Combining her accomplishments as a teacher, coach, therapist, mentor, sacred space holder and her admiration for women everywhere, Niki Moss Simpson launched SHINE. SPARKLE. RADIATE in 2017. In 2019 Niki became an international bestseller as co-author of the Pay It Forward series: Notes to My Younger Self and completed her 300 hour restorative yoga teacher training in India. In an exclusive article for MumAbroad Life, Niki talks about her experience during lockdown.
Firstly, it was a Friday (you know, as in an auspicious day). Secondly I had been working in a demanding and confusing job in Switzerland for only three weeks and living out of a 26kg suitcase of items and clothes I thought I would need for about a month, before I could return to my cosy, comforting, safe and airy apartment a four minute walk from the beach in Sitges, Catalunya. Thirdly, I had a premonition, intuition or foreshadow that the world was about to change and it was going to be bad.
I had already been messaging with my 20 year old daughter, a second year student of Psychosocial studies at the University in London to tell her to buy in larder foods and freezer foods and prepare to be home for a short while. But by the 13th I instinctively knew I needed to get her to me and out of London that weekend before borders closed and she was stuck there alone. As her mum, I knew she wouldn’t cope alone and locked in. I know my daughter and her sensitivity. She is anxious. She has OCD, dyslexia and ADD. She is a survivor of self harm and eating disorders. And I am so proud of how she thrives as a university student in a huge city.
So she booked a flight for the following day, packed thoughtfully and flew. I welcomed her to my bedroom in the boarding school I am currently working in. I welcomed her to share my double bed. Little did I know that day that it would be for two life changing months.
Meanwhile, my son of 15 was preparing, whilst living with his dad also in Switzerland but a different region, for his May IGCSE exams. It was proving challenging for his dad that his son’s focus was on socialising with his mates whilst playing video games on the special gaming computer he had paid for with Christmas and birthday money from family for the last two years. He was excited and nervous to be facing his first national examinations. He too has dyslexia and studying takes seriously extra effort for him. Fifteen is a pretty difficult time to be locked at home with your dad. His exams were canceled by the various examination boards without much pomp or circumstance. He felt futile to express how this made him feel. He threw himself deeper into his online social life. And isolation in his bedroom. His real life social life had suddenly dried up just as it was beginning. No expressing of his teenage angst and bouncing against his parents’ rules. No expression of walking the teen journey. Pointless.
Switzerland seems to be being praised for coping well with the pandemic. From inside the country, it certainly seems much easier for us than for my friends and family in Spain, France, the US and the UK. When all the shops apart from supermarkets closed, I really wasn’t bothered. I used to be a shopper in my teens and into my thirties. It was my way of self soothing. Spending money made me feel happy for a short while at least. Until the dopamine levels dropped, I realised I didn’t really like the clothes I had bought and regretted putting myself into even more credit card debt. Nowadays I am much more of a “life experience tops mindless consumerism and the collection of possessions” sort of woman.
Living out of a suitcase since the 26th December (when I went to an ashram in India to meditate and learn a yogic lifestyle for real; yes! another story to tell) has taught me just how little we really need to live well and be happy. Now I don’t mean to be a happy clappy preacher about this. It was a challenge I took on to test myself and to move out of my comfort zone in the first place. I am, after all, a 50+ menopausal crone and have a lifetime collection of books, furniture, cushions and shoes in my home back in Sitges. BUT with cleverly coordinated black and white mix and match clothes, packets of Nag Champa incense, a few small crystals and my trusty pendulum, some essential oils, pictures my kids had done for me over the years and photos I value and my passport, I have my identity and basic comfort.
So after seriously considering allowing the process of my white roots to become a glorious mane of silver goddessness, I chickened out and headed to the supermarket to queue at a socially distant 2 metres, spray my hands with sanitiser and seek out a hair dye to turn my hair to its more natural murky brown colour. I got to the aisle to see an assistant, masked and gloved, wrapping all the hair dyes in thick plastic film.
Not to be thwarted, I headed, accompanied by my daughter, to seek out hair dye. We were on a mission. In Lidle, we found a choice of three colours. Preparing for plastic wrappedness, we grabbed one that could possibly work. It worked alright. And having not explained to my daughter that we should wipe off any excess dye product from my face, neck and ears, the result was a rather stunning long haired Elvis look alike. I owned it. Yep! But every time I passed a mirror I did wonder who was looking back at me.
Living in a boarding school bedroom has few advantages and many disadvantages and one is no facilities to cook for yourself. My daughter is vegan and has been for at least four years. I am provided with meals by school so as a vegetarian, I was generally OK although omelettes have now become enemy number one having been served them for five consecutive days one week. We somehow managed to feed her in a sort of make do healthy manner through lock down and feel we did a damn good job. Switzerland is developing ranges of vegan products and we even found a delicious vegan garlic mayo that she has developed a bit of a crush on. We also managed to get out for a walk every day when I wasn’t working. I am immensely grateful for this privilege that I truly value. It was a quick mindful wander across the road and up into the farmland, fields and forest of the Jura where we had daily chats with a donkey family (including an alpaca member), calves, goats, chickens and lambs. It was wonderful to see the grass growing and wild flowers, watch the growth of leaves on the bare branched trees of March and to hear the songbirds in the airplane devoid sky as we journeyed slowly through April and into May.
Three of my colleagues were put on chômage technique, the equivalent to the UK’s furloughing system so I found myself, with one other colleague; the chosen two, doing the work of five adults. The kitchen staff were also furloughed so daily meals were collected from the local retirement home and came in plastic to be reheated in a microwave. One student remained with us. Others had returned to families in Asia and locally in Europe. It felt surreal and frightening and my senses were in overdrive. The inner peace of India was sucked out of me.
Yes! We devoured them from day one of lock down when my daughter arrived with me. Netflix became an almost daily friend and The Vampire Diaries, a firm fave too. We watched every series again and became rather obsessed. I have always had a “thing” for Ian Somerhalder and had his calendar in my first year post separation from my ex-husband. Yoga became vitally important too and we shared my yoga mat, taking it in turns to do our practice. Ohh yeahh, that too was in my suitcase and had been to India with me. I discovered Tick Tock. I started going LIVE on my Facebook page, Shine Sparkle Radiate, to share my authentically me yoga practice and support anyone who was interested. I also held my first online retreat and called it Simple STILLNESS. My real life retreat in Italy had, of course, been canceled but I still wanted to be of service to anyone who felt called to trying to find an inner stillness like me. It seems to have been a success and I will definitely do online retreats, for short periods of time, again.
When the next phase of restrictions recently lifted here in Switzerland, we took a train ride (3 trains and a bus) to visit my son at his dad’s. We wore our cloth masks, made as a gift by a friend and we religiously avoided people, detouring them in wide circles and sanitised our hands way too often. The bus driver was cordoned off from us passengers by that red and white tape you see in a movie crime scene and it made me sad for some reason. I observed people on every station platform. I took photos of life to document it as we moved out of pandemic lock down. It still felt so overpoweringly surreal.
It was amazing to be able to hug him. My boy. His hair has grown loads too and I can’t believe how tall he has become. He reminds me of his older cousin. We celebrated his sixteenth birthday with pink champers, vegan brownies and a skier yellow bath duck I found in Aldi. We walked our cocker spaniel dog together. I smiled as I watched the kids hugging each other and laughing as they returned to mutual teasing and tickling. The tension I didn’t even realise I had been carrying like a great rock in my heart, started to lift and the fight and flight response that I now understand had been omnipresent with me for the weeks of lock down, started to relax. The constant heart pain began to lessen its clawing hold. I felt I was able to breathe easier and draw more oxygen into my lungs.
I have a flight with EasyJet booked on July 5th. I hope to get to my flat in Sitges, clear out the long dead plants, reacquaint myself with my “stuff” and a change of wardrobe and a more joyful colour scheme. I am looking forward to sunshine, sand in my toes and the sound of the waves. I am also apprehensive about crowds, mask-wearing in the heat and the future. For now, despite my daughter’s job at a summer camp having fallen through, leaving her already with financial concerns for her return (if it’s happening) to uni in London in September, both kids will stay safely in Switzerland with their dad. I have invited them to Spain with me but neither feel comfortable with flying or being in a more urban, people populated environment. That makes me sad. But I understand.
I’m also very concerned for my 73 year old mum in the UK. She was shockingly diagnosed with a brain tumour a week into UK lock down, had an operation that could have left her with no memory and paralysed and will start radiotherapy treatment very soon. She is “shielding”, and my sister is a huge support for her. My mum is truly inspirational in her courage, resilience, positivity and gratitude for life. I just want to get over there to hug her tightly as soon as is safely possible for her. I want to help my sister. I feel impotent to help in a practical way.
The effects of Covid-19 and lock down on our kids’ mental health and their well-being will continue to show up in the months, possibly years to come. My son is OK, not more and not less. He has started to find the motivation to meet friends although his school ended a few weeks ago and won’t open again until mid September. My daughter does not want to return to London. Fortunately her employers – she nannies for a cute five year old girl – have generously offered to pack up her possessions in her shared flat and store them for her. She feels safe in the Swiss mountains of her early teens and is also starting to meet up with friends in small groups and venture further afield.
Well, I am processing and feeling everything for them, for the world, for humanity. Some days are completely shit and I want to cry, curl up, sleep and forget. Other days I feel inspired and excited for a new world of better priorities and values, more equality, more respect and more compassion. I believe we are all energy and connected so the collective grief, anger, fear and stress out there can be neutralised by the growing numbers of us sending out love.
What about you? How was your lock down experience as a mum?
I would love to hear about it and your thoughts on my ramblings.
If you need help processing, please do reach out to a listening ear. I am here at service to you.