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Photographer Vanessa del Medico trades in happy childhood memories, capturing their early years in kindergarten and childcare. But in pandemic times those memories have been clouded and punctuated by lockdowns – along with her own work and family life.

Victoria has been locked down six times and six times Ms Del Medico has had to shut her business and cut her staff loose. And six times she has had to navigate those headaches while juggling three children – seven-year-old Archie, who is in grade 2, and six-year-old twins Zoe and Ashton, who are in prep – with all the headaches that remote learning adds to pandemic parenting with her husband Stephen.

Photographer Vanessa del Medico with her children Archie, Zoe and Ashton.Credit:Justin McManus

There was the challenge of explaining the pandemic to the kids. “We said, ‘There’s a virus, people are getting sick, and we don’t want to get anyone sick’. They couldn’t understand why they couldn’t hang out at Nonna and Nonno’s or Nanna and Pa’s. It took them a while to understand.”

But for this lockdown, she took a different tack, one that echoes the experience of many parents as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on another year. She’s chosen to go easy on herself, and her kids, and stop to smell the roses as they abandon the computer screens for a walk outdoors near their Lower Plenty home.

“I would get frustrated … and I could tell it was affecting them, too. They were in tears and almost bringing me to tears,” she says.

“Which is why this time I really tried to change my attitude. I don’t want them to look back at this time that we wouldn’t have otherwise had together and just think of it as a negative thing.

“If they’re having a bad day, we just let it go and say, ‘Let’s go for a walk. Let’s go to the park. Let’s go do something else.’ I think last year I was really focused on ‘You’ve got to get all your work done. You can’t miss a thing.’ Now, I think, ‘You’ve just got to do what you can do, and if you don’t get it done, you don’t get it done.’

“We find the tracks where we can walk, I grab a coffee and they get to buy a treat from the milk bar. We do different things we wouldn’t have done in normal times. It definitely has opened up opportunities that we wouldn’t have otherwise had.”

Ms Del Medico says other parents have shared similar experiences and shifts in attitude, and believes a more relaxed approach has made her kids more motivated when they do sit down to learn.

Less easy to manage has been the impact on her business, Red Flair Photography and Imaging, which is having much the same experience in 2021 as it faced in 2020. With most children confined to their homes, her successful 15-year-old business taking photos in kindergartens and childcare centres was brought to an abrupt halt in the early days of COVID.

Three questions

What do you miss most about life before COVID?

Missing the simple things, like catching up with friends spontaneously. Trying to plan anything is hard, whether it is a dinner out, or a birthday party for the kids. Any plans have a giant question mark over them.

What is your best lockdown strategy?

We have learnt not to stress over the things we can’t control and embrace the time we do have together. Have found this makes for happier kids (and Mum).

Has there been a silver lining?

Having this time with my kids that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. My eldest said it was the best because he could tell me anything at anytime!

“The Department of Education had already pulled the pin on our services before the government put in the lockdown. So we sensed that this was going to be huge. And it has been ever since,” she says.

“We get a couple of days heads up from the childcare places and kindergartens that we can’t work and that’s it, we’re out of work for the next few weeks.”

Ms Del Medico employs 10 photographers who work across greater Melbourne. Some were eligible for JobKeeper last year, but some were not due to their length of employment.

“This time I’ve encouraged them to apply for their disaster payments … which has been great for them. The government grants have definitely been a help but we still have rent to cover. The landlord’s being really generous … but at the same time, they’re struggling to manage it all for so long.”

As the end of the year approaches, Ms Del Medico and her team are hoping for a best-case-scenario finish to 2021, much as they had in 2020: when lockdown restrictions eased last November, she and her team crammed a year’s work into a few frantic weeks. Pandemic or not, parents still wanted those essential memories, and her work year ended on Christmas Eve.

“We could only work outdoors, which was fine. And we were restricted for time limits of how long we could be there, we could only be at a particular centre for two hours a day, whereas normally we’d be there four or five hours. We just had to adapt the way we worked to make it all work.”

It’s the mantra of the times – just make it work – and that applies to careers as much as parenting. As a mother, Ms Del Medico is confident her children will take some positive memories from the two years of upheaval.

“If anything, this time will probably give them better memories of being with their mum and dad. We’re certainly never gonna forget it.”

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