stone, through the woods in just about every direction you can imagine, across the fields to the next village over and past our farm neighbours to the fishing “lakes”, railway line and beyond.

Mike and M have taken their cameras with them on several occasions, seizing the opportunity to snap the wildlife, flowers, trees and anything and everything else we’ve come across along the way. M got some wonderful photos of the local bluebells covering the forest floors recently and has even tried his hand at taking pictures at night, including of the impressive pink moon that graced our skies a few weeks ago. Even when the camera hasn’t been packed for the trip, M can often be found using his, or my, mobile phone to capture what he spies as we walk and has achieved some amazing shots this way too.

These walks have been a great chance to spend some time together as a family and we always make sure that we have supplies with us to allow a stop for a drink and a snack on our journey. The beauty of our small village is that we rarely come across anybody else and, even when we do, there’s more than enough space to pass whilst following social distancing guidance. We’ve discovered more of our local area than in the 10+ years we’ve lived here so far and have been able to experience nature unlike ever before. Being able to watch 2 beautiful deer running and leaping through the fields alongside us last weekend was simply fantastic and whilst nobody managed to capture the it on film, I’m glad we were able to see and enjoy it without a lens or screen in the way.

Honing lifeskills – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 5

One of the unexpected advantages of living in lockdown has been seeing G and M start to take on a little more responsibility at home and honing some important lifeskills to see them surviving when they hit adulthood. I started with expecting them to fend for themselves at lunchtime, avoiding too many snack-based choices and including some healthier options to ensure a relatively balanced meal and, after a first week of moans and groans about what they were eating for dinner, sat them down to meal plan their dinners for the following week. They had to work together on agreeing meals that they would both enjoy and, where a compromise couldn’t be reached, settling on something that would be similar, but different. An example of this was the great lasagne vs. macaroni cheese debate, as G dislikes the texture of lasagne, whilst M would choose to eat anything but macaroni cheese. They agreed to disagree and so have one night in the week where they eat their own preferred pasta option.

Whilst planning their menu for the week ahead, G and M also had to take into consideration what staples we had in the house and what would need to be added to our weekly food delivery. We have been using a local food co-operative for well over a decade for our fresh fruit, veg and meats and they have been great at continuing to provide their food delivery service during the coronavirus crisis. The natural next step from meal planning was to get them more involved with cooking dinner as well, building off the cookery lessons they’ve both had at school. They were already well-versed in prepping their own fruit and veg for a meal, but they can both now competently fully make some of the simpler meals as well as working alongside either Mike or me with the more complex ones.

G and M have an undeniable sweet tooth and the last few weeks have been a great opportunity for them to flex their baking muscles too. The interesting thing has been that they have worked both together and independently when it has come to choosing and making their sweet treats. The starting point has almost always been to see what recipes they can find on my blog and then checking if we have the ingredients in the kitchen cupboards. So far, we’ve enjoyed chocolate cookies, shortbread and carrot cake and I can’t wait to see what they whip up next.

The great thing is that G and M are not only learning to cook and bake, but they’re also honing their skills in following a recipe and realising when sometimes it might need to be tweaked slightly to make the perfect dish. They’ve discovered the benefits of menu planning and experienced the frustration of when a key ingredient is missing from the store cupboard and needing to think on their feet to find an alternative. They’ve learnt to really work together, to listen to and respect what the other is saying and, when a compromise can’t be found immediately, to walk away and give each other space. I think that they’ve also discovered that cooking and baking can bring a much-needed therapeutic release from the tensions that we’re all experiencing from living on top of each other in uncertain times and re-centre their sense of emotional and mental well-being.