Mother’s Day In The Age Of Coronavirus

Photographed by Eylul Aslan.
March. Spring. The end of winter. A new beginning. When Mother’s Day rolls around, it means my birthday is only a hop, skip and a jump away. This is what I usually regard as my own personal new year. It’s a hopeful time. You can buy narcissi and daffodils for just a pound. 
This year, everything is different. We don’t know when or if that will change. People keep saying "when things return to normal" and I haven’t got the heart to tell them that I’m not sure "normal" as we knew it will ever return. 
For the last week, I have been severely unwell, potentially with COVID-19. I’ll never know because I couldn’t get tested. I’ve spent that time in isolation. As I write this, I haven’t seen another human being IRL for six days.
I’m mostly well now, though my breathing is heavy. But better or not, I can’t risk passing it on to my nan. She has a pacemaker; the odds of her dying if I give her the virus are high. She lives alone in sheltered apartments and will spend Mother’s Day there, if we can convince her to stop going outside. My mum is currently looking after her partner, who had an operation just over a week ago. I can’t go to her house in case I make him unwell. My sister works to produce school meals. She’s busier than ever putting together emergency packages to feed the children of key workers and working out how to get free school meals to those who have been sent home and may not otherwise be able to eat. She can’t afford to be unwell, either. It would be nothing short of selfish to visit her. 
And so we’ll spend Mother’s Day in a Google Hangout. Trying to stay connected even though we must remain apart. 
For the last year, I have been living alone in my one-bedroom flat. It’s a luxury which is not lost on me and one I am grateful for daily. I know, right now, that being forced to be at home is simply not safe for everyone. But I am, as you will know by now by virtue of the fact that you are reading these words, a writer. Throughout my late teens and early 20s I gradually realised that I work well in isolation. At university, the library, though quiet, was too full of people for me to fully concentrate. At work ever since, while I crave the company of colleagues, I cannot really work unless I lock myself away from them. 
I have often struggled with pushing back against a world where we are judged by our social circles, where we need to socialise in order to be seen. 

Home alone – for what I am realising, day by day, is likely to be a prolonged period of time – I can't stop thinking of all the Mother's Days I have missed. 

There is a quote from Virginia Woolf’s diaries which I have underlined so vigorously, the paper is almost torn. 
I need solitude. I need space. I need air. 
Seclusion is, for me, a way to reflect, to process the things that are happening around me, to write and to find out what I really think. I rarely find it lonely. I have never seen time on my own as a void I ought to fill with something or someone else. The same is not true for all of my friends and family. I understand that, for some, solitude is as difficult as being around people all the time is for me. 
When seclusion is forced on you, though, when it is no longer an active choice – things change. Social distancing might be necessary, it might stop me inadvertently killing my grandmother, but that doesn’t make it easy. 
Home alone – for what I am realising, day by day, is likely to be a prolonged period of time – I can’t stop thinking of all the Mother’s Days I have missed. 
Last year, I spent it with my ex-boyfriend's family – with his mother, his grandmother. It was their turn, according to our imaginary relationship calendar. The year before that, I don’t even remember why I didn’t make it home. This year, I won’t see my mother, my sister or my grandmother because we find ourselves in the midst of a global crisis so great that we haven’t even begun to understand its significance yet, let alone contemplate the ways it will change us.
I have been speaking daily to my nan via FaceTime. We are both women living alone. "It’s just like the war," she keeps saying, before telling me that she won’t "give up" or "stop going out". I try to tell her that, unlike Hitler, this virus is invisible and potentially unbeatable. I explain that even a trip to the shops is putting her at risk. "I’ll keep that in mind," she says. I know that she won’t. 
The start of the coronavirus shutdown in Britain has been couched as yet another source of intergenerational conflict. "Dying for a drink" reads the headline above a Daily Mail article about young people around the country who can’t stop going to pubs, bars and clubs. "They don’t care about the elderly" is the subtext. No matter that the government’s guidance has been positively misleading; in the space of a week we’ve gone from "many people will lose their loved ones" to "we’ll beat this in 12 weeks" and back to "social distancing will last until the end of the year and pubs will be forced to close in London". 
Yet seeing Nan’s defiance and seeming reluctance to listen to me or, even, to science in the face of this abject danger has helped me to learn so much about her. Like so many members of the pre-war generation, she is unflappable. She is, as she always puts it, "a brick". 
I tell her that some of my friends have already lost work or been made redundant. "The government will have to step in," she says, "like they did when I was younger." I’m taken aback because, previously, she has condemned my generation for our supposed self-obsession and indigence. She remarks that if we had more of the sort of social housing that she and my grandfather lived in when they were first married, maybe we’d be more prepared for the tsunami-like economic shock approaching us at breakneck speed. 
For once, after years of disagreeing about the plight of Generation Rent, we agree. Social distancing might be keeping us physically apart but, in other ways, we might just be coming closer together. 
In recent years our country has swung to the right. The fortunes of old and young have diverged wildly. Our incomes have stagnated while house prices have risen astronomically, we’ve looked on as older generations have profited while charging us rent. 

Via FaceTime, though, I have found more common ground with my grandmother than we've ever been able to do in real life. Something tells me we will never take our connection, our ability to spend time with each other, to disagree in person for granted again. 

Yet there is hope. In the midst of this crisis, all over Europe politicians are implementing policies that only the most radical left-wingers have previously suggested. Politicians of all persuasions are urging the government to consider introducing a Universal Basic Income. Previously that would have been an unthinkable suggestion here from anyone but the Labour party.
On Friday, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced that the government will pay 80% of wages for employees not working during this crisis, up to £2,500 a month. He also said that benefits were increasing substantially - including housing benefit - and that even the self-employed would be able to access support throughout this crisis.
In Italy, the government has suspended mortgage payments to cushion the crisis’s effect on homeowners. In Denmark, the government will subsidise 75% of company payrolls, to encourage them not to fire their staff. In France, the state will delay taxes for affected companies.
And, perhaps most unexpectedly, in America, Republican senator Mitt Romney echoed left-wing calls to pay every individual a Universal Basic Income, regardless of whether they were currently in employment. 
We don’t know, we can’t know what will happen next. Hospitals are already declaring emergencies as they run out of critical care beds. School is out for many people and we don’t know when they will return. Only key workers are allowed into their places of work. 
Something catastrophic and life-changing has happened but, via FaceTime, I have somehow managed to find more common ground with my grandmother than we’ve ever been able to do in real life and something tells me we will never take our connection, our ability to spend time with each other, to disagree in person for granted again. 

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