If one parent catches Covid, should they isolate from the rest of the family? And is isolating even possible in a small house with young children?
** This blog is part of a series called The Chaos Train, a record of daily life when you have a career and pre-school children **
One line, still one line, yep still one line…what? That looks a lot like two lines.
I’m doing a Covid test while getting our daughter, aged three-and-a-half, ready for bed. My husband is upstairs reading bedtime books with our son, aged one-and-a-half. I try to keep an eye on the white stick as I clear up bath toys, prepare cups of warm milk, and start loading the dishwasher.
That looks a lot like two lines.
Until a few weeks ago, our family had somehow managed to dodge Covid. My husband and I both mostly work from home, we have two young children and therefore zero social life, and we spend most of our weekends at outdoor playgrounds.
But then my husband caught Covid at a family get-together, sparking a dilemma in our house: if one parent catches Covid, should they isolate from the rest of the family? And is isolating even possible in a smallish house with young children?
As soon as my husband tested positive, I texted around to see what other families had done when they faced this situation. One pal totally self-isolated in a bedroom away from her partner and two children when she tested positive, and no one else in their house got Covid. But another friend had to manage childcare on her own in a small flat while her partner self-isolated in one of the rooms – she didn’t get Covid, but she did get seriously worn out and stressed.
Most of my friends went for a sort of half-arsed-but-manageable approach, sleeping in separate beds from their partners but not much else. We end up, somewhat inevitably, going with this. We sleep in separate beds, don’t share drinking glasses, and keep our windows open all day.
I want to take more measures, but I find it too hard and my resolve weakens each day. In particular, both of our children are bad sleepers who want to co-sleep with a parent overnight and I struggle to manage that on my own. My husband thinks I’m worrying too much, a charge that people love to direct at women and that arguably just comes with the territory of being a primary care-giver.
Anyway, a week later, I’ve caught it.
I soon start to feel properly ill: muscle aches, fevers and shivers, constant tiredness. The whole thing is awful and, as always, the problem is that the children’s needs don’t stop. They don’t even slow down. Whether I’m battling work deadlines, or heatwaves, or Covid, the kids still destroy the dining room with every meal and need a new activity every 20 minutes. And because it’s Covid, no one can come round to help, least of all my parents.
My husband ends up taking time off work to do full-time childcare. I end up having to stay in bed for three days, keeping my phone in another room so I can’t anxiously google “long Covid”. My husband and the kids manage just fine without me, which I think is good for us all to realise, although I’m pretty sure they all subsist on peanut butter on toast for the duration.
My husband and I like to think we divide home-duties fairly equally but when it comes to cooking we’re definitely stuck in the 1950s. In the mornings, my husband asks me what’s for dinner, and I tell him. He cooks family meals occasionally and therefore has the energy for fiddly, impressive things. He made my parents a vegetable roulade recently. A roulade! Don’t get me started.
After the first few days, I slowly start to get better. Within eight days, I get a negative test. And luckily, the children stay virus-free throughout. My height-of-Covid-exhaustion slowly winds back down to my usual levels of parent-exhaustion, and at one point the two strands of tiredness become hard to separate from each other. I know that all in all we’ve been incredibly lucky.
At the weekend, Covid-free, the four of us go to an art gallery, eat beans on toast at our favourite cafe, and play in the new sandpit at our local park. It feels like a rare weekend where there isn’t a nursery illness or some other crisis to manage. It feels good.