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Day 11

I’m finding that I’m falling into a different routine. I now seem to spend the first hour of the day catching up on texts to my parents and others, and in the evenings I call my mother and WhatsApp my brothers in our little WhatsApp group.​​​

I’m hearing that lots of families have set those up to keep in close contact with older relatives. Friends are saying that they are having more contact with family members than they’ve had for a while. We are no longer taking each other for granted.

This morning Big Brother contacted me to ask me to try to sort out collection and delivery of a daily newspaper to Mam and Dad, who live in the next village. Mam and Dad are in their late 80s and don’t do the internet. Big Brother is a key worker with HMRC and lives in Newcastle, twenty miles away. He and my sister-in-law had been trying to think of ways to keep Mam and Dad busy and distracted – and in the house, rebels that they are. I thought that was a great idea. So I contacted a good friend who lives a few streets away from Mam and Dad to ask her if she knew a young person locally who would, for payment, collect and deliver a newspaper each day. Carole said she’d do it herself. She and her partner walk the dogs every morning, and as she’s known Mam and Dad all her life, she said she’d be only too pleased to do it for them. We are truly blessed with great friends.

Tonight when I told Mam on the phone that from Friday they’d be having a paper delivered every morning, she and Dad were over the moon. That’s two hours of their day filled. It sounds like a small thing, but it’s a big thing.​​

Today’s been pretty quiet. Big D working hard in his study. Littl’un and I not doing a great deal – mostly films and colouring – in the old campervan for a change of scene.

Ironically we renewed the insurance on the campervan yesterday. We also paid the final instalment on it this month, so it’s now all paid. And going to be sitting on our drive for at least the next twelve weeks. However, there is a little table in there (it’s an ancient Toyota Hiace), so we might make it into a little art and craft space.We’ll see how it goes.​​

Is anyone else in lockdown finding that they are spending a great deal of their time cooking and washing up?
With everyone in the house, and no school meals, no “meal deal” lunches for Big D, or weekend takeaways, I am catering every meal for everyone. It’s another change in routine. I’m quite enjoying it. I need to do all the cooking as Big D is working quite long hours and also because I know what other food we have in. We have to make the most of the storecupboard. The slow cooker has come into its own. Big D says he is loving the home cooking. But I think we’re going to have to start a rota for the washing up so it doesn’t get out of hand. ​​​

On a really trivial note, I am very glad that before lockdown I had my hair cut. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to have it coloured, and so I’ve been nearly a fortnight now with two inches of steel grey roots.

The day before lockdown I bought a box of the lightest colour still available from the local pharmacy. “Baby blonde” sounds like an inappropriate colour for a woman of my age, but needs must, so this afternoon I gave it a go while Big D and Littl’un were having half an hour’s kickabout in the street outside.

Of course, Big D didn’t notice. This evening when we were having dinner I asked him what he thought of my new hair colour. There was a pause, then he said “It’s a bit ginger.” Hm. “I think it’s beautiful Jac”, said Littl’un, “But you always look beautiful to me.” That young man will go far.​​​

Day 12

As with most days for most people at the moment, today has been a really mixed bag for us. ​

This morning we had a visit from the Deputy Head of Littl’un’s special school, which he attends part-time on a bespoke programme, and where he gets two-to-one support. It was nice to see her. It was also really lovely that she asked me beforehand if I wanted any shopping while she was in Morrison’s, so I got quite excited at the thought of chicken breasts, fresh bread, and prawn cocktail crisps.

It was all very bizarre. Quite apart from the fact that a senior manager of your child’s school wouldn’t usually do your shopping, a visit that takes place half in the garden, half on the road, and at a distance of over six feet, is something pretty strange. I think the most relaxed person was Littl’un, who didn’t even attempt to go for hugs, as he would in usual times, and seemed to do the necessary for social distancing quite naturally after almost two weeks of isolation. He showed off his trampoline jumping skills, and how well he can play tennis with Big D, and we made our kind visitor a cup of tea in a takeaway cup that we placed at the edge of the drive for her to pick up. These exchanges look like a kind of courtly dance. We chatted for a while as she leaned against her car at the roadside. Fortunately she has a teacher’s voice and hearing!

I’d left a box on the wall of our garden with a plastic food bag in with the cash for the shopping, and a bigger box for the sensory toys on the ground. As it turned out the box was nowhere near big enough.​

School has loaned us lots of fab equipment – including a tray and a brand new bag of sand and sand toys, to keep Littl’un going over the next 12 weeks and more.

Also included was a bag of craft activities for Easter, and a few extras. Big D put on gloves and moved them undercover for the night. Littl’un will enjoy exploring the boxes and bags in a couple of days. The food was all wiped down with disinfectant and put into the fridge and freezer. The packets are in a bin bag in the hall for a couple of days. We all know what to do now. Post is put into a binbag and opened a day later. My parents left a comic for Littl’un when they picked up their lunch off our wall this morning. That also went into the bin bag until tomorrow. ​

As it’s been a reasonable day, Littl’un and I stayed outside this afternoon and did bits and pieces in the garden.Dead-heading the hydrangeas was an experience I’m sure the neighbours found amusing (lots of squealing, as Littl’un is scared of plants – long story).

We also did a bit of cleaning in the camper van, and some sorting out of new equipment I’d bought for the summer. One of the more surreal moments was when we tried to put up our new pop-up “loo tent”. It was faulted. I couldn’t believe it at first, and was certain I was missing something, but sure enough, after Littl’un had walked around inside it, wearing it like a giant dalek costume, shouting “I can’t get out Jac”, we realised that there were four wall panels and no zipped door.We had a good laugh – and so did the neighbours who were watching us as they were gardening. We live in a courtyard, and it’s usual for people to stand in the middle chatting on sunny days. Not today – all conversations were necessarily short and shouted from a distance. But Littl’un has a very loud voice, so everyone could enjoy his chat. ​

By the end of this afternoon I felt very tired (I have Crohn’s Disease), so I had a couple of hours in bed snoozing. When I got up I felt a lot better, and discovered that Little Brother had been with some supplies. Co-co pops, the essential blue-top milk for Littl’un, and … drum roll … a 12-pack of loo roll. Yippee.

This evening it was really heartening to see everyone standing on their steps and clapping in solidarity and support for our NHS and other frontline workers. I did feel quite emotional, as I thought about all the family and friends who are out putting themselves in harm’s way to keep the country going and help others. Littl’un, on the other hand, was focussed on making as much noise as possible with his pan and wooden spoon. ​

As I’m preparing for bed tonight I’m feeling quite anxious. Big D has a sore throat.

So at about 11 pm we packed up a couple of bags with bedding, towels, and some basic supplies, and he’s driven to overnight at Hazel’s house (my aunt who is in the care home). It’s just in the next village. There has been nobody in the house for a few weeks so it’s clear of any bugs. We both said “It’s probably nothing” when we spoke on the phone, but the unspoken worry is that he may have the virus and passed it on to me. I am immunosuppressed due to the drugs I take for Crohn’s Disease, and I have asthma. Worrying times. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. ​

Day 14

Well I’m delighted to report that Big D’s sore throat on Thursday night was a false alarm.​

I had a sleepless night worrying about it, and he had an uncomfortable night at my aunt’s empty house. He said he had probably been talking too much on Thursday (or maybe singing too loudly in the shower – Kenny Rogers’ death earlier this week has prompted a whole repertoire, and Big D even sings Sheena Easton’s part in “We’ve Got Tonight”) – but anyway, totally recovered by Friday morning, and home by late morning. Phew!​​

Today we start our third week in isolation, and our pattern of living has now become pretty well established. It’s great that we’re having clear blue skies and good walking weather so that the boys can get outside to exercise.

Littl’un needs plenty of vigorous exercise every day to stay regulated, and he hasn’t been further than the end of the courtyard this weekend – preferring to play football with Big D – and I think the effects were starting to show this morning. Lots of dysregulation and inability to cope with small mistakes when he was cutting out shapes to decorate our chocolate apples. As I write this the lads have been out for two hours now – Big D’s taken a long lunch break to take Littl’un out – and I’m very pleased about that.I think it’s exactly “reasonable” as defined in the latest Government regulations. I’ve asked school to provide a letter in case anybody questions the amount of time spent outdoors. I don’t think they will, but people can become a bit over-zealous when they are stressed. ​

Hopefully the walk hasn’t been too much for Big D’s knees, which are really playing him up, and aren’t being helped by the weight he’s put on over the Winter.Yesterday Littl’un said “You’re not running fast enough Darrell.That’s why the ball keeps going past.Let’s do some training.”From the kitchen I heard shouts of “Come on, Darrell, jogging on the spot!Up, up, up!You can do it!Give it your best shot!”I was creased.I think he’s keeping the neighbours entertained too.

On Saturday I received a letter from my consultant gastroenterologist to confirm that I am one of the 1.5 million to be “shielded” in the current crisis, and that I must stay indoors for the next twelve weeks.

Totally expected, but nonetheless there is something about seeing it written down as an instruction that makes it more real. I wasn’t sure how to feel. It was a bit deflating, but at the same time a relief to confirm that I hadn’t been over-reacting in being very careful and taking Littl’un out of school a week early. To be honest, it’s so out of the realm of ordinary, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’ll tell you in three months. I do feel immensely grateful to the people of this country for shielding those of us most vulnerable to the virus. It’s a huge, huge thing, and for some people it will have an enormous cost. It is very humbling. I wrote a post on Facebook thanking everyone for supporting us. With a General Election in December there’s been a lot of negativity about politicians and others going around for months. But it’s amazing that when the chips are down, we come together. I confess I had a few tears.Big D said “What on earth’s the matter with you?” “Nothing” I said, “I’m just so grateful.” “What for?” He asked. Maybe the most amazing thing is that people don’t think it’s amazing. ​

Mam and Dad are still being a bit naughty and venturing further afield than they should, but the penny is starting to drop.

The big issue by Saturday morning was that Dad hadn’t had a pie for over a week. Anyone who knows my Dad, who is 88 years old and pretty fit, knows that pies are his absolute favourite thing and he never goes more than a day or two without a pie. He could live forever on pies, soup and a nip of whisky.

I was fortunate enough to book a home delivery from Iceland for Friday night, so I’d ordered Greggs steak bakes, and a pack of frozen chicken pies for Mam and Dad. Unfortunately they were on the list of things that were out of stock. Oh dear. My poor mother would be putting up with quite a lot of whingeing, and no doubt some barmy ideas about how he was going to procure a pie for himself.​

So even though he doesn’t deserve it after earlier this week calling my lovely beef stew “chewy”, I decided to make him his favourite – corned beef and egg pie.

I had no access to ready-made, so made the shortcut pastry from scratch with butter.Oh boy, it was worth it. Big D dropped off the pie on the doorstep, rang the bell and stepped back.He said Dad’s face just lit up. Later in the evening I got a call from Mam to say that he’d had two slices and was in heaven with a grin from ear to ear.I got ten out of ten (there’s always a score for cooking from Dad – no pressure) and the comment shouted from the sofa was: “You make the best corned beef pie in England, Jacqueline.And I’m not exaggerating.” I think maybe he’d had his nip of whisky too.

Day 16

It’s been a difficult couple of days. Littl’un has been struggling a bit more with regulating himself. I’ve been tired due to not sleeping well and Big D has been a bit grumpy about work. And of course it’s the adults who set the weather in any home. So our weather has been set to “stormy” for a couple of days.​

Like many kinship care families we live with Developmental Trauma, so family life is always very different from the norm. Many “normal” families would be shocked not only by some of Littl’un’s extreme behaviours (caused by his brain’s wonky wiring triggering extreme fear) but also by our therapeutic responses. Of course we do have the usual standards, boundaries and rules, but are very used to these being broken many times a day. We don’t sweat the small stuff. Most of that is just ignored. And rather than live in a house filled with anger and punishment, we go with calm responses and natural consequences. So if, for example, Littl’un smashes his DVD player, then sadly he won’t have one to use. If I am punched in the arm, very sadly I’m unable to take him to the park. That sort of thing. But this kind of parenting is hard work for humans. Regular breaks are essential. We are used to not having these much (we’ve been waiting for respite care to be sorted for us by Littl’un’s social worker for about four years). But a lot of our usual tools aren’t available to us in lockdown – such as loads of outside exercise in open spaces, using empty play areas in small villages, and hiring specialist facilities such as the Alan Shearer Centre (where we can book a ball pool session or the swimming pool just for us). Therapy has been cancelled, special school is off for the foreseeable, but most of all, we are missing spending times with friends, who help us rest and keep us sane by sharing time with us and playing with Littl’un. Twelve weeks is going to be a long time.​

So because Big D and I were a bit below par, we had a bit of build up yesterday – and I had to do a couple of “strong hugs”, after I’d been kicked a bit and threatened to be hit over the head with a bottle.

Football didn’t go too well either, with the boys having to come in because of the very loud swearing (not great when most of your neighbours are over sixty, but not deaf). Big D and I were pretty relieved when bed-time came last night.

Happily, the storm has blown over. We all slept well. And today we have sunshine again. Littl’un came into our room at his usual time of around 6 am (currently 7 am due to the clocks going forward – result!) full of hugs and jokes, and plans for the day. ​

Today is “contact” day (I do hate that word from the world of social work)– when Littl’un usually visits his Mammy at her home for a few hours after school.

We’ve been doing it via Facetime for the last few weeks – and doing it twice a week, as the phones usually run out of charge after about an hour or so. It’s working well. At the moment Littl’un is in his playhouse in the garden chatting away to his Mammy, and hosting her for tea. I’ve got the window open so I can hear the conversation. Apparently she’s having spiders In her sandwiches. Delicious.​

The current circumstances of kinship care families during the coronavirus crisis is mostly similar to other families, but we do have some important differences.

Most of us kinship carers are either a lot older than most parents and/or have health conditions. More than half are grandparents. This morning a friend was saying that she’d received the free school meal vouchers for her children in the post. Unfortunately they are “redeem in store only”, which is not really any good when you’re in your seventies and are all on lock down because you have a serious health condition. The usual supports sometimes need a bit of tweaking for children in kinship care. ​

Facetime is becoming a bit of a thing for everyone at the moment. It’s keeping us going.

Big D is able to do his work because of great IT and online meetings. Over the last few weeks, as well as his chats with his Mammy, Littl’un has had a few conversations with friends he has made through the kinship care networks. This morning he’s been chatting to a friend in his bedroom. I went upstairs to retrieve my phone, only to find him stuck in the laundry basket on the landing, too embarrassed to shout to me to get him out. He said he was “still working on it” himself. When I asked him what he was doing in there, he said he’d been showing his friend the inside of the laundry basket. I bet he was fascinated.

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