When the news broke of schools closing due to the lockdown I had a little panic. As a Marketing and PR Director, and magazine editor, I was used to working from home most of the week. What I wasn’t used to was a 9 year old with special needs and attachment issues by my side 24/7 as I tried to hold meetings, write articles and answer emails.
Can You Work with Children?
At first I thought it would be doable, especially when one contract was drastically reduced from three days to one. I was seriously worried about cashflow, I still am, but tried to see the positives, and embraced the fact that I would be having some time off for the first time in years. It soon became apparent though, that even though my clients had been forced to reduce my hours, they still needed the same amount of time and effort I was putting in before the lockdown in order to survive this pandemic and to remain standing after this is all over. I feel passionately about my client’s businesses, they’re under my skin, and I want them to thrive despite the obstacles. They deserve to, and this pandemic has shown me that we all need to pull together in these times, and if we can help, we should.
Can You Work with Children and Homeschool Too?
This was all very well, until I realised that my 9 year old needed some home schooling, and would not listen to me as a teacher. I’m the fun mum, not the one who sets her work and and marks her grammar. Alongside this, she was refusing to leave my side. She’s a homebird and won’t consider spending time at her dads, she needs to be with me at all times, with the only exception being school, which she adores.
I, wrongly, applied for childcare at the school. I thought my prayers had been answered when it detailed journalists as a role that would be eligible for school childcare. I battled with the decision, as I wasn’t too comfortable with her leaving the house, but saw little choice, as I needed to work to pay the bills, I needed to help, and working with a special needs 9 year old was just not viable.
A Mini Breakdown
She’d sit on my knee while I was in meetings, pressing buttons on the computer, making it impossible for me to take notes, while asking when I’d be finished every few minutes. She’d sit beside me as I wrote, nagging for my work to end so we could play, and she’d often let the four dogs in the office for company where they’d become extremely excited, bark at the walls, and escape with each knock at the door. She spilled endless cups of Ribena all over the desk, and would create using office supplies, by ripping out pages in my diary. It was highly unprofessional, but on top of this, I found I was getting no real work done, I was missing important details, I was forgetting to reply to people, I was skimming the surface of what I needed to do. I’m ashamed to say, that after a week of it, I had a little breakdown. I’d always prided myself on managing the work life balance, I’ve written tips on it, as I’ve been a single parent twice and started my business when my eldest two were just 3 and 7. My eldest two, however were a completely different kettle of fish to my 9 year old. They could happily sit and watch a film for a few hours as I finished off a blog, they’d play together outside as I spoke on the phone, they were also at school and nursery for a large proportion of the day. I was not used to this new setup and worried about how I would cope.
Working Mother’s Guilt
I found myself envying those parents who complain that they can’t tear their children away from the TV or tablet, and felt enormous guilt as I couldn’t role play all day, which is Percy’s favourite thing to do. My friends told me to go easier on myself, but I couldn’t see a solution. I tried everything.
I set up a TV in the office and put films on, however, when teaching people online, Percy would ask when I’d be finished. She wanted to sit on my knee and browse puppies on the internet, and I couldn’t use the phone and internet at the same time.
I got Percy a tablet, which was absolutely fantastic, it was a Frozen 2 tablet that doesn’t connect to wifi so there’s no worry of her accessing content she shouldn’t. It worked really well for an hour at a time, she loved the games on it and would take it everywhere. She still loves it, but an hour wasn’t enough.
I tried to work as she slept but minutes after her falling asleep I’d be ready for bed, and clients became increasingly frustrated that they couldn’t get hold of me during the day.
Magic in Motion
Then something magical happened. I walked into the kitchen to find my 19 year old son surrounded in pieces of paper, a laptop and scribbling furiously. He was putting together lesson plans, and had taken on the task of teaching Percy on the days I had to work. Percy was thrilled to spend time with her big brother, and together they came up with a schedule. I could have wept with relief.
I found them some supplies to help with their endeavours, and also to provide a little reward. They were excited and enthusiastic.
The supplies that helped the most, that they got the most out of included:
- Hot Wires – This taught them all about electrical currents in a simple way. They spent hours creating different circuits and seeing what would work.
- Microscope – They used the microscope to identify pond life that they picked up on our daily local dog walk.
- Top Trumps – Top trumps became a game they’d play regularly, from dinosaur Top Trumps to Volcano Top trumps, they were both learning
- Binoculars – These simple binoculars spent their time around Percy’s neck on walks, where she’d spy falcons, buzzards and even woodpeckers!
- Exercise Books – For just. few pounds I bought a stack of exercise books from Amazon. These were a godsend, Percy could now write down everything about her adventures, while Mitch would go through and help with grammar.
The incredible thing about Mitchell’s autism is that he has a brain that’s exceptional. He loves science and history and remembers facts most of us would forget. As he taught her about Ancient Egypt, he took her down a rabbit hole of information, and they’d end up on an interesting tangent that included mythology, strange facts and how the civilisation compared to modern day. He drew on experiences with his own teachers that had managed to engage him, and applied these methods to Percy. Once, when Percy refused to do any writing for the day, he reenacted a battle with a sword and asked her to document her battle plan. The dogs were her army. She wrote three full pages.
On walks he would pull out flashcards of the times tables, flashcards he’d let her decorate herself, as she’s incredibly creative.
In short, they both helped each other. Mitchell discovered he had a talent for teaching while Percy found out that learning is fun at home.
We’ve also had incredible support from the school, with online learning and regular check ins. Percy misses her teacher and her friends a lot, so it’s been reassuring to have them close by, albeit virtually. Percy’s teacher has adapted the learning to suit Percy too, adding more creative elements and factoring in the animals on our little farm.
It’s not all been plain sailing. Mitch has declared Percy unteachable at times, her attention span is short while her memory is even shorter, but he has persevered. Percy has seen it as a treat to spend time with her big brother. I see it as something positive to come out of this pandemic.