Hello, everyone, how are you? Doing all right? Is it seven years we’ve been in lockdown now, or only six? I’ve lost track a bit.
Oh, two and a half weeks, really? Right. OK then. It’s just it feels like a lot longer. You’re sure? OK.
Now that the novelty of all of this has worn off a bit and the intense and mingled joy of attempting to balance working from home and childcare and the existential dread as to when and how this will all end has lost some of its shine, I’ve been trying to establish some kind of routine, but it isn’t easy. In the past week, my son has torn one of the keys off my laptop, hung up 12 times during a video chat with a very kind and patient friend who was reading him stories to entertain him, flatly refused any sort of engagement with the Zoom sessions that some diligent parents from his nursery have been running, and followed me around the garden shouting “MUMMY PULL UP WEEDS?” and then offering unsolicited feedback on my technique. I know I’m not alone in any of this, in the generals if not the specifics (does anyone else’s child go and stand in the corner during video toddler groups, or is that just a result of this particular roll of the genetic dice?), as all over the world there are thousands of parents experiencing the same thing. It feels like a reminder of the old adage that you can’t have it all, except the reverse: “it all” is right here in front of me, and I can’t escape it. This definitely feels like one of the cases in which less is more.
All over the internet, there are suggested activities that I could be doing to amuse, engage, and educate my son. Celebrities have released videos, friends are posting photos of the ingenious ways they’ve found to entertain their kids, and there’s a wealth of available online music classes, song and story sessions, or play groups. However. Every attempt I’ve made to follow one of those videos, replicate those games or crafts, or join in with one of those groups has ended in either literal or metaphorical tears, though I won’t say whose. Wholesome fun and healthy family meals are being Instagrammed all around me, while I’m sitting here surrounded by a pile-up of Brio, Mega Bloks, and three different jigsaw puzzles and wondering whether different colours of fruit paws count as different portions of my son’s five-a-day. We’ve watched Frozen so many times that he probably thinks Elsa, Anna, and Olaf are his siblings, and between feeling guilty for not being engaged enough, feeling guilty for not appreciating all this extra family time, and feeling guilty for all the work and household stuff and checking in with friends and family that I’m not doing, I’m doing my best to control my general feeling of panic and uncertainty. Time to switch off my phone for a while.
It helps not to try to compare myself to everyone else. After a couple of weeks, I had a small epiphany: just because it’s out there and other people are doing it doesn’t mean that we have to do it as well. OK, so my son doesn’t want to do any drawing or colouring, but he loves washing his toys outside. He doesn’t want to follow a Zoom story session, but he does want to turn the sofa cushions into an obstacle course. And he may be a little hazy on the specifics of a picnic, but he loves sitting on a rug outside and piling up containers of food. And there are worse things in the world than Let It Go. I’m learning that when I spend less time worrying about what everyone else is doing or about whether I’m missing yet another opportunity to contribute to my son’s development and more time following his lead (unless it’s the one about flapjacks for lunch or scaling the bookcases), then we both have a better time. Carry on, my glorious wayward weirdo son, and let’s go watch the carwash again. Thinking like this doesn’t solve everything, not by a long chalk, but it makes it slightly easier to cope with if I can see him enjoying himself too.
We’re a long way from knowing when and how this will end, but I find it helps me to take it one day at a time and to share my frustrations and anxieties with friends in a similar situation. If you’re feeling the same way, then The Motherkind Café is here for you. Check out our Facebook page for updates about how you can access our support online, and join us on Friday evening for our first Motherkind Café After Dark: a Zoom session on the topic of motherhood and social media.