My wife has asthma. It’s severe. We’re used to managing it; she has an excellent asthma plan and supportive health care professionals. She spends a great deal of the year on various combinations of drugs, including steroids. These have messed up her skin and made her hands so puffy that she can no longer wear her wedding band and engagement ring. It’s a very good job she’s always oblivious to other women trying to flirt with her!
All this is to say that, as a household, we are now on lockdown as the UK tries to flatten the Covid-19 curve. Today is Day 2. I already have 72 new grey hairs.
I’m not entirely convinced that my wife or the man-child we care for (19) really understand what it is I do. They can’t picture what the week looks like for someone doing a PhD, predominantly remotely. Oh, whilst juggling tutoring work, two elderly cats, an old dog, a puppy and the running of the household. Well, they’re going to enjoy a steep learning curve. It’s not all coffees, Nana naps and daytime TV.
Our house is tiny. It’s a two-up-two-down Victorian terrace. We have a downstairs bathroom at the end of the kitchen (both are extensions), a postage stamp garden and a 1.5 sized garage. We don’t really have any room to escape from one another. In a normal week, the man-child has college, work and a social life (all three are now cancelled); my wife works 18 miles away in a seaside city; and I study at home or at the local university, by using some excellent doggy daycare facilities nearby. Now, we’re all trying to maintain normalcy as we bump up against one another all day. Every day. For an indeterminate length of time.
With that in mind, we’ve developed a schedule. The man-child wants fun things to do, my wife and I want to be able to maintain our workloads, the pets need entertainment and I am adamant that we are not all just going to be glued to our screens 24/7. In fact, I’ve found that my wife becomes a poor communicator and lethargic if she spends too much time scrolling through Twitter and the news, the man-child actually becomes unbearable moody and verbally aggressive (not his normal traits) and I recognise that I become unmotivated to do anything else. The result of our combination of needs is a daily schedule.
The man-child gets two slots a day to phone splurge and my wife and I are trying to stick to one in the working week. As you can see, we haven’t even made it to midday on the first day of the schedule and the man-child has lost his second phone slot. Rather than keep the puppy with him in the garage as he stretched post-run (as requested), he let her free roam the garden so he could try to stealthily use his phone (not so stealthy when he was literally standing at the window). If you know our puppy, you’ll remember she likes to eat poop. Gross. So she naturally dropped one and ate the whole thing without him realising (we know this as it’s in her beard; her breath/burps stink of poop; and there is no poop to be found in the garden). Sigh.
I know it looks like I’m only working two hours a day but that’s just for today. It’s in recognition of the fact I have to project manage the man-child to help him transition into a lockdown situation and, it transpires, become IT support for my wife. She hasn’t had to work from home like this before. Ordinarily, if she’s working from home, it’s so she has the peace and quiet required to write a paper, presentation or policy. Also, she usually has the house to herself. For the first time, she’s surrounded by other two and four-legged creatures and she’s experiencing meetings online with multiple stakeholders. She has a new found respect for making sure the background is appropriate, ensuring the cats aren’t waving their winky-arses at the others in the conference call and getting your own screen to just the right angle so your double chin isn’t suddenly a quadruple chin.
Then there’s WiFi speed, sound (she wears a hearing aid) and choosing an appropriate mug. We have lots of mugs and none of them match; each one comes with a story or was a gift.
We decided a daily schedule offers more spontaneity. The night before, we can decide what we want to do and eat. Some things are immovable (like feeding animals or attending pandemic crisis meetings) but others can be flexible.
Alongside this, we’re planning food so we eat our perishables first and take turns cooking.
Financially, this is super important. The man-child used to be fed at work for 6 dinners / lunches out of 14 and, as a vulnerable adult, the college helped fund his lunches. Also, I stopped work in February to focus on my PhD without realising that Covid-19 was going to put us all under house arrest. I’m a very poor, full-time student; any money I make from tutoring is immediately spent on doggy daycare so that I can study in peace. All of which is to say that my wife’s income is now fully supporting two other adults and four pets. And the man-child loves eating. Like other families, we are worried about money. There are no savings anymore because we used them to support the man-child’s family for years and then the man-child himself when we took responsibility for him 3 years ago. The universe played a cruel trick with that timing… I had chosen to start a Master’s degree and step away from a very well paid job. Then, boom. Just as we became a one income household, we had another human to care for.
We work month-by-mouth. We’ve cancelled any direct debits for things we no longer deem necessary (now I’m fielding phone calls all day from sales people asking if I’m sure I don’t want blah-blah-blah product support) and undertaken a full stock check of our food cupboards. My wife is naturally very worried as she is currently in her probation year for a new job: it’s a job that relies on her ability to fundraise £10m in 2020. Global pandemic: not the best context for fundraising.
For now, I’ve hidden all the Nerf guns and ammunition. Just in case.
* I recognise there are people in far worse situations than us. My anxiety is sky-high when I think about them, particularly as I don’t know how to help. These are just my ramblings about our specific situation and how we’re coping.