I chose to isolate with my husband NOT my children

I chose to isolate with my husband NOT my children: Mother-of-four reveals she’s left her daughters at the epicentre of the outbreak in favour of spending lockdown in Scotland

  • Joanna Moorhead has been spending lockdown in Scotland, with her husband
  • She didn’t expect to leave their children alone in London for more than a month 
  • Mother-of-four said the virus has sped up a change that was coming anyway

It’s been two months now since I made one of the hardest decisions of my life — to leave my children alone in London and head 400 miles to Scotland to lockdown with my husband.

I thought I might be leaving them for a month, possibly six weeks; but as the weeks stretch into months, I have no idea when I’ll see them again.

In a million years, this wasn’t something I’d have imagined I’d have to do. Since my journalist husband Gary moved to Glasgow for work in 2016, we’ve settled into an agreeable ‘living apart together’ set-up, in which he spends about one weekend in three in London, and I divide my life roughly into one-third in Scotland, two-thirds in London. 

Joanna Moorhead explained her decision to spend lockdown with her husband Gary, instead of their children. Pictured: Joanna with, from left: Elinor, Rosie, Catriona and Miranda

The situation was imposed on us: Gary landed his dream job, but it was in a city far from our family home and with two of our four daughters then still at school, it was clear I needed to stay put with them.

Four years on, our youngest Catriona, 18, still lives with me in London, as does her 25-year-old sister Elinor and her friend Shannon, also 25, whom I consider an ‘honorary daughter’. By early March, Edinburgh University, where 21-year-old Miranda studies, had closed down, and she, too, was back in the family fold. Our eldest, Rosie, 28, works and lives in Amsterdam and has remained there.

At first, I was glad I was there with the girls; they needed support as they negotiated the new rules about home working — Elinor and Shannon, a journalist and building project planner respectively, were now working from our living room. Miranda was worried what would happen with her degree. But for Catriona there would be no A-levels, and suddenly a question mark hung over her university plans.

I was aware, too, that miles away in Scotland, Gary was all alone, doing a demanding job with no let-up. He’d last been in London at the start of March, and I’d not been in Scotland since February. Around the second week of March I booked a flight to Glasgow to see him; but it was cancelled the day before I was due to go. I changed it to the following day, and then the following; the same thing happened, time after time.

Phone calls with Gary had made me realise he was lonely and under pressure; and also, I knew the day was fast approaching when I would no longer be able to travel. I’m sure if anyone had asked me, during a ‘what if’ conversation in the world pre-Covid, whom I’d choose to be with in a situation like this, I’d have immediately answered: ‘my children’. And of course, for all of us who are parents, our kids are the most important people in the world.

Joanna said she went to Scotland on the eve of lockdown, because Gary was alone. Pictured: Gary and Joanna 

But we are a family, and at that point everyone except one person in our family had other people. Rosie, in Amsterdam, had her partner Toby; the other girls and I had one another in London. Only Gary was alone. I thought of him in the city at the cold, dark flat without food in the fridge. I thought, too, about what would happen if he fell ill.

So, on the eve of lockdown, I told the girls: ‘I’m going to Scotland to be with Dad.’ Even Catriona, who as the youngest I knew would miss me the most, didn’t hesitate to say it was the right thing to do.

After all, at that point, it was only for three weeks and they were worried about him, too. Once my mind was made up, I wanted to leave immediately, not to hang around.

I never drive to Scotland, I always fly or get the train. The problem was that our only car is a clapped-out Fiat 500 and a trip across London is a stretch. Would it be up to the job of transporting me hundreds of miles?

I took it to a garage to get the tyres pumped and the oil checked, stopping on my way back to get two essentials for the girls: loo rolls, and chocolate. They’d have to fend for themselves, but at least I’d left them with some basics.

Joanna admits that she was only expecting to be away from her girls for around a month. Pictured: Joanna and Gary with their daughters

At the 11th hour, as I was putting my case into the car, I went to seek out Catriona. We have a spare bedroom in the flat in Glasgow; would she like to come with me? But even as I suggested it, I knew she’d say no. Because though I knew they were going to miss me — or at least, I hoped they would! — I also knew that it was, in some ways, going to be an adventure for them. None of them are children, but in normal times they’re not actually running the house.

The roads were empty, but the journey up the M6 was relentless, and with cafes and restaurants in the process of closing down, there was nowhere to stop. I finally made it to Glasgow in the small hours of the morning, and crept into the spare room so I didn’t wake Gary. He left for work a couple of hours later, so I didn’t actually see him until the following evening — pretty happy to have someone to share his life with again. If you’d asked me back then I’d probably have said I was expecting to be away from the girls for a month tops. But it’s now eight weeks since I left and I have no idea when I’ll be able to travel again.

On the one hand, the virus crisis has speeded up a change that was probably coming anyway —suddenly our girls are grown up and instead of them leaving the nest, we have. Gary and I finally have time on our own together.

Joanna said the longer lockdown has gone on, the more difficult she’s finding it. Pictured: Gary and Joanna 

Our daughters have been surviving just fine — one evening they had a festival in the basement, dressed in the gear they had been hoping to wear for Glastonbury; another day they bought a hammock for the garden and made pina coladas. Their photos look like fun, but like so many other families torn apart, we’re sad and, as time goes by, the sadness only gets deeper.

There are big question marks, about jobs and education and, of course, health. Catriona is having to make decisions about her future without me; we do video calls, of course, but it’s not the same. They all need a hug, too.

I worry about one of the girls getting ill — I’m certainly not unaware of the irony that I’ve left our daughters at the epicentre of the outbreak, while in Scotland the incidence of cases has been lower.

Rosie in Holland has had symptoms that seemed likely to be the virus; one day she texted to say she was unwell, and I was gripped with the realisation that however ill she became, I couldn’t go to her. Thankfully, she’s now fine.

The longer lockdown has gone on, the more difficult I’m finding it — and it’s the not knowing when I’ll see my children again that keeps me awake at night. For Gary, it’s almost three months since he saw his children in person. But right now we just have to hold onto the fact that everyone in our family, wherever they are, is in good health and that surely it won’t be too much longer until we can be together again.

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