I was standing in the garden hanging washing on the line when I heard the sound of a fork being stirred around a glass in the kitchen. And I realised that I knew without looking exactly was happening in that room.
I knew that Leon had cracked two eggs into a glass to make an omelette. I knew which pan was on the hob, and that there was a tortilla wrap warming in the microwave. And I knew that in a few minutes there would be grated cheese absolutely chuffing everywhere.
After almost 17 years together, there’s not much that surprises us about each other. Some might say that’s a bad thing, but I don’t think it is. I take great comfort in the predictable. It’s taken us years to build a life we can depend on, and that helps us handle whatever surprises life throws our way.
It occurred to me how many unknowns we’ve had to face in order to end up here. How many risks we had to take. All the times we had to be brave. How much of life starts with walking into a room, telling a bunch of strangers your name, and seeing what happens.
I found myself thinking about all this because our daughter starts school this week. A whole new chapter of unknowns is about to begin. I’m excited for her and I believe she will flourish. But I’m also nervous as there’s so much I don’t know. Who she’ll be friends with, what she’ll like, what will make her feel happy, sad, and every emotion in between.
So big and yet so small
One of the things I’ve found hardest since having our daughter is how little I can control. Like any mum, I want an easy, happy life for my children without even a moment of turmoil. But of course I can’t promise that. We created life, and life is unpredictable.
But what I can do is let her know what she can depend on. That we believe in her. How loved she is. That she can talk to us about anything. And that if she asks if she can watch an episode of Hey Duggee I’m pretty much always going to say yes because I LOVE Duggee.
I’ve been quite enjoying going through the multitude of administrative motions that come with preparing your child for school. Buying the uniform. Participating in class WhatsApp groups. Having her feet measured. Printing name labels. I like getting organised, and I also like distracting myself from my emotions with tasks. Don’t we all?
But then I found myself putting a little name sticker inside her school shoes and suddenly felt the need to cry.
Our little girl is simultaneously so big and so small. Big enough to wear a pinafore and carry a book bag and head off for a busy day in Reception. Small enough that I’m worried she won’t know which shoe to put on which foot after P.E when I’m not there to show her.
A new pattern awaits
I don’t doubt that she is ready for a new environment, to learn, and to form new friendships. I’m just not sure that I’m ready to accept the pace at which children grow up.
After she was born, I took a year’s maternity leave and I’ve had every Monday and Tuesday free since to spend with her. They’ve been quite the rollercoaster as we’ve moved from the baby years into toddler town, from lockdown chaos into life with her baby brother in tow. I thought that time would last forever, but here we are. Now it’s her brother’s turn to join me for playgroups and park trips while she ventures out into the world.
I am aware that she’s not moving out, and that we’ll be together a lot of the time still. I’m just a bit stunned that the pre-school period of her life is over already. What they say is true – the days are long but the years are short.
I’m looking forward to what a new routine will bring. To school drop offs and pick ups. To wandering back down the hill at the end of the day, holding her little hand and asking what she learnt. And to bringing her back to our house that contains everything she knows – home comforts, people who love her, and a kitchen that’s somehow always coated in grated cheese.
Is it normal to kiss your maternity bras goodbye? Because I did.
I’m no longer wearing maternity clothes, I haven’t for months. But I kept them in the drawer anyway. Because if I let them go, I’d be making a statement I wasn’t ready to make. That the pregnancy/tiny baby phase of my life is over.
But I put them in a bag this week to take to the charity shop. It hurt but it was time to say goodbye and move to the next chapter.
And that chapter sees our son turning one, and then starting nursery three days a week so that I can go back to work. And in a matter of weeks, our daughter will be starting school too. No wonder I’m a bit emotional at the moment.
When I started maternity leave a year ago, it felt like I had infinite time ahead. But it’s slipped through my fingers, just like it always does. We only brought that little baby home from the hospital a few days ago, I’m sure of it. And yet somehow he’s about to have a birthday.
So much about the past 12 months has been different from my first maternity leave. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been easier. I’ve felt more able to enjoy the smallness and cuteness of him, rather than worrying that I’m doing everything wrong. I realise now that I wasn’t bad at it the first time, just inexperienced. It’s been nice to rewrite that story in my head.
Just as my first maternity leave revolved around our daughter, my second one has mainly revolved around her too. Nobody really warns you about that.
Sure, you have to feed the new baby multiple times, change them and keep them safe and happy. But in many ways that feels like a side hustle. Managing the contentment, snack consumption and social life of our four year old has still dominated most of my time and brain space. First children are clever like that.
I’ve definitely felt much more at peace with myself this maternity leave than I did the first time. I haven’t felt desperate for company and activities like I did before. I don’t feel phased by a quiet day at home. I’m so busy that I really don’t need much more in my life. It’s definitely overwhelming, but I like it too.
A woman walked past us in the park the other day and said “You don’t realise it at the time, but days taking children to the park are some of the best of your life.”
I keep thinking about that. I can see myself looking back on this period of our lives and wanting to do it all again. Yes, I am tired all the time, but the second the chaos stops, I’ll miss it.
That sense of nostalgia kicked in almost immediately after our son was born. Knowing how insanely quickly the time passes made me determined to savour his early stages. They don’t stay little for long.
And now after so much precious time together, this next chapter will see us all spending a bit more time apart. It will take a while to adjust to I’m sure. There are things I’m looking forward to, and things I’m worried about.
I’ve learnt that it is entirely normal to think and feel a multitude of things at once when you’re a parent. For example:
I can want to go back to work, and also feel sick about being away from our son.
I can foresee the benefits of time to myself, and feel guilty about having it.
I can imagine our son enjoying time with other children and teachers. I can also find it unbearable to imagine him wanting me when I’m not there.
I can believe our daughter will enjoy primary school. I can also feel panicked at the prospect of her having anything other than a good time.
My son isn’t the only one celebrating a birthday this week, I am too. I’m turning 37, which my daughter assures me is “really old”.
The older you get, the less anyone – including you – really cares that it’s your birthday. And now that I have a son with a birthday so close to mine, this time will be all about him, and that’s fine with me. He’s the best present I’ve ever had anyway.
This has been the most hectic year of my life. We moved to a different part of London. We took on a house requiring way more work than either of us realised when we looked around it for 10 minutes during the thick of the pandemic. We moved our brilliant, brave daughter to a new nursery. Oh and we had a baby five weeks after we moved in.
It has been exhausting, overwhelming, and a constant rollercoaster. It’s also been one of the best years of my life.
So what I want to take with me into my 38th year is a reminder to keep appreciating when I feel lucky. To acknowledge happiness when it’s happening. Because time is going to absolutely fly by anyway. And hard things will happen. So when it’s good, I want to stop and notice.
I guess that’s why I felt the need to give my maternity bras a little kiss on their way to the charity shop. It’s been quite the year and I’m grateful to everything and everyone that’s been a part of it.
So now, onto the next one. And I can’t deny that it’s rather nice to have underwire back in my life to help me through it. With this much going on, I’m going to need all the support I can get.
I am woken up every morning by our son chatting through the baby monitor. I don’t always love the hour but I do love the sound.
I am willing to hold my hand out to catch anything that needs to come out of any part of a child of mine. I guess that’s love.
I am amazed by how much laundry two small people can create. My first maternity leave was all about joining baby groups. This time I’ve mainly just tried to stay on top of the washing.
I am completely and totally in love with them both and even more so with how they are together.
I am desperate at times for my lap to be clear but then lost when I’ve nobody to hold.
I am pleased and relieved that our baby has started sleeping through the night. I wonder if my bladder will ever let me do the same.
I am almost always either feeding a child, preparing food for a child, or thinking about what I’m going to feed a child.
I am not sure anything gives me a greater sense of achievement than managing to make them both laugh at once.
I am now aware that if I’d known when we had our daughter in 2017 what I know now, I’d have been so much kinder to myself.
I am amused to find that looking after two children tricks you into thinking that all the years you had with just one child were easy.
I am always in the midst of fighting a losing battle with an orange stain. Carpet cleaner wouldn’t make a very exciting gift for a new parent, but believe me they’d get through it.
I am letting myself enjoy watching rubbish telly with our baby on the sofa when we get the chance. He won’t always want to sit with me, so I’m making the most of it while I can.
I am the mother of a girl who was predominantly formula-fed, and a boy who was largely breast-fed. Here’s what I’ve learnt: both methods are difficult in their own way, and absolutely nobody else’s business.
I am occasionally out without my children and can generally be found smiling at other people’s children because I miss mine.
I am getting through more cheese strings than I should probably admit.
I am prone to spending too much time on my phone. It tends to be a sign that I’m feeling overwhelmed. A 24/7 job will do that to you.
I am a gardener now. I took it on as a maternity leave project. I’m planting stuff, watering it, and hoping for the best. It’s a bit like parenting really, but with less of the backchat.
I am anxious at times and trying not to let it rub off on them. But I’m also trying to show them that every feeling is OK.
I am walking as much as possible because it helps.
I am conscious that just because our 10 month old baby is now the littlest member of our family, it doesn’t mean our four year old isn’t still small too.
I am up for sitting on the floor to play, as long as I have a back support. Otherwise there’s a chance I might never get up again.
I am in my late thirties, yes. What gave me away?
I am unable to remember the last time I added a contact to my phone without including whose mum they are after their name.
I am extremely reliant on TV to entertain my children. I am not sure how anybody does this without it.
I am never ready for the Baby Race episode of Bluey. It gets me every single time.
I am sure our son will settle into nursery before too long when he starts there this summer. But I’m still sad at the thought of being away from him. Our year together has slipped through my fingers.
I am going to be the mum of a school-going child in September. I’m excited for her and sure she’s ready for change, but I also don’t know where those precious years went.
I am forever in demand and I do complain about it sometimes, but the truth is that I love that they need me.
I am grateful for all the moments that remind us what we have. Like when our babies are splashing about in the bath and laughing their little heads off. Yes we are tired, but it’s worth it.
We bought a house in June. It’s great to be here, there’s just lots to do to bring it up to date.
Ever since we arrived we’ve been having rooms decorated and bathrooms renovated. And I noticed early on that when a project has such an endless to-do list, it’s tempting to let your own impatience prevent you from feeling happy with progress.
I had to stop myself thinking ‘If only we could get the bedrooms painted, then I’ll be happy’ and then as soon as that was done ‘Ok, now we need the downstairs loo done, then I can be content’.
If I sign up to that way of thinking, I’ll deny myself happiness… forever? Houses are never really finished, are they.
No, I cannot wait to get the eighties kitchen out and modern fittings in. And yes, toilets made this century will enhance our lives. But I’m not going to hate my house until it’s all done. I refuse to lose sight of how much I love how far we’ve come.
To keep celebrating the little things
For the first six months of 2021, I wrote a list everyday in my diary called ‘Today’s good things’. (We then moved house and had a baby. I’ve hardly had time to go to the toilet since then let alone write anything down).
I’d pick out a handful of reasons to be grateful for the day we’d just had. I did it to boost my morale during lockdown, and to remind me that even when life feels tough, there’s always good stuff going on too.
I felt quite emotional reading it back. I’d noted down so many little things that meant that, despite the context, we were lucky and happy. Fresh air featured a lot, as did cuddles with our daughter. On one day I ended with ‘Just how much we love her’. Aside from mentions of life changing stuff like house move progress and baby scans and kicks, most things were small, everyday moments I wanted to cling to.
It helped at the time and it’s a lovely thing to look back on. So I’m going to do it again for 2022. Our son is already growing up too quickly so I want to write down all the ways he brings me joy. As long as he lets me sleep I’m sure I’ll have the energy to pick up a pen again.
To speak to myself more kindly
Anxiety and I will live alongside one another forever I’m sure. But when my inner dialogue and I work as a team, that’s when I get to win.
I haven’t done so well on that front lately. I found a note I wrote whilst trying to work through a worry which said “Anxiety makes you feel small and insignificant but also massive and in the way”. And that’s the problem. It skews your view of yourself and the world to such an extent that it makes it difficult to have the rational, helpful thoughts that would make it go away.
So I want to keep working on that inner voice.
My excellent friend Alexa Radcliffe-Hart wrote this great blog about selecting a word to guide you through the year. I think I’m going with ‘Deserving’ for mine. Of space, kindness, rest, choice. It’s what I want my children to believe about themselves, so I need to model it myself.
To be truly present when I can, and kinder to myself when I can’t
The combination of being a worrier, planner, and a parent means I find it hard to live in the moment. But I’m definitely happier when I do, so I’m trying to make it more of a habit.
I’m learning to spot opportunities to let go and just play with my daughter or walk at her pace or cuddle the baby. We don’t always have to be moving towards the next thing.
…but we do sometimes. So when I have to keep half my head in the future, planning for the next snack/meal/nap/absurdly large load of washing, I need to forgive myself for it. I’m doing my best.
To read more
This will be my goal forever. I think I read about seven or eight of my books in 2021 (plus 4000 children’s books). It’s not a contest, just something I enjoy so I intend to do more of it. Even just a page a day is worth having.
To keep writing what I feel like writing
If it brings value to you (and it doesn’t hurt anybody) there is value in whatever you feel like producing. That’s what I tell myself every time I sit down to write.
I get so much from writing – whether it’s in a notebook to clear my mind, or published here. So I’m going to keep doing it when I can.
It occurred to me at the end of the year that this blog started as a simple creative outlet, then it became a series of what are essentially love letters. To my husband, my friends, my family, myself, and, more recently, to my children.
I look forward to writing many more.
I hope you will do more of what you love in 2022. Happy New Year, and thanks for reading.
That I haven’t written anything about the fact that I’m expecting another baby says a lot about what it’s like to expect a second baby.
I’m 29 weeks pregnant and, inevitably, pretty shattered. Looking after a three year old, working, navigating a pandemic, and growing a small person is pretty knackering. We did this on purpose – this is not a complaint – but it is a statement of fact. I’m tired.
But it’s more than that. The real reason I haven’t written about this is because I’ve been distracted by overwhelming feelings of treachery. We’ve created somebody else? To love just as much as our daughter? How could we do that to her?!
All being well, our newest addition will come into our lives in July. We’re all incredibly excited about it. Our daughter changes her mind everyday about whether she’s having a brother or a sister, and speaks so sweetly about how she’s going to help us with him/her. (She also, so far, hasn’t shown any interest in how the baby got into my body beyond wanting me to confirm that I didn’t eat it, and long may that continue.)
We have great chats about how life will be and what an important role she has to play. I couldn’t have asked for a better reaction from her.
I didn’t feel treacherous straight away. We decided to try for another baby for all the reasons you’d expect. We want another child in our family. We’d like our daughter to have a sibling. And I want to hold and smell and dress and stare at a newborn we’ve created again. I found out I was pregnant in November and was so pleased.
And that’s never changed. But as it all became more real, scans happened and my body started to change, other feelings kicked in. I’d stand in my daughter’s bedroom after she’d gone to bed and think ‘How will she ever forgive me? She is the centre of our universe and now someone else will be too. Is she going to put up with that?!’
However, as you may have noticed, we’re not the first people in the world to have another child. Second, third, fourth and more children have been appearing on this planet for a long time. I’m a second child myself and my mum assures me she felt exactly the same when she was expecting me. My older brother seems to have forgiven me for existing, so it all worked out fine in the end!
I think this all happened because I was scared my capacity for love wouldn’t stretch far enough.
It’s a good thing I was already lying down when our daughter was born because her arrival absolutely floored me. The love was instant, beautiful and terrifying, and it’s remained that way ever since. When you’ve already reached such a peak, how can there be room for more?
But of course there just is. I’ve been connected to the baby in my womb since October, and I love them very much. I’m readying myself for an avalanche of emotion when they arrive, knowing full well that you can’t really prepare for such a thing.
I cannot imagine how I’ll handle having two pieces of my heart existing in the world. I’m scared that being a mum of two means nobody will get the attention they deserve, that I’ll always be letting one of them down… and a whole other list of things that keep me awake at night.
But then something happened that made me feel a bit better. I was sitting on the floor playing with our daughter and the baby kicked. Normally it’s just a nice feeling that I find reassuring, but this time it felt different. I was suddenly simultaneously aware of both my children existing together for the first time and it made sense. It’s going to sound bizarre, but I felt space grow in my heart for him or her, right there alongside my daughter. I have room for both. I will love them both, with everything I’ve got.
It turns out that love is like Cadbury products for me – my capacity is endless.
People have asked me how this pregnancy compares with my first. And the answer is: it feels exactly the same and completely different all at once.
Just like last time, I’m large, tired and permanently hungry. I might as well live on the toilet I have to go so frequently. And once again, we have no idea what’s going to come our way during the next 10 weeks and beyond.
But then it’s also totally different. I’m utterly distracted by our daughter. I’m pregnant in a world which is unrecognisable from that of 2017 when she came along. Many people in my life haven’t seen me for a second of this pregnancy, and won’t until our baby’s here. In many ways I’m more rested than I was last time, as I don’t commute or socialise as much. But I’m also pushing myself more at 29 weeks than I ever would have before. I want to get outside with my daughter and have some FUN before I disappear into my own personal lockdown.
Just like no two children are the same, nor are their arrivals into our lives. I can’t give our baby the same experience as our daughter because they’re not being born into the same world. They will join an established family of three. They will only ever know a post-pandemic UK. And they won’t just have toys and clothes waiting for them when they get here, but a beautiful big sister too.
I am in no doubt whatsoever that we’re in for a right time of it. We’ll be exhausted, pulled in every direction at once, and we’ll feel inadequate a lot of the time. But after almost three and half years as parents, we’re pretty used to that.
What I do know is that I will love them and that we will do our best, for both our children. And that as long as we’re doing that, we won’t be letting anybody down at all.
I realised early on in lockdown that I was going to have to cut down on how frequently I said ‘Hi’ to my husband.
I don’t need to greet him every time he steps into the lounge. He doesn’t need me to ask if he’s OK every time he visits the kitchen. And I can let him have a bathroom break without requiring a life update from him on his way back.
But after shifting from ‘normal’ London life, where we were separated by long commutes and office hours and social lives, to permanent togetherness at home, there was a certain novelty to our situation. Oh look! It’s you! I like you! Let’s catch up!
Like so many couples, we suddenly became co-workers as well as life partners in Spring 2020. Our home is no longer just the place we return to to recover from interactions with the outside world. We do everything from here now. Work, play, shop, socialise…albeit from behind a screen.
It’s an intense way to live, even alongside your favourite people on the planet.
Of course, in many ways we’ve been co-workers since the day our daughter was born in 2017. Becoming a parent means taking on a massive full time position between you, alongside whatever else you do with your lives. And it’s up to you to figure out who does what.
We were a team before we became parents. But now, when our daughter is at home, we’re a team with hourly targets that have to be met otherwise all hell breaks loose.
Taking on this enormous, emotional and exhausting role together changes how you speak to one another. Day to day questions become more functional. “Has she had her milk?” “How much lunch did she eat?” Text messages are largely about groceries. And we mainly use WhatsApp to share speed-typed takeaway orders, written from a still-not-yet asleep child’s bedroom, or photos of her on a swing.
There are of course countless lovely bits. When we do get a task-free moment, we get to talk about the things that only we understand. How funny she is when she tells us what to do. That we can’t believe our baby knows how to spell her name. How terrifying it feels to love somebody this much.
Ever since she came into our lives, we’ve learnt how to work through each day and do the best job we can. So we had the foundations in place to get us through this time. (And thankfully very low expectations about how many nights out we’d have in a year.)
Nonetheless, it’s bizarre not having the option to spend time apart, or to socialise beyond our laptops.
As a couple we’ve always prided ourselves on having healthy lives, friendships and interests beyond each other. Our time together has been all the better for it.
But, like everybody right now, our independent selves only exist if we make space for them. Disappearing upstairs to read alone, or out for a walk with a podcast playing, gives us a little healthy separation.
I like to think that even though it’s odd being in each other’s space all the time, so much togetherness has brought about a whole new level of intimacy we might not otherwise have achieved.
I know from just a second listening at the door whether a work call he’s on can be interrupted. He knows what I look like when my work’s going well, and when I need a confidence boost. And I know precisely how many drinks and snacks he’s had each day from the number of cups and plates I clear from the office. (Sure, some of these insights I could live without.) It’s nice to feel connected on a whole new level.
I think this period has made us better at communicating too. We’ve lived in such close quarters for the past 12 months, we’ve had to be willing to just say what we think and need, or else make an already stressful situation harder.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, we’re only human after all. But when I look back on this time, I will see yet another stage of our lives that we’ve come through together.
It goes without saying that I am not glad this pandemic happened. It has been catastrophically awful. There are, however, aspects of the life we’ve been forced to live within its context that I want to keep even when it’s finally over.
I like feeling less alone with the rolling list of tasks that come with looking after a child everyday. I like that my husband sees our daughter every morning and night, rather than having to commute and missing out. And I like collecting her from nursery together. That used to be the stuff of dreams.
Though this has been an intense 12 months, it’s made me realise that we don’t need much of a break from each other. What we need more than anything is the option. The chance to look at a week and choose to pop a meal out with a friend in the diary. The opportunity to schedule a ‘big’ night out we’ll suffer for the next day. (In my case that would be one that involves a single sniff of alcohol and returning home after 8.30pm).
We also need the chance to spend time as people rather than parents elsewhere. To go out just the two of us in clothes without an elasticated waist. To eat food and drink drinks somebody else will clear away. And to do it all while our daughter has fun with the grandparents she misses so much. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I would pay good money to bring that day around sooner.
I went to a medical appointment recently and was gone about three hours. When I got back my husband said he’d missed me, and I was delighted. He hasn’t had the chance to miss me for ages.
I’ve felt flashes of worry about how one remains exciting to their partner in times like these, but then I’ve batted them away. This year has been about survival, slowing down, and doing what we can to help each other get through.
If we can do that and still want to carry on sharing more than just a Wi-Fi connection, that’s exciting enough for me.
After months fearing my creativity had gone forever, all of a sudden I found writing ideas coming back into my head. Thank goodness!
But then when I tried to get them down, I found I couldn’t until I’d first typed out what it feels like to live in the world right now. I can get conceptual and maybe even have a go at a funny or two when I’ve worked through my lockdown state of mind.
So that’s what this is. A lockdown diary entry, you could say. An acknowledgement of the vast level of emotions involved with pushing through the beginning of 2021.
I’m normally relatively balanced, but it’s tricky to remain so all the time through a global crisis.
I find I make too much of the good moments that occur – which of course they do – because joy is at a premium right now. My daughter will laugh at something in the park and I’ll say to my husband: “She’s having fun, isn’t she?! I’m so glad we came out! This will really set us up for the rest of the week, don’t you think?!”, whatever that means.
And when the lows occur – because I watch the news or run out of play ideas or I see that it’s raining AGAIN – I get lethargic, grumpy, and I can’t even be arsed to put my socks on, because what’s the point? I lose perspective and dive into my phone, where I can assure you the answer absolutely does not live.
Having so little variety in our lives is exhausting. The end isn’t quite in sight, but it is there in the distance, we know it is. That’s a huge motivator to strive on and keep the faith, but it’s also a while away. It’s perfectly normal to be struggling right now, however big or small the difficulties this pandemic brings you.
I saw a post on Twitter that said “We should assume that nobody is OK right now” which has stayed with me. I try to keep it in my head when I go for a walk or collect my daughter from nursery. Everybody is, at best, sick of this, and at worst, having a truly awful time. Whichever end of the scale you find yourself on – and I consider us to be at the very lucky end – it’s still all right to acknowledge that this is hard. Most people are going to find living through a pandemic difficult.
One of the things I’m finding hardest about lockdown is how much bigger disappointments, mishaps and imperfect interactions feel than normal, because our usual distractions aren’t there to give us perspective.
I’ve found myself becoming oddly nervous when we do leave the house to go to the park for the 4000th time. I’m scared I’ll have an interaction with a parent that will go badly and I’ll think about it day and night for the next three weeks. I get nervous when I drive in case I do something that makes another driver think I’m an idiot. I worry that I’ll make a bad call in the supermarket, get too close to another person also in pursuit of hummus, and chastise myself for days for putting my chickpea consumption before public safety. It’s a tiring time to be alive.
I think it’s the lack of connection in our lives that’s making me lose faith in my ability to interact successfully. We’ve all gone from seeing friends and family everyday/week/month, to, in most cases, not seeing them at all, and not knowing when we will again.
I didn’t realise until it stopped being an option the extent to which I used to top up on conversation, laughter, relationships. Those connections inform who we are. They fill is up. As I’ve written before, there are so many things that I like, I don’t like, I miss, and I don’t miss about the life the pandemic has forced us all to lead. I don’t want every element of our previous world back, not by a long chalk. But I do want the freedom to help create a world we all like more. I want that back right now.
It dawned on me this week that as well as feeling distant from the people and places we love, this time will have made us feel distant from ourselves too. Without structure and variety and the option to make plans, I’ve definitely felt a part of myself fade.
That’s not to say I don’t love being with my husband and daughter. They are my entire world. But not being able to experience different things either with them, by myself or with others has had an impact. We’re all a product of our environment and when that environment shrinks, we do too.
How I feel changes day to day. Sometimes I’ll get some fresh air, chat to a friend or play really mindfully with my daughter and I’ll think ‘Yes, I can do this.’ And then others I won’t have such clarity. Everybody says it, but the only answer is to take it day by day, and to be kind to yourself as you do.
I try to keep this in mind when I feel a special kind of parenting guilt that the pandemic is happening at all. A global event that is in no way my fault. I think a lot of my anxiety and emotions are wrapped up in wishing that I could give our daughter a better time. More options. Time with the people she loves. She’s absolutely fine and hugely fortunate to still be going to nursery a few days a week. It’ll just be nice when we can do more again.
My focus on her means I don’t always have time to feel my own sadness about not seeing Grandma (my mum). Or Uncle Adam (my younger brother). Or Auntie Lexa (one of my very best friends). Because when I’m done saying “Soon! We’ll see them soon, I promise!” to her, I realise that I have no chuffing idea what ‘Soon’ means, and that I hate that.
When normality – whatever that looks like – returns, I’m sure I’m going to be nervous and awkward as hell when I finally get to spend time with people beyond my household. I’m going to fret about losing the aspects of restricted living that suit me and that I’ll miss the guaranteed family time that has bonded us more than ever.
I’m also going to be ecstatic to go further than my local park. To see London again in all its glory. And to hug the people I love.
Mixed, complicated, messy feelings are all part of the deal when you’re a human being. I write this blog because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a go at expressing them all. In fact, I find it really helps. I hope you do too.
I woke up one morning and realised that my thoughts are constantly swinging between the things I like, the things I don’t like, the things I miss, and the things I don’t miss in this strange new world. So I thought I’d write them down.
I haven’t included ‘I don’t like that coronavirus exists and that people are suffering because of it’ on this list. Hopefully that’s obvious. I’ve focused instead on the more trivial, everyday highlights and low points of living through this time.
I found turning them over in my mind and noticing how closely they live alongside one another a useful, grounding process. I hope it makes for a nice read for you, too.
I wonder – what would your list include? Sending you much love and strength for the coming months. Here we go:
I like having a dishwasher.
I don’t like that emptying and refilling the bastard will probably qualify as my most consistent form of 2020 exercise.
I like going to the park.
I don’t like only going to the park.
I like looking at the plants we bought when lockdown began and knowing that, with the right levels of sunlight and hydration, we’ve all got through this together.
(I don’t like to talk about the fern accidentally scorched to death on the bathroom window sill during the heatwave. I let everybody down that day.)
I like being a mum more than ever.
I don’t like how frequently I’ve heard myself say ‘Soon!’ to my daughter when she’s asked when we can see her family and friends, despite having no idea what ‘soon’ means.
I like that, thanks to all this time at home, I’ve finally managed to put together a proper skincare routine.
I don’t like that it hasn’t taken ten years off my face yet. To whom should I address my letter of complaint?
I miss having a diary populated with things to look forward to, and the confidence that each one will happen.
I don’t miss living in such a fast-paced, demanding world that time at home as a family felt like a luxury rather than a given.
I like that there are so many ways that we can connect with people these days.
I don’t like that, at the moment, there aren’t many that don’t involve a screen.
I like working at home, not having to worry about public transport, knowing I’m going to be able to collect my daughter on time, and having ready access to all my biscuits, all day long.
I don’t like never having the option to go and do my work somewhere else, hang out with nice colleagues, read a book all the way there and back on the tube, and experience the novelty of returning home again.
I miss going out for nice cocktails in nice bars.
(I have a child, I’ve been missing that for years.)
I like that I no longer feel daunted by empty days ahead at home. We’ve found a new rhythm and learnt that just a handful of components make up a good day. If we can have some play time, fresh air, music, stories, space to ourselves, and parenting support from Hey Duggee, most of the time, that’s enough.
I don’t like to think about the impact that hours and hours listening to the Peppa Pig playlist on Spotify during lockdown will have had on my ‘Most listened to’ list for 2020.
I miss hugging my family.
I miss hugging my friends.
I don’t miss not quite knowing how to make physical contact with acquaintances, getting it wrong, and having the embarrassment wake me up every night for a week.
I really miss my nephews.
I like the excuse that cooler weather (and my now eight-month long sense of entitlement to consume ANYTHING I LIKE if it makes living through a pandemic easier) gives me to drink a hot chocolate packed with marshmallows every single day.
I imagine I’ll miss my teeth when they’re gone.
I like evenings where I leave my phone upstairs and spend a few hours pretending it doesn’t exist.
I don’t like that every time there’s a change or bad news, I descend into a scrolling frenzy, like perhaps the answer to all this is in my phone somewhere if only I could find it.
I like the incredible impact that just a few minutes with a book before I go to sleep has on my sense of calm.
I don’t like the insane effect this year has had on my dreams. Can a girl not take just a few hours off this chaos?
I like how much more time we’ve spent outdoors this year and that it’s made me stop and appreciate the incredible beauty of trees, flowers, blue skies, squirrels, autumn leaves, reflections in a river… I’d better stop before I break into song.
I don’t like having to cross an outdoor catch up with a pal out of my diary because the weather’s decided to be a TOTAL DICK and make it impossible.
I like that my husband is now here every evening to help get our toddler ready for bed and to have time with her at the end of a working day.
I don’t miss receiving a text message from him at least once a week to say he wouldn’t see her before she went to sleep.
I miss the freedom to have my mum to stay, to go to the café near me that she loves, and to see her fall asleep on the sofa with her arm around her granddaughter in front of Stick Man on the TV when we get home.
There’s nothing I don’t miss about that.
I like that we grabbed at precious opportunities to spend time with some of our favourite people whilst we could and that they felt exactly that; precious.
I don’t like worrying about whether my friendships are still going to be there when all this is over.
I miss believing that the only thing standing between me and an orderly home was more time in it.
I don’t miss being upset about having a messy house. Why not get every toy in the world out at once? We can’t pretend we don’t have plenty of time to put them all away again.
I like that one of the most unexpected discoveries of 2020 is that our daughter cannot get enough of dancing to Think About Things by Daði Freyr. No matter what else is going on, that always makes me smile.
I miss dancing at weddings.
I like going for a walk around our local area first thing in the morning and feeling 3000% better for it.
I don’t like how few opportunities we’ve had to wander around the rest of London this year (but I do know that we’ve appreciated it so much more when we have).
I like that months without childcare showed us how much our toddler likes going to nursery, how much more content she is when she has time doing her own thing, and that we don’t need to feel guilty for doing the same.
I don’t like that just as she’s starting to really enjoy playing with her friends – and I can start having slightly more substantial chats with their parents whilst she does it – playdates are off the table.
I like how much more acutely aware I feel of the amazing ways our little girl has changed during this period, because we’ve slowed down and had time to notice.
I don’t like that there have been days and moments this year that I’ve wished by, but I’m sure she’ll understand. It had nothing to do with her, 2020 has just been a bit odd.
I like every second of every day that we’re safe and well.
I don’t like it when the grind of living through this time makes me forget how grateful I am for that.
I like that there was a boiling hot day in the summer when my husband and I managed to drop our daughter off for a day of fun at nursery, drive down to a pebbly beach, swim in the sea, eat fish and chips, down an ice cream, and then drive home in time to pick her up. We’ve not had much time to ourselves this year, but when we have it’s been wonderful.
I don’t like that it sometimes crosses my mind that only seeing my face/hearing my voice/tolerating my anecdotes about the trouble I had locating the correct bin bags in the supermarket might drive him up the wall, but I really haven’t got time to worry about that on top of everything else.
I like how firmly all this time together, these highs and lows, and all these lessons we’ve learnt about what we each need to be happy, has bonded us as a family.
I don’t have a downside to share to that.
I like that despite the relentless madness and sadness of this year, there have still been so many lovely moments, and how much good it does us to stop and notice.
I don’t like to focus too much on how long it’s going to be before we can share more of them with the people we love, but instead on how good it’ll feel when we do.
If my husband is getting tired of my daily step count updates, he only has himself to blame.
I’d been having a few episodes of low mood. I just felt a bit sad, lethargic and lost. All pretty common feelings during a pandemic, I’m sure.
At first, I let it go and figured it was inevitable when you’re living through a global crisis. If this is the worst thing I experience during this time, I thought, I’ve been very lucky!
I had panic disorder a few years ago, and I think it’s made me think that I need to wait until I feel really bad before I take steps to feel better.
When anxiety ruled the roost, I’d only feel calm for a few seconds each day. I’d wake up feeling OK because I’d momentarily forgotten that my brain was on fire. But then panic would kick back in, and I’d commence my (then) routine of sweating through the day, until bedtime came around again and I could have a break.
Therapy, time, and support from good people got me through it, and I’m fine now. One is never so bold as to say they’ve beaten a mental health condition – because the bastard might hear you and return. But I will say that, for the most part, I’m in charge now, not my panic. And that’s a pretty chuffing big deal.
So, having been through all that, when I feel myself take a different type of dip – like a mood slip or another form of anxiety – I’m not always quick enough to do something about it. I’ll say to myself: But I don’t feel like my head is about to explode! I can hang out with friends without wanting to sprint out of the room at the earliest opportunity! Everything is OK!
But just because the disorder’s in check, it doesn’t mean other things can’t affect what’s going on in my head. And that there aren’t things I can and should do to boost my wellbeing.
During my most recent bout of lowness, my husband said “Why don’t you try getting up earlier?”
Now, in the interests of honesty, I should admit that my first response was fury. Was he saying I’m lazy? That I don’t pull my weight? Or did he hope that if I spent less time in bed I’d have fewer dreams to bore him with?
But of course he didn’t mean any of that, and he had a point.
Our little girl is almost three and, all being well, she’s usually up for 12 hours of the day and asleep the other 12. So when Leon and I are done eating, tidying, failing to choose something to watch on TV, and sleeping ourselves, there’s a little time left to do whatever we want with (as long as one of us is in the house, of course).
I find parenting so tiring – and lockdown/pandemic era so endless – that my strategy had been to sleep for as long as possible. Because who wants to make these days longer?!
But it’s hard to go straight from bed to full throttle mum-mode. One minute I’m asleep, dreaming I’m already up and powering through my to-do list, and the next it’s MUMMY! CAN I HAVE SOME MILK AND A BISTIC (biscuit)? MUMMY COME IN MY BEDOOOM! It can be quite an intense way to start the day.
So I’ve started going for a walk. Just for half an hour or so, ideally first thing, when it’s still quiet and a bit chilly.
I’ve devised a special route just for this. I walk up the road we aspire to live on one day, around the park filled with pretty flowers and the world’s busiest squirrels, onto the high street for a reminder that buses still go and shops still open, into a café if I feel like treating myself to a hot chocolate or a pastry or both, and then home after doing a loop around the other park that’s nearer home.
I walked around this park when I was heavily pregnant with our daughter, blissfully unaware of what was to come. Then I’d go home and watch The Office U.S bloopers on YouTube all afternoon whilst I still could. Later, we took her there for her first trip out as a newborn in the sling. I must have checked her 50 times to make sure she was OK.
And now she’s almost three and obsessed with the swings, and we’re there all the time so she can play.
Being in that park on my own is a treat because it’s brief. And, because it’s such a significant place, going there for a walk and a think – and a sit down if I can get away with it – helps me get back in touch with myself and how I feel, and it helps.
When my HOW DARE YOU response to my husband’s suggestion that I start setting an alarm passed, I realised he was onto something. I looked back on the days leading up to my mood drop and saw that I’d hardly walked at all. Sure, I’d done playground trips and nursery pick-ups, and I’d gone to and from the kitchen 900 times. But I hadn’t walked for the sake of it. I hadn’t had time outside on my own.
In lockdown, we got good at helping each other take our daily exercise, as we needed it to survive. And just because we’ve got more freedom now, it doesn’t mean we should stop making the effort to move for the benefit of our wellbeing. We still need fresh air, space and to keep moving to help us stay well.
So I bought a Fitbit, which tracks the number of steps you take each day, your heart rate, your sleep, and other useful health-related info. I wanted something to hold me to account and make me walk – even when I think I don’t want to – and to give me proof that I’m trying.
Leon tolerates my delighted cries of “Ooh it just buzzed! I’ve done my 10,000 steps!” because he knows it’s for the greater good. It was all his idea after all, and I’m grateful for that.
When I’ve finished my morning walk, I head back up our road, open the front door, and am greeted with a ‘Mummy’s back!’ which I love.
I make breakfast, I give out snacks, we play, we go out, we eat food, we come home, I put on films, I clean up, we read books, I find lost toys, I hold my little girl when her emotions take hold, or she’s had a bump, or she’s frightened of a monster I can’t see, or she just wants a cuddle with her mum, and I sit with her in her bedroom at night, and I tell her that I love her and that we’ll have more fun tomorrow, until she drifts off to sleep once again.
And I’m better at it all, and I feel so much happier, because I went out for that walk.
I’m old enough to know that most people don’t give a damn that it’s your birthday. But, seeing as you’re here, I’ll tell you that I just turned 35. *releases single party popper into the ether*
This is the first time in a while that my age has felt significant. I see it written next to other people’s names and think ‘Woah, they must be a REAL grown up.’ And then I see it next to mine – a woman who still can’t let her feet out from under the duvet at night in case a scarecrow bites them – and I realise that’s not necessarily the case.
But that’s fine, I like getting older and being reminded that the idea we’ll have it all sorted out by a particular age is a joke. One thing that is guaranteed though is that the more years you live, you more you learn.
And that’s why for the last six years, the birthday gift I’ve given myself is time to type out the lessons I want to note at this particular point in time. It’s great to have it to look back on. (This was last year’s series of hot takes).
So here’s this year’s big five.
1. Accept your decisions – good and bad – because without them you wouldn’t be where you are
By 35 you’ll have racked up a good few decisions that you look back on and think “What on earth was going through my head when I did that?“ I’ve certainly got a strong number, and while it’s super fun to wake in the night and dwell on my own idiocy, I’ve come to realise that they all form a crucial part of our stories.
If I hadn’t taken that terrible job, or experienced that heartbreak, or had that regrettable hair cut for so many years, life wouldn’t look the way it does now. And I wouldn’t have the knowledge and experience I need to keep making better choices.
I think the same rules that apply to your CV apply to life in general – if you can explain what everything you’ve done has taught you, it doesn’t matter if you made a few ill-advised moves along the way.
2. Those moments when you feel like you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing often mark the start of something exciting
Just when we thought we knew what we were doing as parents of a toddler, we decided to start potty training.
We kicked off and within minutes I went straight back to feeling like I did when I first became a mum – totally unprepared, out of my depth, and terrified things would never get easier.
But of course they have. I realised as the week went on that I wasn’t just afraid of the messy reality of teaching a little one how to go to the loo, but also of what teaching her this meant. Independence. The more she learns, the less she’ll need me, and that’s a scary prospect for a parent to face. But it’s also essential and, when I remove my hormones from the situation, incredibly exciting.
All of the best decisions I’ve made in my life – going to university, making new friends, starting a relationship with my husband, having our daughter, pursuing the career I want – frightened the life out of me.
But it’s often that fear that proves this is something you really want to do. Because if it was out of the question, you wouldn’t entertain it. But if you’ve gone so far as to let yourself imagine the possibilities, it might just mean you should go for it.
When we go on holiday (remember holidays?) my husband and I have a rule that if we’re umming and ahing about whether to go on a day trip/do an activity, we always do it, because then we can’t regret not trying. And applying that to daily life has helped me a lot. I don’t want to regret not doing things, however scary they may seem.
The ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ feeling doesn’t become any less daunting just because you’re a grown up. But you do at least have enough experience to know that you’ll figure it out before long.
3. The pursuit of perfection will destroy you, so let it go
I want my daughter to grow up knowing that everybody makes mistakes. What matters is that we pick ourselves up, understand what went wrong and what we learnt, move on and do better next time.
It’s a perfectly simple concept for even a two year old to understand, and yet, at 35, I still struggle to remember it.
I’ve been particularly hard on myself recently when I’ve made a mistake or a bad decision. Whether it’s something I’ve done whilst driving, something I’ve said, or a parenting choice that’s backfired, I’ve been giving myself a really hard time about it.
I wonder if the current environment has something to do with it. Life feels more fragile, precious and scary than ever right now, so any false move feels significant while our stress levels are heightened.
I’ve always struggled to forgive myself when my interactions with people haven’t gone exactly as I’d like. Despite numerous attempts to stop caring what other people think, the truth is that the older I get, the more I care. I get so few chances (particularly at the moment) to see or speak to the people I love, it feels like it really matters that it goes perfectly when I do.
But of course we can’t control how things go. The only things we can control – in any situation – are our words and our actions. And there’s a world of other factors that also play a part, so we can only ever do our best.
When it comes to parenting, trying to do a perfect job will not only destroy you, it’ll destroy you before 7.30am. There’s no way anybody doing such an emotional, unpredictable, and exhausting job could get every single element right all the time.
Despite my best efforts I make wrong calls numerous times a day. I also make the right call a fair amount too, but if you think they’re the moments my brain likes to put into a montage to show me when I’m lying awake at 3am then you’ve very much misunderstood the tone of this blog.
But the longer I’m a mum the clearer it becomes that perfection isn’t the goal here. Happiness, safety and good health is. There’s nothing like living through a global pandemic to make you realise that’s more than enough to ask for.
4. Whether you like a feeling or not, at least accept that you’re feeling it
Allow me to share my incredible time saving method.
Instead of beating ourselves up for feeling nervous ahead of a social event, stressed out by a heavy workload, or still scared of the dark at the age of 35, how about we just… accept it’s how we feel. All of a sudden our problems are cut in half as we no longer have self loathing to deal with too. We can focus instead on exploring why we feel this way, and what could help us feel better.
I spend so much time trying to mentally push away feelings that I don’t think I should have. I lose hours feeling ashamed of my fear, frustration, or upset and guess what? It just makes matters worse.
We can’t help the way we feel. The way we respond to each situation is entirely personal. So our time is better spent listening to what that feeling’s trying to tell us, rather than hoping that if we berate it enough for existing it’ll just disappear.
5. I do my best work as a human being when I slow down and think about what I’m doing (don’t we all?)
It’s when I trick myself into believing that everything has to be done in a rush that I make decisions I’ll later regret.
And it’s when I react NOW rather than waiting a few seconds to think, empathise, breathe and then speak that I’ll end up saying something I’ll wish I hadn’t.
Since the world plunged into lockdown, there have been few reasons to rush at all. And though I wish I’d learnt it in different circumstances, the lessons this has taught me about the importance of slowing down are invaluable.
I’m a better mum when I take a moment to consider the world from my daughter’s point of view before responding to her 55th request for a snack before 10am. And I’m a better wife when I stop and think about whether I’m really angry because my husband has forgotten to change a toilet roll, or because I’m tired from living through a global crisis and need to go to bed.
We’re all better people when we try and see the world from other people’s perspectives and consider how our actions could affect others. Right now we’re being shown in the bleakest way possible just how crucial it is that we do.
As I head into my 36th year, I want to keep all of this in mind. To be more empathetic. To make good, thoughtful decisions. And to be kind to myself when I inevitably slip up and learn more lessons along the way.
I’ll look forward to telling you all about them when my birthday comes around again next year. Thanks for reading.