Lockdown was hard, but it kept us closer to each other than we’ve ever been

There is nothing we wouldn’t do for our children, but there are some things we just can’t do

Darragh and his son are finding their rhythm again after the first lockdown and it’s getting easier

Darragh and his son are finding their rhythm again after the first lockdown and it’s getting easier

 

There is a scene in My Left Foot where Brenda Fricker says, “You have me heart broken, Christy Brown. Sometimes I think you are me heart.”

When I first saw the film about 15 years ago, I didn’t know what it meant. I remembered that line, but not the one that came after: “If I could give you my legs, I would gladly take yours.”

The whole film is a celebration of a mother’s bottomless and unconditional love for her son, but, in that scene, in the space of about 10 seconds, Fricker beautifully and tenderly captures the universal anxiety of parents everywhere. There is nothing we wouldn’t do for our children, but there are some things we just can’t do.

I feel like I’m tethered to my son by an invisible rope tied around my chest. The further he is from me, the tighter it gets.

If he isn’t beside me, I can’t keep him safe.

On a crisp winter day he looks so big as we walk to Montessori. He feels so suddenly heavy when I pick him up.

It is often my favourite part of the day, these walks to school. We talk as his baby sister sleeps in the buggy. Sometimes it’s hard to push with one hand, but holding hands with my son as we walk and talk brings me a pure and uncomplicated joy.

There’s no way I’m letting go.

We crunch our way through dried leaves. He tells me why you can’t keep birds as pets (they like being in nature too much).

After weeks of checking for Halloween decorations, we now check every house we pass for signs of Christmas. It always makes me laugh to think how much he loves Halloween. Even before he knew what it was, he was spellbound by the pumpkins and skeletons hanging from neighbouring doorways. This year the first “is it nearly Halloween?” was in July.

He found it difficult to go back to Montessori after lockdown. He cried and pleaded not to go in, so a lot of days he didn’t. We’re finding our rhythm again, though. It’s getting easier.

When I drop him off, his teacher brings him to the front window to wave at me. That last wave puts him at ease. It lets him know that I’ll be here waiting, ready to pick him up in a few hours. I think the teacher knows those waves are as much for my benefit as his.

On one of those early days after lockdown, I was on my knees trying to comfort him by the front gate. He was distraught. When I asked him why he didn’t want to go in, he said between hiccupping sobs: “Because you keep leaving me.”

My heart cracked open.

It was the separation, not the school causing him all this anguish.

How could we expect him to act any other way? Since March, we have been like a family of hibernating bears, huddling in our cosy little isolated cave. We have spent every waking minute right beside each other. We have always been together. In four years, I’ve spent two nights away from him. If there’s a separation anxiety, it goes both ways.

The day after our son was born, as we marvelled and stared doe-eyed at his soft eggy head, he was taken away from us. The doctors noticed something that alarmed them enough to whisk him immediately by ambulance to a hospital the other side of the city. Due to some incomprehensible bureaucratic red-tape, neither parent was allowed travel with him. He went alone. It was the first time I felt that invisible rope tighten around my chest.

That night we watched him sleep, sealed from us in an intensive care incubation bed. We knew he would be okay. We didn’t know, but we knew.

It turned out to be a false alarm; he was completely fine. The rope slackened.

I’m not an overly-protective parent, but it’s not easy. As we walk to school and I struggle to push his little sister in the buggy, I don’t want to let go of his hand. I never want to let go. But I do, and we hug, and he waves from the window.

I don’t know what has come over me. He’s only four.

Lockdown was hard, but it kept us closer to each other than we’ve ever been. Sometimes it feels like the world outside is burning, and we’re safe and warm in our little bubble.

He’s growing up. Soon we won’t be his entire world anymore. He’ll make friends and have sleepovers. One day he won’t want to hold my hand on the way to school.

But for now he does, and for as long as he does, I’ll hold it.

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