This has been the longest January in recorded history. The month began about ten years ago, as I watched as Big Ben ominously ticked down the seconds to 2021 with my wife and our two oldest kids. Instead of our usual cheerful New Year’s gathering of friends and family, it was just the four of us this year, as the two smaller kids were in bed.
2021 arrived with an uneasy sense of trepidation, rather than cheer, all across our plague-ridden and confused world. I didn’t even toast the new year with a glass of wine, for perhaps the first time since I was a teenager. 2021 didn’t seem like a year to celebrate, but one best faced with a clear mind.
Like the rest of the country, we’ve been locked down at home since Christmas. I’m perpetually in the company of the usual crew: four kids, two dogs, two cats, a mother-in-law and a wife. Fortunately, I like my shipmates. A winter lockdown is a lot like being at sea for weeks on end, confined in close quarters with the same few people. We’re making the most of things as this strange voyage continues towards an unknown destination. At least we have the hope of arriving in sunnier shores some time latest this year, as the vaccines roll out.
My wife is a frontline healthcare worker and so she got her jab a couple of weeks ago. As someone with budding immunity to the coronavirus, she now is tasked with most of the trips to the supermarket, depriving me of some of my most exciting outings of the week. Cases have exploded in our area, so it pays to be careful at this time.
Cork University Hospital is struggling badly with a surge in cases. Amid that chaos, my poor mother had to be admitted suddenly ahead of an operation. Now that she’s in, nobody can visit her – not even my father who had to say goodbye at the door. It’s terrible being unable to visit and comfort her, and to just pass the time together. This year, her birthday was spent alone, confined to a hospital bed. We did all we could to make it cheerful from a distance. The kids made happy paintings for her, and wrote cards for her, but there’s no substitute for being there.
Thankfully, the government lets frontline healthcare workers use childcare, even though the schools are closed. This means the two smallest kids get to go to their childminder’s house when my wife’s at work. It’s a welcome change of scenery for them, and a strange peace descends on the house in their absence. I can work with fewer interruptions and the older kids get to concentrate on their schoolwork without a toddler’s polyphonic orchestra going on around the house. She seems to think that everything is a drum at the moment. For a couple of days, the ice was so bad we couldn’t transport the smallies along the country lanes to their childminder. It was interesting, to say the least, trying to schedule work calls around naps and tantrums.
We’re all muddling through this latest lockdown as best we can. It seems unlikely that the schools will be open for a while yet, so the kids are stuck with the strange dislocation of online learning. They do get quite a lot of schoolwork done though, and they can send messages to their friends in their class to keep in touch. With the winter weather and the early nights, there is not much to do after school, except play with their siblings or the dogs. Sometimes, the weather is kind enough to let them have a run in the woods or in the fields. They have embraced reading, making models, painting, chess and other indoor activities. We often do family movie nights, complete with popcorn. Even in this longest January, there is comfort to be found.