I’d been meaning to write a piece for some time to mark four years of this little blog of mine. I’m not sure why I’d been feeling a commemoration would be required this year above any other. But if I ever needed a sign, I got one this morning at the playground where I met another mother with her toddler boy and 6 month old baby girl. My absolute double this time four years ago.
This morning I had felt like getting out and about with the three. It was going to be the four of us as Alan was doing a long, tortuous run for kicks, and it just being me and the kids has become a bit of a rarity over the past few months. Very rare, in fact. Before lockdown it was an awful lot of them and I. Intense, busy, fun, lonely, repetitive, messy, all-encompassing, all-consuming. But a change has definitely come about.
First and foremost, their Dad is working from home for the foreseeable – and it is glorious. Without a commute or other work trips, he simply has more time at home. And this has given me some slack. Enough slack to go for a walk in the morning, to do more writing or to run a quick errand on my own. I’m no longer cooking every evening meal or clearing up after every breakfast. I can leave the toddler sleeping while I collect the small girl from playschool or, if he has a window, he can do the school run. This is an absolute gift whereby we are managing to live our family life in a shared, more relaxed, time-heavy way and I really hope that other families are having the opportunity to enjoy that right now too.
Secondly, this is the first year since 2013 – the year we got married – that I’m not either pregnant or breastfeeding. Both drained the absolute life out of me – not that I realised that fully at the time. Like so many women I just ploughed right on through, even adding a few kidney stones to the mix for laughs. The last six or so years literally drained the life out of me and yet now, I finally feel like I’m gaining back a kind of strength – in mind and body. I’m sleeping more, so I can think straight. The fug is lifting. My baby turned two in August and the last time I had toddlers her age I either had a four month old or was heavily pregnant. It seems insane to me now to see the obvious physical and mental pressures either scenario would bring to bear on any person. And yet so many of us do it. Women have actually been doing it since the beginning of time – and every single one of us deserves a medal of some kind. I know it’s been my personal marathon.
Another element has been the addition of playschool and school to our lives, which have been game changers in terms of us spreading our wings beyond our house and the farm. It’s given us all the opportunity to make genuine and wonderful friendships and the school run, particularly in the early days, is such a life-line when you spend your entire day at home. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the small chats and the camaraderie. School has become the fulcrum around which our day and week and year revolves and a hub that’s welcomed us and make us feel part of a community. Our days have become a lot more social than they were when we first moved back to Boston, when we might not see anyone from one end of the day to the other.
The universe is always showing me that my children are not really mine to keep and school is complicit in the form of a gradual, gentle nudging away from my arms and influence.
So four years later, to the month, I’m in a playground probably looking like I have it somewhat together. Similar to mothers I would have noticed when I had small babies, who looked organised and less tired and generally wiser purely by virtue of the fact that their kids are playing independently. And, let’s face it – we all make it look like we have it all together. I’m buggy free, coffee in hand wearing my going-out trainers (yes folks, I have ‘going-out’ trainers) and my good coat. My three are off playing together, relatively contentedly, with the toddler being encouraged and dragged along by the older two. We’d even managed to go for hot chocolates and nobody had spilled anything.
And my one-time doppleganger walks in.
We chat, of course. She’s at home full time with her two, away from family, and her husband, as a front-line worker, works long hours. She was juggling a buggy with all the stuff that accompanies small people and her toddler, lacking older siblings, was hanging off her and requiring about the same amount of cajoling I remember my little man needing at that stage. We talked about having babies and the different stages they go through. She asked what it was like having three and I asked how she was coping with both of hers being so little. I wonder if she saw I was on the verge of tears, of crying with empathy and recognition and sadness at yet another reminder that time passes so slowly and way too quickly. The encounter reminded me of a piece I once wrote about time flying at a snail’s pace when you’re at home parenting small children.
And I also felt the slipping away of that intimacy you can have with another mother of small babies – the way you can talk about their births and the feeding and the sleep deprivation because you’re both right in it. When your children get that bit older you don’t have the messy conversations as often. You move on to talk about schools and activities and birthday party plans – but not so much the blood and guts, the life and death of it all. I am definitely a woman for the blood and guts.
Isn’t it weird that today I should bump into this lovely woman and be shown, so vividly, that even if I hadn’t fully realised it, my family has moved to a different stage? A different, freer, less physically and psychologically demanding phase where we are not as ensconced and there is a little more independence going on. I felt it acutely – the fact that she is where I once was, four years ago, and that I am now somewhere… well, different.
I can’t tell you yet what this ‘different’ stage entails. I mean, it’s exciting but I find it sad too, because in some ways I wish the baby years could last forever, only that they would actually, probably kill me.
I guess I’ll just keep winging it. Stick to my general plan of going with the flow, following my gut feelings and doing my best to appreciate the life I have right now. If I’ve learned anything – about life, about mothering – in the last four years, it’s that all you can do is live each day. And on some days you might even be that woman in the playground that looks like she has it all figured out, X
Buggy-free and largely hassle-free outing today. We’ve come a long way in four years.