When you feel powerless, as many of us do in the face of the gross ongoing assault on our freedoms by our government, gratitude is surely the answer. And there is something which has come out of the lockdown for which I am truly grateful.
As the mother of a toddler and a soon-to-be newborn when the lockdown was imposed, I was not subjected to the shock of having to home-school my child for the foreseeable future. I was, however, suddenly faced with the prospect of a toddler at home full-time with only me – no nanny, granny, nursery or long-suffering friend – to help us or to keep us company. The arrival of the new baby was, at this point, the least of my worries.
Let me explain. I, like many city-dwelling friends of mine, had spent most of the first 18 months of my daughter Ophelia’s life trying to avoid actually having to spend any time with her. Every morning, we would be up and out of the flat pounding the streets of London with her in the pram before it was light. One coffee, a mothers’ meeting and ten shops later, we would head home for her lunch and nap before we were out again, on our way to nursery where the poor child, from the age of only 10 months, would spend her afternoons, kicking and screaming as I left her. I would head home to do some work or stare at the ceiling, and breathe a sigh of relief that the few hours ahead would be free from the tyranny of the endless needs and moods of my toddler.
I, like many city-dwelling friends of mine, had spent most of the first 18 months of my daughter Ophelia’s life trying to avoid actually having to spend any time with her.
Exhausted from the relentlessness of those first few months motherhood, I was in a state of something like postnatal shock, refusing to accept my new status, unaware that I was supposed to be enjoying this. On days when there was no nursery, we would descend on my parents, often before either of them was dressed. I would sit on the sofa trying to write or read something, or reply to a non-urgent email, and watch my wonderful mother sit with Ophelia patiently filling and emptying boxes, building and knocking down block towers, wondering where she was finding the strength to engage in this utterly mindless activity.
They say one in ten women experiences postpartum depression, but judging by my own group of friends the figure feels more like half who experience some level of it, perhaps because the pace of London life is somehow incompatible with child-rearing. “I find it utterly bizarre that women are supposed to dump their children as soon as they possibly can to get back to “normal” life,” said a friend who suffered badly. “Maybe that’s why properly engaging with one’s child feels hard because we always feel like we should be being productive in some other capacity. What happened to child-rearing as productivity?”
We were forced to embark on a newer, slower pace of life with just each other for company, our home our only playground.
Our confinement in lockdown meant that I could no longer hide and any work or unimportant email had to wait until her afternoon nap, or when she was in bed for the night. We were forced to embark on a newer, slower pace of life with just each other for company, our home our only playground.
While in the days before Covid, morning meant getting out of the door as quickly as possible, suddenly the act of getting dressed became an activity in itself. I lay out different outfits for her to choose from every morning. Shoes became an interest and she would often try on multiple pairs, sometimes mine and her father’s too, before a final decision was made. This would sometimes take us up until 9am. Her first word was “shoes” pronounced “shiss”.
Soon the washing line became a point of fascination. I would find my daughter waiting by the machine for the cycle to finish, so that she could help me unload it. She would hand me clothes or a peg, or pull down an item already hung, and so we would go round in circles, sometimes frustrated but mostly having quite a companionable time. We would go on walks and make no visible progress, but that didn’t seem to matter anymore. Changing the bed sheets became a game of hide and seek, of wrapping each other up and rolling around on the bed laughing.
And so our days passed in benign amusement and it suddenly occurred to me that my mother might actually have been enjoying herself with those blocks. When our baby Florence was born in May, I felt excited, not fearful, about the time we were going to spend together.
The period we spent in confinement was a revelation to me. As our pace of life rapidly decelerated, I gained some kind of belated acceptance of motherhood, my not-so-newly acquired status. Whether that had more to do with becoming a mother of two than it had to do with our months of mutual isolation I will never know for certain, but I am sure the latter has changed our family life for the better. As parents give thanks for the reopening of schools and nurseries, I, because I am lucky enough not to have to go back to full-time work for now, will not be rushing to send Ophelia back to nursery just to give myself a break because at the moment she is thriving at home. She will go when the time is right for her.
Olenka Hamilton is a freelance journalist and supplements editor at the Catholic Herald.
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