06 May 2020

Perhaps now we'll find out what makes us happy

Daisy Mailey works in Admissions, Recruitment and Marketing at UEA. Busy with balancing work and childcare, she asks if we can learn to accept this time of great turbulence and if the impact of the current crisis can lead us to discover what makes us truly happy. 

children in garden

I write this sitting at my daughter’s desk. It is the only desk in the house and has become my hovel for home working. In my mind’s eye I imagined working from home to be an Instagram picture of chunky knits, mugs and rose gold matching stationary. In reality I share my workspace with small plastic figurines and struggle to see the wood for the trees in my inbox. 

You see, I am a full-time administrator and full-time parent balancing the mental pressure of trying to be all things to all people during the lockdown. I have recently realised that shutting the door on that pressure is the only way to cope. At the beginning of this crisis there was a flurry of ‘help’ from all sides on social media – how to home school, how not to home school, how to cope with isolation, how to manage your workspace. Whilst we were all being told that this was the new normal (a phrase almost as riling as ‘unprecedented times’) the pressure seemed to be directed at women to create routines for sprogs, to start crafting away like Martha Stewart as people kept sharing ideas for hand paintings and egg box rabbits. 

I started to feel the pressure of the domestic load, the need to create a safe space for my family that would be a haven from the virus, so I flitted between painting walls, tidying, loading dishwashers, unloading them and piling in laundry. There would be fresh air in this house I declared, throwing open windows whilst leaping behind hedges to keep a distance from neighbours. I ordered work books on maths, Spanish and spelling for the small person, determined to spend hours a day teaching her a way through this time.

We must all stay positive I was told, keep spirits up, fall back on that Blighty Spirit – work, parent, stay safe, exercise, keep all the balls in the air. 

But by 9pm each night I was so mentally exhausted that I was a hazy, paranoid and tired wreck. My crutches were gone – physical space to myself, talks with my friends and most of all, time. It was during this supposed abundance of time that we were to learn Mongolian or how to play the panpipes whilst in mountain pose. The reality is that if I am home-working, my daughter tells me that I never spend any time with her. If I don’t work then I can feel emails dropping into my inbox from afar.

Is this why we are all panicking and trying to fill this period with achievements and tick-boxes? Have we all become so far removed from who we are because of the relentless pace of living that we have forgotten how to just live? To sit with ourselves is not always a comfortable experience, especially in this period of life and death, but maybe that’s what we should be aiming for? 

What if we just stopped looking at our phones, stopped trying to control our child’s learning during this time, stopped trying to fit a 9-5 job into a time where there is no time. What if we just let it be? 

I am learning to stop thinking about the next thing that needs doing. I’m learning the benefit of being outside much of the day. I’m learning that I will never be able to be an entire parent and an entire worker running at 200%. There will always be a loss. When everything is stripped away, maybe we can work out what makes us purely happy. I hope so. 


Do you have a story to share? Please email communications@uea.ac.uk