Annie Ridout was concerned about the impact the pandemic was having on her children’s mental health, so she started telling them stories about the magical things we can do when we believe in ourselves…
When I look back to March 2020, and the start of the first lockdown, I have mixed feelings.
Like most people, I was terrified about the people I love becoming very ill – particularly my sons, who’d both recently been hospitalised with respiratory illnesses.
Also, I was worried about work.
We run The Robora – an online course business – which is brilliant in terms of flexibility, as it’s all online, but not so simple when there are three kids to look after full-time and homeschooling to do.
However, I also look back with a strange nostalgia for those days with no structure or rigidity.
At the time, my children were five, three and six months – and our life felt so busy and planned out. Suddenly, the diary emptied and we were free to create our own, much looser routines and rituals.
This appealed to me, as the reluctant ‘chief planner’.
I liked not having to rush the older two to school and nursery. Or arrange playdates. Swimming was cancelled. No more ballet.
And watching the older two grow closer as they dug up our shitpit garden and spent hours together playing in the mud brought me so much joy.
As did the bond they formed with their baby brother.
We created a bubble of five and kept ourselves to ourselves, with just the occasional door visit from family.
And we quickly stopped mentioning The Virus, because it didn’t feel right to be talking about it around the kids.
However, I couldn’t fully protect my children from conversations other adults were having about it.
And the more the five-year-old heard about death and dying and seriously ill people – especially older people; people her grandparents’ age – the more anxious she became.
We started talking about the hard stuff. The things she felt worried about. To help her offload. And then we moved onto the nice things: what lovely rituals we could create to punctuate our days and weeks:
- Freshly-baked croissants on Saturday mornings
- ‘Nice time’ every afternoon – juice and snacks
- Lighting candles, and each making a wish as we blew them out
- Holding onto smooth gemstones and dreaming about the future
I told my daughter that we have a certain amount of power over our thoughts, so we can choose to let our mind run away with the scary stuff, or we can choose to focus on the people and events that we love.
And off the back of these conversations, I came up with a character called Lila who knows about the power of the mind, as she uses her own to change the weather.
But then one day, she can’t. And while she’s tempted to give up – to accept that her powers have gone – she decides to work hard and to see if she can salvage her magical powers.
The kids enjoyed listening to the rhyming story I’d created, so I got in touch with Shakhnova Muradova, an illustrator I’d been working with, and she brought the book to life with her illustrations.
Lila and the Skies is a rhyming book for girls and boys who like a little magic and wonder, but would also benefit from a tale about the importance of working hard and believing in yourself.
Now, the kids are back at school and nursery, and the littlest has a childminder a few mornings a week. We’ve returned to some kind of normality, which is amazing.
But amongst the dark memories of this past year, I’ll always have some fond ones, too – of the creative coping mechanisms we found, including the creation of Lila.
Buy a copy of Lila and the Skies