I have a tiny one called Littlest, a two year old called Middlest and an Eldest, who is of course, called the slightly more sophisticated, less sentimental name of Eldest. This is a blog about them, but not really. It’s about being ever-moving, at an ever-moving time, and how to temper that.
The fluctuations of being in the same house, with the same people are a little fascinating, aren’t they? How on Earth can the same thing happen every single day, and yet each day is so wildly different? I know I’m late to the party here, but I’ve been trying to put together a blog about being a parent and working from home, but the words wouldn’t quite come together.
You see, I could have written you a blog in week one, when the world was spiraled and panicked, and being afraid was the one thing that I didn’t want Eldest to feel, so I tried to combat such feelings with big walks and far more time spent with him than he was accustomed to, leaving him not only a little afraid, but possibly more perturbed that I was encroaching on his sense of normality with all my matter of fact talks to stem against the fact that he insists on listening to absolute drivel on the radio at the morning, which also fed him news of the same standard.
I could have written a blog in week two, as I photocopied booklets of safety and schedule, taking comfort in little boxes of learning for the pack of wolves that I would control with learning. I would work in the serenity of my place at the dining table with Eldest opposite, lapping up whatever curriculum menu I had constructed, whilst Middlest and Littlest napped twice a day. Only, they both rose up in mutual mutiny and dropped all but a fleeting nap in the second week, and now they announce the beginning of pre-bedtime through screams and destruction, these defiant little pockets of rage that hate all things, but most of all, napping. Napping disgusts them.
I could have written a blog in week four, as the lull of settling in cast its cloud over all of us, and we shifted to the ‘new normal’ that everyone was talking about. Middlest reveled in his newfound career as ‘napless toddler,’ rewarding himself with at least two daily visits to the potty in exchange for stickers. I completed CPD as my house became a sticker shrine, immortalised with dinosaur wallpaper (padded, no less) , sticker upon sticker. If webinars broke the thirty minute mark, I’d be greeted with a floor of crisps or a vision that echoed of Lord of the Flies, two tiny children sprinting with sticks at each other. We marveled at corners of internet shopping that we didn’t know existed, greeting the DPD man at a distance every day as he dropped off novelty after novelty and our house was filled with boxes. We would make things from boxes. We’d seen it on the internet: tunnel boxes, monster boxes, boxes used for boats and cars, dragon boxes, boxes of robots waiting to carry out orders. We’d make them all, until we ran out of glue, and time, and patience. Our box creations sat gathering dust as we returned to working-screaming-working and we ploughed on to week number and the one after and the one after that. We walked: we bore of walking once we realised that a) there’s definitely no time to walk when everyone you live with walks far too slowly and b) you’re now operating on a 12 day schedule, which means your life mirrors that of a child. Dinner is at 4.30pm and sometimes, you’ll take the vegetable sticks because quite frankly, preparing something else is a complete faff and you can’t remember the last time you saw a vegetable anyway.
I could have written you a blog at week seven, when playdates consisted of Facetime, comparing Lego collections as Littlest waded through the garden barefoot, lifting planks of the fence to wave through at next door. Middlest chiseled through his eighteenth dinosaur ‘trapped’ in the ice and resorted to pouring-drinking-pouring luke-warm water onto the faceless animals, who gazed despairingly at the amount of time they actually had to endure the freezer before somebody recalled that they had prepared a wholesome task at some point in history, so we’d all better crack on with that soggy wooden hammer and get the poor sods out. ‘The Internet,’ your confidante and companion, turned on us and hurled picture after picture of all the child-free people reading books and growing plants, and all the with-child people were managing to work at 120% productivity because they’ve coordinated a colour-coded schedule with their three year old, who can now read and has artfully mastered cursive handwriting- they’ve Instagrammed a picture of him with a monogrammed fountain pen to mark the occasion. Meanwhile, I was trying to blog for you, in between the third serving of potato, cheese and beans, colour-coordinating the plate, cup and spoon out of a gripping fear that if I did not, I’d almost certainly be wearing it. Middlest has exchanged the desire to nap with a rather expert shoe-laden kick to the face, and it’s exactly as it sounds, but without any possiblity of apology. It makes meal prep all the more worthwhile.
I would write a blog for you now, about all the ways in which I have juggled-not juggled, because it isn’t a magic trick, but a state of endurance- parenting and working, but I’d rather level with you a little, because having three children and working from home is wonderful, and monumental, and something I was completely unprepared for. I’m not going to tell you to drink the water, or get the sleep, or do the meditation. Instead, here are a few things that I have learned during this time, and I hope if nothing else, it brings you comfort as you scrape the fourth meal of the day from your kitchen floor and count the minutes until bedtime:
- You are not dealing with business as usual. That means the same rules do not apply, both at home and at work. Your wellbeing- how accomplished you feel in what you’re doing- needs to be top of the list please. That means if on Thursday, you need to get stuff done, then you need to get stuff done. If you want to work at night when the house is quiet, then so be it. If you didn’t run before work, that’s ok. If on Monday, you need to take a walk at lunch to stop the unwelcome eye burn, then you do that. Listen to your instincts and feed them accordingly.
- Every day will be different: it’s a bit like a diet. You’re going to nail some days, hours, minutes, and at other points, it will feel as though the wheels have come off a little. That’s fine, because they won’t, because you noticed, which also means they will be in tact the next day. If you don’t have children, no one will be condemning of you if you didn’t get through everything you said you would today. If you do have children, no one will be condemning of you if your children watched one too many episodes of DinoTrux. I watched about three hours of television every Sunday morning or my life (mostly a rather bizarre animation about people living inside of your body as a means of teaching biology- I remember nothing), and I don’t think there’s any significant damage. I mean, I can still read and write, AND I know my colours.
- Routine is great, but it’s not for now: if getting up at the same time, having the same breakfast, exercising at the same point of your day works for you, that’s brilliant- and your mental health will absolutely love you for it. What this must be tempered with, is the ability to give yourself a break if you don’t quite hit this routine every day. Because things are transient, you need to allow yourself the thinking time for that: there’s so much to be done, that we can overlook the value and power of thinking, but actually, it is just as important to productivity. If that 6am workout didn’t happen, the sky will still stay up.
- One thing is enough: give yourself one task, and do that. That’s thirty tasks a month, which is plenty. At the weekend- or whenever you’ll calling a day that isn’t a workday now- make it a task that isn’t a work task. This isn’t a race, or a contest: we won’t undertake some sort of COVID debrief, as our achievements and milestones are propped up for all to see in some sort of grotesque, Hunger-Games-esque arena of judgement. As I tweeted a little while ago, this is Summer Guilt on steroids. It knows nothing of endurance and longevity. You do.
- Watch out for the moments. Your days can feel as though they are too full of too much, but you do still have a sense of control over that- it’s just the confines of your house will magnify that too-muchness sometimes. Watch out for the moments you can take to watch the Littlest and the Middlest and the Eldest (or whatever sizes yours are), because they will remember this heap of time that you were around, and it was nice. They won’t even remember the boxes, the ungrateful little swines- but they’ll remember breakfast every day and all that mundane, everyday stuff that imprints on little people’s memories. Except Middlest of course- he’ll just remember all the biscuits he didn’t eat. And equally, watch out for the too-much moments, and take a breather, and they’ll pass. They’ll pass even quicker if you talk to someone about how overwhelming it was, only for a minute- but all the same.
This is my blog for Mental Health Awareness Week, a week that looks to support those who have been incredibly brave and sought out support to maintain healthy mental health, or for those who want to help and encourage others to consider their mental health- find out more here. Please feel free to contact me @saysmiss on Twitter, reach out to anyone with the #TalktoMeMH that you feel you could trust, speak to the Educational Support Partnership at https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/ or on 08000 562561, the only UK charity to support the wellbeing and mental health of education staff. If you do feel you need urgent care for your mental health, please contact the Samaritans who are there 24/7 on 116123, or a medical professional via the NHS 111 line.