When quarantine improves your social life (you know you were bloody dull!)

Well what a weird week. Since the last time I wrote I feel like the world has changed dramatically. I guess that’s because it has.

In the space of a few days everything we thought we knew and understood has shifted, changed and been turned upside down.

This is a tough time and there is a lot of difficult stuff to take in when you turn on the telly or phone stroke your way through social media. In my moments of fear and despair, I’ve been trying to focus on and feel inspired by some of the kind, innovative and creative ways people have responded to this terrible situation.

This week, small business owners and the self-employed have been forced to use their creativity and determination to survive, and have come up with ways of adapting to suit a nation temporarily on house arrest. I imagine lots of these new ideas will continue to bring in revenue and provide services to customers long after the social restrictions are lifted. I hope so.

Within days of this virus being understood as a big deal, my Pilates instructor messaged to say she’d be running an online class instead of meeting up as usual or cancelling. Now, I’ve got work-out DVDs at home. Lots of them. Some are still in their cellophane wrappers. Some I’ve watched occasionally, sitting on the sofa in my gym gear, drinking a cup of tea and possibly even dunking a biscuit (sometimes to get fit you have to first eat all of the bad food in your house, this is a fact universally acknowledged). So I wasn’t really sure how well this was going to work if I’m honest. But this was so different to just putting on some ridiculously comfy clothes and lying to yourself about why you weren’t actually moving. 15 minutes before the class started our group WhatsApp was pinging constantly as more tech-savvy members gave assistance to those of us who annoyed some tech guy in a previous life and are unfairly paying the price in this one. As I took part, I could see smiley faces, love hearts and up-turned thumbs flying over the screen, all showing appreciation for the instructor and somehow making me feel like I should get off the sofa. (Also, I once heard from a friend’s cousin’s uncle that even if your webcam isn’t on, someone from Alexa HQ is watching you, so, you know, I didn’t want to give her any more reasons to talk to me in a condescending tone of voice, thank you very much.)

This cruel virus has also, I think, terrified us all into thinking about and appreciating our friends and family a bit more. I have a lot of aunts. I also have a few uncles and cousins. They’re a fairly wacky bunch of intelligent, funny, in some cases wonderfully bonkers and in all cases very busy individuals. I absolutely love them all. But did I have plans to see any of them this month? Nope! However on Saturday morning I took part in my first ever Zoom video call with 11 family members from across the world! (Ok, one was properly abroad, two were in Scotland, the rest were in England, but I like the way ‘across the world,’ sounds, so I’m once again shamelessly using my ex-pat cousin to make my blog sound more interesting!) The point is, my 4 year old niece got to tell us all that her dad is a, “wee wee poo poo head,” a valid opinion that might have only been shared with her mum and brother had we not been flung into this madness! I’m in a new WhatsApp group with family members whose telephone numbers I didn’t even have until a couple of days ago, and am subsequently now being kept up-to-date on the health and well-being of the wine aisles of various supermarkets across the country!

I’m not saying the coronavirus isn’t terrible. I’ve had lots of emotions this week and have displayed some fairly odd behaviour. I’ve obsessively cleaned all my door knobs and kitchen cabinet handles with disinfectant wipes. I’ve gargled warm drinks and helped spread rumours that may or may not be true about petrol pumps being the villains of this dark dystopian tale. As an asthmatic I’ve googled the likelihood of me dying several times (the answer: no idea). As a first-time mum of a baby whose obsession with licking anything and everything has (shockingly!) led to her getting what is probably just a cough, I’ve called 111 and I’ve visited the urgent care unit with a scarf wrapped round mine and P’s faces. I’ve at least doubled the number of times per night that I creep into her room, listen for breathing, carefully place my hand on her to detect movement, then, on seeing her fingers twitch, freeze, drop, and roll out of the room, preying to escape detection. Depending on when you ask, I’m either feeling pretty relaxed or absolutely terrified by what’s going on around me. But I have truly been amazed at how some people, for whom the coronavirus is aggressively attacking their livelihoods if not their lives, have responded, and have seen and experienced some really creative ways of socialising from a distance. I think that it’s ok to feel good about these things, even though we all wish we hadn’t been flung into this weird scenario. It reminds me that people, on the whole, like people. And that’s a nice concept to be reminded of.

Wishing everyone good health, plenty of loo roll, and lots of distant socialising. Xxx

Confessions of a parent struggling to navigate a pandemic

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make you realise how disgusting your baby is. This week, as I’ve joined the world in obsessive hand washing, surface wiping and panic buying (I’m not hoarding, but I have tried to buy soap, unsuccessfully) I can’t help but notice that my daughter is somewhat defiant.

On Friday my mission was to get to Tesco, buy baby clothes for the ever-growing P, (buy hand soap) and get back without catching or helping to spread coronavirus. My daughter has just got big enough to be placed in the seat on the trolley, so I didn’t have experience on my side when I naively plonked her in there and strolled into the supermarket, feeling smug with my genius plan of putting scratch mitts on her to help prevent the spread of germs. No sooner am I past the fruit & veg section and she has leaned forward and is biting the metal bar of the trolley! ‘Ewwww!’ I squeal, but she is undeterred. I try to gently lift her head up but she won’t let go! She’s like a dog with a chew toy! I guess the cold metal feels nice on those gums that keep being attacked from within by pointy teeth, but still, ewwww! Finally I get her head up and attach various clean(ish) toys to the bar so that she has something else to chew/dribble on. She skilfully navigates her way past these clean distractions to get to the disgusting, probably never washed, communal trolley bar about ten times before my shopping trip is complete. And I didn’t even find any hand soap.

Ok. It’s now Monday and nobody is coughing so perhaps we got away with that fairly disgusting shopping trip. Or perhaps she’s got it and isn’t showing any symptoms, which the scientists are saying is possible and quite likely with kids. Either way, she still seems pretty determined to catch and/or spread the coronavirus. We’re away at the moment and our self-catering accommodation has provided us with a high chair far posher than our own, with a cushioned seat and straps that come down from her shoulders to her tummy. As I strap her in I can’t help but notice that the straps have seen better days; they’re covered in stains from messy babies past, but that’s to be expected when high chair manufacturers choose to make the straps white (why?!). I start getting her breakfast ready. She’s very quiet. She must have learned that waiting patiently for food is far more conducive to a positive mother-daughter relationship than screaming constantly and banging her hands on the table like she’s leading some sort or mob rebellion. Nope, she’s just found the disgusting strap and is focused on sucking as many germs from it as possible.

What is with this child? Why does she want to get ill? I have a few theories.

1. She’s heard about self-isolation and fancies sciving the mum & baby groups for a couple of weeks to binge on the new Peppa Pig episodes. I can’t see this being it. Why would anyone want to scive Mamalates? There’s no homework and the room is full of mirrors, which is her favourite thing (trying not to focus too much on this, am I raising the vainest child in the world? Why is she so obsessed with mirrors? Is she the youngest victim of our image obsessed insta-society? perhaps that’s one to explore another day).

2. She’s heard that her grandparents were planning to take her to see Dippy the dinosaur, currently on display in all his glory in Rochdale, and doesn’t want to go. This seems an extreme option for avoiding an educational trip. Maybe she doesn’t know there’s probably a gift shop selling giant pencils and dinosaur heads with moving jaws on sticks.

3. She’s crazy.

One thing I know for sure: babies are seriously motivated to spread germs.

In all honesty, I’m trying to find some humour in a world that is starting to feel more and more like dystopian novel. I am aware that this is a scary time for us all, especially the vulnerable, and really hope that nobody thinks I’m not taking it seriously. I’ve seen what’s happening in Italy and Spain right now and am terrified of it happening here before too long. I don’t have much scientific knowledge on the topic of coronavirus (I’m still trying to decide whether or not you need to say ‘the’ before it, anyone?!) and so I won’t now launch into giving uninformed advice. But as a human and a member of a community, I will make a plea for kindness.

If you already have soap, leave it on the shelf for someone who hasn’t got any.

If you know a vulnerable person, call them (rather than visiting!) and see what you can do to help. Recognise that the ‘vulnerable,’ might actually be some of the strongest, wisest, most competent people you know. Personally, I’ve found it hard to re-categorise parents and aunts and uncles into this ‘vulnerable,’ group after seeing them as super-heroes for so many years. They’re possibly struggling with this label themselves, too.

If you have a germ magnet (child) with a fetish for licking anything and everything, perhaps it’s best to be cautious and accept that even without symptoms, it’s not unlikely that they’re carrying the coronavirus around with them. Think about who or what you want them dribbling on.

I realise I did what I said I wouldn’t and offered a bit of advice there! Sorry.

Wishing everyone good health at this very worrying time xxx

Parenting: you can’t run, but you can definitely hide

This week I’ve been thinking about the power structures involved in a healthy parent-child relationship. You have to get them right early on, otherwise you will find yourself ruled by your children for all eternity. Before I had a child, I observed that many parents these days let their children rule the roost and am so pleased that I have avoided becoming one of them.

When you get the power structures right, parenting really does offer a wonderful range of new possibilities. I’m standing here, in my kitchen, in this new place that I never really stood in ‘pre-P,’ but that I’ve now had the pleasure of discovering. It’s a great spot. There’s no seat, and you can’t see the T.V., and it just so happens to be right behind a bit of wall that separates me from where P is merrily bouncing away in her jumparoo, unaware of my presence. But that’s not why I’m here, crouching over slightly to ensure no body part is visible from the jumparoo, no, no, no! I’m here because it’s just a really great spot and, you know, we really don’t make the most of every part our home.

That’s one of the joys of parenthood, actually; you get to experience your home in completely new and interesting ways!

Take this afternoon, for instance. Having put P in her cot for a nap, I could have walked out of the room and done something tiresome like drink a cup of tea, leaving her to drift off into slumber by herself (which is totally what all babies her age can do and what she definitely does do because she’s definitely not behind her peers in this respect). But instead, I decided to lie motionless on the floor next to the cot for approximately 10 minutes listening to her make adorable gargling noises. It’s actually lots of fun lying on the carpet trying to stay as still as possible. To think I used to fill my time with trips to the pub, travel or seeing friends!

The old me might have then simply got up and walked out of the room once the wonder of the ceiling had worn off, but not the new me! Overcome with the new-found sense of adventure that parenthood brings, I instead decided to slide along the floor, staying as flat as possible, until I reached the door. Here, realising that opening it might let light into the room, potentially ruining the ambiance created by the black-out blinds and white noise app, I decided to crouch behind the changing table for a further 5-10 minutes. Comfortably crouched, I was able to reach a great book that I’ve only read about 40 times: ‘who’s fallen asleep, is it the fluffy sheep?’ (Spoiler: it is.) But this brings me to another parenting perk: exploring different genres of literature! Personally, I think books with pictures and felt flaps are vastly underrated in the literary world and really believe that ‘Where’s Mr Owl?’ raises some interesting points about animals and birds and stuff.

So, there you have it. Assert your authority, don’t fall into the trap of acting in ridiculous ways to pander to your kids, and parenthood offers a myriad of new and exciting things to do. In your house. Without making any noise.

How was your day?

I love being a new mum; spending time with my daughter is amazing. But it has transformed some of the most basic of tasks into an uphill marathon on a windy day. Not just things like popping to the shops, having a shower, or texting a friend back, but actually answering really straightforward questions like: ‘How was your day?’

This question! I can’t deny it’s necessity. Never being asked would make me very sad. But being asked means I have to figure out exactly what this kind person (adult person, yay!) actually expects from my answer. This is hard. Maths A-level hard (and I never attempted that; it looked really hard).

How can such a simple, well-meaning question cause so much anguish, people who have never taken parental leave may ask. Well, let me explain. On being asked this question there are two possible answers. The first involves telling the person who asked exactly how your day was, leaving no detail out. Contents and frequency of nappies, ounces of milk consumed, outfit changes due to liquids and solids leaving various orifices, shops visited and products newly available in the middle aisle of Lidl can all be discussed at length while the poor sod who took an interest in you battles to maintain a facial expression that hides their desire to run. Answering in this way is fine when asked by the other parent to your child. They are equally responsible for the fact that you are now this dull and they can bloody well listen in awe as you indulge in this free therapy. Also, as you and your partner are lucky enough to have had a baby who is, without doubt, the best baby ever, and far more interesting, cute, and clever than any baby who came before, chances are your partner actually wants to hear the details of your day, nappy contents and all.

But what about when someone who isn’t biologically programmed to care about your baby’s bowl movements asks? This is why this question stings, as you realise that you don’t have a short answer capable of supporting the conversation. And so what is the second option?

“Fine,” somewhat stifles the conversation. But what else can you really say without boring and driving away the childless and effortlessly cool work colleague, or the successful cousin fascinating enough to have filled his passport with stamps five years before it expires?

Unfortunately I don’t know the answer to my own question, and so, as my daughter is now awake, that is where I will leave my first post.

Thanks for reading (assuming someone did, which seems optimistic).

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