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Friday Feature: My New Normal

by Claire Buss

I’m feeling guilty. Everyone around me is beginning to struggle with the effects of lockdown whilst I am thriving. I feel more grounded and happier than I have for a long time and it’s quite difficult to justify that when the entire world is in pain; hence the guilt.

I think, for the most part, my life hasn’t changed that much. I’m a stay-at-home mum with a six-year-old and a two-year-old, so spending all my day attempting to entertain a small person without losing my sanity is nothing new. I also work from home and have been extremely fortunate to pick up some extra work, so I actually feel a little bit secure.

My husband is a policeman, so he is going to work as normal. The difference is that he showers the instant he returns, and we have several bottles of anti-bac spray scattered throughout the flat. The only real change is that I’m homeschooling my son and, yes, that does have its challenges. But it’s also an opportunity for me to spend lots of time with my firstborn child that I wouldn’t normally have: the chance to see the wonder of figuring something out bloom across his face and experience his excitement at getting all the answers right. I think I am going to treasure these memories and will miss him terribly when he goes back to school.

Indeed, I  admit, I’m not really looking forward to the new normal. Mostly because I have no idea what it will be like and I don’t like not knowing. I like to assess a situation, list all the possible things that could go terribly wrong, make a plan and then act. I can’t do that at the moment; none of us can. We don’t know what life will be like when lockdown is lifted.

People have demonstrated the incredible effectiveness of working from home. This raises questions on whether the polluting commute and the brain-numbing office-based 9-5 is really the best option for everyone. I truly hope that businesses become more flexible over where people can work, especially since the entire country has proven they can get the job done. Of course, there are jobs you cannot perform from home and I am by no means suggesting that people should remain locked inside their houses. I just wonder whether a new degree of flexibility will emerge.

I think about my high street, similar to so many of your own, and wonder which shops will still be there. Will that wonderful indie coffee shop still serve its delicious vegan mochas and immense vegan chocolate cake slices? What about the charity shops? With their older generation of volunteers, how will they be affected? Will they continue to take donations? Will the library be flooded with people desperate for new reading material, or will it remain empty and barren as people can’t bring themselves to leave the house? Did local business get the help they needed on their rent or mortgages? Were all the staff successfully furloughed? I hope everyone has a job to go back to, but I fear the move to online shopping so many of us have had to make will have a huge impact on chain businesses. They will have to look at the figures and if they decide it’s more cost-effective to sell their goods online with fewer overheads than a bricks-and-mortar store but still make a profit, then it’s bye-bye high street.

There have been many dire warnings of the economic fallout once lockdown lifts so I guess we have to continue to observe and wonder who will rise and who will fall. Now, more than ever is the time to go local and support the little guy, if you can. The local butcher, baker and corner shop near me have certainly seen an uplift in business and it would be nice to think that the community will continue to shop there when things go ‘back to normal’.

I heard a rumour, one of many I’m sure, that the children would be going back to school early May, because lockdown had done what it was supposed to. It had given the NHS the breathing room to get ready for the coronavirus and now it was time to return to business as usual. But hang on a minute. The virus hasn’t gone anywhere and people are still infectious and dying. There is still no cure and most of the population haven’t been tested and you want me to send my son back to school? I don’t think so!

In fact, I think sending him back to school, when the official time comes, is going to be one of the hardest things I ever do. Taking him to nursery for the first time nearly broke me. I’m a very overprotective mum who worries about everything, and at the time I was suffering from speech-robbing anxiety attacks. Sending him back to school where he will interact with so many people, quite frankly, scares me. Going back to normal scares me.

How do we put aside all the fear and the social distancing? How do we walk up our high street and pretend not to notice all the shops that are shut? How do we cope with the inevitable changes in our social circles as families are torn apart by coronavirus? How do I find the strength to send my most precious creation away? I don’t have the answers.

What I do have is the results of lockdown: weekly Skype chats with my parents, online gaming time with my friends, virtual book club meet-ups, the rediscovery of old hobbies such as puzzles and drawing and more quality time with my family. I would very much like to take those with me into the new normal.

Read Issue 4 of Write On! magazine online here.

I'm not really looking forward to the 'new normal'.