Hello, friends. How are you? It’s been a long time between posts. Almost 21 months, in fact! When I last wrote I was on the cusp of motherhood, preparing for maternity leave and contemplating the next phase of my business. I got some great advice – the crux of which was ‘forget work for a while and focus on your baby.’ And that’s exactly what I’ve done.
Our precious daughter, Elsie, arrived on the 15th of October 2018 weighing a hefty 4.23kg and has been the light of our lives ever since. Looking back, I was so excited but also so nervous about becoming a mum. I needn’t have been. We’ve been so lucky with our Elsie girl. She’s been a delightfully easygoing, content little bubba from the day she arrived; slotting into our lives pretty seamlessly. In fact, it’s hard to remember life before her.
For the first 12 months of motherhood, writing was the last thing on my mind. I could say I was just too busy to find the time, but on reflection that’s not true. Life has been wonderfully slow while I’ve been wholly focused on our precious girl. From the beginning, when we spent the first six weeks at home blissfully ensconced in our newborn bubble, we’ve gone gently, relishing Elsie’s littleness. I’ve held her for countless naps – totally mesmerised by her softly sleeping little face, delighted in her giggles, read her favourite books a million times over and really enjoyed all the amazing milestones the first year brings. Not all days have been easy, of course – but in every day, there is magic to be found.
By November last year, it was time to dip my toe into work again. Just a little with some wonderful, long-standing clients who were patiently awaiting my return. And it’s been lovely to do so. With a busy, curious 18 month old now in tow, sitting down at my laptop to work definitely feels like a break! By February, I’d found a nice little rhythm – balancing my primary role as mum with some really rewarding writing projects. But now, everything has changed again with COVID-19.
Today is our 40th day of isolation. Or thereabouts – it’s hard to keep track! Admittedly, for Elsie and I – in a purely practical sense – it hasn’t been a huge transition. Our days were already pretty quiet: venturing out to see family and friends, visit the library and do our weekly swimming lesson and music playgroup, but other than that happily spending the majority of our time at home. That’s exactly what we’ve always wanted for our kids; a slow, simple childhood anchored in the soothing presence of home.
Having already worked from home for the last six years, nothing about my working environment has changed. Except that my husband, Steve, is now also working from home in a makeshift office in our spare bedroom. It’s been lovely to eat lunch together and catch up throughout the day for a quick cuppa. Elsie has also loved crashing his conference calls and entertaining his colleagues!
Our weekends together have changed the most. Typically, our favourite thing to do is head for the Dandenongs, chuck Elsie in her Panda carrier and explore the bush, but with the tighter Stage 3 restrictions we’re no longer able to do that. I’m really starting to miss exploring beyond our immediate neighbourhood. What I wouldn’t give just to jump in the car and escape the burbs!
Emotionally, it has been challenging. I miss our people. It’s been so long since I hugged my mum. Ages since I laughed in person with my sister and niece, held our little nephew or saw my Mum’s Group friends. I miss those weekly activities we did have and really enjoyed. Elsie was coming into her own at both swimming and music, mastering some skills and, most importantly, loving spending time with her friends. Knowing she’s lost those connections and that joy for the time being has been a hard pill to swallow. Just a week before everything changed, we had a simple park play date. Elsie and her little mate pointed at the ducks and raced down the slide and it honestly feels like a lifetime ago. Like a simpler time. We had no idea what was coming and how precious that time was; our kids together, laughing, running, touching! This experience has certainly made me realise just how much I took for granted.
Personally, I’ve struggled with the scope of it all. The reality for some is utter devastation: precious lives lost, people losing jobs, domestic violence rates through the roof, mental health struggles, the future uncertain. We know and love a number of immunocompromised people, people who have undergone chemotherapy or have respiratory illness, for whom this situation presents very real and terrifying possibilities.
For the first time in 60+ years of marriage, my beloved grandparents have been separated. Nana is in a nursing home which has been locked down; my Pa who still lives independently is unable to visit her. Over the Easter long weekend, staff took her out into the garden and he was able to wish her a Happy Easter through the fence. My heart breaks for them and everyone else in similar situations.
Of course, as humans are wont to do, there’s been a lot of looking for the silver lining, a lot of ‘pandemic positivity.’ Sometimes, perhaps, a bridge too far. On a particularly naive, privilege-laden Instagram post by a well-known Australian, I saw a comment in response bemoaning, “Global pandemic, death and destruction – but sure, make it spiritually enlightening.” There’s some merit to that cynicism, I think. I’m certainly trying to balance an outlook of optimism, of gratitude for our privilege of health and safety, with a healthy dose of reality – that this is a truly hellish chapter for humanity.
Also worrying has been the relentless push for productivity. Posts about how to make the most of your time at home by cramming it full of short courses, Marie Kondo-ing your wardrobe or – the holy grail! – writing the next literary masterpiece. We always find ways to shame and guilt ourselves, don’t we? Even in the midst of a global pandemic! There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course, if you’re truly in that energy space. But if you’d rather just binge watch Tiger King and stuff your face full of Easter eggs (been there), if you’re doing the bare minimum and finding comfort in getting back to basics – books and early nights and baking – that’s perfectly okay too. As I keep reminding myself, this is a hugely unsettling, unusual time.
As a previously very-busy person and recovering perfectionist, this pivot towards self-compassion has been a huge and life-changing shift for me over the last five years. I imagine there are a lot of people right now who feel very uncomfortable in this enforced stillness – hence the need for productivity, for self-improvement, anything to silence the truth that emerges when we are forced to simply stop and face the person staring back at us.
When we find ourselves mired in boredom, grief, fear, any kind of discomfort, many of us rush to find meaning prematurely. In doing so, we think we’re able to bypass the discomfort and instead arrive straight at a lesson learned, at gratitude, at “I’m okay! It’s all okay!” Believe me, I am a Jedi Master at this. Just ask my psychologist 😉 But ultimately, it doesn’t work. The discomfort persists. Often it transmutes into something else beneath the surface: sadness, anxiety, anger. Instead, these days I try to sit in the discomfort and just be there with it. Meditation helps a lot, and I highly recommend the guided meditations by Tara Brach, Kate James, Meg James and Kristin Neff on the Insight Timer app.
Unsurprisingly, through this experience, I’ve had good days and bad days. Days when I’ve felt as heavy as a boulder, days when I’ve been skittish with anxiety and days when – honestly – it’s been quite lovely to be cocooned at home reading, resting and baking apple cakes (this one is delicious, by the way). Our daily morning walk around our neighbourhood – our only escape for the day – has been amplified. I notice every breath of wind on my skin, every note of woodsmoke pluming in the air, every splendid shade of autumn colour. No wonder – there is nowhere else to be and no rush to get there.
It’s a lot to hold though, this duality, isn’t it? The horror that we know is unfolding around the globe, with the potential to decimate our own lives and those of people we love. Coupled with the strange stillness of being safe at home. A chance to pause, ponder, take stock of all we are lucky enough to have and be missing.
Our job is first and foremost to protect those who are vulnerable and aid the efforts of the amazing people working on the frontline by continuing to isolate. And through that process – with all its ups and downs, discomfort and frustration – to go gently, on ourselves and others. Let’s grant ourselves permission to feel all the feelings, lower our expectations and give ourselves the gift of tenderness and comfort. Who knows when this will all be over, but we will get through it. One day at a time, together apart. And what a glorious reunion it will be.
So, how are you? How are you finding isolation? I’d love to know.