Praise for our nursery, we miss you

It has been three and a half months of no childcare for us. These months feel like a blessing and a curse at the same time. They gave me the chance to spend all my time with my little one once again, an opportunity we might never have like this again. But it also meant lack of sleep, private time and the constant struggle to get my work done. We now have one week to go until nursery reopens. And I can say: I can’t wait.

I can’t wait to have a full, uninterrupted day of work once again. To get the apartment tidied up without having to make sure my little one doesn’t drink the cleaning water, drops a glass or climbs on a ladder.

But most of all I can’t wait for him to go back to a place where he gets to play with children his age all day in a safe place. Where nobody has to tell him to stay away from other children. Where they even encourage him to play with others. Because I have noticed that lately he doesn’t even approach other children in the park anymore. It seems even the tiny ones learnt how to keep a distance, probably by copying us grown ups.

I also can’t wait for him to gain some more indolence once again. The longest we have been apart during the last few months in one go was three hours. And my friend who took him for a walk those times said that after about two and a half hours he started asking and looking for me. My child who never even wants to go home from nursery after eight or nine hours, who is happy to see me but wants to stay and play, this child is now not used to being without his mum for three hours. We did not have that problem ever since he was nine months old, as he is incredibly social, trusting and outgoing.

I know all these are small, minor things. I know he will get back to his usual self once he gets out of the house and away from me a bit more again. But it breaks my heart a little bit when I notice these changes. And it reminds me how incredibly grateful I am for the nursery we usually have, for the great work they do there and the happy little man I have the honor to raise.

The beauty of having to stay home

As awful as the circumstances might be, I have to say, I have come to appreciate the unexpected chance to spend all my time with my little man again for a while. Considering the time you can take off in some other countries, my maternity leave was not that long. I know it could have been much less as well and I was glad to get back to what I considered my life after a few months anyways. But talking to my friends who live in countries where they get to stay home for several years even, I have come to realize how much I miss out on watching my child develop, learn and explore. Sure, I got to see him stand up and learn how to walk. But I also noticed that he knows all these little songs and dances that I have no idea about. Because someone else gets to sing to him, read poems and do crafts all day.

And while me and others have written about how hard it is to combine work and parenting during a lockdown, how tired parents are at the end of the day and still there is so much we didn’t get done – you should see the state of my house right now – I just wanted to share with you how much I love spending more quality time with my little one.

Mindfulness is a concept that I can only recommend to you in times like this. I am no expert but in my own words, it reminds you to appreciate the moment. So if you are cooking, that is what you should be focusing on. No need to plan the day, stress about the emails piling up in your inbox, etc. (Of course you still keep an eye on your child though…) And the same goes for when you play with your child – you don’t need to feel bad about missing out on work time. Because that does not help anyone. Instead focus on the game and appreciate the moment.

So, I have come to accept that mornings are not work time. I have told my boss and she was totally fine with that. Being on track with deadlines helps but also that she has a kid herself. And afternoons are work time. But the mornings are what I want to talk about.

We go for a walk every morning, for about an hour. We don’t get very far because he now wants to walk by himself for a good bit. Not holding my hand, because he is an independent spirit it seems. Kicking every post with his feet – don’t ask me why. Waving at every car. Stopping to watch every dog pass by. Picking every dandelion and asking me to help him blow. Walking up and down the steps in the park five times at least… And while I had to learn to be patient, to relax, I noticed I have nowhere else I have to go right at that moment. And nowhere I’d rather be than right there, watching him explore the world and how exciting the smallest things can be.

I get to see him learn how to kick a ball, throwing sand in the air, learning a new word every day and getting excited over new toys or old ones he can finally play with by himself. We draw pictures every day that we give to my flatmates – who secretly get rid of them, I know… We collect shells at the beach just to loose them on the way home. Watch people walk past the house. Read the same book for the tenth time and he starts to say sentences with me.

I can’t even express how lucky I feel to get to watch him learn all these things, explore the world by himself, just to come back to press a wet kiss on my cheek and run off again. And while there are many things to worry about, these mornings make everything worth the stress and worries.

Reciprocity or the ability to help

It might seem a strange thing to worry about but for me one of the biggest changes that came with motherhood – and even more with single parenting – was that all of a sudden I was the one in the position of needing help.

My entire life was built on the idea of helping others, of being there, being a good family member and friend. I enjoy supporting others, helping out a friend in need. I don’t expect gratitude or anything like that from it, I do it because it makes me happy. I guess it comes from being the oldest child, looking after younger siblings a lot for many years. Or maybe it is just my personality. Whatever it is, it is one of the characteristics I liked about myself.

What I had never realized until I got pregnant and closer to delivery, was how independent I was in my own lifestyle, how I did not even know how to ask for or accept help. But the last few weeks before giving birth were tough on me, I could not walk without pain and had to rely on help from friends. Even more so after giving birth and being seriously sick for some time afterwards. Friends needed to drive me to my checkups, to the shop, run errands for me etc. There were days where I would sit and cry because I felt so weak and helpless and it bothered me more than the physical pain.

I slowly learnt to talk about what I could barely cope with and my friends and family learnt to read the signs, they came to understand how bad I was in asking for help. And needing help has never ended since then. It has changed, become less frequent. For a while I did not need anything except a lift to work when it was raining. I spent my time with friends on what I considered a more equal basis again. I was even in a position to help others at work and with advise again, even if I can’t run errands for a sick friend as I used to in the past. It felt good again.

Then the last few weeks, being home with a toddler and having to work, it got back to me needing help. I was spiraling in the beginning, trying to manage all by myself. Until I sat down with my flatmates and asked them, could they take the little man for walks on their days off because I was really running on very limited energy. They immediately agreed and they take their job very serious. I think because I for once spoke up and asked for help. I have learnt there is no shame in that. We all go through different stages in life and sometimes we have more to give and sometimes we receive more than we give at that moment. I cook and bake, I clean and do small things to help them out when I can. But I know now that it is ok to be in need of help as well and it feels good.

COVID19 and my constant guilt

I know I am by far not the only one and probably there is nothing new I can add to this topic. But I just felt like sharing my experiences of juggling childcare, a household and work these days. While being the only parent to my son makes my situation more difficult in many ways, I am in the lucky position to live with good friends, who step up and take the little one for walks so I get time to work. And still having work, still getting paid, that alone is luck these days.

When I play with him and we get caught up in some new games or arts projects, I end up suddenly thinking about how I will not get enough work done, about how I get paid a full salary still but not for playing. I feel bad for having fun. And when I have to turn on TV, or let him nap longer, because I still need to get more work done, then I feel like a bad mum. He is still very young for TV but then these are not normal times, I know that. And I make an effort to limit it to a minimum. But he now even asks for TV, so this makes me feel worse. I assume that many parents feel like that these days. And I try other options but my work is mostly on the computer and once he sees me use my laptop, he won’t play by himself, so there is very little to do except stop working or distracting him with TV.

And then I look around and remember that I wanted to hoover two days ago. I usually wouldn’t mind that too much as long as it is still hygienic in the apartment but we do live with other people and I want to fix the mess me and my boy create.

But at the end of the day I have absolutely no energy left. We tend to joke about the percentage of battery I have left – by 4pm I usually say something like „5%“. And end up sitting or lying on the floor, so that I am close to my child, so that he feels that he is not alone. But trying to read a book or even just playing with my phone, because I have just no energy left for any sort of interaction. That goes on then for up to two hours. But then I just wrote everything down that I did in one day and the list was incredibly long:

  • Morning yoga with my little man
  • getting ready for the day (dressing, washing, breakfast)
  • painting and drawing
  • going for a walk/playing in the backyard
  • playing with bricks
  • putting on TV while I prepare lunch, bake bread while responding to work emails and catching up with my other work
  • Lunchtime, storytime
  • Naptime: The countdown is on: prepare tomorrow’s food as much as possible, then work
  • Wake the little man after two hours, snack time, play, pottytrain
  • Little man goes for a walk – I get 90 minutes for my dinner, exercise, more work
  • When he gets back at 5, I am wrecked. So free play while mummy lies on the floor (except if there is a work deadline, then more TV unfortunately and work)
  • More stories, putting on wash, tidying up, bathtime
  • 9pm he is in bed and I get 50 minutes of Netflix – then bed…

I guess the lesson I should learn from this is to keep reminding myself at I am doing my best, that everyone is happy considering the circumstances and that is all that can be asked from me…

How to survive self-isolation as a single mum working remotely

This is the big question, isn’t it? And I am still trying to figure again it out every day. Because every day I need to come up with new tricks, games and toys to entertain the little one to ensure I get hopefully at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted work-time in one go. Hoping that overall it adds up to four hours per day. That is what I decided will have to do for the moment. I am lucky insofar as most of my work is a project that only I am responsible for, so the amount of online meetings remains quite low.

Things that worked so far

  • A pop-up tent with a tunnel that fits into the living room
  • Tea lights – who knew these little things are so versatile? We can stack them, throw them, play hockey,…
  • Pots and a spoon – let’s have a concert
  • An old paper box, cut holes in different shapes into it, some small animals and their home is ready…
  • Wooden animals at the window sill – For some reason they are much more interesting there. Just have to stay close but still able to answer emails.
  • A bubble machine – will help with washing the floor afterwards as well
  • My old, small handbag with a set of keys in it
  • Jumping on mum’s bed – although sometimes I just have to join in and start a pillow fight
  • Books with sounds

And even though I hate to admit it: toddler TV when I need guaranteed silence for a call…

Any suggestions and tricks you want to share? Let’s put a list together!

Me time II or everything is routine

A lot of time has passed since the last time I posted something. A lot of things have happened, we moved back to where I work, I’ve struggled to find childcare, which is another story for another day, for not it is sufficient to say I found childcare.

Overall, I can say I am one very lucky mum. My baby has turned into a happy, outgoing, adventurous toddler. He loves to go to nursery; he is literally bouncing in the buggy when he arrives there. The staff adores him and spoils him rotten. And when I come to collect him after work, he is delighted to see me and super cuddly and chatty at home. I love those evenings when he is just rolling around the couch, hugging me, giving me toddler kisses and chatting away. My flat mates are brilliant company, the days they are home in the evening we just have random conversations and relax. Other days it is just me and my little boy.

I am also lucky insofar as I get to work in a field I am passionate about. My colleagues are great and tea breaks are fun. Being at work for 8-9 hours doesn’t feel that long. Walking home on a sunny day is fine. In total I am not home for 10-11 hours on weekdays. The time at home is spent with dinner, cuddles, reading books to my little man. By the time he is in bed the clock starts ticking: prepare the snacks and lunch for the following day, shower, watch something for half an hour and then off to bed. Unfortunately, I am one of those people that need a lot of sleep. But then I like sleeping so it is ok.

Weekends are getting very short. Cleaning – after a week of being barely at home the place is a mess and in need of basic cleaning. Grocery shopping and cooking – because after working 9 hours per day and 1 ½ of commuting, I don’t want to cook on weekdays. So, loads of cooking on weekends. Clever cooking, so that it lasts a week. Usually we go for story time and meet a friend for coffee or a pint while listening to some traditional music. We read books, we paint, we go to the playground. And the weekend is over before we know it.

But all the things that I never get a chance to do. Since I returned to work, I went out twice. Once when a relative was over visiting and once when a friend graduated and her partner minded my child. I usually don’t even bother trying to plan a night out because the next day I’d still have to be up early and the best mum possible. Sleep takes priority and I don’t even want to think of what a hangover would be like. But I do miss these nights. I miss the lazy morning, where I read a book in bed, make some coffee, read the newspaper in my PJs and then it is already time to meet someone for lunch.

There are friends I never see anymore because their availability doesn’t match our routine. And that is the big thing: as much as we need routine, as I need our new routine, I was never somebody who had much of a routine. I was spontaneous, had time to meet people and time for myself. I only recently realized what a luxury these small moments are. I don’t usually spend much time thinking about it because there is no point. Sometimes however I imagine the distant future when all that will be possible again.

Me time

Don’t all young mum’s know the question: When is it ok to leave my baby for the first time with someone else? A question that is quickly followed my doubts and concerns: will the babysitter be able to put my baby to bed, comfort it, feed it, will they let me know if something is wrong?,…

This question only gets more serious when you’re a single parent. I am basically my kid’s only permanent carer. He is of course used to my family’s faces by now but I am the one who changes his nappies, helps him fall asleep and so on. Thankfully he is a pretty outgoing baby but still, it is different to fall asleep without mama around or to just play with a new person. So I just used to bring him to meetings with friends, he would fall asleep in his pram anyways when tired. But now that he is a little older things are different. I also really want to go to that party, it is my friend’s 30th birthday and I haven’t been out dancing in over a year. My family says I should just go, as long as I am back before his nightly feed, which is by now in the early morning, he won’t even notice. And so I confirm. But the closer we get to the date the more the doubts start creeping back in. And at some point I cancel. Because I know I wouldn’t really enjoy my time but constantly be checking my phone, calculating at what time I should leave and so on. Little one might be ready but I am not. Yes, I admit it: I am the one who is not ready!

Instead I book an appointment at the hairdresser to get a new cut. During the day I am ok to leave him with family for two hours. I know they will entertain him and he will barely notice I was away. Mum needs time to get used to things. She also has to learn how to be independent again…

Mum is injured

I think it is every new mum’s nightmare but even more so if you’re single: getting sick or injuring yourself. For a while that question had been on my mind, things like: what if I get the flu, I better don’t go skiing this year,…

You try to be oh so careful but then it happens in the most every day situation. For me it only took someone pushing past me on the stairs. My baby was in the sling, I was going to catch a train and someone just slightly pushed me. Next thing I know I’m tripping and all I can do is put an arm around my baby. Good thing was that it was already the last step of the stairs. Usually I would have been able to stop anything from happening but this time my only instinct was to take care of my child. And so it happened: I twisted my ankle and am sitting on the floor with sharp pain in my right leg and no idea how to get back up with the kid in the sling. He thought it was oh so funny, laughing at the sudden movement but then got irritated as we were not moving anymore. To make things worse the other people in the station only stared but didn’t offer any help. It took someone getting off the train to offer me help.

Thankfully I was able to walk, if only slowly and under immense pain. My best friend came to pick me up at home and drove me – and the baby – to A&E where they thankfully felt sorry for the little one and had us skip the line a bit. The good news: nothing broken or torn. The bad news: it would be really painful for a week and completely healed only in 2 months time.

Back at home I had to sit down and cry, be angry with the dad: if he was at least showing the smallest bit of responsibility. Then I could have called him to come and pick up his son and look after him for the next two nights, when I wasn’t able to stand up with the baby on my arms. But no, he had cut every line and if it wasn’t for my friend, then I don’t know how I would have coped. It brought darker, deeper questions on: what if something more serious had happened to me, so that I’d had to stay at the hospital? My parents are in no way able to mind a baby for more than a few hours at the moment. What if, god forbid I’d die? Where would my son end up and with whom? Should I not be prepared for any eventuality?

To be honest: no, because we can’t forsee every eventuality. We should plan for emergencies but not in all detail as it depends on who is around and free at that moment in time. And then we have to trust that all will work out in the end while not taking too many risks. It is not fair that I have to do this on my own but as an afterthought it is still better than living with an irresponsible person. Things are the way they should be in the end and it did work out for us this time. Thanks to my amazing friends.

The biggest fears of raising a baby all by yourself – before it is born

This is probably a never-ending list if I was to ask other expecting single parents for their fears and I am curious to hear your thoughts about this. This is however just my personal fears as far as I can remember them still, with added comments on the reality with my son.

  • How will I ever find time to shower? – In the beginning I felt bad every time I left him in his cot for 10 minutes so I could shower. But then you learn that you just use the opportunities the way they arise: shower while he is taking a long nap, happily moving in the morning,… Or even just go and shower when he is refusing to fall asleep – usually he passes out within two minutes if I just leave the room. I guess it is lack of distraction.
  • What if my baby is colicky and will cry for hours? – The first few weeks the fear was very real for me but thankfully I have a curious, mostly happy baby. I think even if he had turned out colicky the way to live would be the same: bring him with you to as many places as possible so you get a change of scenery.
  • Will I ever have time to be alone again and if not how will I cope? – Strange thing: whenever I get me time at this still early stage I don’t really know what to do with myself and I get terribly restless. When he is sleeping for two hours I work a lot. But if someone takes him for a walk I feel like I am missing a limb. But yes: we get time by ourselves once we are ready to trust others to mind our baby.
  • Can I bring the baby to the café/pub/library/…? – Or do I have to stay at home all the time now? Well the answer is: bring your baby wherever you want to go, as long as it is not a health risk for it (e.g. if smoking is allowed or if the music is too loud) and it doesn’t mess with your baby’s sleep. Don’t worry all the time about what other people might think. My little man was three weeks when I took him to the pub in the afternoon to watch a match and he slept right through it.
  • What if I am sick? – a very real fear and I still don’t have a definite answer for all scenarios. How to cope with an injured leg will be a post of its own however the good news is: it is not as bad as I thought it would be.

A Single Mum’s Life

I somehow fell into motherhood and then I fell in love with motherhood. My partner and me were basically just separating after 2 years of ups and downs when I found out that I was pregnant. It became clear almost immediately that he didn’t want anything to do with the pregnancy or the baby and after trying for a few months the situation became so ugly and tense that I gave up on trying to get him involved in his future baby’s life.

The big question then was: how do I do this – parenting, motherhood – in a way that will make both me and my kid happy? There are so many single mothers and fathers out there who raise kids by themselves but I didn’t know anyone – and still don’t up until today – who went through pregnancy and parenting by themselves basically from day one. The short answer: you just do it. The rest just becomes clearer along the way.

What I really needed were my friends and family. In the beginning I was basically living a continent away from my family, I had moved for university and was still abroad when I gave birth. While initially I had imagined myself fairly independent, I soon learnt to always calculate with the worst option. An emergency C-section and a subsequent kidney infection meant that I was not able to go to any appointment on my own but had to rely on my friends for lifts to the GP or to do the shopping for me. Never before had I been depending on anyone like that and it meant to forget about my pride and just say thanks when someone offered help. I will feel forever grateful to have such amazing friends, who made a difficult situation a wonderful experience.

Being a mum, however much I stumbled into parenting, soon became a natural thing and I don’t miss my intellectual work at all for most of the day. Never having co-parented I don’t miss a partner, especially as I now live with relatives after all. But time and again I face challenges that other parents would not. I therefore felt it was the right decision to create this blog to share some of my stories and experiences with mums in similar situations – I’ve chatted with a few on baby apps and have learnt how many of us face similar questions. If one pregnant lady out there gets comfort and motivation out of my story then I’m happy.