My 18-month-old daughter thinks the laptop is Grandma.
The majority of her life has now been spent under a pandemic, and not only does she think that face masks are the height of grown-up sophistication, she also has no idea that her grandparents aren’t made of pixels and don’t live in a screen on our dining room table.
We have waited, as patiently as possible, for more than a year for the opportunity to bring her to see them in real life, or vice versa.
When many families took the risk and flew to their home countries over the summer, we stayed put, afraid to expose our vulnerable parents to whatever bug we might possibly pick up, and resigned to the fact that there’s no way any of our three young children would be able to safely socially distance.
The feelings have been deep and complex – fear, frustration, self-doubt, worry, and of course lots of homesickness. It’s the longest time in which we have not travelled, and the longest time either my husband or I has ever been away from our parents.
But we counted our blessings and did our best to stay positive, sent photos of the children every day, and pinned our hopes on a vaccine coming soon. And, amazingly, it did. Everything finally seemed to be coming together.
Until the new COVID strain arrived.
A new twist in the tale
Another twist in the torturous COVID saga, this new ‘UK mutant’ as it has been dubbed, has evaporated the optimistic plans that had been bubbling up for our new year, and added another layer of fear and concern for our parents - all of whom are either in their 70s or have health conditions, and have been in some form of lockdown or isolation for almost 10 months.
My sister, who also lives and works in Dubai but doesn’t have children, did fly back to be with my parents for the winter break, in order to give them some company (from a distance) and to help make the festive period feel a bit more jolly for them.
She is currently sat in her childhood bedroom in a suburb of London (a tier 4 area with the harshest restrictions, close to Kent where the mutation was first noted), wracked with anxiety as she weighs up whether to risk possible border closures and spend Christmas in the UK as intended, or to bring her flight forward and leave them alone again.
No choice is anxiety-free. No choice is an easy one.
We’ve all had so many pixelated celebrations this year. We’ve had so many stomach-churning, heart-lurching periods of worry over family health conditions from afar. We thought the end was in sight.
Just as life seemed to be opening up, Christmas is all but cancelled in the UK as households are no longer able to mix, and retailers and businesses once again struggle to survive in the harshest of pandemic restrictions.
This new COVID strain feels like five steps backwards on our journey to show my daughter her grandmother in real life. And it’s another 10 steps backwards for families in the UK, who have been plunged into an even more severe lockdown once again. Everyone is just so very tired.
For now, our only choice is to tap down into the reserves of patience still left and to wait once again. Put safety first, try to stay optimistic. And open up the laptop.