By Lauren Vaknine
When lockdown began, I’d wanted to write an article about how parents with young children would be the Winston Churchills of this war, motivating our children and reminding ourselves of the superior importance of our role. The onus was on us to display the kind of strength and resilience that could only truly be modelled by wartime mothers, lest we allow our children to be eternally damaged by the psychological warfare this virus has exposed them to. I’m so glad I never had time to write that article.
The best part of half a year has passed without our children experiencing the normality they deserve, and I am a drowned, bedraggled, Iggy-Pop-the-next-morning version of my former self.
I have a four-year-old with a feeding disorder whose three meals a day are now solely my responsibility, and a toddler who makes my heart hurt every time she forces herself down a concrete skate park slope saying “Weeeeeee” because she doesn’t actually know what a real slide is.
I began lockdown with a naïve, idealistic idea of how I would manage it: a ‘Daily Rhythm’ had been drawn up in multi-coloured letters and was hanging from the playroom wall and a weekly schedule was masterfully curated on an Excel spreadsheet after trawling Pinterest for an entire day and night. A part of me was even excited. I have friends who home-school their children and whom I’d always admired. This was my chance do all those things I’d always thought myself capable of and prove that I could be the Martha Stewart of lockdown.
The spreadsheet lasted three weeks.
I’d like to say it took a whole three weeks for my resolve to weaken, but it was far quicker than that. I only kept up with the spreadsheet to obscure for as long as possible the idea that I was not cut out for this.
I’m a wellbeing and parenting writer, a wellness coach, a goddamn childhood nutritionist. How could I not be cut out for this! Conscious parenting is my thing! And yet. And yet….
And yet solitude was all I craved, IS all I crave. During our morning walk to feed the ducks, I find myself wondering how I can manipulate time in order to make it lunchtime already, so that I don’t have to entertain them at home with one of the 5245 activities I’d saved to an ideas list on another spreadsheet. As I prepare the lunch they won’t eat, I check the clock incessantly, wondering how long it will be until at the baby will go down for her nap and I can sit my son in front of a film while I drink a cup of tea that’s still hot and give myself the gift of an hour to myself, which isn’t really an hour to myself as it’s spent mostly catering to my son’s toilet and snack and channel changing requests. While forcing myself to spread PVA glue over yet another unidentifiable creature created using yet more recycled cardboard, I find myself willing the hours away until dinnertime, when my husband will finally emerge from the office and I’ll know the end is nigh. For today anyway.
This isn’t the mother I thought I was. When, before lockdown, my husband would mention how he was secretly excited for the kids to be that little bit older so we can do things like take long-haul flights and have leisurely Sunday pub lunches again, all I would register was that time is fleeting and I will miss my babies being babies. I thought I was the mother who savoured every moment and collected memories like otherwise normal people in 2020 collect toilet paper. I saw myself as the authentically Instagram-worthy mum who makes jam and homemade play-doh and whose kids begin their day with meditation. Because I adore my children and want to give them all of me.
But it turns out I’m not that mum. Life in the time of Covid has shown me that. It has exhausted all parents of young kids and knocked us sideways, true, but it would be wrong to say that’s all it is. It has shown us how strong we are and how selfless we are able to be, but it’s also given us a cold, hard look at who we are beneath the façade, when there are no schools or nurseries or nannies or cleaners or grandparents to dull the ache, and no time to escape for five minutes to remember who we are beyond motherhood. When it’s just us, on our own, cleaning up our own mess, parenting our own children.
I now walk through forests I never knew existed before, listening to the crunch of leaves underfoot and smelling the curative earthiness all around. I hear and register birdsong. Every small win makes me happier now than every big win did before, and I am so grateful to have been given the gift of time with my children. But I’ve also learnt that my tolerance to alcohol is higher than my tolerance to my kids—and I don’t drink.
I’m not seeing it as a fail, though. I’ve been offered the opportunity to acknowledge that being a British woman 2020 entitles me to the sort of privilege that wartime mothers never had. I have a choice, when this is all over, to spend half my time on my own work and passions. Quiet introspection has been something I’ve indulged myself in since childhood, but never before has it given me the clarity of self-awareness that lockdown has gifted me with. I can’t give my kids all of me without being all of me, and having that choice at all is a privilege I will never take for granted again.