As coronavirus classroom bubble restrictions comes to an end it's a welcome relief for working parents
Hallelujah it’s the end of the bubble scheme.
At least that’s the cries in our household. My 21-month old daughter was lovingly parcelled off to nursery for the first time in more than 10 days after her bubble burst. The place opens at 7.30am and she was there on the dot, her outstretched hand eagerly reaching for the doorbell with a finger attempting to line up with the buzzer. Toddler concentration at its finest.
Ada, like hundreds of thousands of others, had been caught in the quirk of self-isolation rules which were designed to keep us safe but had become groan-worthy infuriating for working parents, especially as other restrictions were lifted.
We might have seen crowds at football matches, tennis games and festivals but until today classrooms and nursery groups were aligned into bubbles. One positive test and the whole bubble would shut down as everyone quarantined. Even the so-called Freedom Day of July 19 and the end of term brought no respite for bubbles.
But now the rules have changed and it’s no longer necessary for entire swathes of children and their teachers to quarantine after one of their number tests positive.
Ada’s bubble burst two weeks ago - as if she was trying to make the most of the rules before they were tweaked again - and it was an education for me to entertain a toddler while juggling a full-time job. We had experienced lockdown one during maternity leave so with me now back at work this was something new.
After 18 months of the pandemic, where communicating via video chat became the norm, Ada’s party trick has been to wave at adoring grandparents, aunties and uncles and more recently say “el-lo” repeatedly. It goes down less well with Tom in accounts.
The ‘mute my microphone’ button was oft clicked save the response to some crucial information being a rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
But we got into a routine of sorts and my colleagues were brilliantly accommodating to my change in circumstances.
Snacks were deployed for the most crucial of times, aka any time I had a video call and I varied where I worked - the spare room, the kitchen table, the garden to give her a change of scenery. Certainly by the end of the day no room was free from our trail of mess.
It became obvious that Ada was bored. She was getting more clingy with me and her comfort blanket was never far from her. Nursery usually offers her play and fun with dedicated adults helping her do everything from messy paint to football with books and items we don't have at home.
Cooped up inside, there were toys to be played with, but they were quickly abandoned in favour of her new favourite game - grab the pen from Mummy. Side note: the list to Father Christmas will be a doddle come December!
The saving grace for us both was nap-time. Gone was the maternity leave mantra of sleep when baby sleeps! This was the time to Get. Stuff. Done. and while she had been knocking off her nap to about an hour, now she was sleeping for more than two.
Thankfully, Ada has remained well and is back at nursery today, and if her excitement at the nursery door is anything to go by she will be fine returning to the setting. I love spending time with her, and this was what I had to do to stop the spread of coronavirus but it was a tough juggle for me and a sad yo-yo for Ada - to be in nursery and then out. And elsewhere students have genuinely missed out.
For one family in term time, a bubble burst led to 10 days of isolation, two days back in school, before - you guessed it - the bubble burst again. There was no last day of school, no sports day, no farewell hugs in the playground and all of that is a big deal when you are five.
Teachers who were switching jobs and moving schools left with a video call and no chance to impart final words of wisdom on their children.
And while mine and Ada’s tale of muddling through is nothing unusual from the pandemic these bubbles have been tough for so many of us, even though we understood why they were necessary. There was no good age to have a child at home.
In one week of July alone, more than 640,000 children in England were estimated to be at home self-isolating for the required 10 days, because a fellow student with the virus had 'popped' their bubble forcing them all into quarantine.
Phrases like 'parenting fail' and 'mum guilt' abound on message boards and in group chats for those juggling the competing priorities of parenting and working.
Parenting journalist Catherine Ball summed it up when she tweeted: "Never underestimate just how tough it has been for working parents to lose their childcare with no warning for weeks at a time."
Another parent lamented the fact her child won bonus points for playing an online game for so many consecutive days.
Now, with the rules changing for double-jabbed adults and the end of the bubble system my colleagues will no longer see Ada popping up on video chats and it will make my day easier. But it's Ada who will benefit the most from being back in her nursery with wonderful staff dedicated to helping her develop.
Hopefully older children can now enjoy the rest of the holidays without this threat hanging over them and come September school life will encroach on something resembling normality.