‘I thought it was going to be like Little House on the Prairie. You know, rolling around in hills all day frolicking and baking. Actually it was nothing like that at all.’
Vic is sat outside, making the most of a warm June evening in the UK.
‘I think I was a little bit unrealistic in my expectations of how much time we’d have. Like a lot of people in the UK I foresaw this was going to happen, and absolutely blitzed B&Q, buying wallpaper and paint for every room,’ she pauses, and sighs. ‘I’ve done one room. I like the idea of painting. Until it actually comes to doing the painting. I get bored really easily. It’ll be easier to do when everyone’s out the way, I think that’s part of the issue. Kids want to help, and it’s not that easy when they’re ‘helping’.’
Vic has four daughters, Maizie (16), Elsie (13), Dorothy (11) and Nellie (8), so the first two weeks was spent trying to find some sort of routine for them all. ‘I’m not a natural worrier, in fact if anything I’m too far the other way, but I do like things to be quite ‘right’. The fact I haven’t been able to structure it like that actually hasn’t bothered me. In fact, I’ve quite liked that we can just do stuff.’ She whispers: ‘I’ve just been winging it.’
‘Maizie is no problem whatsoever and, like a typical teenager, spends most of her time in her room. Elsie is at that emotional stage where life is so awful. Dots is autistic and struggles with unstructured nothingness. Nellie’s wired and cannot sit still.’
Maizie was due to take her GCSE’s this year. She’s likely to get better grades, but was disappointed to miss out on the exam practice for A levels. Dorothy was moving up from primary to secondary school and has missed the whole transition. Vic says: ‘She was worried anyway about starting a new school but this means she won’t get any of the supported transition, like taster days.’
Vic has found it hard to home school the children. She says: ‘One thing I’ve definitely learnt is that my kids are good at life skills, I’ve taught them those well, but I can’t educate them academically. I’ve taught other people’s kids, I’ve worked in schools, but I am not my children’s teacher. It’s a different kind of respect and we get frustrated with each other; they just don’t see home as a learning environment.’
She decided to focus on English, Maths, Science and Reading. She says: ‘If anything else gets done it’s a bonus. Today we’ve been doing fronted adverbials. What else? Oh, subordinate clauses. Loads of different things.’ We laugh about how schools teach thing differently now. ‘We use them [fronted adverbials], we just don’t name them.’
Nellie loves gymnastics and anything active, and has taken Vic along for the ride. Literally. ‘I can now do a handstand, and the splits. I’m never going to use this in real life.’ She smiles, and says: ‘I haven’t painted my house, but I can do a handstand.’
It’s brought the family closer together. Vic’s wife H has been spending less time at work as she’s been working from home, and they’ve been able to say yes more to the kids because they’ve had the time. Vic says: ‘It’s a bit boring at times, because it’s kids stuff, but they enjoy it. Random silly stuff is fun.’ They have something called a Weekend Jar, from before lockdown, which is filled with 50% stay at home activities and 50% things to go and do as a family. Vic says: ‘Maybe we should have a stay at home yes day in the jar’.
Vic lives in a house with a few living areas, so they can spread out, but she’s ended up sat in the car a few times, hiding to do Zoom calls and take a break. She says: ‘The kids are very independent, and can do things like cooking and cleaning and such, but fuck me they’re needy in a chatty sense. I can’t just sit; they want to come and chat, about inane crap usually. I went out the other day, just to the shop, and when I came back I shouted ‘I’m home, I’m just going to nip into the garage’ and two seconds later I can hear ‘Mummy, Mummy, MUMMY!’. I’m thinking for fucks sake, I’ve JUST got home. A child follows me in and says ‘MUMMY you HAVE to see my picture’. I say, can it not wait two minutes?’ She shakes her head. ‘No. Apparently it can not.’ She laughs and says, ‘I am missing contact with different people who don’t live in my house.’
I ask Vic what she’s done for herself, and she says: ‘I’ve spent a lot of time outside, and done a lot of gardening. I’ve put fairy lights up,’ she pauses to show me them on the screen, ‘and grown a lot of vegetables, managing not to kill them because I’ve had time to tend to them. I’ve watched and listened to a lot of true crime stuff in the evenings and caught up on crap TV, which I don’t normally have time to do.’
‘If this were all happening again, I wouldn’t have any expectations at all, about anything or anyone. We’re in a really fortunate situation and I’d like to look back and think for 90% of it was happy memories, rather than stressful. We’ve all had to live together, without anywhere really to go, and be a bit more respectful of each others space. We’ve all helped each other out.’
‘There is one thing though,’ she leans forward to the screen and her eyes widen, ‘I’ve just wanted a nice flat white for fucking eleven weeks. Still not got one.’