We can’t say we weren’t warned. “Do not attempt to turn your kitchen into a classroom,” said a teacher friend when the schools shut. “You’re not teachers; you never will be.” Rubbish, we thought. We were up for it and we had all the gear: a little desk, a whiteboard, dozens of books, drawers full of pens, stickers and cardboard. We spent a weekend lovingly building a little classroom in the corner of the kitchen for our four-year-old daughter, Aster.
We had felt pretty smug when lockdown hit. Two years earlier, we had embraced the open-plan-living dream, building a huge kitchen extension at the back of the house. It was going to be the bunker for four of us: me, my partner, Helen; my 14-year-old stepdaughter, Isobel; and Aster.
And so our little primary school opened its doors next to the catflap, our sole pupil turning up wearing, often as not, a Disney princess dress. I did PE, maths and English in the mornings; Helen did arts and crafts after lunch. Our jobs would just have to fit in where they could.
Of course, our teacher friend was right; nobody could possibly maintain the crucial boundaries between teaching, parenting and working. We all started to crumble. I made the classic mistake of trying to teach while keeping one eye on work emails. We realised, like every other parent, that we had neither the ability nor the inclination to educate our own child. Goals became pragmatic: how many hours of TV can they watch every day without doing permanent damage? Does CBeebies even count as telly?
Living our lives together every day in that kitchen wasn’t the nirvana we had imagined. On the days when Isobel, who is, thankfully, virtually self-sufficient, was ensconced at the dining room table for online lessons while I was trying to do PE with Joe Wicks and Helen was on a Zoom call, it could all get a bit strained.
There were days – weeks – of hair-pulling despair. But at the same time, in that kitchen, we became something more than we had been: a little community – and we still are. I will miss preparing shared lunches and eating them together at the picnic table in the garden on sunny days.
Of course, everybody has had to adapt. Most days, after dinner, I find myself alone in the kitchen clearing up, playing Iron Maiden too loudly while the rest of the household beats a tactical retreat. This, I have realised, is now my “commute” home from the office: a chance for decompression before it all starts again.
Strangely, I notice, even now that schools have gone back, our little home classroom is still there in the corner of the kitchen – a shrine to the days when it was just us against the world. It seems to belong there now; a part of who we became.