I’m beginning to think there should’ve been an additional clause in our marriage vows. As we stood ‘On Top of The Rock,’ gazing down at New York City, picturing our life together – did we really contemplate the potential of being with each other, 24/7 for upwards of twelve weeks? If we had, would we still have said I do?
Of course I love Christopher with all my heart. He’s the yin to my yang. He’s my rock and my balance. But put any couple in close quarters for an extended period of time and I can almost guarantee, there will be challenges.
It’s not like, prior to the UK Coronavirus Lockdown, I went out an awful lot. A couple of times a month I’d meet up with friends for drinks or dinner but most evening you’d find us in front of an episode of ‘Escape to the Country’, with a cornetto, a cuppa and then in bed by 9pm. Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants lifestyle hey. Friday night’s we might go wild and watch a movie. Yep – up til 10:30pm. Rock. And. Roll.
But there was always an element of time apart. For nine hours a day he would be at work and I would carry out my day-job: Harry wrangling. As with any job, there are good days and bad, but me and my mini-me had our routines and our way of dealing with toddler road-bumps. Christopher had his podcast time to and from work on the tube, he had his morning coffee and pastry with colleagues and he wrestled with the intricacies of investment banking – without, may I add, any interruptions from me. We would then look forward to our family time in the evening to catch up on our respective days.
More importantly we had glorious time to ourselves. I had my ‘freedom fridays’ where Harry got to hang with other little dudes at nursery and I got to spend eight hours doing as I pleased. This was pay off for hubby’s golf time at the weekends. Saturday and Sunday mornings were family time and afternoons he would attack 18 holes with the vigour of a man on a Tiger Woods mission.
It feels so strange talking about our lifestyle and routines in the past tense. Since I got a bug (not THE bug) three weeks ago, Hubby had to give the course a miss and again the following weekend due to self-isolation as a result of Harry’s symptoms. Life as we knew it has now been frozen in time. Sadly, Mr Unyoung’s ardour for the golf course has not. Nor has my penchant for alone time.
So here we have our biggest challenges as a couple. Lack of golf. Lack of time to ourselves. And the whole ‘ bring your husband to work’ experience. Which is essentially what it is. Yes, he has a vested interest in my line of business – being part of our parenting unit – but it’s like having a government inspector loitering around, critiquing your mum style and decision-making each and every day. Even OFSTED didn’t stay in my classroom for more than twenty minutes!
Don’t get me wrong. These ‘challenges’ are nothing in comparison to lack of ventilators, lack of healthy staff and lack of protective equipment – those are real issues that make me shudder to my core. My post is not intended to minimise the risks key workers are taking daily to ensure that we are able to be in the situation where we can self-isolate. Their challenges are real and potentially life-threatening; for their bravery I am truly thankful. But within our little bubble, where Chris can thankfully work from home for the foreseeable future, we are required to make some major adjustments to our dynamic. For many I imagine it’s a similar scenario so here is my light-hearted take on our additional vow.
First we revisit the age-old parent altercation on equity. Who has the most time out? We need to continue to pay a mortgage. Chris needs to continue to work. But when I am building my forty-fifth tower of the day and desperately scrabbling around for junk modelling materials to craft a puppet-theatre at the request of my captive mini-boss, what is happening behind the doors to the home-office?
I have found myself creeping up on the office chair to take a peek at the screen of his mobile in hand. Are you actively advising investors or are you back on direct golf.co.uk lining up your next spend? When you take calls upstairs and it goes quiet, are you having ten minutes of shut eye or furiously financing?
Conversely, if I am having a sit down whilst little man entertains himself, it doesn’t not go without comment that “mummy’s on her phone again Wriggles. Is she ignoring you?” It is noted down if I go over my allotted ablution slot, even by five minutes. “oh, mummy has had 35 minutes to herself.” Why do we do that – tell the child to passively aggressively make our point rather than comment directly to each other? Like Harry gives a damn – he’s watching his fifteenth episode of Paw Patrol; as long as someone is feeding him snacks, he’s happy.
As we enter our third week of self-isolation we are beginning to find a bit of a balance… dare I say it – routine. I get up with the Wrigglato at 6ish. I then have an hour from about 7:30 to do some exercise, shower and all that jazz. At 10ish Chris goes to putt some balls in his golf den. We meet for a kitkat mid-morning and then reconvene at lunchtime, after which the little person naps and we both get some time to ourselves. God forbid we spent that time together! The afternoon is then mine to entertain the caged toddler till time for dinner. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat…
I’m still convinced he’s on Twitter for half the day with his feet up but as long as the wages come in to keep me in Amazon deliveries, oh, and a home – I guess that equity.
How many times have I asked you?
The second of our disputes is centred on ‘the nag’. What are those little things, those inconsequential things, that in the grand scheme of things are mere blips but on a daily basis drive you to insanity and beyond? Toothpaste blobs left in the basin? Trainers left wherever they are kicked off? Leaving lights on when not in the room? I will admit, I do leave drawers open. I’m a whirlwind and as a female try to do seven jobs for the price of one. You will never see me mount the stairs without a pile of things in my hand. Sometimes draw closing is secondary to putting washing away, carrying eight toys, picking up the cat hair and making the beds. But I do try to change.
Pre-isolation, the house was to my liking Monday-Friday, 8am-6pm. Now… now I’m twitching, and yelling and on occasion growling at the little things that have begun to explode in to gigantic big things in their frequency. I’m not proud to say that I roared “you are taking the p*ss” yesterday. Having just stacked and run the dishwasher, I found a plate and a crusty smoothie pint glass sitting… on the treadmill. To my embarrassment, Harry echoed my expletives back in just the right tone. Time for Mama Potty Mouth to take a rinse. But well done little man for backing up yo mamma in incredulity.
It’s now become a battleground. We both look for a comeback when we know we are in the wrong. I berate him for not using the loo-brush and he comes back with a swift ‘you didn’t rinse the plate before you put it in the dishwasher.’ It’s like nag tennis. I am clearly the John McEnroe. And I will not go down without a fight. And as I’m the only one who cleans the dishwasher… I win.
I’d never really noticed how much my husband ate before house-arrest. I knew he was partial to a double sandwich from Pret (notice the difference in metabolism – just one sandwich and I bloat like a dead fish) but I didn’t appreciate the extent of his grazing. Now we are limited in resources and the capacity to replenish, I am tempted to put the cupboards under lock and key.
What we need to get straight is some rules around stock rotation. Here’s one for you. There are two bottles of milk. One is open. One has not yet had its seal broken. You want cereal. Which one do you take? The correct answer of course is: the open one FFS! Why would you, when we have a couple of cartons of UHT as fallback, not use the one that is nearing the end of its shelf life first? Why! Ohhhhhh… because you like fresh milk. NONE OF IT WILL BE FRESH WHEN WE HAVE NONE!
Do I start serving equitable portions? Do I limit him to one sandwich instead of two at lunch? Do I make him lick up the crumbs he leaves on the side after I’ve just wiped down to ensure he’s full?
Then there’s the chocolate rations. I never have the stuff in the house. I can’t. I’m a secret eater. I’d polish of a pack of mars bars just to make them gone. But not we’ve got in to a habit of elevenses with a kitkat because Mr 0% body fat (or something ridiculously low) can afford to munch mars bars till the cows come home. There’s only one winner in this – it’s not my bikini bod that’s for sure! But they are so good – and bring me joy on these long days. Darn you and your enticing ways Mr Hollow Legs.
Despite the niggles, and the nags and the naughty words uttered, I have to say I am quite proud of us. We’ve done ‘In Sickness’. Yep – I’ve rubbed his back and he’s been at my ibruprofen beck and paracetamol call. We’ve done ‘In Health.’ Although he’s picked up every bug going since Harry (spot the one who hasn’t got the immune system of an ox after twenty years in education), we have had periods of health and wellbeing. Tick.
But I have to say, despite the close quarters and the lack of escape, despite the pressures of a trapped toddler and the negative news, we have begun to adjust to “In Isolation” as a real team. I’m proud of us. I’m proud of the thousands of people who are allowing us to stay safe and stay home. If I had to be quarantined with someone, I’m glad it’s you. I’m glad it’s us. Thank you for still being my rock. Just please use the open milk.
What have been your biggest challenges of isolation? Who are you most proud of throughout this life-altering time? Who would you like to say thank you to? Stay safe and stay home!
Written by Karen Legge for her blog, The Unyoung Mum. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.