Autistic working mum, juggling in a pandemic

As a working parent, I am quite used to the juggling act of family life and work life, balancing the needs of my family, my job, and my own needs… usually in that order. Usually I can just about keep those juggling balls in the air. Working from home during a pandemic has certainly put my juggling skills to the test.

Cue flashback to the “old normal”, those days that weren’t unprecedented, when our efforts were not all “Herculean”.

Yes, some family emergencies and school events would occasionally encroach on my normal working time.

Yes, some project deadlines and peaks in workload could encroach on home time.

There was, however, usually a clear-cut boundary between my contracted working hours and my home time. I could say to my husband or kids “don’t bother me with this while I am at work, surely it can wait until this evening or the weekend”.

That work/life boundary was blurred when schools were closed from 23 March due to the pandemic and we all started working from home all the time. Some normality returned for me when my daughters returned to school in June, and I mainly worked during their school hours, but that respite did not last.

All too soon the summer holidays came around and I was back to working with constant distractions such as my younger daughter Jess with her running commentary about her Minecraft or Roblox games, her frequent photobombs of my online meetings with her requests for snacks and ice lollies, my husband Si’s electric guitar and other distractions.

Fortunately, the summer holidays are a relatively quiet time for my workload, so I was able to take annual leave every other week, but with all the lockdown restrictions I was not sure what to do with this time off. My maternity guilt nagged about not having quality time with the kids “making memories”. I worried about them whenever they were bored or low.

I am easily overwhelmed, due to anxiety and autism, and I particularly struggle when things are stressful both at home and at work at the same time, or when I have conflicting priorities at home. Even harder for me is when the needs of my children conflict with the needs of my husband.

Always worried that I could drop one of those juggling balls at any time, Covid then threw in another ball, one I needed to juggle in addition to all the other balls but without it touching them or my hands. I was losing faith in my own ability to maintain this next-level juggling act, because even if I could pick up a dropped ball it would be so hard to get the rhythm back.

I promise I am getting to the point now, thanks for bearing with me this far!

My daughter Izzy, 11, is from my first marriage. After spending the week in late August with my ex-husband Martin on his narrowboat, she came home on the Sunday with a sore throat, a minor cough and a mild fever. I was not particularly concerned at first and left her to sleep it off on the Monday while I worked from 8am to 2pm.

Izzy got up feeling worse, with a full-on temperature, a painful throat and a cough. Realising she was now displaying two of the symptoms for Covid-19, I messaged Martin to let him know and to ask if he and his wife were feeling OK. I mentioned it to my husband Si too, because he has type 1 diabetes so he falls into the Covid vulnerable category. I was due to work the first half of that week, and had planned to take the kids to see my mother-in-law in Dorset during my annual leave the last week of the holidays so I had to cancel that plan.

I was just about holding it together, until husbands past and current started to worry and expected me to perform miracles. We all agreed that a Covid test needed to be booked, but Si was worried about me driving Izzy to a test centre (I rarely drive, had not driven at all during lockdown, and the hand brake on our car was playing up).

I tried to book a home test, given the problem with our car, but the Covid test booking website was not offering that option.

Martin pressured me to book a test immediately that evening, because apparently Izzy had been in contact with various members of his family that week (annoying in itself, not to mention him dropping her back to me unwell). The test booking website was not giving the option of booking a test that evening, although it did say more slots would become available at 8pm.

Meanwhile I just wanted to console my tearful poorly daughter, to cuddle up with her and watch a film, conscious that I needed to isolate her from the rest of the family, but I could not bring myself to confining her to her bedroom, so Izzy lay on one sofa and me on the other sofa while Si and Jess avoided the living room. I was acutely aware that Izzy was just as concerned about the risk to Si and to her family on Martin’s side, yet she still felt hurt that we were not rushing to comfort her with cuddles and mopping her fevered brow.

At 8pm I tried again, but still the only tests available were drive-in tests the following morning. I booked for 10am in Droitwich, about 15 miles away, and attempted to de-escalate the meltdown that I had managed to keep at simmering point.

The following day, Izzy’s temperature came down a little, and her throat was even more sore. Si and I agreed that he would risk taking her to the test centre in the car, both wearing masks, while I stayed home and tried to get some work done. Getting Izzy out of bed and into the car was tricky enough, as she was feeling very sorry for herself and just wanted to sleep.

Leaving my phone on do not disturb, I tried to put my concern for my family out of my mind and get some work done. My manager was aware of the situation, as I mentioned it in our morning team catch-up. I was alarmed to eventually notice I had a number of missed calls from Si just after 10am, I had left my phone on charge in another room, and eventually a voicemail just saying “thanks very f***ing much”.

I tried phoning back, but no answer. My anxious mind whirred with theories about what might have happened. Had they been unable to do the test due to Si not having PR? Was Droitwich a test site for over 18s only? The meltdown threatened to simmer over, and I stared at my laptop unable to do any work, unable to think, brain foggy.

When they finally got home, I learned that parents are expected to administer the Covid test for under-12s, but Izzy had refused to let Si anywhere near her painful throat with the swab. The missed calls were from him clutching at straws thinking if I might be able to reason with her over the phone.

When Si did eventually manage to swab Izzy’s throat, he could see her uvula was inflamed and had a little white spot. That was enough to assume that this was a throat infection, but the whole family were obliged to self-isolate.

Meanwhile from one short phone call with the GP, Izzy was prescribed antibiotics for her throat infection, and by the time her Covid-19 test results came through negative she was already feeling much better.

Back to the new normal, for now, juggling act resumed… until those normal winter bugs inevitably go around the school wreaking further havoc…

Author: Charlie Hart

Late-diagnosed autistic working mum, attempting to write an amusing semi-autobiographical novel with a twist.

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