I have never and will never pretend that the impact of the pandemic is not continuously being felt by us all. But I am here , adjusting to a new world order anyway and I have to say, it is more of a struggle than I ever expected it to be and I blame COVID and all its hideous fallout.
I was always going to end up a stay at home mum. I didn’t always know this, but Kev saw about a decade ago that my energy was waning and if we were committed to having children, he already knew that’s where my energy was going to be invested. I have always wanted to be a mum. I always knew to stay at home would be hard. But I never expected it to look like this.
I’m not sure how to process it or articulate it, so I come here, to my safe space and let it all tumble its way out. Let me put it this way…
I am sat as I tap away, drinking tea from a mug that was gifted to me from a job I no longer have because my industry was decimated. Thanks COVID.
That tea is accompanied by yummy Lotus biscuits that my father in law gave me in an effort to support my calorie counting. I only opened them last week and I had a little cry then. Because my father in law passed away last month and I had no opportunity to be with him, at least in part thanks to bedside occupancy rules. Thanks COVID. There are no other gifts to come from my lovely father in law now.
Those biscuits were decanted into a biscuit barrel my mum bought me. The mum that will never hear about Squidge’s first week at school, or how Gabster laughs when I blow my nose. Thanks COVID.
I am sniffling away, recovering from obligatory first week back at school lurgy, which hit when I was on a rare weekend away with Kev. We have no idea how or when we’ll manage another one and I feel so cheated. I was dizzy, could barely lift my head off the couch by day 3, at which point a positive COVID case had been confirmed in Squidge’s class. 4 days of formal education and my stomach was in a knot. We got tested and mercifully we’re fine, but I honestly thought it was just going to be another gut punch from the universe.
These do exist and I think it’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise. I feel decidedly battered these last 2 years. I have been lucky enough to have had both my COVID vaccines, in a priority group (sincerely, thanks CP!) but I still am innately terrified about the effects I have read COVID can have on CP’ers. I know it is not likely for me as I do not have any respiratory issues, but when you’ve been living in a perpetual state of anxiety for so long and have had cause throughout your family to visit hospitals during a pandemic as often as I have, it is all very nerve wracking and dare I say, triggering.
Knowing that there was nothing I could do to stop the sands of time and with them, Squidge transitioning to school, I have been looking on September as a new dawn. After the pain of watching my family lose my father in law, just before first birthdays and first days at school that it never occurred to me he would miss, I really wanted to be able to feel back in control.
Gabster attends a playgroup all day Wednesdays now so that’s my day, for a massage, a hot cup of tea, reading a book or maybe even seeing friends that COVID kept away for so long. I have kept a list of things I wanted to get done. Some admin, some just for me. There have been 2 Wednesdays now and so far, I have spent them alone.
With my headspace as it is, chaotic and sad just now, this has probably proven for the best. On the first day, I sat and put 16 of my most treasured theatre programmes into frames, because I have always wanted a “theatre wall” in my home, to celebrate my love of musicals and to have a piece of me staring back at me, so I remember that that love is important for my soul.
This week, I did not intend to be alone, but the lurge has wiped me out and I am always so fearful of sharing germs, even pre-COVID. There was a tentative breakfast date I abandoned when a COVID test was deemed necessary. Instead, I got in a bath of Vaporub and washed my hair, shaved my legs and washed my face (thank you, random person on the internet that suggested caffeine eye serum, I look less dead and since the caffeine isn’t in my veins, I’m far less jittery!) I ordered Starbucks for delivery and had yoghurt and cake for breakfast. I did a foot pack, because oh my God, how my feet have taken to aching again, and then I went for my massage. I took care of me.
Last week, feeling at a point of crisis in my sadness and anxiety, I went back to counselling. I’m very lucky that this is a financial possibility for me, but Kev assures me that if it means I am taken care of in any meaningful way that means I do not feel overwhelmed in this life then “it is cheap at twice the price”. And even when I do not feel worth the investment, I know I am because I am a caregiver to my 2 beautiful girls who are worth the world to me.
The counsellor didn’t say much I didn’t already know, but it was a relief to tell someone with no emotional investment everything my family were surviving. He looked stunned by the time I drew breath and said “That’s a lot. When do you look after you?”
The honest truth is, aside from my massages (again, necessity rather than luxury) and physio, I don’t. I had begun to develop better self care habits, but they went out the window in the whirl of loss and grief and survival. So I think Wednesdays now are a time to pause and be me. Partly why I’m sat here, tapping away, because it feels like I am in conversation with myself, rather than just shouting at myself in pain and stress, feeling like a failure when I know all I am doing is trying to survive.
To put it bluntly, this is not the stay at home life I imagined. COVID has cheated so many lockdown mums out of so much.
When I had Squidge, the reality of being a disabled mummy hit me like a ton of bricks. It was so overwhelming and I felt like such a failure if I wasn’t doing it all and doing it right. But if I had allowed myself to speak inwardly with a little kindness, I would have realised sooner that not everything needs to be done. This time around however, the agony is that I now know what I feel capable of. Baby groups in the library or church hall. COVID means these don’t exist, or that Gabster has already aged out. Baby classes that I have paid for and planned for and then been knocked out by back to school bugs, or been blindsided by the need to go back and get my should-be-replaced-every-6-months-but-are-now-2-years-old-orthotics-replaced (thanks COVID). Or the classes are just empty because mums are anxious or just don’t know that people are trying to take tenative steps back into normality now.
Because let’s be honest, this isn’t normal and I think most of us are just waiting for COVID to knock us sideways again as winter draws nearer. The anxieties are real. And Gabster doesn’t care yet. She still likes to chew shoes, empty the drawers in the bathroom of lotions and potions and chuckle to herself, a great big toothy grin at the weirdness of Mummy blowing her nose.
But lockdown and COVID have stolen so much. It makes forging new, or even maintaining existing relationships tricky because everyone’s struggles are the same, those struggles needing to be had at a 2 metre distance. Or you can’t ask for help because you’ll put others at risk so you soldier on when the reality is, you have nothing much left to give.
So what is the stay at home life to be for this mummy? Making plans, just to break them when the physical pains get too much, or the next COVID test is necessary? Booking more blocks of empty baby classes, or skipping them with each sniffle just to keep everyone safe? Is the winter a write off now too, and the baby won’t be a baby by the time we’re out the other side, telling ourselves that actually, spring is the time for life to be reborn and re-emerge? How much will my last little baby have missed out on by then? How will I ever manage to make it up to her? They are little for such a short time and then, just like my Squidge, they are gone.
I really don’t know how many more times I can psych myself up to live again, or worse, how many more times I can stand to feel like I’m letting my children down. I know Squidge at least understands that I try my best, because I do not try and hide my tears from her. I always try and explain my sadness so that she is not afraid to express her own emotions. When I cried yesterday, feeling ill and dizzy and pretty useless as a mum, she bought me a teddy to cuddle. She has such love and empathy and I just want to be able to show her and her sister how much fun the world can be. If only my mind and my body believed it just now.
Because honestly, it’s hard to know who will understand when it’s my body, as I know so few physically challenged parents. And when it’s my mind, I never really know who to trust with the depth of my anxiety, because friendship is a reciprocal process and at the moment, I have so little I am able to return and that is not fair as a friend. Everything I am able to muster just now is going to my children and even then, the angry little voice in my ear that I try so hard to soothe tells me I am failing.
That’s as may be, but I try to remember that I am always trying. I cannot give up completely, however ineviable that feels just now, because I belong to 2 beautiful girls who call me Mum. After all, as much as I wish I could, I cannot control half the things we are going through now, or will go through next. I wish I could. So much.
But I will take a deep breath, maybe even drink some more tea. And I will keep trying to make plans. I will try to add one thing to my gratitude journal, even when the days feel black and that one thing may be a cupcake for breakfast.
You’ve taken so much COVID. You did not have my permission. I am knocked sideways. I am tired. But I will stand back on my wonky feet and I will try my best to speak again with kindness. Because, for everyone I can no longer be with or reach, for everything I wish I could do or get done, I am also Mum. You will not have everything.