Sunday, 4 July 2021

To My Pandemic Baby

I was six months pregnant when the pandemic hit. I remember feeling nervous when it arrived in London and started to spread. I cancelled plans that involved busy trains and decided to stay closer to home. 

The country locked down. Children were sent home from school. The final week of school, I felt guilty about sending the girls in, I knew I should be keeping them at home, but I needed the time to prepare for the lockdown and the new baby. 

I tidied and organised. I ordered workbooks and craft materials. I took a hypnobirthing course. I wrote lists and ticked things off, and tried to get prepared for the unknown. Nobody knew how long the lockdown would last. Some people thought schools would reopen by Easter, but I thought they would stay closed until September. 

The final months of pregnancy were not as I had expected. I would wake early and take Ebony out for our one hour of exercise of the day; that's all we were allowed. We would walk a 6km circular route that took an hour at six months pregnant but more like an hour and a half by the end of the pregnancy. I would arrive home as Laurie started work, and I'd have a bath to ease my aching hips.

The rest of the day was spent in the garden, collecting new freckles and reading books. The girls splashed in the paddling pool or did workbooks in the treehouse, or painted on the picnic table. It felt like a gift, those extra months of the kids before becoming a family of five. 

You were born in early July in an eerily quiet hospital where we seemed to be the only patients. The midwives wore masks covering their faces, their welcoming smiles evident only from the noses up. Healthcare workers touched you with gloved hands, only when needed; there is no time to cuddle babies in a pandemic. 

Restrictions eased just a little. Grandparents came to see you in the garden. They squinted at you from a distance of 2 metres, longing for newborn cuddles. Then, restrictions tightened again, we lived in a covid hotspot, and the numbers kept going up. 

More restrictions, more emergency laws passed and more school closures. Self-isolations, grumbling children sent home from school, days to kill at home over winter. You spent a lot of time getting to know your sisters when they would otherwise have been at school, but you do not know your grandparents very well. 

You don't yet know the chaos and joy of playgroup. The excited screeches of other children and the frustration of having toys yanked out of your hands by unknown toddlers. Instead, you have discovered the world from the safety of a sling. Cradled high on my chest, peering out at people on our daily walks. 

If I'd lived through this isolation the first time, I'd have been lost. I wouldn't have known how to parent or what to do with you. You're lucky I've been through this before. You have big sisters there to play with. You've benefitted from Laurie working at home, and you've been able to spend so much longer getting to know him. This year, which could have been terrible, has been a gift. 

I'm sorry that your first year has been so slow. I'm sorry you haven't had many visitors and that most people have only ever seen you on screens. I'm sorry you don't reach out for grandparent cuddles or have a gang of baby friends to fight with. I'm sorry your first birthday was small and filled with umbrellas in a rainy garden on a miserable day, though you didn't seem to mind. 

In fact, you don't seem to be unhappy at all. You are just the excited, happy little explorer I always hoped you would be. So perhaps those overpriced baby groups where they rub you down with soft fabrics and sing trademarked songs at you aren't important after all. 

Perhaps all babies really need is to feel loved and be cared for. Perhaps they're not bothered about day trips or holidays, or coffee mornings. Maybe for babies, being stuck at home is just fine, at least for a little bit. Maybe these pandemic babies have had a good start in life, with their basic needs met. Maybe they have benefitted from the world slowing down just as much as the rest of us have. 

Happy first birthday, Ettie. I hope you have enjoyed this year as much as I have. 

Sunday, 7 March 2021

Back to School (Again)

Schools go back tomorrow, apparently for good this time. I think there will be a few bubble closures before it’s all truly over, but hopefully, the schools will stay open from now. I have mixed feelings about this. I can see that it’s good for schools to reopen; I know some kids will have had a tough time at home and that many people are feeling burnt out, but I’ll be sad to return to an almost-empty house tomorrow. 


I’ve loved having the kids at home this year. I know I’m in a lucky position in that I’m self-employed and can focus on the kids and not try to juggle a stupid number of commitments. I know that not everybody has been able to do that. And please don’t think I’m claiming to be some kind of earth mother. I’m not. I have cried in the kitchen and wailed that I can’t go on like this anymore. I have silently prayed to the covid gods for schools to reopen just so that I can hear silence, instead of arguing, once again. 


We didn’t get home from school. We didn’t go to the class zooms or upload daily work to the class dojo. My children have most played and argued. They have done bits of work. Ebony has done a maths exercise every day and some English. We haven't done the work set by the school. I can’t cope with the printing or the screen time, so we just used workbooks. Ember has learned to read, but she hasn’t perfected her cursive writing. She hasn't learnt how to negotiate the complex social side of the school. I think they’ll be fine, and I hope that they have enjoyed our time hanging out at home over the past twelve months. 


This past year has been such a strange time. Stressful, anxiety-inducing, unchartered, but the lockdowns have felt like a gift in some ways. I’ve had the opportunity to spend extra time with my children, and I feel very grateful for that. We’ve learnt how to slow down and how to simplify life. We haven’t been rushing around or trying to please other people. It has been all about us. 


We’ve figured out how to live in harmony, how to read each other’s moods, and how to hold space for each other during moments of sadness. In the past, a crying child was always a challenge; I must stop them from feeling sad. Now, I know it’s ok to feel sad. It’s ok to cry because you miss your friends or worry about going back to school, and I don’t need to say or do anything to minimise those feelings; I just need to be there while they feel them. This is probably the lockdown achievement I’m most proud of.


I think Ettie will miss her sisters when they return to school tomorrow. She is used to a noisy house and lots of chaos. It will be strange to have her all to myself. I will be missing two babysitters, which will certainly be noticeable when I want to get anything done. I’m glad we were able to have this time as a family while Ettie was young. It has been nice for her to get to know her sisters properly and be so involved in the baby stage. I hope, though, that she will enjoy waking from naps naturally rather than being jolted awake by the sound of another sibling argument.  

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