In which we venture out

We are poised on the edge.

As the world teeters between spring and summer, cloaked in lush green and bursting into flower, there is a sense that our pandemic lockdown is coming to an end. Not all at once, of course, and not anywhere close to normal, but it is happening.

Freedom: a secluded swimming hole on the River Darent, last week, just before diving in

The evidence is everywhere. Unless something changes, Joshua’s school is reopening a week from today, amidst a storm of controversy about whether it is too soon. After a relaxation in lockdown rules, our local parks are filling up with sunbathers and barbecues, while the tennis courts are suddenly humming with players. Our own family ventured to the seaside yesterday — albeit at the obscenely early time of 8 AM, which allowed us to enjoy the vast stretch of low-tide Joss Bay sands with dozens of meters between us and the other sporadic early-bird groups brave enough to confront the chilly winds and frigid surf. And although the university labs remain closed, a plan is being put into place for a phased re-opening soon. The Royal Free Hospital, where my team is based, endured a large burden of COVID-19 patients, with a significant part of the building converted into make-shift intensive care units, including the floor where my lab is situated. So it’s a logistical health-and-safety nightmare aside from the social distancing we’ll need to practice.

There are many things about lockdown that are negative, but I am not looking forward to resuming the daily commute by train and Tube, a long-winded and stressful inconvenience I used to take for granted that now seems faintly ridiculous in the era of breezy Zoom calls. And I will genuinely miss the privilege of getting to spend so much time with Joshua as his teacher. He is such a clever and obliging little boy. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, and work commitments have meant I’ve had to outsource some of it to online resources such as The Khan Academy and BBC Bitesize, subscription kits like Toucanbox and Kiwi Crate, and the wonderful kids magazine Whizz Pop Bang. But by and large over the last ten weeks we have stuck to a loose schedule that includes English, mathematics, art, science and PE, and almost without me realising it, we have filled a scrapbook, and various Key Stage 1 workbooks, with the evidence of his learning. I hope when he returns, he will be perceived as being on track. All this, and still, somehow, I’ve stayed on top of my own work too.

Learning about our garden herbs

Although the experiments have been fun — gelatine-based microbiology, nature walks to collect specimens, parachutes from plastic bags, adventures with surface tension and water pressure, considering rudimentary hypotheses and controls — I think I have honestly enjoyed the art more. As the daughter of artists, growing up in a messy house surrounded by student portfolios that my father was grading, or of my parents own works, I love to draw but rarely indulge in the hobby these days. So it’s been good to incorporate this activity into the fabric of the everyday by sharing it with my son, just like my mother used to do art projects with me.

Chemistry time with Dad

I like to think that some of the nicer lockdown traditions will stay with us, but in my heart I know it cannot last. In the frantic resumption of the long commute, which eats up hours and spits out exhaustion at day’s end, our post-dinner dances and walks, art projects and story-writing, all will slip away, like spring into summer.

So for now, I’m going to soak in every last minute of precious time while it lasts, this preternatural pause-button couple of months that taught me the true meaning of “work-life balance”.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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