B+ for effort: Did your family pass the lockdown test?

Tash Bell with her husband Mat Freer, and their children Poppy, 14, Stanley, 12, and Rose, 10. (Picture credit: Jay Williams)

Summer’s here, home-school is out. As we start to emerge from our Covid caves, it’s time to look back on lockdown: What lessons were learned and (crucially) how did we behave? “Time for an end of term report,” I announce to my husband Mat and our three children Poppy (14), Stan (12) and Rose (10). We’ll feedback on one another’s progress (or lack of it) over the past eight weeks; allot praise where due and (here’s where I get excited) pinpoint how family members ‘could do better’.

First though to agree Areas for Assessment. Pooling our thoughts, it swiftly becomes clear that adults and children value different things: While Mat and I are all about Commitment to Schoolwork and Personal Hygiene, the children nominate ‘Food Consumption’, ‘Annoyingness’ (special sibling category) and ‘Shouting Levels’ (parents). “You’re not including a category for housework?” I ask Poppy. “That’s because we know we’d score badly,” she replies.

Next we agree ‘process’: Each family member in turn will exit the room while the others complete their performance review. Reports will be delivered verbally with everyone given a ‘right to reply’. So – how did we score?

Rose (10)

Personal Hygiene: C+

Rose took cessation of formal education as a cue to stop brush her teeth in the morning, ditto hair (“I can cut out big knots with the kitchen scissors.”) Standards have only improved since Rose a) lost the scissors, and b) knocked out a tooth, chewing on a sweet.

Attitude to Work: A

By 8am each day, Rose has rattled off all school assignments so she can focus on Important Things like playing Sindy dolls, reading comics and building dens with her brother (“she holds the planks,” reports Stan, “while I hammer sharp nails into them”).

Help Around the House: B

When urged towards chores, her father observes Rose “moves at the speed of molasses.” On the plus side, she’s diligent, uncomplaining – and short (so good with a dustpan and brush).

Being Positive / Bringing the Fun: A

Rose is unfailingly sunny and self-propelling. “Though she can be annoying,” says Stan, “it’s usually after I’ve annoyed her first.”

Stanley (12)

Personal Hygiene: B

After years of coming home from school caked in mud, which would (he assured his parents) “brush off in bed”, Stan appears to have discovered both shower AND shampoo during lockdown. Only his room-mate Rose remains sceptical: “I’m always tripping over his smelly pants. And last week he discovered a sock with mould growing on it.”

Attitude to Work: A-

“Stan does all his homework in the last second before it’s due,” notes Poppy. “Then he devotes himself to his latest passion, learning about space,” notes his mother (who is now an expert on radioactive isotopes, astrophysics and “how to achieve thrust”).

Help Around the House: B-

“Stan makes waaaay more mess than he tidies,” observe his sisters, “but he does sweep up the chicken poop” (having hatched a clutch of chicks who now flutter about our dining room, crapping on the chairs).

Though Stan doesn’t help with laundry, neither does he create it, confining himself to dressing gown and long-johns until 3pm, then FULL running gear until bed.

Physical Exercise: A

Stan trains daily, “and does it willingly,” notes Rose, “which is weird.”

Being Positive / Bringing the Fun: A

“Stan shows a maniacal commitment to clapping for the NHS,” notes Mat, “mostly because he gets to bang on pans, stand on our gate-post and holler at the neighbours. His sisters commend Stan for his dedication to devising games, particularly “the one where we beat each other with the broom” (Poppy), and “when he throws a large ball at you,” (Rose) “shouting GRENADE! YOU’RE DEAD.”

Poppy (14)

Personal Hygiene: B

Moot point, as Poppy rarely breaks into a sweat. She sleeps 12-16hrs night, and when awoken by hunger, limits her sphere of movement to screen/ sofa/ fridge.

Attitude to Work: A

Poppy ploughs through school assignments for hours at a stretch, yet “still gets stressed”, notes her little sister, “because her teachers are giving her ALL THE WORK IN THE WORLD”.

Help Around the House: B

“Poppy is never knowingly NOT covered in flour”, notes Mat, since sussing the only way she was going to get biscuits in lockdown was to bake them.

Being Positive / Bringing the Fun: A-

Poppy is a genial gang-leader. Her siblings miss her when she disappears into her phone, but “she’s really good at playing Sindy dolls,” says Rose, “and chasing Stan round with a stick.”

Dad/ Mat (47)

Personal Hygiene: B+

“He gets really sweaty from doing keep fit,” notes Stan, “so we’re glad when he showers.” Mat’s not worn trousers since he took his first Zoom call; though he changes his shirt every day, Rose suspects “he re-wears his socks.”

Attitude to Work: A

“Always working” (Stan). “A real go-getter” (Rose). “We hardly see him” (Poppy).

Help Around the House: B+

Mat has produced pretty much every supper we’ve had in lockdown – each one a feast. “Cooking, and cleaning the kitchen is his therapy”, observes Poppy (“as is eating”, observes Mum).

Being Positive/ Bringing the Fun: B

“Dad’s pretty good,” concedes Stan, “considering he doesn’t have to be positive around us – we’re not his colleagues.” His fire-pit action is particularly commended: “He gets us all singing and toasting marshmallows. He brings the summer fun!” says Poppy. “He brings the marshmallows,” says Rose.

Mum/ Tash (48)

Personal Hygiene: A

Rose is appalled: “Mummy has baths for pleasure”. “It’s her happy place,” agrees Mat. “She goes there to hide…then a child gets in with her.”

Attitude to work: B+

“A relentless doing machine,” says Mat. “She cleans the house,” agrees Stan, “AND then does worky work.”

Being Positive/ Bringing the Fun: B+

Poppy notes, “Mum’s happiness levels go up when we do our chores.” “Then sink when we do them all wrong,” says Stan. “I like it when she reads Dickens to the chickens,” says Rose.


After months trapped together, any praise comes as a nice surprise. Criticism prompts a degree of eye-rolling (with Poppy citing “the toll of adolescence” on every front) but there’s a rueful acceptance of ‘marks given’, and a surprising resolution to ‘do better’:  Mat’s going to ease off work (“a fraction”) to spend more time with the family. Stan will clip the chickens, and crack nuclear fusion; Poppy plans to combat stress with another shot at meditation (her first left her sleepy). And I will get Rose (and her Sindy dolls) into the bath.


Adapted from a feature for Telegraph Weekend, July 2020


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