Where do you start? Where do you begin putting your life back together after it all? Some of you don’t have a choice. You worked and worked and worked throughout, on your laptop until midnight, juggling everything, anaesthetising yourself regularly, with whatever was at hand. Perhaps now that you have some quiet in your house you are punching the air, about to hit the gas and not look back.
Others – like me – shed one responsibility after another (because we could) until life turned from one sort of hell to different sort of hell. We shuffled everything up to make a huge amount of space that was required for it all and suddenly what was filling up that space has gone and we are standing in a huge, empty, echoey hall, unable to remember what goes where. And where is everything? In storage? Where? What is going on?
But whatever happened to you, now your children are mostly or completely back at school, you will wonder this week why you find yourself perhaps depressed and lost, despite this probably being a moment you’ve been working towards for months and months. (“When they’re back at school, I will…”) And yet now, even though you might have a to-do list about to turn actually thermo-nuclear with urgency, you may find yourself staring out of the window, unable to find the will to do anything at all.
All I can say is that childcare uses a certain set of learnt behaviours and skills; children operate at a strange, staccato tempo. You have to give yourself a chance to change gears from that to something else. The way back is up a mountain – that high mountain over there – and the first steps seem pointless and impossible when there is such a long way to go.
To continue with my mad series of metaphors, consider this: roses don’t just appear out of the ground – they need to be grown, in prepared ground that is turned and then watered. I suppose what I’m saying is il faut cultiver notre jardin if we can expect anything creative to happen, if we can expect forward motion or any sort of inner peace.
My own inner garden is a jumbled mess, with snaking bramble cables, suffocated orchids, an old broken fridge, scuttling rodents. And in that corner, a burnt patch where there was a ghastly fire that razed my prized thingummies to the ground.
All I can hope for is that it’s true that fire in fact does good things for the ground and that, in time, something will grow there again.
How about you? How does your garden grow?
Alexandra Minton says
You took the unformed thoughts out of my head and made them formed, as usual!! I’ve been focused on this time, especially because my youngest is now in reception so as a stay at home mum, this is the first time in 7.5 years I don’t have a child at home with me. But it feels anticlimactic? I was so excited to get jobs done that have probably been ‘on the list’ for 7.5 years but now I’m just like ‘meh.’ This was going to be the time when I started the next phase of my life – ‘what next’ – but I can’t get it up for that either..
If I was giving advice to someone else, I’d tell them to just relax and it will come in its own time, there’s no rush etc but who takes their own advice?! Also must ring the gardener..
The start of term, that arrival back at the house after the first drop-off, is the definition of MEH
My house is so meh, and I still have one child at home, 2 years old and desperate to do singing and playing, which she’s been doing so happily with her big brother and now he’s gone. She’s so sad, but, at least this week (so far) she hasn’t wailed his name whilst standing in the middle of her playroom. We’re both very meh today and I feel very little, other than drinking tea will get done. However, the school pick up time still seems to come around remarkably quickly and then I think, bugger I do have stuff I should have done.
2020 was going to be the year I Go Back To Work. Ha! Having cobbled together job applications and interview prep while also settling squabbles and handing out snacks, Now the kids are out of the house I’m a bit lost about how to proceed.
I also weirdly miss them and felt quite wobbly.
I’m focussing on small domestic tasks until I muster up the brain space/ courage to tackle anything more substantial.
Emma Dawson says
I’m one of those who has worked all the way through (made possible, really, only by having 19 and 15-year-old teenagers who although need shouting and swearing at at every now and again don’t need the daily hands on cajoling and parenting that younger ones seem to require) so for me the fact that they’re back at uni and school is a RELIEF. And hoorah for lower food bills. BUT for all I would say if you don’t already, follow Laetitia Maklouf, aka The Five Minute Gardener. Yes I KNOW you meant the whole gardening thing metaphorically but she actually marries a five-minute foray into the garden to do something constructive with getting your schizzle together…and like you, Esther, isn’t afraid to be honest about the sheer horror of being a mother, sometimes. Anyway, she seems a very lovely soul and following her on IG can be very motivating.
Yes yes, as always. Love the metaphor. Scorched earth here….
Sarah Denham says
My husband and I had got used to it being just the 2 of us. After 26 years of marriage, our 24 yr old daughter was living in West London, our 22 yr old son studying in Birmingham and then Berlin. When COVID struck, they both returned to the family home and I loved the security of us all being together, enjoying their company and the glorious weather. But they’ve now returned to where they should be, and as it should be…and I feel a little lost! I have a VERY long to-do list which at some stage I shall address. So no matter what age your children are, the recent months have unsettled us all one way or another! Onwards and upwards!
2020 was supposed to be the year I ‘went back to work’ too, but at the moment that feels about as far away as it can possibly be. In keeping with your metaphors, my children went back to school and nursery in August (Scottish) and I immediately painted my garden shed in the last days of summer weather (not really a shed, absolutely massive thing in the garden bigger than my first student flat, but what else can I call it? Took me days.) Anyway, since I completed that very odd task that I didn’t really need to do I have stalled slightly. I like looking out at it from the back door and feel very proud of it, but I could have spent those hours polishing my cv and contacting ex colleagues etc. But painting the shed felt urgent. Bizarre. Elaine x
It was clearly symbolic. Good to have done it
Ps please write a book on motherhood ? The brilliant Clover Stroud was close to perfection with hers…. your’s would be too, I’ve no doubt…
I think you’d be the only one to buy it xx
She has! The Bad Mother. I did read it before I had my baby and yes, it was funny, but reading it AFTER having him was an absolute revelation. I sent passages to my friends who were also having their first babies at the time. It’s really, really good.
Same. Read The Bad Mother when it came out, but re read it all since having my first baby in May and it’s been a huge comfort at 4am when I am swivel eyed with lack of sleep. Truly love it, so there.
You are an absolute SUPERHERO for looking after a little baby during all this shit. Hang in there!
Yes, it’s really spiced up my pandemic! Thank you x
Goodness! It seems I still have some sort of old cronky and neglected wordpress account through which to comment – hurrah! Jesting aside… a beautiful, prescient and nailing-it piece, Esther – thank you. Much love and womanly (womanly?!) / mum solidarity to you xx
Ella Ward says
I think my garden is dead. We reopened back in May. Kid went back to school, restaurants opened, friends came for lunch. Life felt fresh yet wounded and delicate but repairable.
Then lockdown again, more severe, more restricted and for much, much longer. We’re being told now, until October or even November. We’re not allowed to leave home or the state or ever the country. It’s really quite dramatic. We’re all drunk a lot of the time.
Unfortunately it’s also spring. So the wind is turning warm and the fucking flowers are flourishing. Jerks.
Thank you for clever words as always. Keep writing, please x
not looking forward to THAT coming down the pipeline
I am completely lost. I wondered aimlessly around the supermarket for an hour this morning and then spontaneously decided to make a moussaka from scratch (who does that?!). I think I need to learn how to relax. And get a job.
Wandered, not wondered! Although I am, in general, wondering.
This was going to be a year when I would have finally moved into my next job. It took me ages to find a job after a long maternity leave and I was so keen to catch up with years lost but instead I am being made redundant and it sucks.
A Reader says
They went back today. I haven’t done much. I looked at Twitter and there was a tweet that said something “a lesbian couple has adopted you! The most recent two women in your phone are your two new mothers” so I had a look, and it turns out that I had recently done a screenshot of some stupid Mirror article saying that Ivanka Trump and Meghan Markle were going to be the presidential candidates in 2024–my two new mothers. So I thought for a while about how hilarious it would be if Ivanka Trump and Meghan Markle left their husbands and married each other. I think it would be amazing to watch that kind of fallout, and honestly I would read every scrap of media that came out of it. Then I considered for a while if I should write some sort of insta-Amazon Ivankle slash ebook. Then I came to the kitchen and thought about trying to both work (at what is limpingly left of my job) and doing a few job applications, but there is a GIANT truck (think four bin lorries) right outside my house doing something with the gas main. It sounds like a vacuum cleaner but one with the motorised power of, well, four bin lorries. Then I thought I’d have a walk, but I remembered I will be walking another two miles later to get the kids; I don’t really need a walk now. So I ate a thing of fruit and a chocolate pot. I’ll have a look again now to see if any new jobs in my field have been posted while I’ve been sharing this with you.
A Reader says
“trying to both work . . . and doing” – i rite gud!
let me know what happens next
I feel like homeschooling + working full time has permanently scrambled my brain and given me ADHD. Now schools are open, I don’t have the excuse for not coping with the workload, yet here’s my addled brain, not focussing on anything for more than a second…oh look, a squirrel, I wonder what the covid stats are for my town, oh yes, that email, agh, music lesson tomorrow… and on it goes. Obviously low attention spans were a thing before Covid, but there was something about running downstairs, helping with a history lesson, running upstairs for a Zoom meeting etc just ruined me forever.
As always you manage to capture what is on my mind but I can’t quite find the words for. I’ve been waiting & waiting for the return to school to happen & now we’re on the brink (they go back tomorrow) I’m not sure if I’m happy or not. I have alternatively raged at my children & then loved the time with them on a massive rollercoaster ride.
I will miss them, hopefully they will miss me a bit, I’ll probably cry, but I know we’ll all feel much better this time next week.
I feel as flat as a pancake and totally unmotivated and lacking hope.
I’m happy to see so much normality coming back like schools reopening and my children getting back to their classrooms and classmates (I’m a teacher and my god I’m so happy to see schools fully opened once more). But then I’m crushed by how empty central London is. How much more can it take? Will the city I love so much be completely annihilated?? I went out for dinner on Saturday night and it was like a ghost town. It put me into a depression. When will people start going back to work?? When will the life return?
Or maybe I’ve just got a red wine hangover…
I’m not here just yet, I have two last weeks before littlest starts school and house is currently full of decorators, so I should have a quiet and freshly decorated house in a couple of weeks. I reckon I need at least a month of sitting down quietly before I even think of doing anything though.
I also feel like I stifle tears at least 3 times a week, so I might need some primal scream therapy!
I read this and instantly sent it to ten of my closest friends who I knew would be feeling like this too. Your writing is wonderful and I am always feel happy anticipation when a new post from you is published.
I get this completely. Staring onto space – thinking where were we?? I think it doesn’t help that there is still so much confusion over what is allowed… I know this is utterly trivial – but Halloween is my favourite holiday of the whole year and my market town goes all out with trick or treating and I throw huge parties where we all drink lychee martinis and something ends up on fire and this year – Old hallow’s eve is on a SATURDAY – crucially – and I was planning to go BIG. I thought about it all through lockdown… Now, it will be cancelled like everything else… I’m going to the cinema as much as humanly possible, wild swimming and getting down to work and hoping that soon the new normal will just be normal. But as in – the way we were. But I think that is just wildly naive of me.
You have to do what you can, we can’t live in fear! It’s no life!