As soon as I pressed 'send' on my last column - you know, the one where I focused on the positives including how much money we were going to save - I got a pay cut and half of my team furloughed.
Last week I went into the office at 6am - my husband and I continue to do shift work - and at 9am I had a message from my sister. She’s one of these people we can only dream of being. Furloughed, at home with her new boyfriend. It said (and I quote) 'If you’re on Instagram go to label.lady.1 and watch the live video from today. Her daughter did a presentation of how to make dresses for Barbie from lonely socks.'
Now. I chose not to reply to this message. When this is over I will still have to see her at Christmas and so on and anyway I’m not a fan of bad language. LONELY SOCKS? I have so many odd socks in a bag in my utility room that I can assure you they are not lonely in the slightest.
I had woken up that morning to hairs being pulled out of my arm by Deceptively Angelic Child 1 (DALC1) brandishing a pair of tweezers, demanding I use said tweezers to remove a splinter from her ankle. Now firstly, no one gets a splinter in their ankle. It is not a splintery place. Secondly, no one gets a splinter during the night, not in a John Lewis bed anyway. Thirdly, I just know she didn’t have a splinter. But there I was, pretending to remove an imaginary splinter with bleary eyes in the half darkness with much more than a day’s work to do.
Every time I go into the office, everything is in a muddle. Secretaries have printed from home, but as we all know typing is only a small part of their job and gathering the enclosures, photocopying the enclosures, filing the copies, binding the documents, even putting the letters in envelopes and franking them can’t be done at home. Incoming post is everywhere, some has been scanned to me at home and some hasn’t, depending on who has been in the office in the days before me. Half our IT equipment is at home, and my dictaphone never works when I first plug it in a different computer. Our IT team never phone me back, because they have too much to do.
It has been made very clear that, even with the furloughing and the pay cuts, we need to be as productive as ever to keep the cash flowing.
The shifts are hard going. For us to both get a day’s work in, one at a time whilst the other looks after the children, we have to start early and finish late. The person who has been up at the crack of dawn to work then has to look after the children right through the afternoon, through dinner time and through Bedtime Hell.
How I am running my cases has changed- not just in the obvious way of working at home and trying to use IT better, but in making arrangements for signing wills, in deciding whether or not properties are going to be sold, and whether mediations and court hearings are going to go ahead. Essentially, every client wishes to speak to me.
Despite working until I am exhausted, my recorded time is about half of what it usually is, as I take calls from secretaries whose foot pedals won’t work, read umpteen emails from IT/HR/Marketing about various arrangements and phone each member of my team every day to check they are OK (especially the ones who live alone).
Although the Easter holidays have been a welcome break from homeschooling, the start of the summer term is looming and again I will be trying to get my kids to listen to me in the way they listen to their teachers. I wish their teachers knew that these extremely conscientious kids just say 'no' when their mum or dad asks them to do some reading or maths. They wouldn’t believe me.
I no longer have a cleaner, but I have even less time to clean than before. The washing of clothes, constant cooking and washing up is about all I manage. My guilt levels are through the roof as I read about how clean my house should be to protect from coronavirus, and note that I have literally never cleaned my doorknobs.
All sorts of people have been, quite rightly, catered for during this crisis. My in-laws, who are vulnerable, were sent a food parcel from the council. Carers are given a special time to shop. Employees who can’t do their jobs will get paid under the furlough scheme.
Some days, though, it just feels like parents with children have been forgotten by the system. We have so long-since been conditioned to say 'of course we can work whilst being parents, this will not affect my productivity at all' that we are still saying that, getting more and more exhausted as the days go on. There will be many homes (not mine) where the homeschooling and caring falls disproportionately on one parent too.
What if, for example, one of the government guidelines was that parents of school-aged children should work half their usual hours? School-aged and younger of course- imagine trying to work from home with babies and toddlers for goodness’ sake. I walked out of the room once when DALC2 was three and when I walked back in thirty seconds later she was lighting matches and throwing them on the carpet.
We may have understanding employers but we did not sign up for this. We would never have taken these jobs if we knew there would be no schools, nurseries or grandparents to take the load whilst we worked. Yes, there are online resources for lesson planning (if I have been sent details of one website I have been sent fifty), but I haven’t got time or energy to look at them, and my kids are not really interested in even more screen time. It is only fair that they have proper interaction with an adult- in the windows of time when that adult is not already busy making meals, hanging out washing and so on.
My mum has always drummed into me that you can keep on doing something hard if you know it is temporary. You can cope with morning sickness if you know it can only last a maximum of nine months. You can cope with exam stress if you know the date of your final exam. And this is temporary. If you are in a similar situation, don’t give yourself a hard time. Just survive and do the best you can. It is easy to say, but your kids’ wellbeing is actually more important than your job. Yes, in reality, your kids’ wellbeing will be adversely affected if you lose your job, and people at work are relying on you. But, as ever, it is a balancing act. Eat well, sleep well (if you can) and keep at it for a bit longer.
Remember these are extraordinary times, and by working whilst also looking after your children you are being asked to do something no one else has ever been asked to do before. Don’t pay any attention to the performance parenting I am sure will be going on at the moment on Facebook, and don’t worry about your lonely socks.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.