My mat leave had changed in an instant. Gone were the friend meet ups that doubled up as therapy sessions, gone were the baby groups, gone were nursery and grandparents, gone were playgrounds and soft play. 12 hours a day to fill for a two-and-a-half year old with an attention span that reflected her age in minutes and a baby rightly demanding of mummy’s time (click here for my last post Toddlers and goldfish: The challenge of a 2-minute attention span).
I spent the first week or so waking up with a misplaced sense of relief thinking I’d just had an apocolyptic-style bad dream, but then reality would hit and my stomach would lurch again. I felt out of control. However, after a week or so feeling like a fish out of water, my anxiety subsided and I realised I was actually coping. The days were manageable with a new routine punctuated, helpfully, by meals and naps and the night time routine.
The mornings were spent walking, spotting rainbows in windows and discovering new places for Harriet to run. The local sports field became ‘Harriet’s field’. The weeks took us from budding to flowering daffodils through to daisies and buttercups and the summer smell of freshly cut grass.
The park that never seemed to be quite within walking distance in our hurried pre-lockdown world was a new exciting destination. The play equipment may have been out of bounds but that meant that the hedgerows became our focus of attention, an opportunity to see different breeds of butterfly and busy bees in action, the quiet only really punctuated by that and birdsong and excitable dogs.
Making daisy chains and playing hide-and-seek became important, and not something to fill a gap before rushing to an organised activity or meet up. We also discovered (brief) joy in bubbles, baking, colouring, stickers, Orchard toys, garden treasure hunts and absolutely the IPad- no shamed mummy here! The days took on a new natural rhythm.
Yes, there were days when I was consumed by guilt feeling all I did was shout, but then there were other days when I was in awe of my little people, mesmerised by Harriet’s curls excitedly bouncing in the sunshine as she blew dandelion seeds. Seeing Sam slowly morph from a baby into a little boy with a determined go-getting personality warmed my heart. Lockdown also saw milestone moments- nappies to knickers, cot to big girl bed and milk to food… lots of food!
Lockdown meant more family meals and at a slower pace. I mastered roasts (got Harriet to eat them!) and managed to do a bit of studying in the ad hoc hours I got while the children were asleep and I’d finished the chores or when my husband took them out.
The common theme in all the photos I took was the beautiful weather- those glorious warm, sunny days that made lockdown so much more bearable, like a friendly force willing us through the worst.
I’m lucky that I’ll generally remember lockdown positively. I count my blessings that I have not seen a love one suffer (though I’m well aware the pandemic is far from over) and that I wasn’t juggling work and children. I’m still in awe of those parents holding down demanding jobs and home schooling.
Nevertheless, I’m proud that I and my husband coped with two little ones without wider family support or organised activites- things I may have been unwittingly using as a crutch, lacking confidence that my own time with them was sufficiently fun or engaging.
As things slowly get back to a new normal I’m already pining for elements of the simpler lockdown life, like some kind of weird Stockholm Syndrome. There were no expectations, no panicked rushing around trying to get somewhere on time after a poonami and no judgement for living in your comfies.
However, with all the positives I’ve taken from the experience, despite the shaky start, I’m starkly aware that not all mums and dads have been able to do the same. According to Babies in Lockdown, a new report by Best Beginnings, Home-Start UK and the Parent-Infant Foundation, Covid-19, and the measures taken to mitigate the impact of it, has had a disproportionate impact on pregnant women, those who have given birth and those living with a baby and toddler. It’s affected relationships with their children, their own mental health and their children’s development.
No parent expects life to go on as normal during a crisis but, as the report recommends, investing in services to support parents can go a long way to reducing their anxiety, meaning happier parents and happier children- a virtuous circle so everyone has the opportunity to see that symbolic rainbow after the storm…