Alex is a mother to two children under six, living in Barcelona. They have no balcony or garden. This week, as restrictions were lifted, they were allowed outside for an hour, for the first time in nearly two months.
In the land of lockdown, the man with a lock on his bathroom is king. “When this is all over” I tell my husband “we will getting childproof locks installed in each of our bathrooms”. Sadly we are not DIY people so trying to do this now, ourselves, would only end in disaster. It’s one of the many things we have come to terms with during lockdown.
We are not the family doing home improvements or parents building cardboard play castles for our children. We will not mount the yoga trapeze I have had lying around for months, regardless of how ideal it would be to have up now.
It took multiple childhood psychologists to explain our government the extremely negative impact the lack of fresh air and exercise has on children and young people
I imagine that many people and families are being given the same unrequested insight into their strengths and weaknesses. In this context, comparisons are killer. We are doing the best we can. Our friends check in regularly and commiserate with us on our lack of garden or terrace space for the children. But we have proven ourselves to be resilient and have become, dare I say it, quite the experts in turning to our extensive children’s library, superior puzzle building skills and YouTube-worthy dance-off’s. Not to mention body painting, which is better left to the wild imagination.
We have these opportunities to play purely because I am not working and am able to dedicate my time fully to the children. My heart, in turn, goes out to our many family friends where both parents both work full-time and have one or more children needing attention at home. I can only imagine how they are coping, with or without access to a terrace or garden.
As of three days ago, after 48 days of confinement, my children have been allowed to go outside wearing masks, for 1 hour per day and within a 1km radius of home. It took multiple childhood psychologists to explain our government the extremely negative impact the lack of fresh air and exercise has on children and young people. Increased agitation, clinginess, aggression, and depression. Lack of creativity and dependence on screens. Lack of appetite. Unhealthy weight gain. Sleep problems. Regressions to infantile behavior.
We have seen these first hand. Our excellent sleepers became more and more lethargic throughout the day but aggressively fought nap times and bedtime. They woke during the night and much earlier in the morning, tired and tearful. Happily, these behaviours seem to be self-regulating with our time outside.
During our time outside, we adhere to the rules strictly. It's not the time to be a rule breaker. Going out has released a rollercoaster of pent up emotions. The girls can't wait to go out and spend all day asking about when we will go out, but cry putting their shoes on and scream because their sock doesn’t fit right.
They both, at the same time, lay down and rolled in the grass. It was both sweet and heartbreaking.
Today my 2-year-old made me promise that when the Corona (virus) goes away, we will go to the park, the pool, their climbing class and visit their Grandparents. My 4-year-old and I discussed, whilst drawing on the pavement with chalk, what we would say the Corona Virus if it was a person and what it would be called. It would be called "f**k’s sake CaCa" and we would tell it to go away and stop annoying us.
Children are not the enemy
Both girls gravitate to the small areas of green that they can find. They both, at the same time, lay down and rolled in the grass. It was both sweet and heartbreaking. Then an elderly man came along and let his two dogs defecate in the same patch of grass. We live in a city of streets and squares with plenty of alternative spaces for dogs to do their business.
Later, on the walk home, my 4-year-old ran up the street and up to a group of an older woman and her older teenage children - none of whom where masked, unlike my 4-year-old - who then began to Tutt and huff and audibly “under-her-breath” complain about small children and irresponsibility. I don’t understand this lack of empathy for children and their parents who have been in quarantine without touching a living tree or blade of grass for close to 2 months. They need, more than anyone else, whatever greenery and empathy that is available to them.
Let’s act in such a way that we can, individually and collectively, leave the current situation feeling proud
Children are not the enemy. They are small people with limited impulse control who are responding, for the most part, in a fantastically mature way to impossibly hard and distressing circumstances. The current situation is happening to them, not because of them.
Let’s all be a bit kinder. A bit more patient. Have a little more empathy. As the stringency of our lockdown relaxes, it's important to be able to trust that your neighbour and all of our neighbours are making decisions based on the greater good and best long term outcome. Let’s act in such a way that we can, individually and collectively, leave the current situation feeling proud of how we acted and prouder of how we supported each other.
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