This post was written as part of the FT Families project to share experiences about family life during the pandemic
I started back at work after having my first child, Alex, in June 2020, having extended my maternity leave due to Covid. Nurseries had recently reopened and like everyone we were juggling childcare and work, but with the added complexity of lock down and working from home. Actually it made my life much easier - a hot, shared bedroom for an office was a small price to pay for being able to drop Alex at nursery then start work 10 minutes later, and for being able to balance domestic work and parenting work and work work while staying sane! Here are some of the things that happened during those first few weeks back.
June 1st 2020, my husband Andrew has taken two weeks off to look after Alex before she starts nursery and I am about to ‘return’ from Maternity leave, but actually from my bedroom. This is the week that…
“I start back at work! Ooo it feels good to be back. Day one of WFH and I have my errant split ends sprayed down, my new quality drapey white work top on, a full face of makeup applied, and a permanent smile. Day 88 for everyone else and not a hint of mascara to be seen and a lot of listless gazes and firm set jaws from the grinding down of days spent staring endlessly into video calls.
At lunch time I volunteer to change a nappy which a poo has somehow missed almost entirely, ending up mostly on Alex’s, and then my clothes. My quality white top is no longer all white.
Andrew is in charge of domestic duties. Day four and there is no loo roll on the loo roll holder, the dryer lint drawer is exploding with fuzz, and the bins are overflowing. He does, however, do a load of washing every day, keep on top of the dishwasher, and keep Alex clean and fed, which is a huge load off my mind and is enough (I eventually concede once I stop feeling resentful) given how much his work is demanding of him even though he is on holiday. [disclaimer: Andrew is fantastic and I couldn’t ask for a better partner!]
We have our 12th Saturday lockdown BBQ in a row, wearing padded coats, and interrupted by hail and lightning. Poetic that after weeks of summer grilling our final lockdown BBQ ends in the same conditions that we started in.”
June 8th, week 2 back at work, Andrew is still looking after Alex. This is the week that…
“I stare forlornly at the beautiful Sandqvist backpack that Andrew bought for my planned return to work in April (literally) gathering dust in the corner, and feel glad that I at least sent back the fancy going-back-to-work trousers and summer jacket I bought the same week.
I completely lose the plot when I find out that Alex’s nursery only does one nap a day with the babies rather than the two that Alex is used to. And I mean completely lose the plot. Whatever pent up emotions I had about Alex going to nursery came cascading out as I cried hysterical, shuddering, tears, squeezed her to me, pressing her face to my face, while she chattered on, oblivious.
Andrew laments the end of his two weeks off looking after the baby. I hear him in the next room getting her up from her nap on Friday afternoon: ‘Right Alex, it’s 2.30pm now, that means we’ve got just 3 hours left to sit in the park and get drunk’”
June 22nd, week 4 back at work, this week my parents are looking after Alex in our flat, while Andrew and I both work from our bedroom. This is the week that…
Mum and dad come to look after Alex. Half an hour after they arrive I hear mum shout “Jesus David!” momentarily followed by hysterics from Alex. I leave them to it and decide it’s better not to ask
On Wednesday I wake at 6am and go for a run as usual, then I clean the oven and cooker hood and make a start on the bathroom, put on a wash and prepare Alex’s food for the day, then I takeover from Andrew on childcare duties, logging in to say good morning to the team, before putting Alex down for her nap at 9 and finally starting work at 9.30am. I cry because I am so tired. Every day I feel like I have done a day’s work before I even sit down at my desk and it feels relentless.
On Thursday it is 25 degrees by 7.30am so me and Alex go for a morning stroll before work. We walk in the sunshine through Dulwich Village and get tea and croissants. We amble to the park and spend a beautiful half an hour having our breakfast on the grass and watching the world go by under the hazy sun. The morning feels like a gift and my heart soars. What a difference a day makes.
Tears prick my eyes as I run past our local shop and see that they’ve spray painted the names of COVID victims across every surface of the outside, and that they’ve also added a black power fist and George Floyd’s name. The shop has been a real pillar of community during lock down - it’s the only place a lot of older local people have been able to go to get their groceries.
I sit back at the end of the week and feel a solid satisfaction. There were 4 cards on the retro board this week thanking me for my work and enthusiasm, and I’m pleased with the code I’ve built over the last couple of weeks; a brand new repo and a fully tested Lambda, and feel proud of what I’ve done - I don’t think I would have so easily done this a year ago, which means I’ve learnt things even as I’ve been off. I feel good to be back.
June 29th, at last, Alex starts nursery! This is the week that…
“Alex starts nursery on Wednesday and I take Monday and Tuesday off to look after her. Childcare is so much more exhausting than work, how did I do this for 10 months on my own?!
I drop Alex off for her first day of nursery and am told to stay available because most babies don’t last very long on their first day. 8 hours later Alex is still chillin like a villain and I practically have to drag her away.
Alex jubilantly finishes her first full week at nursery with no hiccups then the next day starts throwing up for the first time in her life. She stays home for two days and I try and juggle working and looking after her, and continue my mental crisis around having a career as a working mum.
I got a bus to Peckham, my first time on public transport, or even in a vehicle, since March. There has never been a time in my life, nor will there be again, where I don’t get in a car or bus for 4 months. Madness.
Pubs reopen! We try to go to a pub for a sneaky pint on Saturday afternoon but are turned away because they’re fully booked. Instead we get shockingly strong takeaway cocktails and drink them in the wind on Peckham Rye, drip feeding Alex rusks to keep her happy. Two cocktails in and I’m queasy and sleepy so I hot foot it home to put Alex to bed, then make a mountain of cheese on toast before following her.”
July 5th, Covid (almost) stops proceedings. This is the week that…
“Nursery tells me that Alex can’t come back from her bout of illness until she’s been tested for Covid. I give up trying to work and look after her at the same time and just book the rest of the week off, which is annoying, because looking after a baby full time is no holiday!
I finally manage to get us tested for COVID after following rumours of a test site in the posh part of Dulwich, having found no trace of this supposed site on the internet. I walk over there on the off chance that the rumours are true, and lo and behold as I arrive tents are being erected by PPE’d army folk. I’m the first in the queue when it opens 45 minutes later and 12 hours after that we get our (negative) results.
Side note, the test involves taking a swab of the back of the throat, and instructions for the test, which I administer to Alex, state (in as many words) “DO NOT TOUCH YOUR TEETH OR CHEEKS OR TONGUE WITH THE SWAB. THIS WILL INVALIDATE THE TEST”. Good luck sticking something in a baby’s mouth and not touching any parts of the inside of it.”