Brendan Crossan: The return to play is part of the recovery process for our children
THIS column was written before we took our kids to their favourite restaurant last night. It was the first time in four months.
We knew what we were ordering before we left the house.
Warm crepes, doused in chocolate and toffee sauce, with dollops of fresh cream. After a plate of their favourite pasta.
Rosa likes to dress for the occasion. Shea takes what he’s given.
Before we left I was measuring the width of our back garden for a bouncy castle hire.
We might even keep the bouncy castle for two days if they allow us.
We might book a magician who makes things out of balloons.
There will be candy floss, slush puppy and popcorn machines and a candy cart with their favourite sweets.
The kids can help themselves. They can eat, drink and bounce ’til their hearts’ content.
That’s what happens when your children’s birthdays fall during a pandemic as we take our first tentative steps out of lockdown and grapple with the new normal.
It was Saturday March 7, a cool, crisp morning when St Malachy’s U7s girls played their last game together.
It feels like an eternity ago when the kids were elbow-bumping rather than shaking hands with their opponents at the end of the match.
As coaches, we rolled our eyes at post-match handshakes being banned. Like, what harm is there? All this talk of 'coronavirus' would soon blow over.
‘See you at training on Tuesday, girls.’
We all got the WhatsApp image of a guy slouched in his chair with a cardboard box over his head and a bottle of Corona beer by his side.
We all laughed nervously at this virus, and listened to too many news bulletins each of them telling us of a place called Wuhan and how we mourned for Italy.
Covid-19 was on its way.
Little did we know our worlds would change utterly.
Everything would be cancelled and we’d be burrowed away in our houses with hand sanitisers in every room and beautiful rainbows sellotaped to our mournful windows.
The St Malachy’s kids didn’t make it to training on Tuesday. The bag of footballs remained in my car boot.
Training pitches were padlocked until further notice.
Home-schooling and working-from-home became the stressful bane of many parents’ lives.
We were all like coiled springs and we'd stare at those in supermarket queues who encroached our space.
The early days and weeks of lockdown were some of the grimmest I’ve ever experienced.
One of the saddest moments was my son’s nursery teacher handing over his bag of belongings, everyone biting hard on their bottom lips, knowing that this was the end of the road for him and all his class-mates.
Evicted from nursery school by coronavirus – or ‘co-co-virus’, as he endearingly calls it.
Each parent had their own cross to bear.
It was hard to make sense of what was happening and how swiftly and ruthlessly our children’s lives had been affected.
In the early weeks, this column morphed into a parent’s lament as we couldn’t tell the difference between a Sunday and a Friday.
As the nights began to stretch, my daughter and I must have played 100 matches in the garden, while my son ran around with his Avenger figures.
One of the absolute Godsends over the past four months was just how much time we, as parents, got to spend with them.
Every waking minute they were there, entertaining and frustrating us in equal measure.
As time went on, you realised that no matter what we did to keep them occupied, they needed to be around kids their own age.
Spool forward to last Saturday morning at Naomh Enna GAC on the Hightown Road and there’s Rosa learning to fist-pass and kick-pass an O’Neill’s football and having foot races with kids her own age on the pristine grass surface.
There could have been thunderstorms that morning – but it still would have been glorious.
On Tuesday night, the coaching crew of St Malachy’s were at the pitch, armed to the teeth with gloves, masks, hand sanitisers and spray.
Every football and cone was sprayed and rubbed down. One parent volunteered to be compliance officer and doused each child’s hands with sanitiser as they quietly returned to soccer training for the first time in four months.
The kids were split into groups of threes and fours. While all the kids enjoyed being put through their paces again, there was a generally subdued atmosphere among them.
I imagined a different return, a more ecstatic, celebratory one after such a long time away.
But, of course, the virus hasn’t gone away. The rules and regulations at every training session are stark reminders that things won’t feel normal for some time.
They say kids are more resilient than adults.
But one lesson I’ve learned during the easing of the lockdown restrictions is not to expect too much too soon from our children many of whom can’t articulate how the loss of contact with their peers for four months has impacted on them.
Things mightn’t necessarily click into place straight away.
Amid the economic uncertainty and erratic trajectory of Covid19, the mental well-being of our kids is one of the most important things as we navigate our way through the next few months.
And what we do know is the positive impact sport has on their growth, something that needs to be generously acknowledged by local government.
What I've also learned during lockdown is that our kids were like torches in the dark.
Like the Footprints poem says, it’s their footprints we see in the sand, not ours.