Alas, it’s not a question of repeating my no-one cares about us rant in a newspaper; a rant from me about what happened to mothers over the last four months isn’t especially newspaper-worthy (thank god for the internet! Sometimes).
But what has to happen next, I think, is that if it looks like schools will close their doors again, I think we are entitled to push back this time – now we know more.
There is a view undulating around that an entire generation of schoolchildren and their mothers must not be thrown under a bus for the sake of the percentage of the population that are very vulnerable to the virus and may die from it. In short I have heard many times people say: let the vulnerable stay at home and shield and let everyone else get on with their lives.
There is also the view that if younger children are asymptomatic with the virus and older children transmit the virus but don’t fall seriously ill, then what is the problem with the virus swirling around schools? Fatal meningitis breaks out in University campuses all over the UK every now and again without all universities being closed. Suicide – suicide! – is spookily common at Bristol University: why hasn’t that been shut? Considering that scientists have not been able to find a single confirmed case of a teacher catching the virus from a student of any age – really, what is the problem.
The answer of course is that although this finding above is a real heart-starter for people desperate for schools to re-open their doors and have them stay open, children are not a dead end for transmission. Just because there has been no confirmed case doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.
Older children do spread the virus, (something to do with exhaling more air, being taller and yet still likely to have the unreliable hygiene habits of young children), and you have to think about not just teachers but the busloads of support staff that work in schools, without whom a school cannot function. They are often forgotten or overlooked. And then how about parents gathering at the school gates or the bus drivers or just generally the miasma of virus-shed that particularly older students will dissipate if they are trooping in and out of the school gates every day?
But what I’m saying is that should there be a resurgence of the virus you, as a mother, are entitled to make demands of the council that schools try harder and find ways to keep their doors open despite all this. Closing schools doors again should not be the easy option. “It never was the easy option!” some people will cry. But they say that with hindsight. At the time it seemed to happen pretty easily. No-one, anywhere, in any position of authority must be able to think now that closing school doors doesn’t come with a serious price for the whole of society.
I know there are people who think “mums” sit about painting their nails and eating toffees while the kids are at school. Most mothers are flat out during the school day and if they sit down and put their feet up or go and get their nails done then it’s because as the main carers for our children, if we are losing our minds and hitting the bottle and shouting at everyone we are not effectively able to care for our children. That matters. Because children are so important it means that it is genuinely vital that we are in good sound mental health.
[I’d like to just put in here how grateful and touched I am for the support here from women who do not have children. Choosing not to have children or not being able to have children is its own serious problems and it is its own hard road – damned if you do, damned if you don’t – and your solidarity is noted.]
“As a mother” is a dangerous phrase. A few years ago it was held up as some sort of get out of jail free card used by smug whatsits who started phrases “As a mother”. There became a sort of trope where people said things like “As a mother, I am against fox hunting” or whatever. And those people I talked about, the ones who hate women and hate mothers above all seized on it. To say “As a mother” was suddenly verboten to any even reasonably sophisticated person.
I, too, avoided the phrase. Being a mother is not the thing that defines me. I am also a trooper, as are all of you. I chose to have children and I wouldn’t have it any other way and you know exactly what sort of crap I take, silently, every day.
I make jokes about parenting and the downsides of it because no-one needs help loving their kids and having fun with them and feeling smug about having the PJs clean and something for dinner. Where we all need help is when it’s bad and we’re down and our children seem completely savage and our husbands say things like “You could smile a bit, you know.”
But I really am extremely sick of people saying “It’s been hard on mothers, BUT,” or making pathetic jokes about wine. We can make jokes about wine but you can’t. Mothers have throughout history had to self-medicate to get through the bad bits – gin, valium – and everyone just shrugs and goes ha ha ha or thinks that mums are mad. Are we? Are we all mad? Or are we driven to it, like sailors. I suspect everyone is secretly pleased and relieved that the mums find a way to opiate themselves and just carry on.
I wouldn’t change my life. But I took this life on – as one commentor said – on the understanding that there would be some degree of infrastructure I could rely on: playgrounds, hired help, nurseries, schools. Would I have had children if I had been told that none of these things would be available? Hell no. Not fair on the children.
And do you know what? Teachers and social workers and nurses and doctors all chose their lives, too, and they are allowed – encouraged! – to stand up and say “Hang on, this isn’t right, this isn’t fair.” We chose our lives, but a goodly portion of us chose it 1) without understanding fully what being a mother means because the dark sides of it are hidden from most child-free people and 2) we cannot quit.
Teachers and nurses and doctors who have had enough can quit or threaten to. We can’t. And yet we are one of the most downtrodden, demeaned, put-upon and disregarded sections of society, most likely because we have no recourse, we have no other option. And everyone knows. Despite numbering in our millions we are utterly powerless. How has this happened?
Now, put that flame thrower down – no need to go all guns blazing to Downing Street just yet.
I say all this just because I want to put your own case to you: a little mustard in your sandwich. I want you to really think about what you want and need if the government threaten to close school doors again. You are entitled to make a massive fuss using whatever route you see fit and to encourage anyone else you know to do the same thing.
You must not worry that if you do this people will whisper “poor thing, she can’t cope”. Ignore that voice in your head that tells you that other people, better mums actually enjoyed lockdown and if only you were different, more efficient, more moral, you would have enjoyed it to. It’s partly those fears that have got us here in the first place.
You are not asking for a 2019 free-for-all, you are not asking for thousands to die so you can have a quiet coffee in your kitchen, (I know this is how everyone will make you feel). It’s not your job to come up with the solution, you haven’t got time and you’re not the expert! You are simply asking for the authorities to try harder, you are only standing up and telling them that they must try harder for US, because we do matter and they should care.