In previous years, the 5×50 Challenge (5kms a day for 50 consecutive days) has been difficult to fit in to everyday life: squeezing it in around school-runs and meetings, appointments and work – all the usual busy-ness which comes with four young children and a job. But at the same time, it has provided some sanctuary: 45 minutes to myself, an excuse/permission to simply walk out the front door and get some rare ‘head space’ or ‘me-time’.
This year, it’s been back-to-front. Fitting it in has been easier: it’s still been squeezed in-between home-schooling, work and all the demands of having those four young children at home all the time, but essentially I’ve been able to choose when to jump on the exercise bike (thank you Roosha!) and start pedalling.
The head space, on the other hand, has been non-existent. From the saddle I have explained fractions, proof-read reports, overseen play, mediated fights, directed performances and negotiated deals. My music choices have been replaced with those that keep Hannah happy (thank you Olly!), whilst my own stream-of-consciousness has been replaced by a toddler’s stream-of-questions . . .
Which is, of course, all fine. In the context of the current crisis, the absence of a little ‘head-space’ is a negligible problem, and I have genuinely been daily grateful to be able to stay at home, work and shield my children as fully as possible whilst continuing the challenge.
As I have cycled I have been mindful (as far as mindfulness has been possible) about those who have not been afforded such a choice: those who are still going out to work, those who are necessarily living apart from their own children to keep them safe; those who are in isolation alone; those who are in isolation with danger. We may all be in the same sea but our boats are very different and it is hard (although crucial to try) to imagine what it must feel like to be struggling to stay afloat, or worse.
I have also thought about Hannah. Since the first time I did the 5×50 Challenge, five years ago, she has lost almost all of her mobility, her hand function has deteriorated, her breathing has worsened and her medications have increased. On top of all that, lockdown is now damaging to her physical and mental well-being, she is understandably bored and frustrated and she is most definitely letting us know!
This version of Hannah is not one which most of you will ever see. You probably won’t believe that she is capable of an ongoing scream which reverberates through my head, of a persistent loud, low moan which prevents clear thought, or of tearful sobbing which makes my heart ache.
To some extent, these sounds have become the soundtrack to our lockdown and they make it hard to not feel like we are failing. In fairness, we are. Only twice have we tried to get her into the standing frame, we make her walk too infrequently, her eye-gaze device has only come out of its bag once, updating her visual timetable keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the ‘to-do’ list and yes, I too often placate her frustrated screaming with a bag of crisps.
On the other hand (thank goodness there is an ‘other hand’!) her trademark mischievous giggle has been part of our soundtrack too – the version of Hannah you always see. She has giggled at her brothers’ crazy games and her cat’s mad moments, at foam-fights and Zoom-calls, at paddling pools and painting, at naked-toddler-trampolining and bad-Dad-dancing, at screen-sharing and photo-taking and quiz-failing and lip-syncing and at lots and lots and lots of cycling.
The 5×50 Challenge ended yesterday. Today is the first day since March 22nd when I don’t HAVE to get those 5kms done. But Hannah sits next to me when I cycle and she smiles. So when I’m done typing this, I’m putting Olly Murs on loud, bracing myself for some intense toddler-questioning, remembering how fortunate I am to be in this particular boat today, and getting on that bike.