Juggling a newborn, a toddler and a daughter with special needs in lockdown

Almost three months in, we are settled into a routine and surviving

'Our baby must receive the care he deserves, in a climate of comforting cuddles and unruffled voices.' Photograph: iStock

'Our baby must receive the care he deserves, in a climate of comforting cuddles and unruffled voices.' Photograph: iStock

 

Our son was born on March 3rd. The following week, our two daughters were brought to school each day by their dad while I stayed in bed recovering, feeding the baby, examining his tiny features for likenesses and savouring that fleeting newborn whiff from his warm silky head. The girls arrived home in the afternoons, and then it was chaos.

My phone was growing restless with messages from family and friends, predicting an inevitable that would affect many of us. Schools would be closing for an uncertain length of time, and we would be educating our children at home.

Our family has experienced an element of social isolation for years. Daughter One has special needs, and her sensory processing brings on anxiety and an inability to wait in line, or for service. We have to keep moving.

Unless it’s an extended family occasion, as a family unit we avoid hotels, restaurants, cafes, theatres and cinemas. Instead we’re drawn to parks, forest trails and the seaside, or sometimes just a long drive; activities that are free of social expectations.

Until Covid-19, Daughter One attended a caring mainstream school with a wonderful special needs assistant by her side. In the mornings, as she walked the 10 minutes to school, overtaking motorists stuck on pause, her smile didn’t relent. She had a great day in store, whereas for the rest of us it might go either way.

Her school hours were packed with resource sessions made fun, visits to the sensory room, choosing a new book from the library, art projects, yard time with her friends, and her greatest love, music. We couldn’t compete.

We dreaded the approach of school holidays like an impending root canal, fearing a reversal of her hard earned progress. How would we fill her days? We searched web forums for home tutors, for special needs camps with an available space, for a swimming coach to give private lessons. Sometimes we got lucky, other times we frittered banknotes into the wind.

Until March, staying at home all day was not an option. Suddenly, it became the only one that was immune to Covid-19.

John, my husband, was already working from home, and he was busier than ever. It fell to me to carry on where school had left off with Daughter One, and to keep our energetic and tantrum prone toddler, Daughter Two, entertained, all while nursing our newborn who had barely opened his eyes.

It wasn’t manageable, and after a few days, John and his laptop relocated from the attic to the kitchen table. Our baby must receive the care he deserves, in a climate of comforting cuddles and unruffled voices.

Ardent plans

My role as Daughter One’s teacher kicked off with ardent plans. I prepared a to-do list the night before, ticking off the exercises as we covered them. Some remained unticked, and then my feelings of failure crept in. Daughter Two joined our work table, pulling up a chair to take part and learning at a faster pace. Daughter One got frustrated and lost her focus shortly before her temper.

Negotiations were entered into with Daughter Two and an agreement was finally reached; 10 minutes of Peppa Pig in exchange for mummy and her sister having 10 peaceful minutes in the kitchen. Daughter One wanted to watch Peppa too and there were tears. It couldn’t go on.

Almost three months into lockdown, we are settled into a routine and surviving. Daughter One sits at her table for 30 minutes most mornings, trying hard and still making progress. Daughter Two has learned to watch her sister work from the sidelines; she enjoys puzzles and books and helping with her new brother. Our baby is feeding and sleeping well. He’s outgrowing another multipack of sleepsuits and charms us with generous smiles.

The happiest time of the day is kicking a ball with the girls in the garden. It’s free, it’s simple, it’s old school, but to them and to us it never gets old.

John is working and we’re a strong family muddling through the unexpected. I’m thankful for our small garden, once in overgrown neglect, now in regular use with a balding lawn. For the continued communication with our daughter’s SNA. For the Best of Sesame Street DVD that we pulled from a storage box in its wrapper.

And I’m thankful for the newfound faith we have in ourselves; it’s crucial and it’s growing in centimetres, like the children we love.

To reflect the many ways life has changed in Ireland by the coronavirus outbreak, The Irish Times is inviting readers to share their Covid Stories. You can submit yours here

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