What next?

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.

The things I wish I’d known

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 staged 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.