There are good days and bad days: social distancing when there's just 2 of you

Liadan Hynes on the realities of life as a single parent in Ireland. This article was originally published in March 2020. How times have changed. 


A friend spoke to a friend living in Italy who has three children. Yes, a friend of a friend. This is where we are. Still much better than the WhatsApp messages from anonymous doctors all over the country we’re being bombarded with.

This Italian friend, who had of course been in lockdown for several weeks now, reported back that the first 10 days are the worst. Then a weird sort of normality kicks in. On some level, you accept your new lot.

A new normal

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I wouldn’t say that the last week has felt normal in any way. But definitely different than the first week. The first week felt like grief. There was lots of crying out of nowhere. I like to go to the kitchen, said a friend. Oh me too, I told her, that’s my favourite spot. Those waves, out of nowhere, I can’t believe this is happening to us.

This week felt more leaden. I wake one morning to find my neck frozen, I cannot move my head from side to side. Oh, that’s where the stress is going, I think. Friends talk of migraines and nose bleeds.

I read something about people out walking, what are appropriate distances between family members. A description of a family of five; when a stranger approaches the father shouts 'bubble', and they all snap into a tight formation. It’s strange to be in a bubble of just two. This is our basic unit, but also our basic unit is made up of people we cannot get to now. Not everyone who makes up your home necessarily lives under the same roof.

Our new routine

As the days go on, we have no routine that would be discernible to the eyes of others, but we do begin to scratch out little habits that help to prop us up. A bedtime call to her grandfather for a story. Elevenses – cake, with tea for me, milk for her. Yoga in our adjoining bedrooms, hers Cosmic, mine Adriene. The 'spider playing violin with his leg' yoga move is a social isolation high point.

My best friend had a baby, I haven’t seen her in weeks as she was already essentially self-isolating before this, strapped beneath a breastfeeding child. I haven’t held him yet, and it feels odd, to not have yet touched a person of whose existence you were one of the first to know. My daughter calls her boys to chat, they blow her kisses and I want to smoosh their rosy cheeks.

We take to going for walks to the park, the days we don’t are regrettable. One day on a raised bank of daffodils we spot a succulent, surrounded by what looks like an intentional arrangement of stones. A fairy park, the daughter exclaims. Each day we return to redecorate, adding, tidying. We collect twigs and make a campfire. We bring shells from home, my daughter builds a slide. "Fairy Center Parcs," she shouts. One day when we arrive, someone (the fairies, we decide), has arranged bunches of twigs and flowers in rows in front of our park. It feels like a message from the outside world.

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After the fairy park, we always go to the rolling hill, where my daughter rolls down the hill screaming with laughter.

One day, we see a mother and a child from her school. They’re wrangling over cycling. "Bad day," she says. "That was us yesterday," I say, and there’s a smile of solidarity.

It’s hard to find a way to stop your child going near other people without also feeling like you’re imprinting something that might cause lasting damage. "Don’t touch anyone. Keep your distance, don’t go too far," I shout, as she flies down the hill on her scooter.

She’s training me to run 5 km, we’ve decided. I’m not sure she knows exactly what that means, beyond she scoots beside me, shouting, veering between encouragement and haranguing. "Come on Mommy, you can do it. Faster, faster."

Liadan Hynes’s first book, How to Fall Apart, Things I’ve Learned About Losing and Finding Love, is out on May 7. Pre-order now.

Photo: Gustavo Fring from Pexels


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