Barbara's blog: Please don’t fill my tent’s smoke hole…

Working at the dining table in an open plan house means I have an uninterrupted view of the garden. There is a squirrel climbing up to the bird table for its daily seed heist and robins have gathered on the hanging feeder, a flurry of wings flapping. The clouds have broken, freeing patches of blue sky. Summer is here. I close my eyes to inhale the warm air carrying the sweet perfume of nature.

A calendar reminder beeping jolts me back to the present. My daughter Francesca is standing in front of me, an amused look on her face. “Were you daydreaming, mum? If I did that, I would never get any school work done!”.

Oops, busted!

I am generally very disciplined when it comes to home-working, going to almost Kantian lengths to ensure my day remains productive. However, I have been thinking whether this was because working from home, up to a few months ago, had been a choice, and was confined to 1-2 days per week maximum, when it brought relief from the daily commute and quiet time to focus on difficult tasks. Now it is mandatory, and it has to be accompanied by social distancing. All of a sudden, the world has turned into an introvert’s paradise. I have to share the house with the children, who are following the online home-learning plan from the school, and although my husband is a key worker at Gatwick Airport and therefore still on shift, I know this is not the case for some of you. The house is suddenly busier than the office and at times, working from home feels like an imposition, with many of us missing our colleagues and yearning for the pulsating heart of the city.

Furthermore, there are certain tasks that are less suited to being carried out remotely, requiring to be organised differently to be effective. Although my employer has been exceedingly supportive towards our wellbeing, adapting established working practices to ensure the organisation can still make effective decisions has brought additional pressures. Chairing meetings remotely, organising captivating workshops, ensuring a good balance between technology and human interaction requires much finer details and more prepping time. It is easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of anxious perfectionism when the nation – and the world – is in crisis mode: having control over individual tasks is a way to put order in the primordial uncertainty that seems to have taken over our lives.

After the moment of daydreaming, I go back to work, answer emails, carry out a review of a document, take a Skype call. The house is quiet (for now).  These are challenging times. Change, uncertainty, and fear interweave the fabric of society.

In Siberian mythology (bear with me!), if you want to hurt somebody you close the smoke hole in their tent because it stops the connection they have with mountains, rivers, and forests, their divine beings. And there is a similarity here, despite the obscure reference. Imposed solitude doesn’t suit the sociable animal that we are.

But there is also an opportunity to rekindle the relationship we have with our soul and build a deeper connection with those with whom we share our space. As I said earlier in this blog, it’s not that you can’t do the same things as before, it’s just that these have to be organised differently, and then they soon become the new normal.

Barbara works for a regulator in Canary Wharf, but lives a stone’s throw from the South Downs with her 14-year-old cheerful and creative daughter, 13-year-old funny and ingenious son, and supportive husband.

Category: A Citymother's Diary


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