At 8.30pm on Monday 23 March, Boris Johnson’s announcement of a lockdown turned our lives upside down. My partner, Andy, and I were slowly working towards integrating our two households. July was the date that we had talked about moving in together, but it wasn’t going to be simple. We have five children between us (I have three and Andy has two) - ages 17, 16, 14, 11 and 8 - so it was something we were taking very seriously.
But when Boris announced the lockdown, we lurched into action with our still only half-baked integration plans. The youngest, who was already fast asleep, was rudely woken up and through her bleary eyed stupor struggled to grasp why we appeared to be fleeing. Not knowing how strictly the lockdown was going to be enforced in that we were now only meant to mix with family or the people we lived with - we threw clothes into bags, grabbed essentials of teddy bears and were in Andy’s car by 9.30pm on the way to his house. Our two families were to suddenly become one.
The last year has been very difficult. My three children lost their father to an aggressive form of motor neurone disease, and we had been settling into a new home. Basically I have had enough drama to last me several lifetimes and I was looking forward to a quiet year.
Andy had also been widowed and we knew that we wanted our kids to be part of our journey and started spending weekends together. Christmas came, and we trialled things by spending a week with everyone under one roof. It went as well as it could have and crystallised the challenges we would encounter. We cobbled together a spreadsheet of things that we needed to work on and agreed on key fundamentals that we wanted our future blended family to have.
As the likelihood of a lockdown suddenly seemed imminent, we started to seriously talk about what we would do. Our biggest fear was that rushing into our integration would end up tearing our families apart. But if we stayed apart as two households, would we be even allowed to see each other? Would we end up undoing all the effort we had put into our relationship? We also could not see how my 8 and 11 year olds would comprehend being told that they now had to wave and blow kisses at Andy and his two kids from 2 metres away.
So here we are. Today is day 2 of living together. Under these extraordinary circumstances, Andy and I have found ourselves outnumbered and sometimes outmanoeuvred by the collective wiles of our five kids. As of writing, the 16 year old and the 14 year old are helping each other with computer science. And both of them have helped the 8 year old with her coding homework. We have also exercised together and cooked meals together. The kids are all still getting to know each other - and each other’s idiosyncrasies. As are Andy and I. We are all still polite to each other but who knows what will happen should extreme cabin fever set in around next week?
Ultimately, our fear of facing an unknown future and not being able to imagine what September looks like made us want to keep all of us together. I know fast forwarding our plan could make or break us. But the separation, without knowing what is on the other side, was simply unimaginable.