Coronavirus: How to succeed at failing at lockdown

Dust everywhere, clothes are crumpled, the dishes keep coming and the cat judges me silently from the windowsill

Let me tell you about the many ways in which I will fail today. There will probably be some I miss, but I can keep those in reserve for when I wake up at 4.30am – tonight, or tomorrow, or the night after that. Life in my failure-ridden lockdownville does not lend itself to feeling well rested.

Once the latest sleep failure is out of the way, I can apply myself to achieving a few D grades in home-schooling – the great Covid-19 experiment that appears to produce positive results for only the very few (hands up, anybody?)

Teachers have become the foreign correspondents of the education world – diligently working hard from their kitchen tables without full access to their organisation’s resources, and with only a very limited sense of their efforts being valued.

I’ll go out on a limb here and give them an A for effort, but I won’t be asking them what they might give me, I mean my children. Let’s just say we have ability, but our work doesn’t always reflect it, especially when we can’t find the eraser/sharpener/maths copy/time required.


The only point of the school day when I feel I’m actually making progress is during the very beautiful guilt-free hour provided by the lovely people on RTÉ Home School Hub. Give all of those muinteoirs (I had to google how to spell that) the freedom of the capital as soon as this madness ends.

I’m also far from up to scratch on all of the background tasks that society tells me are needed to turn a lockdown house into a home. It took me a while to work it out, but the problem seems to be that we’re all here, using stuff and eating stuff, all the time.

I’ve tried to develop some way of ironing while cleaning the floor while correcting Mental Maths, but so far, yes, I’ve failed.

Dust is everywhere, clothes are crumpled and the dishes just keep coming all day long. Even the cat, the only household member who has managed to retain a modicum of personal liberty, is choosing to spend more time outdoors. She judges me, silently, from the sunniest windowsill.

No sourdough starter

A related failure lies in not quite managing to raise my family’s dietary game during this pandemic despite the world telling me that now is the time to forage for wild garlic that makes delicious pesto to accompany tomatoes from the garden and a steaming bowl of home-made pasta.

There is no sourdough starter here, mostly because I only yesterday realised it’s not just another way of saying “bread as a first course”.

And then there’s working from home.

On this front I note various reports that women appear to be submitting less to academic journals during lockdown than they were previously. Male submissions appear to be stable, if not rising. It’s perhaps foolhardy to draw firm conclusions from what is essentially anecdotal evidence, but it’s also hard not to see childcare as a factor.

Research from Network Ireland earlier this year found that close to 90 per cent of working mothers feel “overwhelmed at times” by the pressures of balancing work and personal lives. I would wager that asking that same question today would find it’s closer to 9 million per cent (yes, I know that’s not possible) struggling with the two.

The one skill I can say my children have absolutely honed during lockdown is pretending to work on a screen

I know this because I’m typing while discussing the relative merits of Dua Lipa versus Ariana Grande with an eight-year-old – this has almost never happened in the office, and makes it hard to produce what I would aspirationally call “my best work”.

And so I fail once more, while wondering how on earth people with babies or toddlers, or worse, those who have been personally affected by Covid-19 are getting through these days.

I should also give honourable mention to the many, many failures attached to simultaneously home-schooling and working from home. If any readers have worked out how this Doctor Who-like skill can be developed please write in so that I can stop relying on the oven timer to tell me when the RTÉ Home School Hub starts and ends. Or leaving my primary school children to their own devices (often multiple devices) for hours and hours every day.

Dinner time

The one skill I can say they have absolutely honed during lockdown is pretending to work on a screen while actually playing Minecraft or watching others playing Minecraft (or perhaps watching others watching others playing Minecraft – who knows?)

On these days I see it as a victory when I manage to feed them within a two-hour radius of lunch or dinner time, never mind getting them to learn something.

I will also be failing for another few months at being a daughter.

I last saw my cocooning mother, who lives close to 200km away, in February. All going well, and presuming we don’t move back a spot on the Government’s lockdown exit timeline (it feels a little bit like Snakes and Ladders), I will not see her in person again until mid-July.

I am lucky that she is an expert FaceTimer, and utterly fortunate that I have brilliant family members near her who can provide the support I can’t offer from this distance.

But still, this is probably the hardest failure of all, and you will by now appreciate that there is plenty of competition. Failing better, even if just at this, is possibly my best hope of redemption.

Una McCaffrey is an Irish Times journalist