Joanna, Robert and Willow’s story

Joanna and Robert live with their daughter Willow who is 3 years old and her little brother who is 2 years old.

Images from Joanna, Robert and Willow’s discussion.

Joanna and Robert

Have you talked about coronavirus with your child? What does she understand about it?

Joanna: Yes. We talked about how it’s a virus, germs that makes people sick and we can’t go outside. I had to cut all contact which she didn’t understand. Everyone has to wear masks, she knows about sanitising hands. She has a general idea that it can make people go to hospital. I call it Coronavirus. The other night she came to me and said ‘Is this virus still in the world?’ so she calls it ‘the virus’.

When the lockdown started in March, can you describe what it was like for your family in the first few weeks?

Robert: I was away on (location) working when it all happened so I was working month-on, month off. So it was kind of surreal for me. It wasn’t real. I was in the same building – I worked there, I ate there…it wasn’t until I came back afterwards that it hit me. It was harder for the kids more than anything – not being able to see their friends or go to the park and not understanding why.

I was obviously lucky enough to keep my full wage and not be furloughed. A lot of the people were furloughed in the company I work for and the other company out there as well. So it was almost like just watching a TV show. Because I was watching the news but I wasn’t experiencing it first-hand until I came back. And then, when I got back things had already started to change, Like, masks in shops was a thing, or they were a suggested thing when I first came back. Obviously not being able to visit other people was again, affecting the kids more. I have a brother who lives in (community) and we couldn’t see him and my kids couldn’t socialise with their cousins. I also have a son in (location) so obviously I’d normally visit him in my time off but I couldn’t travel to the other side of the country because of the lockdown to visit him. That was hard.

Joanna: I went into complete shutdown because all I thought was ‘protect the children, protect the children’. At times, I thought I was being a bit over-protective.  It was weird for me because it was the unknown. I didn’t know what I was meant to be doing or what was the right thing to do. I went to the extreme end of it. So, for instance, I was getting shopping dropped off at the door. You know how you can have two households in a house? I didn’t do that. I don’t let anybody into the door. It was my birthday in the last week and someone came to the gate to say happy birthday to me. It’s that kind of thing. I don’t go to gardens. It’s too confusing for the kids to explain to them how come we can’t go in the house.

Again, when we got the cases locally, it was like ‘right, back into the house and shut down’.

What other kind things changed for you back in March because of lockdown?

Joanna: We became a lot more creative. The things we had to think of to try and entertain the kids! I had a lot more online purchases as did everybody else, trying to find things to entertain them. I wasn’t at work anymore but I was working from home so it was quite hard getting my head around things. The first few weeks were the easiest keeping on top of the work and setting up an office at home but as time went on, things got a bit monotonous. 

I work at a local foodbank and that turned into what needed to be done rather than what had to be done. It was a lot of stress in my head trying to stay in work-mode and keep the children happy too. The first time round with lockdown, we could prepare a bit, but the second more recent one, we had less time. I needed to shield and so that means any kind of lockdown affects what I can do other than work at home.

With local cases now and new local rules how are people coping?

Joanna: Having no cases all the way through lockdown, it made us quite complacent. We weren’t untouchable but we were like ‘wow, we did really well not having it here’. And then it just appeared. That’s changed things. As people say, it’s on our doorstep now. Like, what we’re feeling now is probably what you felt when it first happened in your area. We’re so many months behind. It’s crazy how many months behind we are. I was saying to my friend yesterday that – how have you lived all these months knowing that it’s there? The whole island have done a mini lockdown ourselves. We haven’t got any help with furlough or anything but we’ve just taken the decision to do it.

What other things changed over the initial months and how do you manage?

Joanna: We were kind of lucky as we had a swing set and sandpit in our garden and an immense amount of toys. I kind of felt at times that we should kind of rent it out to people to play with because parks were closed! But yes, we did have toys outside for the children to play with.

Robert: Yeah, we have a back garden which is basically big enough for us to be out and playing in. We still got out plenty. In that sense, we’ve been lucky. We’ve not lived in an apartment or something in a city. Not many families did have that option so we’re very aware that we were lucky to have that. And being where we are, we’ve got open beaches. And you’re not really going to bang into anyone so it’s far easier to keep a 2 metre distance because there’s going to be very few people if any that you come across. I actually got into running every day along the beach after lockdown eased. I’ve got a lot more appreciation for the outdoors in that sense. I always considered myself an indoors person but then when I had no choice, it was a bit different.

How did lockdown affect the children?

Joanna: Willow in particular was very emotional throughout lockdown. She was also a bit wary, coming out of lockdown, about speaking to people. I won’t say a recluse, but she just went into herself. I’ll also say, that in this mini one locally now, last week, I was wondering how did we manage this all those months ago? With Willow, she was probably picking up things from my conversations on Facetime. We spent a lot of time on Facetime as I needed that outside contact without going outside.

What kind of devices do you use?

Joanna: I have an iPad and I practically live on it. I use it for everything – work, Facetime. Willow has an iPad herself and her wee brother has…I don’t know how many tablets, it just depends which one has charge in it. Willow will use it if she’s tired. She’ll just go up to bed and watch the iPad. She’ll take herself up to bed if she feels she needs quiet time. Her brother doesn’t use a tablet through the day – it’s also just for bedtime. If Willow wants to use a device throughout the day, she’ll ask me if I’ve done my work for the day and if she can use my iPad. I’m like ‘No…’.

Our Internet connection has been great. There was a while when it was slow but I’m creative and could find other ways to entertain the children. I’m not afraid to make a mess with the children. I don’t know how many times we played standing at the window watching the cars go by. I used to think people would be looking in at us thinking we were in a zoo or something! I managed to get this squirty soap when I was last on the mainland – I sometimes squirt some on to the windows and the children use their hands to make patterns in it. Then we wipe it down later on.

My mum used to make cakes, send them down to us and we’d decorate them. My mum would also order stuff off Amazon for us to distract the kids. We did a lot of things. I’ve got to say, I’m glad we had the time to do that but don’t get me wrong, it was getting very repetitive some days. As Robert said, he was away for four weeks so it was just me and the kids on our own in the house. I don’t have great mental health but I got through it.

We had family nearby so we’d say hello to them through the fence. And the posties! Thank goodness for the posties. We’ve had a lack of posties since the cases came and you notice that that was your connection to the outside world. But it was even things like doing posters for the windows with rainbows on it – just something different. The kids would wave to people walking past. People also came to the wall round our back garden. At the beginning, I was worried about the children going in the back garden as I didn’t know what to believe about people saying the virus was in the air and all that.

How has the new local lockdown restrictions impacted this past week or so?

Joanna: Here, the schools closed Monday, Tuesday when there were cases. So they announced that they were going to open some schools but close some. I decided that there was no need for my kids to be in school so I just took them out straight away. But this week, when more cases came live, loads of people pulled their kids out of the local primary. It’s quite amazing to see how there’s no instruction but everybody said ‘ok, my kids don’t need to be in, the key workers can keep their children in’. It’s also like we’re doing what the rest of the country was doing in lockdown. But nobody’s actually telling us to do anything. Same with the shops. People are going in for essentials only.

In the first period of lockdown, did the children enjoy any aspect of that?

Joanna: They loved being home with mummy and having cuddles. At first, I didn’t really know what I was doing so we spent a lot of time watching TV and just chilling and lying on the bed. The way I saw it was…I experience anxiety and when everybody went into lockdown, it almost felt like everybody had caught up with me. Everybody was in their house, I knew where everybody was and I felt weirdly at peace. I kind of enjoyed it with the kids because I didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything. I just had to be with the kids. I needed to protect them. Don’t get me wrong though, there were times where I was mentally drained because it was so tiresome but there were times in between when we were like ‘wow we’re here, we’re doing it’.

What were the hardest things for you and the children during that time?

Joanna: Not having that adult contact. I spoke to my mum – I don’t know how many times a day – but I missed being in a room with an adult. Because I’ve got health conditions, a lot of people came round [prior to lockdown] and helped me when I was struggling and I didn’t have that kind of support. I mean, they wanted to, but they couldn’t. That was the hardest bit. I had to still get through it – I didn’t have any option. Thinking back, I wouldn’t have expected it to last as long as it did. But at the time, it didn’t feel like it was lasting that long because you were waiting for what’s going to happen next.

Was there any support or help missing that you wish had been available?

Joanna: I don’t think so because for the likes of if I needed shopping, there were people who would get shopping for me. Mental health wise, I was speaking to (local service) to get appointments but even just an email from him once in a while helped me to know that someone was there. And (other service and worker named) was fantastic. She touched base all the time. The health visitors were fantastic. Also, I think working at the foodbank made a lot of difference. Like today, I’ve been in touch with the police to organise parcels. Even that connection with an authority kind of figure has been helpful to know everything is ok. I think if I hadn’t had these connections, it would have been a lot more difficult as I like that wee check-in. Just to make sure that you’re still here, you’re still going!

What about for the children? What were the hardest things for them?

Joanna: Not seeing friends and family. We couldn’t go out in the car as much which was quite a big thing for them. They missed the shops a lot too – that was our social area. They missed the childminder.

How did you feel about the nursery reopening?

Joanna: I was quite nervous. It was through talking to (local support worker) that was the best thing for me personally and mentally. The children went back to the childminders’ first and she did temperature checks every time we went and every time they left. She has minimal children so that was a lot of reassurance for me. From the schools side, that was a lot for me to get my head around. I was like ‘wow, talk about a way to spread stuff’. This was in my head. I was not shy in telling the school I have anxiety so when Willow was going into there, it was so weird as I wasn’t even allowed in to see where she was going. I hadn’t been in the school.

What helped you decide to send Willow back to nursery?

Joanna: I think talking to other people and getting reassurance from other people. Sometimes the information is confusing though. I think probably an idiot guide to what the schools are doing – like when and how they are cleaning etc. I overthink everything. That kind of information will work with my head. But I do think the schools are doing a really job. Even when the children weren’t at school, I got help from (local agency) who’d asked me if I wanted anything from the schools so we did get stuff. The schools were good with communication too. On Facebook, I joined a couple of the schools for information and following that, I knew what was happening with the schools without the children being there.

There’s key workers who have no choice and who have to have their kids at school. I completely respect that. Take the kids out who don’t have to be there. I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t be in school; put it this way, I’d love my children to be in school and they miss it more than anything. Willow will say ‘I get to go to nursey again!?’ when I tell her that’s what she’ll be doing the next day. She loves it. She gets excited in the morning. She’s quite attached to her dummy and bottle but because she loves nursery, she’ll leave it in her bag. It’s nice to hear and that’s why it wasn’t easy to say ‘right, you’re not going to nursery’.

Looking ahead, what are your main concerns and what do you think will help you in the coming months?

Joanna: I’ve thought about this as I’m wondering how we adjust back to ‘normal’ when it was hard before when we had no cases. So, to be honest, I think it’s information. The more information that is sent out and the less gossip that’s being fed through the community would be brilliant. If we’ve got information and it’s coming directly from the source, it’s a lot easier for us to deal. If someone was just to say ‘we’ve got x amount of cases and its led to this.’ It’s important not to name and blame but I think there’s quite a few people doing that.

What kind of support your children will need in the coming months?

Joanna: Probably some way to express how they’re feeling about it. I try to ask Willow about how she is feeling but she goes ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ but I’m trying to help her understand her feelings better. She’ll ask things like ‘why can’t we go and see Nana?’ and I’ll explain that the virus means we can’t. I’m trying to get her to express her feelings.

Willow was always the kind of person that would go up to people and just yap away. But she doesn’t do things like that anymore and I miss that. She’s just wary of people now. Like I think everybody is going to be, so I’ve noticed that a lot with her. Her wee brother was two in June and he’s not very vocal at all. I do believe that’s because he wasn’t in that kind of group. It was just the three of us for so long. He had no need to speak because big sister spoke for him. I didn’t help because I’d just ask her ‘what is he wanting?’ and she’d tell me. If someone was to turn around and tell me that there’s something wrong with him because of the way he is being, I think that would really crush me because the circumstances around him being that age and everything happening has to be taken into consideration.

I was looking up phonics during lockdown to try and help Willow with her speech. She was talking but she wasn’t very clear. There’s got to be something that people can do to help with this – like ten minute videos or something that would tell you what stage your child should be at and how to help the children. I’ve taken screenshots of homework for every single task from the schools. I’ve been doing primary one tasks with Willow even though she’s in nursery. Videos with how to support parents with their child’s development would be great. We’re not teachers! It’s good putting things on paper but some people don’t understand how things are written. I’ve got a good head on my shoulders – I mean I didn’t go to uni or college, but I can read – but videos would be so much easier. Make it fun!

The foodbank’s been interesting. Everybody thought the foodbank would be so busy but we’ve actually had a decline of people using it over lockdown. Because people were at home and could think about their meals. We had got so ready for lots of people coming to foodbank and it just didn’t happen. The only thing I can think of is because we’re a close community, people helped each other. And the likes of people going for their shopping – there was people getting things for each other and probably not paying for it. That’s just the way the island is. People were giving away eggs left, right and centre because the hotels were closed so no one had anywhere to put their eggs. Veg – people did their own community gardens with the kids. Although the island has come together, it is hard though.

I would like to say positively, that decision makers have done really well to get us to adapt to what we need to do. When they signed up to a job, they didn’t sign up to any of this. So it’s a lot for them to come through. A lot of hard decisions have had to be made, I think at the end of the day, I would say well done to them. There’s something positive to end this on.


Willow’s mum explained her drawings to us.

So we’ve got: taking a temperature at nursery and at the childminders. That’s the childminder. That’s when we get parcels at the door. We put them in the boxes, sanitise our hands and put the boxes down. There’s a crocodile.

I asked her what her feelings are on coronavirus and she said to me – I wrote it at the top and she drew pictures so she had something to colour in – so she said ‘Willow feels happy because people aren’t sick because we’re staying in our house’. I wasn’t expecting that at all. And ‘Willow misses her nana and people are not allowed in our house and we have to stay in’. I asked her about school and going to nursery. She said ‘Willow is sad that she can’t go to school. They take her temperature and wash her hands’. She drew another one. To be honest with you, she kept going for red [the colour] when we were talking about it.

She told me that we had to stay in the house because the virus was outside. So she drew a house and then Willow told me where the people were – inside the house.