Parenthood in a Pandemic in York

By Greg McGee

Parenthood in a Pandemic in York

Parenthood has been a completely different proposition in 2020 than it was in 2019. COVID came and promoted us all to Home Teachers, a new role which not only did not come naturally but helped hammer home just how valuable are the teachers and schools to whom we send our children. I never knew just how irritating it was to tell an 11 year old how good his handwriting was while I was setting up a Zoom meeting. To my surprise and creeping guilt, I do now. 

It also laid bare just how very much was stolen from this generation of pupils. Not just the reassurance of the school day calibrated by excellent school staff, but everything: fledgling friendships and seasoned pals; the beginnings of flirting; the depth of learning, the fun of games; football clubs, weekend meetings, sleepovers, new found swagger, the discovery of humility. Parents were inconvenienced, that much is true, but the worlds of our children were destroyed overnight. EVERYTHING was taken away from them and was only replaced by uncertainty. As a frequently irritated parent, I need to hold that thought uppermost. If anyone should be snapping, it should be my children.

Our middle child, Niall, is 11 and is just leaving Year 6. He is sick and has had a tough year all round. He attends Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, York, and has thrived since day dot. His classroom teacher, Miss Jinks, was to provide the glowing, safe portal from Primary School to Secondary School with the idiosyncratic generosity for which she is increasingly well regarded. Niall, like many 11 year old boys, benefits hugely from quietly witty high standards, and the scale of how much he has lost from the times he didn’t spend with her is immeasurable. It is the hissing of what’s missing that defines Niall’s year, as it does his brother’s and sister’s, as it does pretty much every child you will meet this year.

The only positive I can take away from witnessing first hand the sheer sweep of loss our children have experienced is that I check my irritation before I snap, or I read that story for an extra chapter, or I put my phone away and talk face to face with the children about the weather, or whatever we’re watching, or if they’re anxious, or just buzzing. Parenthood is actually not as tough as it seemed once we subordinate the distractions for communication.

And as for Mrs Jinks, and all the staff at OLQM, York , including especially Head Teacher Emma Barrs - I hope you know just how grateful hundreds of children and families are for all the generous diligence you have given during this dreadful time. You have my blessing to grab an extra bottle of wine this week.

And for the children - we are going to try harder! Stay curious and confident, and be patient with your parents! We’ll get there.