Sunny side

It’s ok to feel grateful for certain things in your life right now. It doesn’t negate the horror and the fear. Gratitude and horror can co-exist.

I know I’m not the only parent who feels they were run ragged before the pandemic, sort of blindly running around like the proverbial hamster on the wheel. I read a thread on Twitter yesterday; a mum saying let’s not create the fantasy that parenting before the pandemic was in any way easier. This mum is now, like so many, juggling a full-time job at home with her two young children. She’s finding it tough, she says, but nothing like before when she rose at 5.30am to whizz around getting stuff done, before wrestling her children into the car to drop them to creche, before her long commute and workday, before picking them up again, to get back into the car, shovel down dinner and snatch 15 minutes of ‘quality play time’ before bed, then collapsing into bed herself, to repeat until suddenly her kids had grown up and left home.

I left my job last summer for various reasons. It was time, my childminder needed to leave and it proved hard to replace her. But the real reason was, look, I just wanted to spend more time with my children. I’m acutely aware that this is a luxury and many people can’t do it. Yet somehow in this desire to ‘spend more time with the kids’ I got myself in a right tangle. A couple of things. Even though I was flat out looking after the boys I felt that because I’d left my job I should ‘finally write that novel.’ Now, if one is going to write a novel, it will get written whether you have all 24 hours in the day or just a few snippets of each one. You do the stuff you need to do if you really want to do it.

Then, I enrolled my two older boys in a load of extra-curricular activities – swimming, music, hurling, gymnastics, ballet, street dance, football, drama. Most of my day, after the school and pre-school pick-ups, was spent in the car with boys who didn’t even realise how unhappy they were and how unnatural it was to be strapped into a car and lugged from one enriching activity to the next, each taking around 45 minutes. Even if the class was full of movement, they would then have to sit strapped in for ages afterwards, glumly looking out at the traffic while we inched our way home.

My baby, not long turned two, has bloomed. I now see how frustrated he was with his previous life: strapped into the car, shoved out and in, waiting for his brothers, cranky, wheeled around a grim car-park while his brothers did their class, or a phone shoved in his face to watch something while I sat in the car with him, thinking ‘well this is just what we good mothers do, we take them to classes, it’s so good for them.’

Eh – no it’s not. I cannot quite believe how good ‘lock-down’ has been for the mental health of my boys, aged 6, 4 and 2. The four year old is wobbly, out of his routine, but overall – hours and hours of free play have really cemented his bond with his big brother, and he is thrilled about that. I haven’t ‘home-schooled’ – watch this space for how backwards my children might seem in September. I doubt they will be though. They don’t even need the TV switched on, not really. I only ever switch it on for my benefit. They play and play. And play some more. Then they play, then before bed and in bed, they play. They just play. That’s obviously what children do, and I’m embarrassed to say I needed reminding of it. They also love having both parents around. It makes them feel very secure.

So I do feel grateful. Yes, and horror, fear, terror, sorrow, worry. Awareness, that other families are struggling. But I will continue to honour my life with its multitude of tiny triumphs. I think it’s necessary to do that, especially now.

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