The rumours had been flying. President Macron was to make a speech to the nation on Thursday 12th March, 8pm.
Earlier that day we’d been talking to our second eldest son, who lives in Montpellier 3 ½ hours from our home in the countryside SW of Toulouse. It was his 26th Birthday and he was home alone. We put him on speaker phone and chatted over lunch. The main topic was of course the spread of the Coronavirus. We speculated on what Macron might announce later that evening and how it may affect us all. I was trying to persuade him to come home. He lives in a small apartment on the 3rd floor in the city. I thought he’d be much safer with us. He was reluctant to leave his home. He was in between jobs having just recovered from some major surgery last year, but his partner had work.
He told us he was meeting up with friends the next day.
“Don’t worry Mum, we’re all being careful, we’ve stopped doing ‘la bise’” (the double and sometimes triple kisses of greeting in France). My stomach lurched…
How could I not worry?
People at risk, the elderly and those with previous medical conditions, had already been told to start self-isolating. My son falls into this category. He had a lifesaving liver transplant in 2017, so is immunosuppressed and has also had surgery on both his lungs. He can not get this virus.
Later that evening, as we finished our dinner, we temporarily broke our ‘no phones at the dinner table’ rule and put France 24 live in English on speakerphone to hear Macron’s announcement.
“Starting Monday, all nurseries, schools and universities will be closed”. It was a drastic measure but a necessary one.
The final day of school
I was in two minds whether to let them go to school for the final day, but I felt they would need to get instructions on how it was going to work being schooled from home.
My youngest son aged 14 was doing a stage that week (work experience) in a local computer shop. He went to work on the Friday morning, for his last day. “Be careful, keep your distance from everyone and wash your hands”, I warned.
I drove our friend who was staying with us, to Carcassonne airport to get a flight back to the UK for the weekend. The roads to the airport were eerily quiet for the time of day. The airport too and in the café where we stopped for a coffee before his flight, the staff had gloves on and were spraying the tables and chairs each time someone left their place. I had become highly aware of not touching anything – it was rumoured that the virus could stay on metals and plastics for several hours, maybe even days.
This is not a drill!
When I got home, youngest son wasn’t there. He’d decided to go off on his bike to see his friend after he’d finished work, despite hearing rumours that there were several cases of the virus in our local town. I was livid. What was he thinking of? Half an hour later he called me and before he even had chance to speak I launched into a tirade of questions, without waiting for the answers.
“What are you thinking of? How can you just go off with a friend? Do you understand what’s going on? Come home immediately. This is not a drill! ”
“You’re being a bit over the top aren’t you?”
“NO I’M NOT, COME HOME NOW!”
I couldn’t believe it. How could he be so thoughtless?
He came home.
The worst Mum!
I picked our 12-year-old daughter up from the bus stop. “How was your last day”
“It was really weird. Everyone is talking about it.”
“Did the teachers tell you how school is going to work from now on?”
“No, not really”
Great! What a wasted, potentially dangerous day that was! On reflection how could the teachers have had any more idea of how schooling from home would work? They had only been told the day before that schools were closing. How could they prepare for this? How could anyone prepare for this?
The next morning, I was in the bedroom sorting some washing when my daughter burst into the room holding her phone…
“Can Coralie come over for the weekend please Mum?” she asked.
I looked her incredulously.
“Oh why not, it’s so unfair”.
“What don’t you understand? This is serious. They don’t close the schools for no reason. You have to stay home and that means not mixing with ANYONE else”
“But I saw her yesterday, she’s still seeing other friends. Why can’t I?”
“Because this is serious. No one should be seeing anyone.”
“I hate you. You’re the worst Mum!”, she slammed the door and stomped off to her bedroom.
I sighed. This was going to be hard. It’s not the first time I’ve been called “the worst Mum” and it probably won’t be the last. It’s a tough job being a parent.
But it’s only a few friends…
Then there was my middle son’s reaction. He was approaching 18, surely he would understand the situation a bit more. He’s such a sensible boy.
“Mum, can you drop me off at my friends tonight, just for one night. It’s his 18th and I’ve promised I’d go. It’s only three of us and we were together at school yesterday anyway. It can’t hurt.”
“I’m sorry, but no, you can’t go. We have to stop seeing anyone, we just can’t take the risk”
“Risk, what risk? You are being ridiculous Mum. It’s just a couple of friends. We won’t see anyone else. It can’t do any harm.”
“Look, we don’t know who has the virus. We’re hoping to bring your brother here next week. We have to make sure that there is no chance whatsoever of the virus being here already. What if we brought him here to be safe, and one of us had it already and passed it onto him? How would you feel if it was you? It’s just not worth the risk.”
He scowled at me and went to his room, mumbling something I probably didn’t want to hear under his breath.
By Monday 16th (my eldest son’s 30th birthday) it became evident that lockdown was about to be enforced. Rumours were circulating that a 6-week lockdown had been discussed in official offices. We were concerned that our son would be trapped in Montpellier and we wouldn’t be able to travel to get him. I called him in the morning to try and persuade him it was time for him to leave.
“Don’t worry Mum, you don’t need to persuade me, we’ve decided to come. I’m collecting my medication from the pharmacy after lunch and I’ve started packing”.
I was so relieved. So, our eldest son (who came back to live with us in January), put aside any birthday celebrations and set off just after lunch for the 7 hour round trip to pick up his brother, his partner and their cat. They arrived back in time for dinner and to hear the live announcement from Macron. As of lunchtime the following day, France was in lockdown for at least two weeks.
And so it began, nine of us in lockdown, for how long? Nobody knew….
You can also find out more about family life if France in my book “What have we got Toulouse? A family moving to France“.
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