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Dublin: 10°C Saturday 28 November 2020
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A 'virtual birthday' and an over-walked dog: One Irish mammy's experience of Covid-19 distancing

Amanda Magnier describes life for her family in isolation and finds the simplest of things bring the most happiness.

Amanda Magnier

WE’VE HAD A very busy few weeks here at Casa Magnier. The first week of this isolation business I wasn’t working so we had all day, every day together. We would go out for some fresh air, bring the dog and a ball.

We’ve got fields close to our house so we all went up there. My daughter Ruby loves Gaelic football and is concerned she’ll lose her fitness (she’s 12) so is doing a daily workout, including pull up bar. She’s a patient teacher, too, trying to get me involved. Apparently I’m getting better, or so she tells me.

We played a board game each day for the first few days. Monopoly cheater’s edition, Articulate and Catchphrase. I’m sure we had Cluedo and Game of Life somewhere but we can’t find it.

Including everyone

The age gap of the kids made it hard to keep everyone interested. Mannix is seven so Articulate and Catchphrase were not ideal games for him. He ended up rolling around the floor playing with the dog. He loved Monopoly, we teamed up and were doing pretty well, and we called it time four hours into it, pretty good going with no fights.

We’ve watched a lot of movies, I’ve picked some old and new. It’s a bonus if the 16-year-old joins us, she’s usually in her room on her laptop watching Gossip girl, Elite, Sex Education or some other boxset I have dipped into but not stuck with (I did stick with Sex Education, highly recommend for educating, or terrifying parents).

We’ve watched The Burbs, Terminator, Matrix, Star Wars Solo Story, The Princess and the Frog, Frozen II. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was a big hit. We all cuddle up on the couch under some blankets and I make popcorn (in the pot, I make it perfectly now, no burnt bits) and have that with sparkling water. That’s the evening routine and it’s worked quite well.

I know these aren’t the usual family movies but it’s no harm for the kids to expand their pop culture knowledge. My son has been saying ‘I’ll be back’ in an Austrian accent since we watched Terminator. It also helps them appreciate the wild daily posts by Arnold Schwarzenegger on Instagram, which we now enjoy together. I mean, have you seen them!

Striking the balance

All the kids are gone to bed by 9 pm. I still read with my son at bedtime but the girls do their own thing. They still like a goodnight hug though and in this time of physical distancing, who doesn’t? We usually watch the 9 pm news on RTÉ to catch up on the Covid-19 news. We’re trying to stick to just use this as our daily source, rather than constantly looking up information, which is what I was doing in the beginning.

I find because of my son’s age, he understands what’s happening but also doesn’t. You could say that about the grown-ups, too. Until we see this virus here, it’s not reality; it’s too hard to understand. It’s hard to take in the daily warnings about something that doesn’t seem real. I feel it’s like someone saying “there’s a tsunami coming but it’s not here yet”. How do you prepare for this? I just know that it’s my job to keep my family safe so when we go out, I make an effort to keep a distance, really, further than 2 metres. One thing I’ve noticed is people are standing in the middle of the path now, and I don’t understand why that is. It means others have to walk onto the road. Just an observation.

I am back working from home this week and find it much more challenging with children around. I can hear my husband tell my son that mummy is at work. Poor Mannix is confused then because he thinks I’ve actually left the building.  Then later he’ll realise I’m here and pop up to tell me his sister is being mean or he can’t find his Lego piece and could I possibly help him. It’s nice first thing as I’m up first and going through my emails at the kitchen table while waiting for my coffee. We have breakfast together and we plan what we’ll do, which gives me a chance to ask them to be good for their dad.

I’ve been running every second day, and feel great after it. I ran the Dublin Marathon in the last two years and it changed how I see running, how I built it in as a life habit. I just do a loop of my area, it keeps me going. I sometimes invite my son out for a race, he always tries to cheat so I have to run faster, a good workout for me and fun for him. I’m just trying to combine exercise, fun, and being together.

Everyone has a role

We’ve all seen the memes with the dogs exhausted from all the walks they’re getting through all of this. Yes, that’s our dog, he’s never had it so good. He gets around five walks per day now.

Amanda kids 16 Source: Amanda Magnier

We are in contact with friends and family in Whatsapp chats, it’s good fun actually. It’s great for the grandparents and I’m so glad they’re comfortable with the technology. They’re there on the video with their brandy’s chatting away and enjoying the distraction.

I can’t imagine this time of isolation for any of us without modern technology. It would be a whole other world. I do have to say though, I was blown away by the community spirit this week when everyone came to their front doors to clap for emergency services around the country. It made me think we are so lucky to be able to keep in touch via social media. For all the bad press it gets, it has served a purpose lately.

Mandy kids 6 Family video chats with grandparents. Source: Amanda Magnier

I wouldn’t call what we’re doing homeschooling, not at all. The girls are pretty independent with their study. Fianna is in Transition Year so has some project work to do and has online classes. Ruby is in first year and has plenty of work, she’ll do a lot one day and then not so much the next day, but I’m ok with that. It’s good to have a routine but it’s also good to learn how to manage your own time and put the work in when the energy levels suit.

Mannix is in second class, he was given three weeks work. Some of his work relates to  Holy Communion, which he doesn’t want to do and let’s face it, is unlikely to do, this year. He’s got some songs to learn, but I’m delegating that to Dad! He thought he was going to be clever and get the three weeks of work done in two days so he’d have no work after that. Again, I admire his motivation and approach but I also know a routine is good for him and doing it all in one go with not help him.

We are trying to improvise when it comes to his learning. We’re reading, not all school books, and we’ll say if he does some reading, then he can watch tv or play his video game. I’ll test him on sums when we’re out walking, trying to incorporate it into a conversation about Ninjago or Yoda.

Mandy kids 10 Source: Amanda Magnier

Food is a focus now

Meals have been the same as usual, my husband does all the cooking, and he’s really into it, which is great for all of us. We have eggs most mornings, he made porridge bread using the gluten-free porridge oats from Aldi – it’s so nice. For dinners, he makes lovely curries, Thai chicken or chicken saag, always with rice.

The kids love beef chilli in wraps with salsa and guacamole, all homemade. I have the chilli with rice instead of a wrap as I don’t have gluten. My daughter Fianna cut out gluten after Christmas and is happy to stick with it after seeing an improvement in her skin. She’s baking every day; all gluten-free, brownies, coffee cake (nana’s recipe), chocolate chip muffins. It’s all treats but she eats healthy meals and fruit snacks so I don’t stress too much about the treats. Ruby has got into cooking now too, she made dinner last week and it was lovely chicken and rice and she helped make her sister’s birthday cake.

Fianna turned 16 on Wednesday. We had already organised tickets for the Harry Styles gig, but hadn’t printed them out or bought a card. That’s ok, we’ve ordered a skateboard online and we all made cards for her. I had some gifts leftover from Christmas so her brother and sister used them.

Her dad and sister made an upside-down sticky toffee cake – gluten-free. It’s a tradition in our house that on your birthday you get to choose whatever meal you like. Fianna chose fish, some salmon but when dad went to the shops to get some, unfortunately, there was no fresh fish available. As a Plan B, we ordered a meal from the local Indian takeaway. I’m all for home cooking through all of this, but it’s a huge relief too that deliveries are still going.

After our meal my mum and niece had organised FaceTime for the birthday girl with all the family It was a really lovely surprise for Fianna, we all sang Happy Birthday together while she blew out the candles. Funnily enough, she said it was the best birthday ever. There you go, amidst this madness, there’s happiness to be found.

Amanda Magnier trained in Naturopathic Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy at the Institute of Health Sciences. She works full time and plans to study further in the future. 

RESOURCES FOR PARENTS

Academic
  • ScoilNet.ie – set up by the Department of Education, this offers a massive database of resources, books and other helpful links for secondary school children.
  • iRevise.com – revision resources, prepared by educational experts.
  • ExamLearn.ie – grinds resource for secondary school children.
  • HomeSchool.ie – online grinds school for secondary school children.
  • StudyClix.ie – dividing Junior and Leaving Cert subjects out for secondary children.
  • TopMarks.co.uk – phonics games for primary school children.
  • Readers Theatre Scripts and TheBestClass.org – providing scripts for reading and acting, for all ages.
  • IXL (Ireland) – maths games for primary school children.
  • Twinkl – a learning resources site offering free logins due to coronavirus.
  • RTE is starting one hour of school programs Monday to Friday from 30 March.
Physical education options
  • P.E with Joe – nearly one million people are now joining Joe Wicks, The Body Coach, live at 9 am on  YouTube every morning for daily live workouts for kids.
  • Boxer Eric Donovan is offering a fitness class online via his Facebook page, suitable for parents and kids. 
  • Yoga/play – there are many resources online to help children do yoga and mindfulness, such as GoNoodle and CosmicKidsYoga.
Creativity and play
  • The Lego Shows Ireland‘s Facebook group runs a Lego competition for children seven days a week.
  • Will Sliney – this Irish illustrator has worked for Marvel’s Star Wars and Spider-Man. He’s running daily live illustration workshops for children. Follow the #wewilldraw hashtag.
  • Gardening – this is the time of year to scatter seeds, and the weather will help encourage kids outside, where possible. Check out GIY and gromor.ie for resources and advice.
Reading/audiobooks
  • Libraries are providing books online via the Borrow Box app, instructions here.
  • Audible has offered hundreds of its audiobooks free to the public for use during the coronavirus outbreak. Titles like Winnie-the-Pooh for small children and A Little History of the World for teens are on offer.
  • David Walliams is releasing a children’s an audiobook a day for free via his website.

Other educational offerings

  • Dublin Zoo – the zoo has kicked off a #dublinzoofun activity series in which it will release a new activity workbook themed around one of the animals at Dublin Zoo each weekday.
  • Cincinnati zoo Home Safari runs every day. Catch up on the latest.
Keeping in touch with school friends
  • Zoom – this free video conferencing app has come into its own in the last two weeks and is proving to be one of the simplest to use if you’re hoping to speak to school friends. You can download Zoom to your PC, Mac or smartphone and when you create a Zoom meeting, it allows you to email the invite to your guests.
  • Houseparty – this ‘party’ app has become popular with young people and has taken off in the past couple of weeks. Download the app to a smartphone and have some fun with your friends, from a distance.
  • Google Hangouts – download the Google Hangouts Meet app to your phone and set up calls via your Gmail.
  • WhatsApp – most smartphone users have WhatsApp installed. It allows you to run one-to-one or calls with a small number.
  • Skype – the original video conferencing app, still worth using.
  • FaceTime – a handy video call option for Apple iOS users.

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About the author:

Amanda Magnier

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