Post-deconfinement Day 7

Monday, 18th May

School in times of Covid

So my 10-year old, who’s in her last year of primary school, has started school again. Just half-weeks, ie Monday and Tuesday. The rest of the week she will still be homeschooling. And it’s just one day this week as there’s a bank holiday. She was very excited, as she misses her friends a lot. She came back in two minds: it’s good to be back at school, but it’s « weird ».

There are only 8 of them in her group, another group of 8 will be going to school the other half week. The rest of her class of 25 isn’t going back at all – their parents have chosen not to send them.

Social distancing in school

She says it’s nice and quiet. Their desks have been placed further apart. To enter the classroom they have to follow a specific path identified by duct tape on the floor. There are crosses all over the floor and in the playground – made with duct-tape, paint or chalk – placed one metre apart for the children to know what distance to keep from one another. On the first day, they were put to work and asked to help finish place the crosses by taking large steps and drawing them on the ground. They have invented a new game which involves jumping from one cross to another – and therefore involves no contact.

I ask her whether they have talked about confinement. Not really, she says. « We spent two months in lockdown, we didn’t really want to talk about it, we wanted to get on with stuff. » « We talked a lot but didn’t really tell each other anything, » she adds, asking if I see what she means. I say I do: adults do the same!

No schoolbags

She leaves for school in the morning without a schoolbag: they don’t bring anything into school or anything home from school to avoid contagion. They were given books and pens and pencils, which they are not to share, and which stay in school.

But all in all, despite all these strange new measures, I can tell she is glad to have something of a social life back. When lockdown arrived, she was really starting to gain in autonomy – going to and from her drama and volleyball classes by herself on her scooter. And she was really enjoying the freedom. I guess it feels like it was cut in the bud for her just as she was gaining that autonomy she so craved.

Summer holidays?

We will have to see whether the week-long scout camp planned for the summer will still be taking place. There probably won’t be any holidays in Corsica with grandma who usually spends the month of July there. Camping seems like the best option – luckily, we know a few good spots. For now, it is impossible to make any plans. The next milestone will be on June 2nd, when the government will reassess the situation and decide whether to reopen cafes, restaurants, borders.

Speaking of which, my daughter’s godmother, who lives in southern France but has been in Scotland with her mother during lockdown, is finally going to be able to make it home next week as airports reopen. She will probably have to self-quarantine for 14 days, in her village in the Drôme.

Beaches reopen

In Sète, where my father lives, the beaches reopened last weekend. The weather was glorious and he says the beach was packed. But people are not allowed to sit in one place – they can walk and swim, but clusters are to be avoided. Municipal employee in yellow vests roam, reminding people not to get too comfortable. The owners of the beach huts which usually reopen for Easter are already busy putting up the walls – by law, they have to take them down at the end of the season. They have already lost a couple of months income and are keen to catch up. How they will meet the challenge of enforce social distancing remains to be seen.

Post-confinement Day 3

Wednesday, 13th May

Les Saints de Glace

It is raining cats and dogs and I have put the heating back on. Belle-maman assures me it’s because this is the dreaded time of year when the « Saints de Glace » (the ice saints) bring a sudden return of cold weather in May. No serious gardener would dream of planting his pansies or primroses before this date!

It is cosy and my 10-year old daughter and I are not that bothered: we are free! It is just the two of us as Otherhalf and little brother took advantage of an incredible legal loophole on Monday to head down South: the Senate took a little too long to approve the deconfinement bill – which meant that the law stating we can’t go beyond a 100-kilometre radius from our home didn’t come into effect until Monday night. I had several work appointments this week, and my daughter goes back to school tomorrow, so we told the boys: « Go! It will be good for you, for Grandaddy, and for us all to have a bit of time apart after spending two months on top of each other. »

Celebrating deconfinement

We are very much enjoying each other’s company and the peace and quiet. The first thing we did on Monday was to head to our friends who live in the Mont d’Or hills just outside of Lyon for what was meant to be a walk. It turned into a mighty fun – if a bit boozy – evening. We didn’t return home until the next morning!

I have voice-over jobs this week so my daughter has been coming along with me to the studios and keeping busy while I work. As a long-standing colleague said today, « It’s nice to see people again! » I am also preparing moderation work for June – it’s good that things are picking up again.

Going back to school

The big deal for my daughter this week is that she will be going back to school tomorrow. Just for a day, but she is delighted to see her friends and teacher again. She is a very sociable girl and has been missing them a lot. There will be two groups of around 10 kids who will go to school for a half week each. The rest of the time, they will continue doing school work from home.

The teachers have sent emails warning parents to warn their kids that the school they are returning to will be very different to the one they left. The very stringent measures put in place include duct tape on the floor to make sure the kids maintain social distancing. There will also be compulsory hand-washing throughout the day. Despite all of this, however, they want to « keep it human », and will invite children to ask questions, and think together about ways of showing affection to a friend without touching each other (!!). They will also invite them to think about new playground games that allow them to keep a distance. Gulp – what a strange world we are putting our children into!!!

Social interaction vs. stress

For teachers, this is a super stressful time. My downstairs neighbours are both teachers and he was telling me the other day that some of his colleagues are terrified by the idea of being held responsible for a child falling ill. The « sanitary protocol » is dozens of pages long and nigh on impossible to uphold. Many believe schools shouldn’t have been reopened at all. Others take the example of Denmark where schools reopened two weeks ago, which hasn’t led to a growing number of infections.

As a mother, I just hope the pleasure of social interaction will counter the possible stress linked to these draconian rules. She can tell me all about it when she comes home for lunch tomorrow, but I trust she will cope just fine.

Day 55: D-Day

Sunday, 10th May

So here we are, it is 00.10 on the 11th of May 2020 and I can go out freely in the streets again. Not to say that much will change, otherwise there would be no point in the last two months: I will keep avoiding crowded places, avoid public transport, keep a distance and generally use my common sense – and a mask when required, though I really don’t want to wear one. But I will out of respect for others.

I have the luxury to do all this for now, as the work I do allows me to for now – either working from home, or keeping a very safe distance from others when working in studios, and traveling by bicycle or car.

My daughter will be going back to school for approx one day a week for the rest of the month. My son starts again in June, probably just two days a week. Which means much will be the same – homeschooling, and spending a lot more time than usual together. I will definitely make use of it to sort out a few priorities when it comes to education, behaviour and my relationship with my kids in general – but that’s a whole new chapter…

The kids were so excited about de-confinement – my eight-year old son wanted to wait up and then symbolically tear up the darned « attestation dérogatoire de déplacement » at the stroke of midnight. I said that wouldn’t be necessary! But I, too, am relieved we can return to a world a little less absurd than the one we have been living in for the past two months. To celebrate, and as it was pouring with rain, we watched a cartoon and ate popcorn this afternoon. And a neighbour came over for a beer this evening – sitting 1.5 metre away from me on our large couch – and the kids put on a show.

I hope Otherhalf will soon be able to go back to his newsroom in St Etienne, which has been closed like many other local newsrooms during the crisis. Working in Lyon makes him grumpy. He, too, needs to go back to his routine.

For now, we need to be patient.

The next stage will come in three weeks’ time, when the government will reassess the situation, and decided whether we can travel beyond a 100 kilometre radius. Maybe, in the meantime, individual towns will be able to reopen some museums, cafes, restaurants or beaches. I will keep writing in this diary as I am curious to see and want to remember how it all unfolds.

Day 53: « Libérée, délivrée… »

Friday, 8th May

France divided in two

So we are in the green. Just like in World War II, France has been divided in two, and we are on the good side: la partie soon-to-be « libérée ». Brings to mind the awful French translation of the « Frozen » theme song, a confinement version of which my kids made me watch this morning on YouTube (not worth copying in here, trust me).

The other part, the one in red, which includes the whole Paris region and the northeast, will be de-confined too, but with tighter restrictions. The main ones: parks and green spaces will remain closed. In and around Paris, public transport during rush hour will be exclusively for people who cannot work from home or for child care. Large commercial centres won’t re-open.

No cafes, restaurants… or beaches

All shops will reopen nationwide, but no bars, restaurants or cafes. And sadly, no museums, cinemas etc. Nor will beaches. No gatherings of more than 10 people. The situation will be reassessed in three weeks’ time. My father, whom I just spoke to on the phone and who lives in Sète on the Mediterranean coast, reckons the « préfet » might be able to get the beaches opened earlier – the local industry relies massively on tourism.

Talking of which, the French will very probably be taking their holidays at home this year. Many people won’t be able to afford to travel anyway! We were planning to visit my family in Denmark, but that will probably have to wait. For now, France’s borders remain closed until the 15th of June.

Progressive deconfinement

We won’t be able to go and visit my father yet as one of the restrictions of this « progressive » deconfinement is no travel beyond 100 kilometres from your home (as the crow flies). Patience. We are the lucky ones. My belle-maman, who lives in Paris, feels trapped. She goes out for a one-hour walk nearly daily but says the palaver is exhausting: she disinfects everything including the clothes she wears and boils her face-mask each time. I pray to the God I don’t believe in that a solution is found soon so that she can see her grandchildren again soon. She really misses them.

Getting out

We don’t disinfect. We go out for much longer than an hour, and just leave our shoes on the doorstep when we get home. We avoid crowds but we go for cycle trips or big walks up and down the Croix Rousse steps to try and get some exercise. Today, I took the kids on a big walk as my youngest was being very difficult. Two months of living on top of each other 24/7 can sometimes be challenging. He pushes to the limit and I snap. But there are upsides, too. I get to know my kids even better, I get to tackle issues that might have remained dormant had this not happened. The earlier the better. I get to marvel over their ability, time and time again, at squeezing the abscess of this absurd situation and finding the fun in things big and small. And I get to know my limits, and let them know – not always diplomatically, but nobody is perfect.

Self-deconfining

As I sit writing, I can hear our downstairs neighbours who have self-deconfined and are having a party. There is a lot of singing and laughing going on. I can’t blame them. My friends and I are looking forward to doing the same. There might be some sore heads next week! Two more days to go…

And here is a song worth sharing that dates back to the start of the lockdown:

Day 51: Rising Poverty

Wednesday, 6th May

Not enough to eat

I just read a deeply disturbing article in the NYT: nearly 1 in 5 young children in the US are not getting enough to eat as a result of the Covid crisis. It seems hard to believe. We’re talking about the United States. No need to go that far: a growing number of people here in France are struggling to feed their children, too. This is a problem particularly because the kids no longer get the one nutritional meal a day from the school « cantine ».

In Geneva, one of the ten richest cities on the planet, and just one hour and a half away from Lyon where I live, a shocking number of people have been turning up at food aid centres and food banks – many of them illegal foreign workers like maids and nannies without any safety net.

Cultural bail-out

Here in France, president Macron finally announced the long-awaited measures to help France’s hard-hit cultural sector. The government will be extending its unique unemployment system for arts and entertainment workers up until next summer (2021): this move known as « année blanche » is what many had been asking for as they are worried the sector won’t pick up again in 2020.

There will also be compensation for film and TV productions. Cinemas, theatres, concert halls etc are to remain shut for now – cultural events bringing together more than 5,000 won’t be able to take place until September. Smaller venues might be allowed to reopen this summer.

A somber entry, despite a bright sunny day and a lovely bike ride with my kids, which took us on the ice cream route and up and down many steps (leaving bikes at the bottom) – nothing better to wear them out and make sure they fall asleep at night despite confinement!

Running down Lyon’s Old Town’s many many steps

Day 48: Back to school

Sunday, 3rd of May

Hibernation

I have been hibernating for a few very rainy days. Today, I emerged from my cave, brushed myself down and got ready to go back to school.

The kids resume homeschooling tomorrow after two weeks Easter holidays.

Camping in the living room

It went ok despite being under lockdown. We played games, went for rides and walks, watched films, played video games, let the kids get bored, and ate lots of good food (and drank quite a bit of good wine). And like everyone else I have spoken to, I finally took the time to do a lot of satisfying tidying up in all those cupboards that badly needed it. The holidays ended with the kids setting up a tent in the living room yesterday to camp for the night. Otherhalf even made tartiflette for dinner – the quintessential scout dinner!

Camping in the living room

Today, the sun was out again so we got on our bikes and went for a ride. A little further than the authorised kilometre, to the Vieux Lyon, where we found an ice-cream shop that was open: what a treat!

Unfortunately tonight the kids went bananas and were super naughty and the tent had to be taken down. Tears were shed but they are now back in their beds getting the sleep they need to start a new week afresh.

Back to school for some

It’s crazy but we have got into the rhythm and the habit of homeschooling now after nearly two months. We finally heard from the government yesterday about dates for the children’s return to school – that is, if parents are willing to send them back. Some parents I know do not trust their children will be kept safe from Covid and will be keeping them home.

We have decided to send our kids back to school. My 10-year old daughter, who is in her last year of primary school, will go back on Thursday 14th of May, in order to allow teachers to prepare for the new system on the Monday and Tuesday when lockdown ends, en principe. En principe, because the government has made it clear this date can be revised at any time if conditions are not right. Health minister Olivier Véran even cautioned people to stick to the safety measures put in place or risk seeing the number of cases of Covid rise again, which will lead to de-confinement being delayed.

As for my 8-year old, he will have to wait quite a bit longer: his return to school isn’t scheduled until the 4th of June! In both cases, they will only go to school two days a week, as their classes will be split up into groups of 10 pupils to allow for stringent social distancing. The rest of the time, they will continue homeschooling. I’m not quite sure how the government imagines parents are going to cope with working at the same time. The children of key workers, including health workers and teachers, will be able to go to school all 4 days (a reminder for anyone reading who doesn’t live in France: Wednesday is no school day in France).

So there we have it. Luckily, the last two months helped us work out that I can actually leave my kids alone when I have an assignment – not all day, but half a day is possible. And Otherhalf isn’t due to resume with a proper working schedule until September, so he will be available on and off.

Back to work for others

As for me, I was delighted to see that Arianespace, for whom I work on a regular basis, are resuming launches from the Guiana Space Centre. That is very good news, and I’m hoping the commentator’s job I do for them will not have suffered from Covid-19 collateral damage – in any case, I shall have to wait and see if travel is at all possible in the coming months.

Day 45: We are orange

Thursday, 30th April

On the new map of France issued by the Ministry of Health, the Rhône department is orange.

This map, released for the first time tonight, will be updated daily, and takes into account criteria that include how active the virus is in a specific area (less than 6% of people in ER: green, between 6% and 10%: orange, beyond 10%: red) and hospital capacity.

By this time next week, on the 7th of May, a final green/red map will be issued and we will be informed about how strictly « de-confined » we will be, according to where we live. As we have had to learn since the start of this crisis: there are no certainties, and we simply have to adapt and cope day by day with this unprecedented enemy in our lives. So we will have to see what will happen. But I do know my kids, and we, need to return to a semblance of, I cannot say normality because there is no more normal, but of a new normal. We need social interaction, to see our friends and interact with others.

Listening to podcasts from the UK and the US, it is interesting to note the difference in tone between the anglo-saxon media and the French: journalists there are much more pragmatic than in France about announcing the number of deaths, and about the fact that the situation is here to last. They are much more straightforward about the economic cost and about the fact that, while governments everywhere are stepping up, all have some very difficult economic times ahead. In this country, there is a sense of expectancy from the government, but many seem to overlook the fact that we are the government, and we will be the ones paying the debt for years to come.

Talking of which: like many of my freelance friends, I have applied for a childcare allowance available to parents who have had to reduce their activity to homeschool and look after their children, but I have not received anything yet.

The kids are in their second week of Easter holidays and are finding ways of keeping themselves entertained – not easy to not be able to go out and see your friends, or go to the pool or to the movies… They have taken to sleeping together most nights in my son’s room, and smuggling chocolate and sweets up there. It is cute. While they argue quite a bit like most siblings, they are also great companions, mostly to make mischief. They are turbulent children but also full of joy. They drive me up the wall but they also really make me smile. Not always an easy balance to strike as a parent – but as the French say, cats don’t make dogs – and I wouldn’t want them any other way!

Day 44: Counting the days

Wednesday, 29th April

The days are going by strangely fast. We are all eager for the lockdown to end. The children want to see their friends again. Reclaim their little lives back. My 8-year old son in particular declares on a daily basis that he is « bored » – to which I reply « It is good to be bored ». But he’s not that interested by the activities I propose: what he wants is to play video games or call his friends on the phone. I take him out on his bike and he meets them on the square for a ride. I chat with the mothers: they, too, are ready for this to end.

My daughter is diligently calling her grandmother every day for an hour’s virtual class. This kind of distance learning works really well for her – she enjoys it and learns fast. Her grandma is a former teacher, and a very good and patient one. On Monday, I tried doing an English writing class with my kids and they were uncooperative (it is school holidays here at the moment) – it was frustrating and difficult to stay calm. I went to my room to isolate for a while. We are all growing restless and impatient.

Frustration

I would love to be able to make the most of this « enforced » time together, to chill with the kids and be super-creative. Sometimes it works, but other times there is restlessness and frustration at being forced to stay indoors with no freedom to pursue our normal routine, activities and interests – going to work or school, scouts, swimming, cinema, or just out for a drink with friends… Not to mention the growing tension between the two adults in the house, with our own issues, compounded by the enforced confinement.

The importance of being kind

I have a wonderful English friend who lives half the year in St Raphael in southern France with her husband. She is one of these incredibly kind people, who always makes you feel good about yourself. She wrote a piece about the importance of kindness, every day, to the people you love and to those who share your life. Of making the lives of those you are closest to calm in these challenging times – she is so right, and yet it is one of the hardest things to do.

De-confinement: the plan

Now, it’s like we are all waiting. Yesterday, prime minister Edouard Philippe outlined his gradual, regional deconfinement plan. It was later adopted. He is a very serious man who exposes his ideas clearly and without frills. He started out by stating that up until the last minute the government could reconsider if the conditions were not right. He called on the French people to remain cautious.

I know where he’s coming from: when I go out with the kids in our neighbourhood every afternoon, we are far from alone. The square this evening was busy with parents and kids. People are finding it hard to stick to the rules as the date approaches, and yet this is when we should be most vigilant if we don’t want to jeopardise all the efforts of the past seven weeks. Kids, especially, find it hard to keep a distance from their friends.

Hopefully, if things go as planned, my kids will be going back to school on May 12th. But it will not be an obligation and it will be up to each family to decide. Class sizes will be reduced to around half-size. It is not yet clear how they will achieve this – we will be informed closer to the date. My children are very keen to go back to school and especially to see their friends again.

I am keen to be able to leave my house without a form and to go to the countryside for a big walk. For the swimming, I’ll have to wait a while. The prime minister explained that de-confinement will occur in three-week stages, that we will be asked to stay within our regions in the beginning (within a 100 km radius) and that no beaches will be re-opened until early June. Il va falloir prendre notre mal en patience!

Day 41: Two weeks to go

Sunday, 26th April

Two weeks to go. I can’t wait.

No going back

Of course life won’t go back to the way it was before. We will have to keep up social distancing, probably wear masks, have to avoid public transport, not be able to go to museums/cinemas/cafes or restaurants for a while… but ohmygod, we will be able to move around freely. Perhaps not travel for a while, but that will come. I hope we can go and see my father. In the meantime, we are making the best of the situation and finding ways of enjoying this holiday at home. The kids and I go out every day. While we avoid crowds of any kind, I confess that we often stay out longer than the authorised hour. And we are not alone: many parents carry erasable pens in their bags together with the « attestation de déplacement » – which must feature the date and time you left your home – and make small adjustments in order to stay out longer… we have had only two police checks in one and a half months, and both times the officers were very friendly. They, too, have children.

Will anyone hear me?

This week I had a surrealist professional experience: I recorded the English version of an audio-guide for a major exhibition at a museum here in Lyon which may never be heard by anyone… it is due to end in July, and no one knows when museums will open again. It’s unclear whether they will be able to extend the dates as many of the pieces on display are borrowed and will probably have to be returned in due course.

The effects of lockdown

The world of culture is suffering major collateral damage. There have been ads on France Culture radio calling on people not to seek refunds for cancelled events at smaller venues in a bid to help keep them afloat in these times of crisis. My friends who work in performance art are without work and worried. One of them, a stage manager who normally works flat out going from one event to the next, said to me the other day that she wasn’t sure she would work again in 2020. Hard times.

Elsewhere in the world, lockdown in the West has had dramatic consequences: with major Western retailers cancelling all orders, low-paid garment workers in countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar (check the labels on most of your t-shirts) are out of work. In Cuba, a growing number of NGOs is calling for a loosening of the US embargo, arguing it is having a an « an even more harmful effect than usual » on the island, which imports 80 percent of its food and is suffering from shortages.

Here in Lyon, we are of course privileged, but everyone faces their own challenges: a close friend of mine whose grown son has autism says some days can be very difficult for him. What he needs more than anything is a routine, and having it totally shattered by the lockdown is very disturbing for him. This has an impact on the whole family, including his teenage siblings. Hopefully he will be able to get back to a new kind of routine soon.

For now, we have another week of school holidays, and will endeavour to make them as enjoyable as possible for everyone. Otherhalf is home this coming week on what was meant to be our family holiday. We will try not to get on each other’s nerves – after six weeks of confinement, we’re not doing bad, but there are times when the usual family conflicts flare up out of proportion… and there is nowhere to go to let off steam. The kids are mostly doing a good job of trying to keep themselves entertained (it is boring being home ALL the time) – thank god for their fertile imagination: today they set up a science museum in my son’s bedroom (which consisted mainly of lava stones, plastic dinosaurs, and various old trinkets meant to be « antiquities »). And yesterday, my son was a dog, and my daughter was taking him for walks around the flat.

I think we are all ready for de-confinement now!