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.
What next? I ask myself this a lot at the moment. It’s hard to believe we are coming up to a year of living under restrictions – a whole year of trying to find new normals. But in the coming months, as things begin to ease, does this mean that life will get easier too? How will we adjust to what’s next?
I’ve always been a worrier. I worry about the what ifs, about what people think, about what could or might happen in different situations. I even worry if there’s nothing to worry about. It’s exhausting, and as much as I try my best not to, it doesn’t stop me laying awake in the middle of the night mulling over what’s in my head. My latest worry, one that is consuming me quite a bit, is Wilf starting nursery in April. How has this come around so quickly? I read something recently that has really resonated – that the days seem long but the years seem short. And I find this to be so true. I can’t quite believe he will turn one next month.
Last night, I went to look around a nursery. It felt strange, after hours, oddly quiet for a place usually bustling with so much noise and activity and liveliness. This is how it is now, I told myself, as I chatted at a distance with the manager, her face only half visible behind her mask. I can picture Wilf there. I’m sure he will be fine. But that doesn’t stop the sinking feeling I get in my stomach when I think about handing him over at the door when he starts. Handing him over to a total stranger. Handing him over when I know I can’t be there to help settle him or offer any comfort at all – only to smile and wave him off, bravely, as if it’s completely normal. He has barely had close contact with our dearest friends or even one set of grandparents, so how does this next step even seem fair on him? But, I tell myself that he will love interacting with the other babies – that he will thrive on seeing real little faces. For him, this next chapter will be so strange but also so exciting. A new place to play, new faces to get to know. I just hope that the tears won’t last long… for both of us, that is.
Wilf going to nursery is a big part of what’s next for us, as is Theo starting school in September. It’s a way off, I know, but again, it seems so strange that we have applied to schools that we haven’t even been able to look around. And who knows what will happen between now and then, or what the start of term will mean come the autumn. Whilst we will always hope for the best, this past year has also taught us to prepare ourselves for anything, for things to change quickly. So for now, we will focus on the next few weeks and even months as lockdown lifts.
In all honesty, I’ve already lost track a little bit of all the dates of what is happening when – who you can meet, where you can meet, what’s opening and where you can travel to. Whilst I am completely desperate for a hair cut and to have my greys coloured in, the next bit of normal that I truly cannot wait for is to be able to meet up with our friends and family freely. Without having to think about numbers. Without having to keep an eye on the weather. Without having to tag team all weekend with my husband so that we can both get out. Next, it will be so nice to hang out with friends whilst all of our children play, whilst all of us adults talk (albiet interruptedly), whilst we ALL enjoy time together. Next, it will be so nice to be spontaneous – to grab lunch, to go for a picnic, to pop into a shop to buy new clothes for our growing boys. Next, it will be truly, truly wonderful, to enjoy an actual glass of wine at an actual pub on the way back from a walk (even if this mixed with the madness of playing cars and feeding the little ones snacks to keep them occupied). There are so many things to look forward to next. Things that will have been worth the wait.
Saying that, I know what I’m like. It took me months to go into a shop when they last re-opened. It took a great deal of courage when we went out for lunch as a family of four for the first time. And I remember it feeling so strange at first when we got to grips with distanced barbeques with friends last summer. Like anything though, these new normals become more comfortable with time. We adjust. We get on with it. But that doesn’t stop me worrying. Andy will return to work in London at some point this year which means his days will be even longer and he’ll be home once the boys are already asleep. I worry about what this will mean for us all – the not seeing each other as much, the new feelings of loneliness after we’ve been under each other’s feet for so long. What’s next is something that we’ve longed for in so many ways, but what we have now is also something to be grateful for too. We mustn’t forget that.
The strange thing with this past year is the muddled feelings of frustration and comfort that I often feel about our little world. The same four walls. The same walks. The same park trips. What happens next when we venture further? What happens next when I can actually take my two children on a day out to the farm or the zoo when they both demand every ounce of my attention? What happens next when we are out in a busy place and I know I need eyes on both of them? Cocooned in the same routines and outings for so long, I can’t help but worry about what will happen next when the world does start moving again. Perhaps it’s only really sinking in now, now that the big wide world seems within reach, that I now have two very adventurous, head-strong, energetic little boys who I need to keep tabs on at all times. How long will I be asking Theo to keep close by, to try and keep away from people? How long will I politely step back from dear old ladies in the supermarket as they get close to Wilf to coo and say hello? How long will it take for things to go back to the normal that we used to have, or will they not? Do we even want them to anyway?
This time last year, I couldn’t have imagined what was next – a global pandemic, a car park birth, the whirlwind of becoming a family of four whilst the world stood still. So, what’s next? Who knows. Hopefully we can strike a balance of enjoying the things we’ve missed as well as the recent things we’ve learned. Hopefully we can be excited about making plans whilst also remembering the ways which we’ve learned to slow down and embrace the simplest of things. And hopefully there are smoother months ahead filled with more freedom and the chances to do the things we love, and of course with those we love too.
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.