The days stretch endlessly in front of me. It’s reminiscent of the sleepy Newborn days…except with none of the milk scented cuddles and nap times to reset and maybe even read a book.
Okay, so it’s nothing like the Newborn days.
It’s March 2020 and we have suddenly found ourselves trapped within the confines of our house -the place that should be a sanctuary- with a lively Toddler whose energy is akin to that of a category seven hurricane. This is not how this year was supposed to go, we had plans, for once I’d actually booked things; shows, activities and even a trip to a giant Paw Patrol themed play centre which quite frankly sounded terrifying. My son had just started Nursery and we were falling into some kind of rhythm, a sense of purposeful routine that had been largely absent in our lives since leaving my job and moving out to Kent two years ago.
Lockdown had other plans for our 2020.
We have not experienced anything like this in our lives, some generations perhaps would be slightly better equipped to deal with the sudden circumstance we had been thrown rather abruptly into. As a family, we were floundering. With the media pumping images of panic buying, empty shelves, food shortages and limited food delivery slots, I entered into a state of heightened anxiety that I had not felt for many years.
In the current society we inhabit, there is already so much pressure on parents. A large amount of this arrives in my life through social media, something which I dip into with a rationed approach for fear of being sucked into a void of endless scrolling and the inevitable negativity it can bring for me. However in our new isolated life, I found myself turning more and more frequently to the pages of social media in search of a human connection from the outside world.
Any pressure I had previously felt from the endless pages of inspirational activities and smiling pictures of families was insignificant compared to the wall of demands I now felt pressed against. Social media was awash with pictures of families together doing cute activities and themed days to while away the time in what appeared to be cosy, familial, bliss. I was even feeling pressured by the posts of single or childless couples who were learning new skills, working out or reading their way through the contents of Waterstones. Endless guides appeared on my feed; 10 ways to ace Lockdown, the ultimate guide to surviving Lockdown with kids.
The titles were varied but essentially the same, the problem is that there is no one size fits all fix to Lockdown, everybody’s circumstance was different and my lockdown didn’t seem to look like any of theirs. As an electrician, My husband was only at home for about two weeks before he started to take on emergency call outs in order to keep people safe and powered up so it was just me and my son. All day, every day. I continued to scold myself for struggling because I’m a stay at home mum so this shouldn’t be so hard. But the truth is that it wasn’t the same, without the contact of baristas, bus drivers, shop staff or other children and parents, our life was very different indeed. On top of everything else, My son was fiercely angry with the world. He understood enough that he knew what he was missing out on but not enough to understand the true reasons why which meant there were daily, heartbreaking, battles about why we couldn’t go to places or see people and why he was suddenly banished from Nursery, a place he had just begun to trust and love. It was a huge challenge on my parenting skills and an enormous strain on my mental health which was already fragile.
I was struck with a massive panic attack pretty much within the first few days of Lockdown, something I had not experienced for about 8 years and the first whilst looking after my son. Shortly afterward, we slipped into a mind numbing fog of too much screen time and rubbish comfort food, even our daily exercise became a chore, despite usually being adventurous explorers and loving long walks and being outdoors. All my usual parenting strategies and values began to slip away.
One morning I woke up and felt different. Something had clicked deep inside me. I realised that we were living a completely different life. The word Lockdown had done just that, it was deeper than just remaining inside our home, it had locked down everything within me. We spent a lot of time at home before official lock down but never like this, never feeling trapped inside the walls with nothing but the television for company. Despite having a huge garden, we had barely been outside and I hadn’t set up an activity for days. The word itself had trapped us more than it ever should have done.
I stopped pawing through the Social media pages in search of connection and I switched off the endless tv. Feeling lost, we went outside, into our garden.
I had forgotten how much both my son and I rely on the outdoors to calm and ground us. We reconnected to nature in such a visceral way that I was practically ready to move into the garden permanently.
Together, my son and I started to plant seeds, we felt the earth beneath our fingers and nurtured them and they in turn nurtured us. My son’s anger diminished, replaced with a stoic acceptance that this was life now but also a wonder crept into its place as he watched (with charming excitement) seedlings shoot through the earth and buds and blossoms form on trees and flowers. The garden became our safe space again, a place we could learn and run with wild abandon, shedding the stresses and anxious thoughts we had been wallowing in. Instead of feeling trapped, I began to cherish the time we had been given to learn and enjoy one another in ways we had not done since those uninterrupted newborn days. Our connection as mother and son deepened back to the place it had been when I first held that small bundle against my chest in the birthing pool. I would never again take for granted the outdoor space connected to our house nor the fields, woodlands and rivers surrounding it.
It seemed that we were not the only ones to rediscover the deep connection to the world around us either. When the parks reopened and we began to venture out more, I witnessed something magical. With the actual play park still taped off, I realised that children were playing in ways they never normally do. In ways that I remember playing. Usually the play park is a place of awkward social interactions as older children teeter on the edge of being too grown up for slides and swings and younger children bomb around like pin balls, barely pausing to avoid one another or simply standing and staring like cowboys about to duel. But with that gated place of metal equipment and potential stimuli unattainable, the children turned to nature and began to play. To really play.
Mindful of keeping their distance, with occasional reminders from nearby parents, the children -of varying ages- entered the bushes and trees around the perimeter of the park. They began to build dens, the older children delegating jobs to the smaller ones whilst helping each other to lift and position fallen branches. I watched with barely concealed joy as my social interaction hungry three year old lay down a carpet of pine branches with a barely toddling child in nappies, they collected pine cones for the ‘fire’ and toasted imaginary marshmallows as the older children protected them from the wolves. Every child and parent looked relaxed and happy and mine returned home -to carry out his very important courgette plant serenading- beaming and rosy cheeked.Where before I had wondered what on earth we would do without them, I began to mourn the inevitable opening of the play parks and soft play spaces and hoped that it would not take away this new found rediscovery of playing.
With our summer crops harvested and cut back and our pumpkins beginning to take on their fiery hue, I feel reflective; It hasn’t been the year I had hoped for, it has been a strange blur of days, weeks and months that feel almost lost and bitter sweet. It’s been a roller coaster of feelings and emotions. My three year old is four now and I feel he has learnt so much and grown so quickly over these months. I know it’s not over and that our idea of ‘normal’ has shifted -perhaps forever- but with my thirtieth birthday, colder weather and the whisper of potential lockdowns looming, I feel changed. I feel stronger and able to take on the new challenges that life is going to throw at us. We’re adaptable and as long as I remember our values and to follow the lead of my kind, clever son and always return us to the safe embrace of our Goddess, Mother Nature, then I think we will be okay.
Josie is a stay at home mummy living in Kent with her four year old. Writing is her meditation and when she’s not exploring beautiful nearby countryside with her son, she enjoys settling down to a good book or filling a notebook with thoughts, ideas and ramblings! Find her on Instagram @lovingyouislikelovingthedead