A month in which our whole world changed

29 April 2020
Ellie Harwood
Ellie Harwood lives in South Wales with her six year old daughter. She’s been a single mum for the past four years. She works full time for Child Poverty Action Group, helping schools become more inclusive for children growing up in low-income families. Outside of work, she loves to spend time in the Welsh countryside, especially the mountains and forests of south Wales. 
On a Friday in mid-March, I picked up my daughter from after-school club at the usual time. The newsreader on the radio was talking about coronavirus.

No one in Wales had died yet, but there were reports that about 60 people in the country had tested positive for Covid-19. It was rumoured the Welsh Government might close the schools to try and prevent the spread of the disease. Nonetheless, I fully expected we’d be back doing the school run the following Monday.

The next day, my little one became poorly with a mild temperature and symptoms of a cold. I didn’t know it then, but that Friday was the last time we would be free to go about our daily lives. We followed the self-isolating guidelines from the Government, which meant no social contact, no visiting shops and no outdoor play for the next week. 

Dealing with illness is always challenging when you’re a single mum with no family around to help out. I hadn’t had time to buy in much food, and the media was full of outraged stories about people stockpiling pasta and loo roll. As a result, our cupboards weren’t particularly full, and I had to conjure up some odd meals using random ingredients from the back of the freezer. 

My boss was understanding, so I just logged on to my work laptop and answered emails for an hour or so every day. My daughter played a lot of Minecraft. School was still open, and I could see from the class blog that lessons were carrying on as normal.

On the last day of our quarantine, the Welsh Government decided to shut schools for everyone except vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers. Term had been wound up early, and the children sent home with hastily copied worksheets and details of how to log in to Hwb. The class teacher promised to upload work onto her blog in time for the following week.

The moment of realisation 

The news that schools were closing – possibly for months – hit me like an avalanche. Once it had sunk in, I just sat and cried. Like many single parents, I am completely reliant on my daughter’s school to be able to work. She stays until gone 5pm every weekday, allowing me to work full time in my beloved job. I am lucky that much of my work can be done from home, but only in an environment where I can focus and give it my undivided attention. 

My heart fell further when I looked on the class blog and saw a week’s worth of learning activities mapped out for my daughter to complete. As my kid is in year 2 of Foundation Phase, nearly all the tasks needed me to provide detailed instruction and ongoing supervision. My little one certainly doesn’t enjoy completing worksheets, and hates writing with a passion, so getting her to even consider attempting some of the challenges proved impossible. We both ended up feeling frustrated, resentful and overwhelmed. By the end of the week, I was at the end of my tether, and neither of us had managed to get much work done.

It has now been 5 weeks since my daughter last went to school. We both miss it terribly. I am still attempting to do some work every day, and all my colleagues have met my daughter via the endless Zoom meetings that now constitute much of my working life. Up and down the country, millions of mums and dads are also trying to find a new kind of work-life balance. 

Reflecting on our situation

However challenging things are at home, I feel very lucky to have a job that lets me work at home, safe from coronavirus, with an employer that offers paid leave and a family-friendly working culture. We have broadband at home and our cupboards are now full of food. I know many other families whose work still needs to be done outside the home, often on the frontline of tackling coronavirus. Many others have lost their jobs altogether, or seen sharp drops in income as the furlough scheme only covers up to 80% of their wages. Some families don’t have internet access or sufficient income to buy enough food.

Children are struggling too, missing their routines and social connections. As she is an only child, I have no idea when my daughter will be able to play with other children again. The thought that she might go months without being able to enjoy the company of other children breaks my heart. In the meantime I have tried to cut us both some slack. I have realised that I am in no way up to the task of replacing her teacher. Instead, we’ve focused on having fun where we can. My new reality involves being a caring parent, a fun playmate and a patient educator, finding time for laughter in the gaps between all those Zoom meetings.

Our blog is a place for a range of opinions and debate on parents and their role in their schools and their children’s education. Whilst we think this debate is really important, we don’t always agree with the views being expressed.