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.
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.
Is anyone else in the 5am club? That’s the time here as I’ve begun writing this. Wilf is very much awake, rolling around his cot and calling ‘Aaaandy’ (but Andy is fast asleep next to me). It’s just not an acceptable hour to start to the day yet.
I’m used to these early wakes now. At this age, Theo quite liked beginning the day at 4am, where I’d then wear him out for an hour before rocking him back to sleep in his pushchair in the hallway. So I guess this is an improvement with Wilf. Plus, there’s the new perspective I’m trying to shine on things – rather than will myself to get back to sleep, I just accept the fact that I will now be awake. Sometimes Wilf protests so we come downstairs and enjoy easing in to the day together. Other times, like this morning, he’s quite content crashing around his cot and talking to the useless dream sheep which does absolutely nothing to lull him back off. So here I am, at the crack of dawn, mind wandering and now writing.
I’m actually going to stop believing people when they say their children sleep past 7am as I honestly think that’s impossible. In fact, there’s a lot that I think is impossible. Having now had two children, I am well aware that I fall into the category of mums who have early risers, who wipe their children’s snotty noses on their t-shirts and who think fish fingers are the best creation ever. I think it’s impossible for children to sleep in, to not be covered in dribble or food or mud, and it’s definitely impossible for them to eat broccoli. There’s such a pressure with parenting to feel like you’re doing your best, that you’re all wholesome and earthy (thanks, Instagram), but in reality, it’s a case of just muddling through sometimes.
As parents, we’re forever talking to other parents, albeit interruptedly thanks to the little people we’re chasing after. Comparisons are made without even realising it sometimes. It begins with bump sizes and birth stories, then evolves as our babies grow. We share our babies’ weights, how much they’re sleeping, how weaning is going, the milestones of sitting and crawling and walking. And it goes on. First words, how they’re settling at nursery, how they can swim, how they’re learning to write their name. And I’m sure these moments will continue for many years to come as our children grow into adults, heading out into the big wide world.
Often these comparisons bring comfort; knowing that you’re not alone with the night wakes or refusals of food, that there are other parents out there with the same struggles, helps to soften to blow of the challenges. And as parents, although at times we may feel alone, we actually really aren’t. It’s a club where the solidarity of worrying, tearing our hair out and beaming with pride unites us all.
So here, at 5am, I wonder right now how many other parents’ days have already started. How many have watched the monitor, fingers crossed with hope, willing their little ones to go back to sleep. I wonder how many have leaned over their baby’s cot, rubbing their back and shhhh-ing them, before doing the ninja-like creep out of their bedroom to avoid the creaky floorboards. I wonder then, by 8am, how many parents will feel like they have already done a day’s work.
There are probably way more glamorous clubs than those that begin at 5am, or those which involve less snot. But this little club – the mum club, the parent club – certainly has its perks too. I’m not sure there are other clubs where you have breakfast with the Paw Patrol theme tune blaring, or where you’re dealing with a mid-nappy change, weeing-by-the-bookshelf-incident, all before 7am. Here’s to that club, with its madness and sleep-deprivation in all its glory.
With kids, there’s never a dull moment. Without a doubt, this is the most tired I have ever felt, the most plates I’ve spun at any one time. But it’s also the most I have ever laughed.
Yesterday whilst giving the boys their tea, I had one of those moments of suddenly feeling like I was oozing with adoration for them. So much so, I got up to squeeze each of their little faces in turn, gave them a big kiss and told them I loved them. In that moment, for no particular reason, I couldn’t get over that they were mine. It might have been because they were both tucking into their tea without fuss, or because I knew that bath time was on the horizon, or might have been because there are times, just like that, where I feel so incredibly lucky to have them.
There are other times though where things aren’t as calm or adorable. I am now well accustomed to the rollercoaster life that is parenting: some days I feel like I know what I’m doing(ish), whereas others are a complete case of winging it and hoping for the best. It’s hit and miss as to what the day will bring, what the battles there may be and what curve balls might be thrown. A meal that is enjoyed one day can cause such a problem the next. A nap that usually happens like clockwork can suddenly be refused. A meltdown can ensue simply because it’s raining. Little people certainly bring a great deal of uncertainty – there really is never a dull moment.
Today, I nipped to the shops to buy the boys some new clothes. But of course, there was no nipping about it. My pre-child self always wondered why parents dragged their children on shopping trips. But I now know that this is because parents in fact have very little time to themselves. I now come as a package – it’s me and the boys – and wherever they or I need to go, we all do. So off we went, the usual routine unfolding of trying to keep Wilf strapped in and happy with snacks, and deterring Theo from all the things that we didn’t need.
In a book I am reading at the moment, it says that as parents we often think back to what life was like before children and the ease at which we travelled through life. Instead of looking back, it recommended looking forwards – advice which I thought was great, but easier said than done. So as I was there, explaining to my four-year-old that we didn’t really need water balloons, Elsa sandals or a Batman costume, I couldn’t help but think back to the days of really being able to just nip in somewhere to buy exactly what I needed. No fuss. Super speedily. And as for looking forwards, I just hope that shopping trips get easier. And quicker.
Having eventually got what we needed, the hard part was over. Or so I thought. Then came the checkout palava where Theo kept leaning on the scales alerting us to yet another unexpected item in the bagging area, in which the self-scanning process became painfully slow and frustrating. Followed by this was the realisation that Wilf had half-eaten a label and also managed to lose a shoe. Brilliant. It was at this point, reversing back through the self-checkout with me looking completely frazzled, that we began retracing our steps. I actually wasn’t close to tears before now, but quite easily could have been if the brand-new, over-priced Clark’s shoe was gone forever. But luckily, it wasn’t. Thanks to a lovely shop assistant, the said shoe was quickly found. And it was then that I absolutely did look back, my mind wandering to a time where shopping used to be a lot less stressful. But still, never a dull moment these days.
The madness then continued as we grabbed lunch out. It was either take two hungry boys home and frantically put something together, or brave being out on my own with two little ones. McDonalds seemed like an easy option – again, something that the pre-child me vowed to not really do. The guilt kicked in as soon as we’d parked, but I tried to redeem myself by buying cucumber sticks and veggie dippers, and the boys seemed to love the treat. Theo was in awe of yet more plastic tat from his Happy Meal to add to his collection of pricey magazine paraphernalia. And Wilf spent the entire time either squealing with excitement, shouting ‘hiya’ to absolutely everyone, or pointing at the music speaker and saying ‘ah eh uh’ (Alexa), over and over again. Is this what all lockdown babies are like – crazily ecstatic about being ‘out out’, I wonder?
Now, despite the mishaps, by no means has this been a bad day. It might sound like it in parts – the frantic moments and the chaos. But it is actually just our version of normal. Normal days now consist of unreasonable requests from them and reasonable requests from me, with the latter causing the most fuss. It might be because I’ve asked Theo to put his shoes on for the millionth time or I’ve stopped Wilf playing in the dog’s water bowl, the terrible parent that I am.
But the funny thing about being a parent is that these far-from-dull moments are what now make me tick; they make me smile and they warm my heart. Though I am so often desperate for space, in the same breath I’m lost when the boys aren’t around. I can’t help but check on them over again when they’re sleeping and the house feels too quiet when they’re not in it. There really is never a dull moment, but who truly wants dull moments anyway?
By the end of today, like with many days, I was completely wiped out. But this evening I walked along the beach, on my own, and ate a Creme Egg that I found in the back of the cupboard. It’s all about balancing out these never-dull moments with the odd bit of calm, wherever and whenever that may be.
One whole year. The days might seem long sometimes, but it’s hard to believe nearly a whole year has now gone by. A whole year with our two boys, a whole year since Wilf joined our family.
It only feels like yesterday that I was packing our hospital bag at the last minute. Theo was getting ready for his stay at his Nana and Abu’s, Andy was calling them to say that it was all happening and I was dropping to the floor every few minutes as the contractions came. I remember thinking at the time – this hurts. A lot. How can I do this for much longer? Turns out that I didn’t have to as Wilf was soon to make a very quick appearance. I keep saying of late that his personality is just like the way he came into the world; he is so calm, so chilled and then… all of sudden he makes himself known. He’s a whirlwind who will forever keep us on our toes, it seems.
A few weeks ago I happened to drive past the Sainsbury’s on Hill Lane – it was the first time I’d been that side of town since having Wilf. My heart raced as I caught sight of the car park, thinking back to that day, in the earliest of days or lockdown, where we had caused quite the scene. I think I will forever be processing the sheer euphoria at how we delivered our own baby, versus the what could have been if we hadn’t have been so lucky. In true Wilf style, he asserted himself as a strong little character straight away – and he hasn’t stopped since.
It’s a few days until Wilf turns one and I’m doing what I usually do: I’m reliving the before, the labour, then snippets of so far. I remember being an emotional wreck on Theo’s first birthday, then again on his second (mainly because the chilli I had made in the slow cooker had overflowed and leaked all down the kitchen units), and once again on his third birthday because this was his last one as just the three of us. Perhaps it’s because of the desire for things to be perfect, the pressure of the day, a bit like Christmas, or perhaps it’s the realisation that time really is flying by.
When I look back at photos of Theo’s birthdays, I see how he has blossomed from a baby to a toddler and now a little boy. And now, with Wilf, it’s hard to believe our teeny, tiny little newborn was once so still given that he is now everywhere and into everything. For the past year, lockdown aside, we’ve got through the colic, the reflux, the many and continued broken nights, the head in our hands at his fearlessness when it comes to climbing on things or trying to dive off them. He digs in the mud, he likes to eat stones, he has destroyed our TV remotes by using them as teethers. He is the cheekiest little chap who absolutely adores his big brother, and without a doubt, watching the bond grow between our two boys this past year has brought us the ultimate joy. It’s been one year of challenges – of things being different, of things being unbelievably difficult at times – but it’s certainly now one year to celebrate.
I know my mum refers to the day as “window pain” when they first met Wilf. They stood on the driveway, us in our living room, a panel of glass between us. We put on brave faces and we toasted to Wilf, bubbles in hand, knowing that a window-meet was be the best we could do for now. It’s easy to dwell on what has been lost and what has been missed, but one year on, it’s now about celebrating. Celebrating bringing another little human into the world and the delight that he has become.
When Wilf was born, we Facetimed Theo from the hospital. His excitement at now having a baby brother was unreal – he quite literally jumped for joy, squealing and smiling from ear to ear. My mum reminded me of how he commented at the time “I’ll share him with you,” which I’ve since watched back on video, noticing how little Theo looks here, one whole year ago. And now, exactly as Theo said, we absolutely will be sharing the joy that is Wilf. This weekend he gets to see his Nanny and Bampi for the second time – for real, not on a screen – and we will be raising glass with my family without a window between us. It’s been a year of hearing the word ‘bubbles’ so many times but not the ones we know and love. Nevermind support or social or childcare bubbles now. This weekend is all about the celebratory bubbles – the fizzy, sparkly ones to mark a whole year gone by. So, here’s to Wilf: our little lockdown baby, our wild little one.
Parenting is madness. Complete and utter madness. There are so many occasions where I hear myself and think, did I really just say that? Did that really just happen? It’s a mad, mad world.
I regularly tell Wilf at the moment to stop trying to climb in the dishwasher or tip the dog’s water bowl over. He quite likes to swing off the lamp, push his high chair around as if it’s a zimmer frame and empty the bookshelves too. All the while, he tells us “uh oh!” knowing full well that he’s up to no good. If he sees the stairs, he’ll make a dash to climb up them. If there’s a door open, he’ll be ready to slam it. If there’s a cupboard open, he’ll try to get in it. “Where’s Wilf?” is the most commonly used question in our house at the moment. Of course, everything is baby-proofed and he’s within our sight all of the time, but this still doesn’t stop him from finding every bit of mischief that he can.
Theo was a climber as a baby too, but he was far more measured than Wilf. A cautious explorer, I don’t remember us having our heads in our hands so much when he was little, but he’s more than made up for that in the past year or so. Being inquisitive has often got the better of our biggest little man, with his own speciality of getting things stuck. He’s managed to get himself wedged in the bars of a stairgate mid tantrum, and we also spent the day in A&E once after he pushed a raisin up his nose. When I asked him what made him do it, he responded (very innocently) with “just because.” Skipping around the hospital with a bed pan as a hat, I remember him being so proud as he told the doctor what he’d done and he wasn’t at all phased by the huge tool they had to use to get it out.
But he hasn’t exactly learned from this. This week he gave us another scare after managing to get his hand stuck in the toy kettle he plays with in the bath. Lots of moisturiser later and quite a bit of twisting and tugging, it came off eventually. It was a fine line for us as parents between panicking, giggling nervously and also crying with laughter at the hilarity the situation. It’s safe to say that we lap up every bit of quiet when the boys are tucked up in bed.
This morning I sorted the washing out and found a plastic corn on the cob in the wash basket; I know that Wilf is to thank for this and his new love of posting things in places. Plus he’s fascinated by the washing for some reason – clean or dirty – and quite likes to unsort it and throw it across the floor. It’s similar to his fascination with the bin, the hoover or the mop. Who knows why.
Stop diving on the sofa. Please take your finger out of your nose. Oh, Wilf’s eating food off the floor again. Who farted? I seem to say these things a million times a day. Who knew that parenting would be filled with such glamour? I certainly didn’t.
This week Theo has been self-isolating which basically means we have all been housebound. Again. The difference that a few months can make is really quite unbelievable. Compared to November when this last happened, this time around I have definitely gone more mad. The boys now bounce off each other – the squealing and screaming, the chasing each other, the diving around, the laughing hysterically. Their adoration for each other has most definitely blossomed as have their frustrations too. Clouting each other with a toy has become a regular occurrence and it seems as though little Wilf is learning to assert himself with his big brother. I am most certainly exhausted and have definitely gone more grey this past week.
Disjointed conversations. Duplo all over the floor. Endless requests for snacks. I know that we aren’t alone in this mad world and that other parents out there are very much familiar with the demands, the laughs and the bonkersness that their little people bring. It’s a mad world but one that we are very much used to now, and one that I know I’ll miss in a strange way next month when BOTH boys are at nursery one day a week. The house will feel quiet. I’ll actually be able to get on with my to-do lists uninterruptedly. And of course, I’ll be ready with open arms for their madness once again when they come home.
I’ve been a mum for four years now. That’s four years of stumbling and learning along the way. Four years of making things up as I go along, being uncertain or going with my instinct. I’m only four years in but already there are so many things I wish I’d have known.
I wish I’d known the truth about labour and the post-partum delights. The sheer exhaustion and appreciation of what the body can do. The absolute miracle that is growing a human and bringing them into the world. I wish I’d have known about the months that followed too – not just the leaks and the jelly-like bits and the parts that now drooped. But the parts that slowly become stronger again, and the parts that will never quite be what they once were. The night sweats, the new frizzy baby hairs that appear… no one really tells you about those things. Motherhood is oh so glamorous.
I wish I’d known about the fourth trimester and how it really is a thing. Permanently wearing a sling, sleeping so little, feeding constantly, not knowing what time of day or night it is. Babies just want to be held and feel safe when there seems to be this pressure from the minute they are born that we should be able to put them down. They have just come into this big, wide world. No wonder they don’t want to leave our arms.
I wish I’d known to lap up the quiet cuddles even more. It’s hard to believe that my boys were once still. That they slept on my chest. I wonder how often I really did just snuggle them without feeling the need to get them to sleep on their own because that’s what the books said. I miss their teeny little bodies and how they would tuck their legs up as they slept on me. I miss that I would be glued to the sofa feeding for hours on end. Now, my boys fidget and wriggle, barely sitting still for a squeeze. But when they do, they give the best cuddles back.
I wish I’d known about the mountain of baby things you need. You use them for a few months and then soon enough, you need new and different things because they grow so quickly. Every room in the house contains something that is usually bulky, colourful or makes a loud sound and lights up. There’s always something to get, always the next size up to buy. I wish I’d have known how cluttered the house would feel, but then how strange it would be when things were packed away – another milestone reached, another stage passed by.
I wish I’d known about the importance of getting out of the house. Minus those early days with a screaming newborn, car journeys now bring some much needed quiet time – they are a way to contain two children who will happily play with toys in the back seat and sometimes even drift off to sleep. And there’s nothing quite like a walk too. Be it for quick leg stretch or a good old stomp, the fresh air always does us the world of good. It may often take us longer to leave the house than the time we are actually out for, but it’s worth it. Both boys have happily slept in their pushchairs from day one and I must have walked thousands as miles whilst they’ve snoozed. Podcast on, out in the open. It does wonders for the soul and combats the loneliness that can sometimes be felt at home.
I wish I’d known how much things would change. The fact that there is barely any time for yourself any more. That these little people are the centre of your universe and everything revolves around them. That you would sacrifice and do anything – literally anything – to keep them safe and happy. And all of that is completely ok. I wish I could tell my pre-child self to appreciate some of the things I now long for – quiet time, a long shower, having a snack I don’t have to share. I’d tell my old self to make sure I was really grateful for these things.
I wish I’d known about time – how much it flies and how much it can drag. Sometimes the days feel like they are never going to end, that they are so samey that they blur into one. Lockdown certainly hasn’t helped with that. Sometimes though, I feel like I’ve blinked and we’ve managed to fastforward without me realising it. I have a four year old, no longer a toddler but now a little boy who knows his own mind, who is inquisitive, who I have the best conversations with. And I have a baby who also has such personality, who is constantly on the move, who protests when he doesn’t get what he wants. My squishy newborns have grown into real little people.
Just before having Wilf, I read a book called Letters on Motherhood and at the time, I wrote letters to our boys which one day I will give to them. Little did I know that Wilf would appear days later, and Theo would instantly seem so much more grown up. It has got me thinking recently that there is so much, pre having children, that I wish I’d have known. Perhaps it’s because Wilf’s first birthday is only a couple of months away, or perhaps because we are in yet another lockdown, but it’s definitely made me think. Maybe these things I wish I’d have known would be in a letter to myself – my pre-child self – reminding me to lap up every single moment. To ride out the challenges and to hold on to all those wonderful bits even more so.
I’m just a mum. Is it bad that sometimes this doesn’t feel good enough though?
Perhaps it’s because maternity leave really doesn’t feel like maternity leave without the baby groups, playdates or the simple freedom of being out and about. I forget that technically this is ‘time off’. Or perhaps it’s because at the time of writing this, there have been a long string of broken nights and very early starts. Or perhaps, quite frankly, it’s because I am feeling so unbelievably done with all of the restrictions we are facing. It’s hard.
With two young boys and being home all of the time, the majority of days feel like an endless cycle of preparing meals, clearing up meals, dodging toys and tidying toys. I feel genuinely happy when I have worked my way through all of the laundry and geniunely sad when the wash basket starts to be filled once again. Most days, I am covered in food or slobber of somesort, as are my floors (which I have to battle with myself not to feel precious about). And most days, I don’t have any adult conversation until Andy and I catch up of an evening once the boys are sleeping.
There are days where I feel like we have achieved lots. Maybe Theo has been really engaged in an activity, we’ve been for a long walk and Wilf has sat and played contentedly. I feel then like I’ve been a good mum. There are other days that don’t feel quite so satisying though. Days where there has been too much whinging. Days where I’ve run out of patience. Days where I am clock-watching to begin the bath and bedtime routine. But, I have to tell myself on those days that this doesn’t make me a bad mum – the fact that the two boys have gone to sleep soundly and happily means that I must have done something right. I have kept two little humans occupied, fed and watered all day, so surely, that’s an achievement.
Despite finding lockdown with little ones incredibly hard, I’m also incredibly thankful for not having to juggle homeschooling or working from home too. Hats off to those who are doing it. At the same time though, in a strange way, there is a bit of me who is envious of the focus that these things might bring – interactions with other people (even if it is on zoom), being needed or relied upon for something other than snacks. Do I feel guilty at times for not being at work or part of team during these times? Absolutely. Do I feel bad when I hear about the stresses of peoples’ days as they adapt to changes and new information? Absolutely. But then I have to tell myself: being ‘just a mum’ is work. HARD work. And it certainly feels like this all the more when you are at home all day, everyday, during a global pandemic.
Having now made the decision that it’s also time for a career change, the maternity leave as a teacher that I fizzled into back in March last year is now fizzling out. Freelance writing now means being my own boss, working flexibly and therefore being around more for our boys as they grow up. Plus, it’s something I have wanted to do for so long. But with this change comes a whole new set of challenges – being motivated to work of an evening even though I’m exhausted, making use of Wilf’s naps and keeping Theo occupied when I have things I need to do. It’s a whole new world of juggling and striking a balance. But it’s hugely exciting and at long last, I feel good for taking the leap.
There’s nothing wrong with being just a mum. It’s the hardest job in the world – I honestly believe that. I have the utmost respect for parents whose choice is to stay home with their children full-time because it’s full on and exhausting, it’s completely non-stop. But for me, since becoming a mum, whilst I’ve gained a whole new identity as a parent, it has been easy to forget all of the things I loved before my days became filled with little people. I often wonder, what did I do all day on weekends? How on earth did I fill the summer holidays? It’s amazing how quickly we adjust and how we forget too.
A bit like having two children. There is no doubt that two is a total game changer: they go in different directions, they have different needs and their little personalities are so different. Just as I was beginning to think I was getting to grips with being a mum, becoming a mum of two has brought about a whole new set of challenges and questions.
But, in this role as a mum to two boys, there are of course the best rewards too. Seeing your two children laugh and play with and adore each other is without a doubt, the biggest perk of the ‘just a mum’ job. It may be tiring and it may be intense, but my goodness, it’s worth it all.
As a parent, we are constantly tested, often trying to find answers or navigate new situations when we’re not entirely sure what we’re doing. We learn as we go; we grow into our role. Before having children, I thought I’d be the strict one, that we’d barely allow screens and we wouldn’t restrict ourselves to rigid bath and bed times. Turns out, things are quite the opposite. I’m the soft one, TV or iPad time can really save the day (and our sanity), and our night time routine means that the boys are sleeping and peace (usually) begins by 7.30pm. I look back now and almost laugh and my pre-parent self. How I didn’t have a clue and how naive I perhaps was.
When Theo came into our world nearly four years ago, our lives instantly changed. This little person was suddenly the centre of everything and all that we did. A love that I didn’t know was even possible had appeared and taken over, and so when we found out two and a half years later that I was expecting again, I began to grow anxious about what things would be like second time around. How would we love our next little one as much as Theo? Would the birth be another positive experience? Would we have another healthy, happy baby? At no point, however, did it enter my head that second time around we would be in the thick of a global pandemic which would turn our world upside down.
At eight months pregnant, we were on lockdown. Theo was no longer at pre-school and Andy was working from home; our house soon became a mix of an office space and nursery, and our days were filled with endless activities, limited resources… and a great deal of chaos. Looking back, there were so many positives in that I had bonus time with Theo before the baby arrived, and I love that we learned to slow down and enjoy simple things. But, at times the days did drag and there were many occasions where I felt cheated – this wasn’t the start of the maternity leave that I had planned. I was exhausted, we couldn’t see family or friends and of course I was growing apprehensive about bringing a baby into a world filled with so much uncertainty.
Wilf’s whirlwind entrance shone a new perspective on things though. For all my initial worries, he had his own agenda and he clearly wasn’t too keen to be in a hospital during a pandemic either, hence arriving in my car on the way to the hospital one Sunday morning. It’s as if the birth was the icing on the cake of the strangest, most unpredictable few months. The worries I’d had were instantly eliviated because our love suddenly doubled as another happy healthy boy became part of our little family. And of course, seeing Theo as a big brother, doting on this tiny little baby, brought about an even newer, even richer love.
Nesting as a four in many ways was wonderful. Our little bubble felt safe and so special too. We were forced to get on with things and find our way without being inundated with visitors, and all of our days were spent at home aside from an hour’s walk each day. This was so different to when Theo was born, when each day we would have family or friends over or we ventured out of the house more. Lockdown with a newborn could be seen as a blessing in disguise, but equally, it brought many challenges too.
To this day, and for many more I am sure, I struggle with the fact that we were unable to share newborn baby Wilf with our family and friends. There were no cuddles like there were with Theo. There was no closeness. Yes, we made the most of window visits and Facetime calls, all of which I have such fond and wonderful memories of, and we learned to be creative with distanced visits and virtual meet ups. But it wasn’t easy. I try not to let it sadden me that we will never get those days back and instead I focus on the different memories that were created – memories that we will continue to relive as we tell Wilf when he’s older about when he was born into this world. A friend whose little one is a month younger than Wilf summed it up perfectly when I saw her – that the focus on these pandemic babies has been so much about protecting them, that at times its it’s taken away from celebrating them.
I’m sure there’s a wiring within us women that means that the minute we are pregnant, worries or guilt of some sort begin. We constantly question whether we are doing the right thing and always find something to be concerned about about, be it big or small. When I was pregnant with Theo, this was certainly the case, particularly as I worried about the unknown about the birth and then parenting. Looking back though, being none-the-wiser was actually pretty wonderful. Carrying Wilf, I felt so much more relaxed in many ways yet at the same time was apprehensive because I knew what was to come. Plus, recovering from labour followed by sleepless nights and the early months with a newborn was going to be harder this time around – not just because we had a three year old, but because the pandemic meant that our support network was now very different.
As a new parent, nothing could have prepared me for the consuming desire to protect my child. I would do anything, literally anything for them. Bringing a baby into the world during a pandemic exasbabted this feeling so much more, to the point where when lockdown began to ease, I had to battle new anxieties that were buried within me. Naturally with a newborn, I worried that Wilf might be too hot or too cold, or hungry or maybe he was windy. But I just got on with it and my instinct meant that it was so much more natural and relaxed second time around to tend to him, despite his colic and reflux. I felt like I knew what I was doing so much more this time. Yet things were harder this time around and there were challenges that I didn’t face when Theo was a baby. Going out with the two boys on walks, I became terrified of anywhere that was remotely busy. I became angry at those who weren’t keeping their distance. I became upset seeing families together with grandparents, knowing that they were breaking the rules. Suddenly, having a newborn almost became the easy part. The hard part was managing everything else.
It took me a while to feel comfortable with even distanced visits with family and friends. It all felt so odd and unnatural, and whilst I was desperate for contact and for people to properly meet Wilf, I worried so much too. I understand the severity of the virus and why we have all been made to fear it, but to this day I still struggle with what we can and can’t do, and particularly in those early weeks and months with a newborn, things have felt very fragile. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined we would be raising two young children in this chaos.
As lockdown eased, it took a while for me to get to grips with venturing out. I remember my first trip to the supermarket when Wilf was around three months old. For all my worries, I couldn’t get over how safe it actually felt – there was barely anyone around and I managed the whole mask, anti-bac and baby-wearing routine pretty well. Plus, Wilf was fascinated by the lights and the colours, and to him this was a whole new sensory overload. The same trip with Theo in tow though was quite different. Aged three and a half, he is hugely inquisitive and I found myself forever asking him not to touch things and stay close to me. But, we’ve found our way and I’ve now learned to manage that this is now the new normal. But be it the supermarket, going to the park or even out for lunch, life is certainly different not only with two children rather than one, but now managing the new ways of life because of the pandemic. As well, I’m not sure whether I should have felt proud or sad that Theo once asked me for anti-bac because another child touched his hand in the park. How brilliant that he is so aware, I first thought. But at the same time, surely this sort of thought shouldn’t be going through the head of a little one?
Parenting in a pandemic requires a great deal of strength and creativity, I’ve realised. You have to find ways to adapt, find new ways of doing things and be strong in managing uncertain times and situations, because still, we just don’t know what’s around the corner. We have to protect our little ones and keep them safe, and of course, ourselves too. But we mustn’t forget our own sanity and the need to look after ourselves, which is easier said than done with so many restrictions. It’s not as easy to meet up with people now that the rule of six has been brought back in, and it’s not easy to be spontaneous any more. But, we know that we’ve just got to get through this. Together.
Wilf is now six months old and is yet to have had snuggles with many of our friends. He’s met Andy’s parents once and we have no idea when the next time will be. It’s hard to believe that this is the way, but it is, and that’s why I find it hard when we compare things to those early months with Theo when there was so much freedom. It’s not what we would have imagined or wished, but these circumstances have definitely made our little family stronger and the bonds even tighter.
Parenting in a pandemic is a huge test of sanity and strength… so hats off to all those who are finding new normals and trying their best. 2020 has been a strange old year and I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve heard say that they are done with this year and to roll on 2021. But whilst its come with all its challenges, 2020 for us has brought us our little Wilf, who amongst so much chaos and uncertainty brings us so much joy and so many smiles. No doubt many new parents are finding this year hard as they navigate life with a newborn and a new normal. So to all the new mums and dads out there and their 2020 babies, here’s to you. Parenting is tough, as is this pandemic, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that our little ones are all pretty wonderful.