In the beginning, we would explain to Francis that we couldn’t do things “because of the germs”. That would be enough of an explanation to him when he was three and a half. He took it in his stride. I tried to sit him down one evening and talk about it. “I know it is a bit strange,” I began. “It’s not strange,” he interrupted. He seemed cross at me for suggesting it was. So I left it at that. I imagined he just thought that perhaps this sort of thing happens sometimes. And I imagined that it would be over soon.
Francis is now four and a half. Almost a quarter of his life has been spent during the pandemic. “Because of the germs” is not a good enough reason any more. He is asking a lot of questions: “How do the germs get inside you?” “When will the germs go away?” “I miss Nanna and Grandad, when can we go inside their house?”
Francis has started to list the things he “can’t remember”. “Where was the place with the long trampoline?” He is asking about Playgym, where he and lots of other kids could run about and play on balance beams, trampolines and crash mats to a Disney soundtrack. He is realising that we don’t do these things any more.
“I can’t even remember Tramway!”, a contemporary arts space we used to attend. He starts welling up. The tears are those of a four year old; huge, spherical tears which sit perfectly still, one on each cheek. He is remembering life pre-Covid, and it is dawning on him that a huge change has taken place. Tramway was where we would go for weekly dance classes. Afterwards the parents would congregate in the gardens there and the children would run off and explore. We adults would chat and drink tea for hours in sunshine, wind or rain. It was there where I met all my friends when we moved here. That was my favourite day. Thursdays. I miss Tramway too.
Aven and Reed are 17 months old now and have barely been anywhere at all. They were six months old when the first lockdown began, just as I had started to feel able to get them out of the house on my own with a bit of confidence. I’m grateful they have each other. I often think of the babies born in the last year or two, and how little they will have seen of their peers, if at all. I think the twins are “OK”. They seem happy. But I struggle really to know what “OK” means in this context. “Covid-OK” is basically, not OK.
When I tell Francis to put on his coat to go to the park one day he says to me: “Park, park, park … that’s all we ever, ever do.” It’s true. I’m tired of it too. Now he often announces that he is having “an inside day”. But if we don’t go out we will never feel that sense of refreshed comfort in returning home, cobwebs swept and all that. It’s hard to love and cherish the idea of home when you rarely leave it.
At the worst of times, it feels like: what’s the point of anything? All this effort and love poured into home and family, when the future is so uncertain. But at the best of times, we face every day with joy and enthusiasm. The double baby cuddles in the morning, the twins’ gentle giggles with Francis at the silly things they do together; the three of them keep a fire ignited in me to carry on. To keep trying. And to keep having hope.