Saturday 28 March 2020

Covid-19 Diaries - Lockdown Day 13 & 14

I hesitated. Was I really going to do this?

On the other side of the gate I could see the playground. The wind had blown away the red and white tape put up to worn off passersby. What passersby? It was against the law to be outside except in transit to a supermarket.

But there were no police about and it had already been two weeks of lockdown and I was running out of ideas. Sometimes a mother has to make tough choices.  

I took a deep gulp of fresh free air and opened the gate. Quietly and stealthily, like a ninja without any of the fancy tricks, I hurried down the steps to the park and along the border of the playground. If the police caught me now they would deduce from my lack of shopping bag that I was not out foraging for toilet roll.

I reached the seesaw. I had made it.  

No, I was not about to rob a seesaw. It was what was beneath the seesaw that mattered to me. I lowered my important piece of equipment: a pink Hello Kitty bucket. Then, with my bare hands, I shovelled the gritty, pine-needle filled sand into it as fast as I could.

I confess I felt no remorse for my crime when Sol dug her hands happily into it later that day. Oh glorious sand! Who cares about the mess in these days of lockdown? Let the children play! There's PLENTY OF TIME to clear up. 

Her adorably fun but also methodical father introduced a sieve to the proceedings. As I got on with some work in my home office, the pair of them converted my low-grade quality produce into sand fit for the Caribbean.

A success. And not the only one this week. In a moment of feeling slightly insane, I had thrown every soft item I could find into the corridor of our flat. Sol had happily jumped up and down on it for a while.  

And then there had been the smiley face episode. After repeatedly asking after her millipede friend (RIP), her father had drawn a smiley face on his finger and wiggled it. That had made her laugh. Then he'd drawn one on hers and she'd wiggled her finger back at him. Simple pleasures!

Every day of lockdown presents a new challenge and I'm so inspired by the parents around me. Only yesterday, a fab mum called Annie, posted a picture of an oven she had made for her toddler out of a chair and some old curtains. A sailor (and sail maker), she's also using her excellent sewing skills for making masks for health workers. Go Annie!

While some of us were flagging, Becca, another mum in the Whatsapp group, shared her reflections which made us feel much more positive:

"Before all this, I never really had the time to do all the arts and crafts I am doing now, coming up with different ways to entertain the pair of them, I would never have taken the time to make playdoh or think to spray some shaving foam into a tray and dye it blue (our latest activities) not because I have never wanted to do that sort of stuff, but because I am constantly on the go all the time, even when we all have the day off together, we would be rushing about just trying to get out of the house to enjoy the day. It's quite nice to just stop and appreciate the time at home a little bit more, and not always being on a time limit.

That said I cannot wait to have our freedom back! I am counting every single day down. But I think I will always make sure that we take the time, and just slow down a little bit more and do a few more things at home."

Tomorrow there will be sand and songs, animals baths and building blocks, owls in pushchairs and bears in hammocks. We will keep inventing. We will keep communicating. We will keep singing. We will keep striving to make this new lockdown life as rich as possible for our little daughter - and for each other.  

Thanks for reading. You can find me on my Facebook Author Page or on Instagram.  


Thursday 26 March 2020

Covid-19 Diaries - Lockdown Day 11 & 12

12 days in lockdown. Countless books read and games played.
She was starting to get restless. 

Conversation last night with my toddler suggested she was growing weary of self-isolation and confinement. She had not set foot outside of the apartment block in 11 daysShe paused from shovelling chicken soup into her mouth to discuss our future plans.

"Parque wee-wee?" she asked, hopefully.

I felt a lump in my throat. "I would absolutely love to take you to the park swings, but they're closed."


"Again, there's nothing I'd rather do more than take you up a mountain, but the mountains are all..." I swallowed... "closed."


I took a deep breath. This was sad.

"I'm so, so sorry but all your amigas and amigos are also... closed."

She repeated the facts back to me to make doubly sure she had understood. "Parque wee-wee cloz... Uppamantin cloz... Amiga amigo cloz..."

"Yes, all closed."

She pushed her chicken soup away. She had suddenly lost her appetite.

That night I lay awake wondering what I could do to make this temporary existence the best possible one for my little daughter. I had to get her outside, if only for a moment. And that's when the rubbish idea dawned on me.

Not that my idea was rubbish. I mean that it involved ACTUAL RUBBISH. After all, she couldn't go to the supermarket, but she could accompany me to take out the bins.

The very next day I put on her little coat and her little boots and I took her little hand and I told her about our very important mission. We slowly climbed the three flights of stairs and, as a precaution, I opened the door to the apartment block with my jumper sleeve pulled over my hand.

It had rained and the air was crisp. Sol bent down and poked her finger into a puddle of water. I didn't rush her. I let her examine every detail of the pavement before we crossed to the recycling bins. I set my bag down and handed her the first beer bottle. Then I picked her up so she could drop it through the hole. It made a satisfying crash.

"Boombala!" I said.

She hesitated, then, "More..." 

I gave her another bottle. She dropped it through the hole.

"BOOMBALA!" I said, louder.

She grinned. "More!"

I passed her another.


She laughed. "MORE!

That's how we came to spend a happy few minutes outside in the big beautiful world. And later instead of asking for the park, she looked at me with hope in her eyes and said, "more boombala?"

And this time I didn't have to break her heart by saying the bins were closed.

I may not have any more empty glass bottles NOW but I accept the challenge of relieving beer and wine bottles of their contents so we can return once more. As Sol tested the puddles with her non-waterproof boots on our walk back from the bins, it really hit me. Life is the small things. Life can still be wonderful.  

Thanks for reading. You can find me on my Facebook Author Page or on Instagram.  

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Covid-19 Diaries - Lockdown Day 9 &10

Last night I drank wine and ate cheese and I forgot about lockdown for a while. It was necessary after a day marred by tragedy.

First, Sol's new friend, PINK BALLOON, popped. She didn't cry, she just pointed towards the area where her friend had been reduced to rubbery scraps. Although my husband hastily resurrected it to a balloon the size of a goat's testicle, it wasn't the same.

To cheer her up I decided to venture down to the communal area to visit her friend, Milly. Milly is a docile millipede who lives beneath a large square brick. Since there are no cats about and the birds are too high up to tickle, we have chosen Milly as our beloved pet to accompany us through the challenges of confinement.

We found Milly in pieces. I'm not being colloquial here. I'm not saying Milly was in pieces over the state of coronavirus spreading through her native Mallorca. Milly was LITERALLY IN TWO PIECES. As we looked on in horror, smug little ants emerged from the inside of her head.

I know what you're thinking. Why not befriend the ruthless little ants instead? Another few days of lockdown and we probably will. 

In other news, the UK has dragged its feet into lockdown. Luxury lockdown, that is. They get to leave the house to exercise. I wonder how many people who have never exercised in their entire lives suddenly start training as if they've signed up for the London Marathon. 

I think it's probably for the best, though. People might go mad otherwise, especially as flats in England don't generally have balconies or terraces. At least in Spain many of us have a small corner where we can turn our faces to the sunshine like little hopeful plants.  

I'm lucky there are only three flats currently occupied in our small block so I can also take advantage of the communal patio and the staircase. Technically, this is not allowed, but it's what's keeping us all sane.  

A mum told us her neighbour had threatened to call the police when she'd popped out with her toddler for a moment in the communal area. It had been raining and there had been no one about. After a week inside her toddler had been so excited to splash in the puddles. 

Another mother left for her hometown in Germany yesterday after her neighbour in Mallorca also warned she'd call the police if she appeared in the communal grounds again with her toddler. I don't think these neighbours mean to be horrible. I think they are afraid.

Today I haven't felt afraid. Today I've felt stiff, tired and frustrated when I'd rather have felt inspiring, happy and fun. 

I don't think I'm the only one, either. It's day 10 of lockdown and there is a sense of waiting for it to end, as if this period of our life doesn't count. But it does count. We can't wish it away or we lose out. 

Tomorrow I'm going to go on an adventure with Sol. It's going to be so exciting. We're going to find another millipede... or a spider... or failing that, an ant, who will be our new friend. I can't wait.    

Thanks for reading. You can find me on my Facebook Author Page or on Instagram.  

Sunday 22 March 2020

Covid-19 Diaries - Lockdown Day 7 & 8

I can imagine the estate agents' spiel of the future. All those negative points about a flat being turned into positives.

"Ah, yes, here you have a long dark corridor, perfect for lockdowns with toddlers... they can race up and down it on their tricycles... yes, very narrow, perfect for an obstacle course. If it was wider they might avoid doing it. "

"Ah, yes, these random pillars may cut the room into a rather unmanageable shape for a sofa, however they provide perfect posts for stringing up a hammock when you can't take your children to the swings."

"Small terrace? Oh, not at all. Didn't you hear about the French athlete who ran a marathon on his 7-metre balcony during lockdown?"

The lockdown has been extended. THREE MORE WEEKS TO GO.

Keep breathing, keep breathing. I almost burst into tears today because it's Mothers' Day today in the UK and my mum was due to fly over. I drew her a card. It represents the rich inner life she has encouraged me to build all my life and which I'm calling on now. 

I know I am lucky. Our home is a safe space. I read a post by a friend in the UK's National Health Service who mentioned how worried social workers must be. How they must be wondering how they will keep the people they normally care for protected when their safety structures are taken away. It gave me a lump in my throat. 

Looking after our mental health is so important. Staying present is key. We may be confined but we don't have to be disconnected. Draw, write, sing, cook, play. List everything you are grateful for. Pick up the phone and talk to friends and family. 

I was feeling stressed this morning. We had done so much with our little daughter and the day was barely beginning. She had taken all her little animals to the swimming pool. It had been good fun for her but two changes of clothes later she was ready for the next activity. 

We found a balloon. (For the record, we are anti balloons because of their environmental impact. HOWEVER, since we had it...) We blew it up and she took it on the baby bouncer for a while. 

We read her books. We played music and danced. She pushed owl around in her buggy.   What next? I thought. How was I going to find the energy to keep on creating new challenges, new games? How? How? How?

And then I washed her hands at the sink and she laughed and waved at the frog on the bottle of washing up liquid. "Hola mem-mem!" she said. (She calls frogs mem-mems, we don't know why). And it dawned on me that she was teaching me to be happy with the simplest things. 

If a little frog on a washing up liquid bottle can make her smile, we will be alright. More than ever, it's about noticing and appreciating the little things. So keep breathing, everyone, keep breathing; we've got this.

Thanks for reading. You can find me on my Facebook Author Page or on Instagram.  

Friday 20 March 2020

Covid-19 Diaries - Lockdown Day 6

I almost didn't write a blog post this evening. I thought, it's Friday night, who's going to read it? Everyone will be out.


Anyway, I decided it's time you all knew the truth behind the panic buying of toilet rolls.

It was the mums. Yep. They could see into the future and they knew those empty toilet rolls would be worth their weight in gold during lockdown. Because if you stick an empty toilet roll onto the wall, just maybe you'll be able to distract a toddler for a while as they drop things through it. If you're really lucky, they could spend a whole ten minutes dropping a pen lid through the hole over and over while you make lunch.

I wasn't lucky but another mum was. Despite my husband's engineering of three toilet rolls and an egg box, Sol showed little interest. Still, there were other successes during the day. 

We looked at a millipede for quite some time. I used to ignore them, even dislike them when I saw them on the walls and ceiling of the communal area in the block of flats. But since confinement every living thing is precious. I even toy with the idea of leaving food out and seeing what arrives. "A colony of ants, probably," my friend says, "but I guess that could be fun to watch?"

Signs of life are so important. Perhaps there are relationships which were dying which now might receive the attention they need to flourish again. There is a woman I've been worrying about who I finally contacted today. A few months ago she'd had to leave her twelve year old daughter with her father behind for quite some time so she could look after her dying mother in Latin America. On her return she found her husband had been letting her out to places far too mature for her years and her innocent daughter had turned into an unrecognisable and angry young woman who told her she wished she had never come back. Home had become a hostile environment.

She replied to my message of concern to tell me that thanks to the lockdown she was recovering the time she had lost with her daughter and  that she was happy because their relationship was healing.  

I'll end with a clap. El Aplauso.  It happens every evening in Spain. At 8pm everyone goes outside or opens their windows and claps in gratitude to the medical staff. Usually I'm putting Sol to sleep, but tonight I was free so I stepped out onto the terrace at 7.59 and I clapped. In the distance, I could hear faint clapping and cheering. I clapped even though our neighbourhood was deathly quiet. I clapped for all of us united in this strange new existence working it out one moment at a time.  

Thanks for reading. You can find me on my Facebook Author Page or on Instagram.  

Thursday 19 March 2020

Covid-19 Diaries - Lockdown Day 5

It was fathers' day today in Spain. I felt terrible when I realised I'd done nothing for it. My husband hadn't forgotten. He'd got out of bed first when he'd heard Sol wake up and she had rewarded his enthusiasm by crying extra loudly for MAAAMI MAAAMI.

Maybe I should have got Sol to make a card with some glitter or pasta glued onto it. Thing is I'd been looking ahead at other dates. My Mum's birthday on 21st March, for instance. She'd had a flight booked to come over and I'd been so excited because I haven't seen her since November. Cancelled, of course.  

Then after her birthday, we had been planning a special party for my husband's 40th at the beginning of April. Cancelled, too.

All these important birthdays, coupled with a pandemic and not being able to leave the flat... well, I hadn't been in the right frame of mind to remember fathers' day.

Even once I realised, I didn't do anything about it. Getting some work done is critical at the moment and I was struggling. My current assignment is writing place guides about places I can't visit. I need information about restaurants, shops, sight-seeing... I want to get into my car and drive over to these places and soak up the atmosphere. Instead I hunt for information online until my head hurts or track down friends of friends who live there.  

Mid morning I emerged from my office feeling frustrated with my lack of progress. I found my husband on the living room floor beside a new homemade toy. He had transformed a cardboard box into a series of animals with cut out mouths. My daughter was feeding them with food he'd drawn on pieces of paper. There were grapes, oranges and a banana. "They're all vegetarian," my husband informed me, before turning to our little daughter, "give the Mem-Mem a grape, go on!" (A Mem-mem is a frog. We have no idea why. ) 

I hope my hug transmitted to him this: I THINK YOU'RE AN INCREDIBLE FATHER TO OUR DAUGHTER AND YOU TOTALLY DESERVE A CARD WITH PASTA GLUED ONTO IT -  and next year, providing there's no pandemic, we will do a better job of celebrating it.  

And how can I not mention my own Dad in this post? My wonderful, eccentric, creative, deep-thinking, ever-surprising father, who I don't talk to half as much as I should. 

He's in London and has been self-isolating alongside my Mum for over a week. He hasn't stopped for a second. In the last picture mum sent us he was painting the kitchen ceiling.  "If he falls off the ladder, you'll have to treat him," my brother told my mum, "no hospitals!"

My Dad's celebrating a very big birthday in August and there's going to be a family reunion in a village in Catalunya. I hope so, anyway. I like to think of us all together around a long wooden table looking back at this time. "That was crazy, wasn't it?" we'll say, "but we managed it."

We'll share stories of what we felt during this lockdown, and what we did, and how we 
made the best of it. And the toast to my Dad on his birthday will grow into a toast for all the other things we came to value. We'll savour it; the freedom, the conversation, the love, the fresh air. We'll not take any of it for granted.    

Thanks for reading. You can find me on my Facebook Author Page or on Instagram.  

Wednesday 18 March 2020

Covid-19 Diaries - Lockdown Day 4

"Parque wee-wee?" Sol asks, pointing towards the kids' park which we can see from our terrace. A 'wee-wee' is a swing. It's what I say when I push her. "The park is closed. We can't go down there," I say, feeling sorry.

She doesn't understand. She keeps looking at the park. Eventually she blows a kiss at it. My heart hurts a little.

We're lucky to have a hammock strung up on our terrace. She doesn't want to go in it in this morning, but she's happy to push her owl in it for a while.

It's day four of lockdown and still cloudy. The grey weather doesn't seem normal for Mallorca. It feels like time has been suspended; as if Spring has paused. But then I notice the birds in the pine trees to the side of the terrace. Wood pigeons, blackbirds, sparrows... I even see a hoopoe swoop by with its punky black and white crest. They are not suspended. Life continues but we have stopped being the centre of it. Dolphins have been spotted at Cagliari Port in Sardinia since the traffic has stopped. Maybe for two weeks they can enjoy the spotlight.

Our moods are a little cloudy, too. Energy levels are low. My husband has a cold. We don't think it's anything more ominous. Despite there being so much time, Sol doesn't manage to nap. We open up her UV-protection tent in the living room. I worry we're pulling all the stops out too early. What are we going to do if quarantine extends for a month as is being suggested in the papers?  

Later we hang up a baby bouncer in the doorway which we were given and didn't use when she was a baby. We hang it up in a doorway high so her feet can't touch the floor and then we push her back and forward. I make her little toy mouse swoop through the air and kiss her on the nose.  Each time she smiles it feels like winning a point. Her giggles make me glow.

In the evening, as we are bathing her, it dawns on that it's okay if it can't be fun for her all the time. There will be dull moments. Dull hours even. But it's okay. Without constant stimulus we are being forced to build a world within.

We can't see it now. It's a building site. A work in progress. But it's growing. In these quiet days, far from being suspended, we are all growing.

You can also find me on my Facebook Emily Benet Author Page or on Instagram. 

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Covid-19 Diaries - Lockdown Day 3

To spend the lockdown in pyjamas or to dress up? 

That's the topic on my Mums Whatsapp Group on the morning of Day 3 of lockdown in Mallorca. One mum says she's going to wear a dress to celebrate the news that the hefty monthly payment for freelancers, (a fee you have to pay regardless of whether you've earned anything during the month), will almost certainly be suspended.

In Spain we're taking some comfort from being in the same sinking economic ship. Meanwhile in UK, the government approach is to recommend social isolation rather than impose it, thereby shifting the financial responsibility to each individual and business as if it were their own decision to shut down. Macron sounds more supportive in France, declaring suspensions of rents, mortgages, service charges and so on.

At 9 am, I'm in pyjamas not a dress, and I'm not thinking about the economy. I'm on the floor attacking a cardboard Amazon delivery box with a pair of scissors. What used to be rubbish has now become an invitation to be creative. I'm making a rudimentary farmhouse for my daughter Sol. I cut out windows, a door, make a table, individual plates for the Flamingo, Camel and Zebra, and put up a partition for the Polar Bear's toilet all in the time it takes my husband to have a shower.

Next, I try some yoga. I have been feeling the same anxiety I used to feel when I lived in London. It's like I've stopped in the middle of a sit-up. My stomach is taut and I can't let go. 

It's only Day 3 but there's a voice in my head saying I don't want to do this, that I can't do this. I want to shout it out loud: I THOUGHT I WAS MENTALLY RESILIENT BUT I'M NOT! I'M WEAK!

One of the mums tells us that they have visitors over who haven't been able to leave the island. That means there are five adults and two children under the age of 2 facing lockdown in a two-bedroom apartment. When my friend calls the German embassy to find out what they can do, they are told that, since they live on the island surely the guests can continue staying with them. The woman must imagine they are living in a luxury villa.

Her situation puts things into perspective. I am fine. It's all going to be fine. It's only Day 3 for god's sake. Before having a baby I would have welcomed two weeks at home to finish whatever novel I was writing. In fact I used to live like there was a corona virus outbreak, only leaving the house when there were no more lentils or tinned tuna left. But now, now that I am supposed to stay inside, I want to go out.

But I'm not going out. Not yet. We have supplies for the week. The thing is, at first I thought that I could just go to the supermarket each day and it would all be easy. But actually the point is there is a real risk each time you're in contact with other people and places, so it's not about getting around the system, it's about staying safe. Today, on our small island, there were 18 more positive cases confirmed. They have finally stopped international flights and reduced flights from the mainland to returning residents.

Eventually I'm able to focus on some work. My husband, Mr Calm, plays with Sol. My brother writes a beautiful story about the lockdown from the point of view of his new adopted puppy which brings me to tears. 

In the afternoon my husband tells me that the canals in Venice are becoming clearer and wildlife is returning. It gives me hope that something good can come out of this.

At night, I recite The Hungry Caterpillar to Sol from memory as I'm putting her to sleep. Do you know it? It's about a tiny, hungry caterpillar which eats every day for a whole week and then makes a cocoon around itself. After two weeks it emerges as a beautiful butterfly.

It makes me think, how perhaps, after two weeks with ourselves, we might emerge transformed too. We have been consuming and consuming and now we have to stop. 
Maybe in this time we will have life-changing thoughts. We might emerge more beautiful because we have come to appreciate the little things, the things that matter.

Thanks for reading. You can find me on my Facebook Author Page or on Instagram.  

Monday 16 March 2020

Covid-19 Diaries - Lockdown Day 2

Lockdown in Spain. At least the food is good.  

We woke up on Day 2 of lockdown to a rainy Mallorca. There was a sense of mild relief among the mums on my Whatsapp group. Bad weather was an easy explanation to give to their young children who didn't understand why they weren't going out again.

Not being able to explain to Sol why we aren't going to the park or meeting up with her friends is the hardest part. She asked after her little friend today. "Gabel?" she said, her brow scrunched up and her little palms open in question. "Gabel?" 

She's too little to even pronounce his name properly (Gabriel), but her face lights up when she sees him, and they have so much fun together. He only lives twenty minutes walk away but we won't be seeing him or anybody for who knows how long.

12 days doesn't sound so bad... but what if they ended up needing us to stay home longer? I don't entertain dark thoughts as a rule, but I do find getting to sleep has become difficult. My mind races.

Back to this morning. I paced up and down in front the glass door to our terrace looking out at the white sky and I was reminded of animals I'd seen at the zoo. I thought, HOW DARE WE! HOW DARE WE LOCK ANIMALS AWAY!

My husband, who once again fell asleep within minutes last night, initiated our morning dance session. We opted for Latin and Reggae. Our 21 month old embraced it wholeheartedly, waving her arms about and doing some great squats. Our dance morphed into an energetic work out. "Knees higher! Higher!" shouted my husband, as we marched around in circles on our square of astroturf, which we had bought instead of normal carpet.

Our day proceeded much like an ordinary rainy day. My husband has no work, but luckily I still have assignments for abcMagazine which I can get on with. He kept Sol entertained while I wrote. Thanks to a toy exchange with my friend at our last supper pre-lockdown, we have acquired a dolly buggy which Sol has enjoyed all day. 

My mums' whatsapp group was busy as mum's showcased their creativity. A lockdown is a real test of character and I felt full of admiration for some of the mums who were being so resourceful and upbeat. Some people have more room than others. But whatever space they had they were making the best out of it: from building ramps, making costumes, inventing motor skill exercises with egg boxes and cotton buds and baking.

Room, space... Nothing like a lockdown to make you think about how unequally land is divided in our society. On the streets behind us our large mansions with big gardens. These are mostly unoccupied holiday homes belonging to people who rarely visit. Imagine how wonderful that space would be to all those families in lockdown in small flats with no outdoor area.

I'm grateful for our terrace. I'm grateful for a long corridor which is perfect for a little person on a tricycle. I'm grateful I have the keys to my neighbour's flat which she says I can use if we start to feel claustrophobic!

Never has a terrace, or balcony, been so important.  Thanks to balconies people are uniting in solidarity. In Alicante my brother and another neighbour from the apartment complex have been Djing from their respective balconies from 6-7pm. People on neighbouring terraces have been coming out to dance. 

In Barcelona, a video captures a keyboardist playing Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On from Titanic from his balcony and a trumpeter accompanying from another balcony. It's moments like these that bring tears to your eyes and makes you realise HUMANS HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO BE AMAZING. 

Let's show the world how amazing we can be during these difficult times ahead. Let's dig deep and find every scrap of imagination, creativity, inventiveness, heart, passion, compassion and strength for now - and for our lives to come.

You can also find me on my Facebook Emily Benet Author Page.