Last week, out of nowhere, my three-year-old daughter said the word ‘coronavirus’ for the first time.
Stopped in my tracks, I looked at her, and then at my eight-year-old daughter to see if I had heard correctly.
My eldest laughed, as what she had actually said was ‘conavirus’ and, admittedly, it was quite cute.
But then she repeated the sentence: “Olive said I can have a sleepover at her house when conavirus is gone”.
My heart sank.
Here was my baby, my innocent three-year-old daughter, discussing the impact a worldwide pandemic was having on her ability to sleep over at her nursery friend’s house.
Of course, she hasn’t a clue what the virus is, the damage it has caused, the lives that have been lost – including her own granddad, who passed away last April – but she is aware that ‘conavirus’ is something that is keeping her away from her friends.
Every day she asks if she will be going to nursery and every day we have to explain that nursery is still closed and she will be spending the day at home with us. Again.
It’s a nightmarish Groundhog Day and each day my guilt grows, even though I know I am powerless to do anything about it.
The last lockdown didn’t seem to bother her. Without questioning the change in routine, she simply savoured the days spent splashing around in the paddling pool and eating ice lollies at all times of the day with her sister.
But almost a year older now, she is struggling with the lack of interaction with children her own age and deeply missing the range of activities and immeasurable benefits that she reaps from her days at nursery.
And again, I feel horrendous guilt for replacing her action-packed nursery days with back-to-back episodes of Topsy and Tim, and for telling her off when, left unsupervised, she covered herself head to toe in marker pen.
And then there is her big sister, who understands why we need to be in lockdown, but is nonetheless also struggling with life within the confines of our home.
A conscientious, hard-working pupil, she is missing school and no matter how hard I try, I can’t replicate the kind of learning she craves. How could I even come anywhere close?
We are both still scarred from the first lockdown where, quite frankly, home learning was a complete disaster. It became so unbearable that we just had to stop.
With most parents I know doing the same, teachers saying it was ok to focus on play and having fun instead, and child psychologists filling newspaper columns with the same message, I made my peace with it and told myself it would all be fine.
But the stark reality is that it wasn’t fine. Missing so much school has had a huge impact on my daughter’s learning. Her spelling has regressed considerably, her confidence with maths – which had taken years to build up – has gone.
And she’s not alone. Many parents have reported similar things: an apathy towards reading, illegible handwriting, a sudden amnesia for times tables.
The basics have undoubtedly suffered, and again I am ridden with guilt.
We can’t continue to have a generation of children waiting for the day ‘conavirus’ is over. We need to get them back to a normality they are comfortable with, back with their friends, and back to learning before the damage done over this past year becomes too impossible to repair.