What a week. Covid hit the Howells household hard. One by one we’ve gone down like flies and I can safely say this has been the most challenging week of my life. With a husband who’s been admitted to hospital, I’ve been flying solo in self-isolation with the two boys for five days now – five days which have officially been the longest days ever.

Covid completely sucks. I’ve now seen and experienced first hand just what it does to people, and quite frankly, it can really go and do one. I’ve watched my husband unable to breathe whilst I’ve tried to keep us all calm and make a call to 999. I’ve listened to our little Wilf wheeze with every breath, sobbing and coughing as he’s felt so rotten. I’ve seen how invisible this virus is too – how our wonderful Theo hasn’t had one symptom and has been bouncing around the house.

Any parent will know that feeling unwell yourself and having to look after kids isn’t nice. Bless them, they don’t understand and of course, they come first. I’m lucky that my symptoms were mild and quite shortlived, but still, I felt really rotten. But add to that the broken nights, the 5am starts, the worry of the other part of your team being in hospital… it’s not exactly been easy. And it’s really bloody lonely too.

But there are things I’ve learned this week, and things that have also been reaffirmed more than ever. Friends and family save the day; the gestures of kindness and support have meant the world, and we are so grateful to have such thoughtful people in lives.

I’ve learned even more to make things up as I go along. Be that making it a game of ‘let’s look out for the ambulance’ at 7am, or playing trick or treating at home or having morning baths to pass a good half hour, this week really has been a true test as a parent.

And I’ve also learned more so than ever that my boys are the absolute joys of my life. Of course, I really can’t wait to see the back of them, but goodness me they’ve made me smile. Theo has understood everything like trooper and deserves a medal; he’s been kind and patient and has only thrown wobbles (and rightly so) every so often. And Wilf has continued to make me even more grey as he’s bounced back to himself and caused havoc as always.

There are Cheerios everywhere and there has probably been way too much screen time. There have been times where I’ve had a sneaky cry in the bathroom before being found by a little one. There has been an unimaginable amount of crafting and chaos at the kitchen table. We’re certainly surviving rather than thriving, but we can do this.

So to anyone who has been through this and got through it, hats off to you. And to anyone who has escaped this so far – keep trying to escape it and be as safe as you possibly can. Covid is no joke.

Here’s to having a well husband home soon, a really long walk and a glass of wine that I can eventually taste. Freedom is a few days away yet but we will most certainly all be jumping out of that front door when we can.

The juggle

Parenting is one big juggling act. It’s striking a balance of trying to be in the moment whilst also trying to get organised – something that’s much easier said than done. Sometimes you’re needed in two places at once, and sometimes the meaning of multi-tasking is taken to a whole new level.

Over the years, I’ve found myself in many strange and slightly hilarious situations which have involved having to juggle. Breastfeeding whilst playing crazy golf. Having a one-handed wee with a sleeping baby in the other arm. Fixing a broken bike pedal whilst wearing a baby, being pulled around by a dog and trying to keep a distraught toddler from having too much of meltdown. Plus, there are the general daily juggles. Prepping dinner with a little person hanging off my legs. Car journeys and shopping trips and prizing children with snacks. Answering work emails whilst playing Duplo. Even the simplest of tasks take an age now. Nothing is simple. Everything means having to juggle.

Earlier in the week I made the last-minute decision to take the boys to the beach. I had the bright idea of driving to Mudeford, about 45 minutes from home – my first venture that far on my own with the little ones. I couldn’t face packing up a picnic yet again, so Tesco meal deals it was, along with our trusty bag of beach toys which I have learned to always keep in the car boot at the ready. Suncream on. Snacks packed. We were good to go.

But. Half an hour into the drive I realised the sat nav was taking us a completely backwards route though. We had listened to the Boogie Bear audio book for what felt like a thousand times and I was slowly starting to lose my mind. It was also clouding over and there were now no blue skies in sight. I hadn’t packed jumpers – we were fully beach ready and were probably going to freeze – and I was beginning to envision just a quick half hour by the sea before heading home. Theo was excitedly squealing and kicking the back of my seat and Wilf was munching rice cakes and flinging toys that he was getting fed up with. I have learned over the years that car journeys are a true test of just how well we can juggle as parents – watching the road, plying children with snacks and dodging missiles that get thrown from the back seats.

The drive to the beach was actually the easy part though. At least both boys were strapped in and contained. I then had to navigate the next leg… getting us and all of our kit on to the beach. Of course, the car park right on the beachfront was full so we had so park further away – not ideal when you haven’t brought a pushchair. Then came the fun of trying the download the Ringo app and input all my details to pay for parking whilst also trying to make sure Theo didn’t run in the road and Wilf didn’t try to eat too much debris from the floor. By this point, naturally, I was getting pretty frazzled. But off we then went, with me loaded up like a carthorse, Theo already stopping to empty the sand from his Crocs and Wilf toddling off and trying to run in the opposite direction every few steps.

There are some moments as a parent where I’ve stopped myself and thought, what on earth am I doing here? This was one of them. Why didn’t we just go to the park or have another day playing in the garden? Because this is going to be wonderful, I told myself. It didn’t matter that I was carrying three bags and child. It didn’t matter that we had to walk all the way up the path to use the toilets. The sun was now shining, the sea was sparkling and I was now going to spend the next few hours trying to get Wilf to stop eating sand.

But it was wonderful. The boys played and played and it was beautiful to watch. Theo made a friend and they built a moat together, and it was adorable to watch him chat with someone new and just be a four-year-old. Wilf shouted “Hallooo!” to every single person who walked past, spending most of the time dancing to the Alexa that he could hear in his head. All my worries about lockdown and how it had affected the boys were totally lost in this moment; they were both so confident and contented. I couldn’t really have asked for more. Although beach trips once meant laying with a book and a nice cocktail, not juggling applying suncream to sandy little bodies or wiping sand of apples, this was far more enjoyable. Their little faces made it all worth it.

As far as a day out alone with two little ones can go, I guess you could say that this was relatively calm. The boys are happiest when they are outdoors doing some sort of digging, and the sea air was just what I needed too. But of course, there were moments of crazy as well. There always are. Taking a work call on the beach was one of them. “Is now a good time to talk, Hannah?” I was asked. There were sea gulls squawking having attacked some poor man’s chips, I was in the middle of building a sandcastle and also trying to stop Wilf from running off to get someone’s giant inflatable unicorn dingy. “Of course. Just excuse any background noise,” I said. And then there was the wonderful car-boot-change, de-sand, mint-green-ice-cream-everywhere performance to round off the day nicely before we headed home. Luckily both boys slept all the way and I really didn’t care that it was danger nap time. I got to listen to a podcast as I drove through the forest: the juggling act was on pause for now.

It’s a given that as parents we juggle. It’s just something that we learn to do. Conversations are often interrupted and disjointed. Tasks are begun without being completed. Every outing revolves around the juggle of toilet trips, snack time or naps. Being a parent is a full time job where your clients are demanding and needy and change their minds constantly. It’s a job where there is the juggle of tight deadlines (being at a swimming lesson on time), organisation (bag-packing and food-prepping) and clear communication (asking for shoes to be put on for the millionth time). And then there’s the juggle of actual work on top of that too.

But whilst things take longer now, and whilst life is far more frazzled, it’s also far more full. The juggle might seem endless at times, and the need for eyes and hands everywhere is exhausting, but it’s also so much fun too. There will be a time for relaxing beach trips and floors that aren’t covered in toys.  There will be a time no doubt where the boys are sat messaging their friends on car journeys. So right now I think I’ll try to enjoy this juggle as best as I can. It’s absolute madness but my goodness, it’s worth it.