Some days it feels like you just can’t win, no matter how hard you try. And it’s not just a mum thing, it’s a human thing, and it shows that we are actively trying to succeed and that we care about our actions and their outcomes. If we didn’t, then any kind of underachievement or (perceived) failure wouldn’t bother us at all. Actually, writing that down, it sounds bloody marvellous! Never having to deal with that feeling of disappointment or defeat – hand me that “I don’t care” potion with 2 shots of “couldn’t give a sh*t”, and hold the rats ass – I’m in! But without the lows, you would never feel the highs, and even though sometimes it feels like the highs are few and far between, they’re worth it. Saying that…. it doesn’t make the down days any less crap.
I thought about writing something for Mental Health Awareness day/week, but ironically, the very reasons for me feeling down (lockdown, home schooling, parenting, pregnancy, business), took priority over blog writing, so I never got around to it. Then the whole Black Lives Matter stuff took over social media, and I felt bad posting something that seemed of very little significance in the grand scheme of things. But the problem with not talking about things, is that they don’t go away. If anything, a lot of the time they build up inside and manifest into something far more destructive. So, upon reflection, I have decided to post this blog, on the off chance that I’m not the only one, and if so, those other people don’t have to feel that just because they’re not on the front line protesting for World Peace, that their problems are insignificant or not worthy of a sympathetic ear.
Lockdown has been hard for many people, for many different reasons, and we would all do well to remember that everyone is fighting their own demons. There was a meme that did the rounds on Facebook that said: “After lockdown remember who checked on you…Texted you…Supported you”. This was closely followed by the same meme crossed out with the words “No one owes you anything during this lockdown. We are in a GLOBAL pandemic. Now is not the time to project your insecurities or abandonment issues onto your friends. Do the best you can, check on people who cross your minds and don’t use this as another way to test your friends. Everyone is going through the pandemic. It’s really not all about you”. I am far more inclined to support the latter, as we have no idea what other people may be going through behind closed doors. You may have the grumps because you are isolated from your significant other, but it’s not fair to take this out on a friend or colleague because they’ve not taken the time to spoon feed you compliments or massage your ego during lockdown. For all you know, they have a relative in hospital fighting for their life. It really gets on my thrupenny bits when people say “we’re all in the same boat”. No, no we’re not. We’re all in the same ocean, but we’re not in the same boat. Some people have yachts and others are barely keeping their heads above water. Some, like myself, are the iceberg in the ocean, where people only see what is on the surface, and never what is hiding underneath. I have great gratitude towards our NHS and key workers of all varieties, I know that they are working harder now than ever. However, I do wonder whether anyone ever thinks about how it makes the rest of us feel who have had our jobs and income taken away from us and are constantly being told by media campaigns that we are ‘not essential’ to the nation, that nobody ‘needs‘ us and that our jobs are effectively inconsequential to society. What many people don’t realise is that despite not being paid to do so, a lot of the formally self-employed are still working our asses off to try to keep our businesses alive. I tried to describe this feeling to someone the other day and it turned into quite a heated discussion. Their opinion was that working unpaid during lockdown was “my choice” and if I decided not to return to the business afterwards, it’s not like I would be missed in the grand scheme of things. This really really upset me, because my business is my passion and to describe it as so insignificant, it made the last 12 years of my life feel like a waste. I felt upset for quite some time, but then, without prompt, I received a text from one of my Zumba students, and a Facebook message from a pole student, independent but within hours of each other, thanking me for the online classes and support during the lockdown period. And it made me realise that actually my job does mean something, and what I do (be it remotely at the moment) does make a difference, even if it’s only to one or two people. I’m not just the iceberg, I’m the rubber dinghy that helps keep those people who are treading water from drowning. This is why I work unpaid during lockdown. It’s not “my choice”, it’s what has to be done to keep the business afloat. It’s just frustrating because the whole Covid19 situation is essentially a blameless crime – I have so much anger surrounding the knock-on effects it’s had on my life, business and mental state, but nowhere to direct that anger.
What makes this harder is that I’m having to work nights because I’m simultaneously trying to look after a toddler in the daytime. They say that parenting is the hardest job you’ll ever have. I like to think of it more as the hardest job you can’t ever quit. The bad news is that it is illegal to lock your kid in a closet. The good news is that you can lock yourself in a closet. Many nights I have stood in the utility room, shut the door, and considered breaking into the emergency posh chocs when everyone else has gone to bed, and eating them all to myself. I don’t like sucking at things, and most of the time recently I overwhelmingly feel like I suck at any and all attempts to parent effectively. I feel like those poor scientists who developed the flu vaccine every year only to have the flu virus mutate into something they didn’t protect against. Trying to parent and home school a 3 year old is ironically similar to the current Covid19 situation, which is in effect, a flu virus that we have never encountered before and is managing to cause havoc with our everyday lives. I see on Facebook all the super-mums who find different educational activities to do with their kids every day. Sometimes I class it as a win if I manage to get both myself and Joshua dressed before midday. I saw some highly educational and accurate scientific diagrams of this by Katie Kirby, author of Hurrah For Gin, which perfectly described how I felt. I did briefly consider re-posting them to my Facebook, but decided they might offend some people. I thought my blog readers, on the other hand, might appreciate the sentiment, so here you go:
The raging pregnancy hormones don’t help when trying to maintain the level of patience required to tolerate a 3 year old 24/7 for 10 weeks. Little things start to grate, like the incessant humming/singing, especially when Joshua’s entire repertoire is made up of the same single verse of Jingle Bells. Tolerable in December…. not so much in bloody June! And then the sodding tune gets stuck in your head for the rest of the day!!!
When Joshua is misbehaving, sometimes I start counting. Why does this work? Maybe it’s because he knows that if I get to 5 he’ll get a timeout. Or maybe it’s because children are born with an unnatural fear of sequential numbers. If all else fails, I will land on the tried-and-tested “do you want to do this the easy way or the hard way?” …because apparently I get some of my best parenting techniques from The Sopranos.
To be fair to the little dude, he’s quite well behaved most of the time, and for the times when I really need a few minutes to myself to do super exciting things like the washing up or going to the toilet, I am guilty of plugging him into the matrix (i.e. the iPad). Yes, everyone is well aware that television watching is generally thought to have a negative effect on kids. But on the other hand it is known for a fact that children running wild will have a negative effect on their parents, so then there is a decision to be made. Just before lockdown we invested in the Disney+ channel for Joshua, as until the baby is born and probably for a couple years after that, Joshua is still effectively an only child and has nobody to play with. If he had a brother or sister close to his age then maybe Disney+ would not be necessary. Whether in real life the kids would actually play with each other is a wild claim of actual human interaction in a digital age that I can neither confirm nor deny the validity of.
Sometimes I feel really bad for sticking him in front of an electrical device or putting him down for a nap knowing that he doesn’t really need one (he’s grown out with them and often doesn’t actually sleep because I can hear him playing with his toys). But it means that I get an hour to myself to either work or simply sit in the garden and read a book. I feel that this is needed to maintain my sanity. And, you know, it’s probably preferable to beating him with a sharp stick. Family psychotherapist Katie Hurley agrees that enjoying time away from your kids can make you a better, happier parent. It’s very difficult to be calm and present when you’re feeling stressed, isolated, and/or depressed. It’s the put the oxygen mask on yourself first situation; if you take care of you, you’ll be better equipped to take care of others. Well thank you Dr Hurley for this Pearl of wisdom, but it’s not so bloody practical during a lockdown.
What has made things so much harder over the last 10 weeks, is that Joshua has expressed on several occasions, both directly and indirectly, that he “likes daddy more”. It was soul destroying to learn that I wasn’t Joshua’s favourite parent; I mean, apart from growing and carrying him for 9 months, I’ve spent the last 10 weeks of lockdown trying to be the best mum and the best teacher that I could possibly be and yet I’m still 2nd, and if Grandad visits I slip down to third. Good times! Having mummy as the primary caregiver 5 days a week ultimately makes mummy the bad guy. The one who is shunned for trying to get jobs done that don’t devote 1000% attention to Joshua; the one who gets irritable when she’s asked the same question eleventy billion frickin times. The one who has to tell him off for not doing as he has been asked; the one who after 10 hours a day has run out of fun/novel/educational activities and just wants to go to the toilet in peace. Daddy, on the other hand, is the one who gets the running hugs at 5.30pm because daddy gets to lock himself away for 8 hours, in an actual office with actual office hours, actual childcare (me), and an actual wage. Of course daddy is the then, at the end of the day (literally), the favourite parent. At which point, mummy wants to cry into a glass of wine but can’t even do that because she is so heavily pregnant she is convinced that it must either be twins or that she is actually an elephant.
According to child psychologists, although it can be frustrating when kids pick a favourite parent, it is a sign of cognitive and emotional growth. In playing favourites, your child is engaging on a deeper level and exploring relationships, asserting his or her independence, and even practising decision making skills. It is a sign that your child is secure in your parent-child attachment, in that they know that you’ll always be there no matter what. It still doesn’t make it any less bloody painful. All I can continue to do is try to be a good mum, continue to give him everything I have, and hope that at some point in his adult years he will be horrified when I tell him these stories of how he says he likes daddy more. I might also throw in how I had to deliver him without the aid of pain relief, just to make him feel like an ass. And if that doesn’t work, I have naked pictures of him in the bath that will come out at his wedding.
Dealing with all this might be easier if I wasn’t so constantly tired that it feels like my eyeballs have been pickled. It’s fair to say that I have found this pregnancy hard (or at least harder than my last), but it’s something I really hold back on moaning about because I know how long it took to get where I am now. Years of fertility treatment and heartbreak mean that any time I feel like admitting to the world that I am struggling, it brings with it an enormous surge of guilt. But sometimes I am; struggling. I’m so exhausted most of the time that my face looks like it should belong on one of those “don’t do drugs, kids” posters on the effect Meth can have on your face. Forget crow’s feet, I feel like the entire crow has landed on my face. I am so envious of those pregnant women who got the glowing skin and the radiant hair. Do you know what I got? Haemorrhoids. Yep, bum grapes. I’m also MASSIVE this time around. If I had a fiver for every time someone asked if it was twins, I wouldn’t have to worry about not having a job during lockdown or for the foreseeable future, as I’d be wiping my bumpy ass with fifties. Just last week, we were riding Joshua’s bike in the park (well he was, not me… that would have been worthy of £250 from You’ve Been Framed), and various random strangers came up to say hello (at a socially acceptable distance, of course) and to comment on how cute Joshua was. When they saw the bump and asked me when I was due, I watched their faces drop as I replied “not for another 10 weeks”. One lady looked like I’d just told her to sh*t in her hands and clap.
The other day someone said “I don’t understand why you’re not still training”, as if it was out of choice, or laziness. I ended up brushing it off with a half-hearted laugh but what I really wanted to do was cry. I can barely get out of bed in the morning, the thought of going into the city to train at night after Joshua is settled is almost (and sometimes literally) nauseating. I swear the 3rd trimester wasn’t this hard the first time around. Even on days when I have more energy, my want to train is crippled by a fear of failure. I am physically so much bigger than I was before, my abs have split and the last time I tried, I couldn’t even invert over the bump. I’m also suffering with SPD and massive emotional mood swings – some days I’ll be fine, some days I cry at the smallest thing. So to attempt to train and subsequently fail, might be one step too far. I don’t think there is enough Ben & Jerry’s in the world to counteract that.
The timing of the pregnancy and the lockdown couldn’t really have been worse, especially since the government plans to give me a grand total of £27/week maternity pay. £27?! How is that justifiable? That would barely buy Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, let alone the hundreds of nappies that babies go through a week because they are, in effect, poop machines they expel more sh*t than Donald Trump. Therefore, I have to keep the business going to be able to survive. For the last 10 weeks, I feel like I’ve been fighting barriers, and every time I knock one down, someone comes along and bloody well puts another one up. Whether you class it as positive thinking, optimism, or denial, having something to work towards has helped maintain my sanity. For me, that light at the end of the tunnel was reopening the business, even if I wouldn’t physically be able to personally teach due to the baby. Unfortunately, after spending HUNDREDS of pounds on equipping the studios with PPE, cleaning products and new socially-distanced equipment, after attending webinars and online courses, and after spending hours upon hours rewriting contracts and Covid Prevention policies, I was smacked in the face with the final barrier. For their own reasons, all but one of my instructors decided that they were unable/unwilling to return to work in July. I had to shut one of my studios effective immediately and have a very serious discussion with the landlord as to how I am going to pay the rent that I am contracted into. It was utterly, utterly, soul destroying. I felt sad, angry, betrayed, and deflated. I had no job, no income, and was about to have a baby. I put a post in a closed social media group, mostly as a rant in a safe space, and was blown away by the response. The members of that group were so unbelievably supportive, offering to lend me instructors and/or allowing my students to join their online classes for little or no profit to themselves. I cried, but this time they were tears of happiness. It showed me that even when you think there is nothing left, when you have fought your final barrier and lost, there is always hope.
I suppose the point of this blog was to illustrate that even on those days when you feel like you just can’t win, and everything you do goes tits up, whether it be in parenthood, business, or life in general, you are not alone. Not only are there people who are going through similar (whether they show it on the surface or not), there are people out there who will support you, and more importantly there are people out there who you make a difference to. The stress and exhaustion and frustration you feel everyday is not a unique feeling. There is no one out there who sits around at night and thinks “man that was an easy day! I’m so incredibly good at this parenting / business / lockdown thing that Oprah is going to create an entire show around me for Super Soul Sunday”. But I have good news! If you are finding all of this to be really hard, that probably means that you are doing it right.