Family walks, charades, yoga, arguments... Hatty (far right) and her family have tried it all

I played charades with my family the other night. My little sister gave me the Shakespeare play ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ for my other siblings and my dad to guess, and I ended up sending everyone into fits of giggles as I lay on the floor in frustration, trying to figure out how the hell I was going to mime the word ‘Ado’ when my lovely, ridiculous family couldn’t even work out the word ‘Nothing’. Thankfully, my dad knows his Shakespeare and got the answer before I tore my own hair out.

In the back of my mind, I was thinking about how weird it was that my mum was currently alone, in a hotel room, after working a long shift as a nurse during a global pandemic.

The coronavirus seems to be changing pretty much everything at the moment. This situation is so alien, and yet most of us are stuck inside in familiar spaces, going through familiar motions, with familiar people. Families are being pulled apart by self-isolation, but at the same time forced to stay inside and spend time with one another. Social distancing has the ironic potential to bring families closer together.

"Social distancing has the ironic potential to bring families closer together"

My family represents both sides of this corona-induced predicament. My mum began self-isolating before this all began. First she stayed in a separate room in our house, then a tent in the garden, followed by a friend’s campervan, and now a hotel room, all to try and protect my at-risk dad from the threat posed by her job as a nurse. Physically, my family has been split up like so many others.

Yet, if this virus wasn’t here, I would currently be two hundred miles away from all of them, in Cambridge. I would maybe be calling them once a fortnight, spending most of my time either working or with friends. My sisters would be at work and college, my brother at school; we certainly wouldn’t be playing charades in the living room at eleven o’clock at night on a weekday.

I am not trying to sugar-coat the fact that this is a crisis. My mum is a key worker and my dad is diabetic; I am more aware than most that lives are at stake here. I am also saying that that is not the whole story. The majority of people feeling the effects of a global pandemic are not dying, but in lockdown. For some people, introverts especially, spending time at home is not even a chore, let alone a drastic sacrifice.

It makes me wonder the extent to which past crises felt ‘normal’ throughout history. My little sister has, on several occasions, asked my grandma about her memories of the Second World War, ever-eager to listen to her reminisce about dramatic times from a distant past, to hear stories of adventure and tragedy, and to share in nostalgia. My sister likes asking how people “coped” at a time known for tumult. But my grandma’s responses have always been the same: it was just life, and people got on with it.

That sentiment used to confuse me; I always thought that crisis would necessarily be all-encompassing. The thought of war, or in this case pandemic, seemed incompatible with quotidian normality. How could anyone “just get on with” anything while so many died?

Hatty's siblings trying to wake her up before mid-day: "Those trivialities are a reminder that life goes on"

Now, I have discovered that, when I’m not in a face-mask, gloves, and lathered up in hand-sanitiser in Asda, I can easily forget that we are living in an ‘unprecedented’ global crisis. For one thing, I never would have imagined that such an extreme situation would involve so much watching telly and lying curled up on the sofa under blankets with my brother and sisters. I never would have dreamt that something so quintessentially dystopian could mean family art sessions, yoga with my sister, or my dad being so excited to grow a beard. I could never have predicted that the immediate consequences of international disaster would mean so many quiet family walks around my village.

Just because we are living in times of extremity, it doesn’t mean that trivialities cease. If anything, they have become more important to me; my brother bickering over whether or not he’s done enough homework for the day provides some refreshing normality. In contrast, ever-present messages on the TV and internet insist that everyone is in mortal danger, and doing ‘so well’ in the face of dire adversity, and is so indebted to the incredible, heroic key-workers saving us all from complete disaster.

Hatty's mum receiving socially distanced chocolate from the family

I’m not saying that’s wrong; my mum is an utter hero. She’s been walking an hour to work for each twelve-hour shift as a nurse, often to work in uncomfortable PPE, only to walk back to an empty hotel room and get ready to do it all over again. But just because she’s a hero, it doesn’t mean she stops being my silly old mum. Whether or not we are living in a pandemic, her confused dealings with technology and our conversations to try and sort them out remain exasperating; she still over-shares with strangers; and she still won’t let my dad throw away our old sofa even though the springs have broken. She’s made difficult sacrifices in order to continue saving lives, but at the same time she loves her job and enjoys going to work, crisis or not, and she’s fine.

Life goes on during crisis, in all its glory, and people continue to be complicated weirdos. My wonderful, irritating family provides me with sufficient normality to break the illusion that absolutely everything is falling apart at the moment. I need that hustle and bustle: the stupid voices, the arguments about which soup we should have for tea (tomato all the way), my sister’s jarring piano practice when it’s all going wrong and she keeps playing the same phrase over and over again… I don’t know where I would be without these things.

"Life goes on during crisis, in all its glory, and people continue to be complicated weirdos"

I’m aware that I am writing this from a place of enormous privilege. My experience is far from universal, and for many people, staying at home can be an unpleasant, difficult, or even dangerous experience. All I can say is that I am so utterly grateful that I am lucky enough to be able to spend lockdown as part of a large, loud, loving household. For me, while the world is still a scary place, all things considered, lockdown has been fine.


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Mountain View

Read More: Love in the time of COVID-19

I love my family more than anything. It’s true that this pandemic means we cannot all be under the same roof, and that lives are at risk. Day-to-day, though, it also means that I get to spend my time with most of my favourite people in the world. With such a scary big-picture, I think it helps to cherish the little, chaotic moments of ‘normal’ - to make ‘Much Ado’ about the beautiful ‘Nothings’ of everyday life. For me, those trivialities are reminders that life goes on, that pandemic is not all-encompassing, and that at least I get to enjoy the privilege of spending more time with my family. Technically, the virus has pulled my family apart; more importantly, it’s kept us together. For that, I am glad.

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