Can Gruffalos swim?
An honest account of one mother's lockdown by Kate Bates
Now that the schools are back and some of us are returning to work, the ‘How was Lockdown for you?’ question cannot be avoided. It’s rife in small talk circles where your stock answer must be suitably succinct, and delivered with some degree of authenticity, multiple times daily. My real answer is hard to explain because of the many roles I have to play in my life, but it goes something like this…
Two halves of a whole truth
The ‘Mum’ in me (school run, supermarket dash and everyday acquaintances) will answer truthfully, that despite it being tough, I have genuinely loved this time with my three children ( aged 7.5 yrs, 5 yrs, and 17 months). When else in our lives will we get this much time together while they are still so deliciously young and keen to hang out?! Their resilience, humour and general ‘nuts-ness’ has kept me going, and given me focus through the fog. I’ve watched them bond, bicker and belly laugh … sometimes all within minutes. The truth is, without them I think I’d have found the whole experience far harder. I’ve learnt so much and will cherish so many memories, definitely NOT including trying to force them to do Joe Wicks at the beginning! We managed one morning and they weren’t into it at all … much to the annoyance of their super fit dad. Ask me the same question after a few wines though (most nights, let’s not lie) and I’ll be 100% honest as the woman behind the mother. I’ve dug deep for a suitable metaphor and decided that on a personal level; lockdown has been like finding myself roughly shoved - then locked into - a broken hall of mirrors. Every aspect of my life has been reflected back at me during this surreal time with zero filters, and I’ve been forced to look. Some of it hasn’t been pretty.
Reflection 1: What my career looks like
I work in TV as an Executive Producer and after 20 years graft I know it’s a very fickle mistress. I was just starting to interview for jobs in February and March after an extended year off on maternity leave (I had PTSD during my last pregnancy which I worked throughout on a massive series). Frustratingly, I had a big door slammed in my face work wise just before Covid hit and the knock took me a truck load of fortitude to bounce back from. Six months on however, with still no job, I’m forced to stare at the mirror and ask ‘is it COVID… or is it me?’ This reflection time has shown that I place a lot of unhealthy validation on how I’m perceived at work, and it’s the most toxic area of my life without a doubt. I have driven myself (and my partner, who also works in TV as a sound recordist) insane, questioning my professional worth, and it’s been really corrosive. In order to try and move on positively I have decided to focus on what I love most professionally - writing and developing ideas. And if I don’t get offered the next ‘big series’ so be it. I had a good run, right? Eeeeeeek.
Reflection 2: How I look now
In this area, I’ve been confronted by that freaky ‘circus mirror’ image that squishes your reflection and makes you hyper short and weirdly fat. It’s labeled ‘SELF IMAGE’. Three pregnancies have caused a scoliosis (curve in my spine) and now I have terrible posture coupled with more than the usual Covid stone (without doubt down to too much wine). Pre-Covid I worked with a personal trainer and had started to shift the baby weight. I felt good and motivated but now? I’m like a split personality. Some days I just don’t care, yet others I sob that as an already older mum my kids will see a woman who’s ‘given up’, is still wearing maternity jeans 17 months on, who really ought to at least try and wash her hair (her former crowning glory) with some sort of regularity! I know many of us have let standards slip in the grooming stakes but I feel utterly alien to myself. It’s like lockdown gave me license to become the Gruffalo … and I am both comfortable and repulsed at the same time. Who am I? The previously image conscious me, or this new version? Do I have to chose? Can they co-exist?! I suspect not. It might sound vacuous but I’m 44 so maybe due a mid life crisis anyway…
Reflection 3: Our pockets are empty
This ‘me’ is the one that has been stretched the most, and I’ve gazed in despair as our finances have been pulled so thin they’ve literally disappeared in front of my eyes. As LTD company directors we aren’t eligible for any help, and universal credit covers the food shops with not much else. It’s a ‘snow plough’ getting us through the immediate moment but the ‘drifts’ of debt are mounting so deep each side (his and mine) that I can see it all collapsing in on us if nothing changes soon. Not being able to provide financially for our family is the most crushing feeling of all. Both our parents have been absolutely amazing and done all they can which in itself, considering they’re in their 70’s and 80’s is devastating. This is definitely not how it was meant to be.
Can Gruffalos swim?
So now as lockdown lifts, it’s hard to say how I feel. The metaphor of ‘broken mirrors’ in superstitious terms would signify seven years bad luck but in real terms, in real life, it’s six years of bad (more like destroyed) credit, and that is a bitter pill with scary long-term implications. I haven’t been in this much financial trouble since I left Uni. If there IS a second wave, as for so many of us it will be more like a Tsunami (can Gruffalo’s swim btw?!) so we’re constantly on tenterhooks just kind of crapping our pants…
And THAT’S how lockdown has been for me, thanks for asking!