Here some gorgeous, local mothers share with us what their lockdown has been like these last few months…

Alice Olins

I live on a different planet at the moment. It spins on an unfamiliar time and sanity axis and is literally flooded with parenting. Work tends to float around on this parenting sea like driftwood in the distance. Sometimes I unexpectedly find myself clinging on, paddling desperately to stay afloat whilst getting through my To Do list. Then bam, I’m back in the waters, drowning in parenting again, but weirdly – and unexpectedly – feeling rather content in this vast ocean of family time. 

I would like to point out that I am not a bobbing about in the water type person. I actually find it very hard to relinquish myself to the natural elements; I am a work-at-her-desk type girl. I also like childcare. I have 3 children (Monty, who is a bonny 7 month old baby, and my daughters, Pearl and Tallulah, 8 and 6 years old respectively), as well as my own business. And once upon a time, I had a social life too. I have always been a very present parent, but I love my work. I also love school for its dropping off approach to education.  

Now, of course I am being pummelled by the home-school storm, with no hope of a rescue boat on the horizon and a husband (ship’s mate) who is under a ton of pressure in the upstairs office. 

I tried to win lockdown with work rotas and school timetables. Well that was a fail. I needed to let a new rhythm emerge and you know what, it has – and it’s rather wonderful. A walk in the park first thing, home-school until lunch, catching up on my coaching while the baby sleeps, and then afternoons that kind of blend into one. 

Caveat: there have been plenty of dark skies and I am not looking back with rose-tinted spectacles. But, there is wonder in difference.   

Yes I wake at 5am worried about how I am going to find time to get my work tasks in check. And yet I’ve somehow developed and sold a new crisis-related coaching program and so I’m not just supporting my family at sea now, I’m also guiding my clients too. And guess what? I haven’t sunk yet. 

Obviously this voyage wasn’t planned, and while I would take the universal suffering away in an instant if I could, I also want to cling desperately to these floating days under the sun. Because they’ll be gone just as quickly as they arrived, and then I will have to do pick-up in the rain, rush to ballet already late, whilst preparing for that work event at 6pm sharp. 

What I’ve learnt while out at sea is that I can swim quite well in a storm, and that my family, for all their snack-requests, equivalent fraction stress and tantrums, are the best crew a working Mummy could ask for. 

If you are struggling with work in the crisis, Alice offers one-to-one career coaching and her new Covid-crisis related Reset And Recover program will run again in September. Find out more details at www.stepupclub.co

 – or email hello@stepupclub.co and mention Queens Park Mums for a 20% on all Step Up services and products. 

Michelle Medjeral-Thomas

As I’m writing this, my 3-year-old is taking pleasure in tormenting me by smashing my laptop buttons while cackling wildly. This sums up much of my lockdown experience; like so many, the precarious juggling act of trying to be productive and taking care of my three beloved children. I’m Michelle, a 37-year-old mum of a 3, 5 and 7-year-old. I’m half Argentinian and half Singaporean, but London has been home since I was 16. My husband, Nick is an NHS consultant specialising in kidney medicine. We are renovating a property on College Road into two flats, a Pilates Studio and my Art Gallery, The Contemporary London that will open in September.

I’m a list maker and an organiser and I like things just so. Scrolling through my phone notes the other day, I came across my ‘Lockdown List’ a now comical memorial of the things I’d intended to achieve daily including, “10,000 steps, one work out, read one chapter (from the graveyard of novels on my side-table), and practice my Spanish Duolingo”. I was going to accomplish things that I hadn’t had time to do in normal life and emerge a bootcamp-improved version of myself. I have achieved nothing on my list. Instead we have danced in the kitchen, made dens in the living room, built insect nests in the garden, learnt the lyrics to Frozen 2 and dabbled in homeschooling. Incidentally, my eldest tells me I’m the worst teacher. He is right. Patience is not my virtue. My kitchen has never reverberated with so much yelling and bickering, matched with heartfelt cuddles and sorries by children and parents alike. It hasn’t been plain sailing, but we have been fortunate; we are together, we have a garden (and have had sun), we haven’t faced job insecurity and most importantly, our loved ones have remained healthy. I know the pause of lockdown has wreaked havoc on peoples livelihoods, mental health and economy, but on a personal note I have also welcomed the slower pace, the togetherness of time with my children, valuing the weekends when my husband can be with us, the cleaner air, less traffic, the simple joy of walking the dog, and the realisation that, like so much of my micro-managing and to-do lists, to quote Elsa, I just need to “Let it go”.

Michelle Medjeral-Thomas

The Contemporary London

www.thecontemporarylondon.com

Insta: @thecontemporarylondon

You can follow our College Road renovation journey on @houseontherise

Maxine Monu

I came along just after Bob Marley died in 1981, and spent my whole childhood in Southgate, north London. I now live in Harlesden with my incredible other half and our two kids, aged 4 and 6. My mum also stays with us when she’s not back in Jamaica – and as luck would have it, she’s been with us on lockdown since mid-March. 

I’ve been a wordsmith for over a decade: speeches, corporate communications, blogs, ghostwriting, research…if you can write it, I probably have, and I now do it part-time, from home. My side hustle and future full-time gig is my homebaking business, Den Bake Shop. I design original buttercream cakes, with a massive emphasis on quality ingredients and flavour – organic flour, unrefined cane sugar, free range eggs, from scratch details, the works.

Having a full house all day, every day, has been a real test of our tolerance as a family, of course. We have never been more grateful for our own space and for having a backyard to turf the kids out into, not least since we’re shielding my mum – the park is off limits unless we’re there at the crack of dawn. The work/homeschooling juggle has come close to breaking our spirits a few times, but we’ve also been able to cater directly to the kids’ learning styles and have lots of one-on-one time.

When George Floyd was murdered in the US, we were still reeling from the chilling footage of Ahmaud Arbery’s death and the awful waste of Breonna Taylor’s life by police. Trying to mentally process those killings, the disproportionate toll that COVID-19 has taken on Black and other communities of colour here both in the US and here, and the racist attack that led to Belly Mujinga’s death, meant I found myself sobbing on the floor at the end of May. I poured that pain into a Facebook post, which a couple of friends asked me to make public. I’ve been stunned at how widely it resonated, and it does feel like there may be a growing willingness to acknowledge of how deeply embedded racism in Britain really is, at last. I’m now feeling cautiously optimistic; can this anti-racist momentum really carry through to sustained, systemic change? We must ensure for our children that it does.

Maxine Monu

Den Bake Shop

Instagram : www.instagram.com/denbakeshop

Facebook : www.facebook.com/DenBakeShop/

Leah McLaren

The week before schools shut down my husband Rob came home from work and said, “I think maybe you should pack up the kids and go.” I’d just come back from Sainsbury’s in Labroke Grove with a litre of ginger beer and three tubes of honey mustard Pringles having failed at an attempted panic shop on account of all the other more organised panic shoppers before me. The meat, dairy, cereal, fruit and bread aisles had been completely wiped out and everyone was wandering around muttering to themselves or taking pictures looking bewildered and upset. Although logically I knew there was little threat of an actual food shortage in London, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t rattled by the sight of a ransacked Sainsbury’s superstore. 

We have three boys (my stepson Jack, 11, Solomon 7 and Frankie 3) who collectively exist on a diet of 90 percent refine carbs. Would they tear their father and me to pieces as we slept like a pack of snarling gluten-starved wolf cubs? Another concern, in light of the imminent lockdown: Our lack of a garden. Technically we had a small one but when a baby selfishly hijacked my study for a nursery I spent months convincing Rob to forgo his dream of a trampoline in favour of my dream of a writing shed. “Trampolines are hideous eyesores,” I said. “At least a shed can be covered in jasmine vines. If the kids want to play outdoors we’re five minutes walk to the park.” Okay fine, ten. Forty-seven with a sobbing toddler. Anyway, I got my writing shed so it was fine.

But now that the boys are older and rogue indoor footballs have wiped out two SmartTVs, an antique lamp and most of our nice glassware I was beginning to regret my decision. It was a feeling not helped by my husband’s irritating habit when one or all the boys are whinging or punching each other, of gazing wistfully out the kitchen window toward the spot where they might instead be contentedly bouncing and giggling separated from their parents by a pane of double-glazed glass — if only someone hadn’t selfishly put writing shed there.

Rob had to stay in London to work (he’s an editor at a Sunday newspaper which requires him to go into the newsroom 2-3 days a week even during peak lockdown in order to get the paper out). Jack goes back and fourth between our place and his Mum’s in Holland Park. I, on the other hand, am working on a book which theoretically means I can work anywhere, so long as my children are asleep or on iPads so the next day I packed up the car and drove the two younger boys and Tara, our patient and lovely Irish au pair — who really is like a the responsible daughter I longed for but never had – to a small rented country cottage in Wales. 

We arrived less than a week before the “no unnecessary travel” restriction was announced and opted to stay put since it seemed daft to drive four people five hours back to London in the name of “staying home.” I figured we’d be there for a couple of weeks but in the end stayed almost two months. The weather was glorious which I know was also true of London but seemed particularly magical in our remote patch south-west Wales where last summer (the sheep farmer’s wife informed me) it rained for 86 days straight. Solomon quickly gave up on online schooling in favour of “outdoor learning” which consisted of long daily rambles in the woods during which he’d exuberantly describe whatever “world” he was building on Minecraft and ignore my earnest mini-lectures on the mating habits of red kites and culinary possibilities of foraged wild garlic. 

So in the end our lockdown was fine. We were lucky in innumerable ways so many others were not – a privilege for which I continue to feel both grateful and slightly guilty. The sheep farmer across the way sold us eggs and there was plenty of bread and pasta and wine at the village Co-op. I fell madly in love with rural Wales (I’m originally Canadian which made the medieval hilltop castles seem all the more dizzyingly exotic). The boys went happily feral and Tara continued to dry and tong her beautiful blonde hair each day as only a 21-year-old Irish country girl silently pining for the city can do. 

The separation from Rob and Jack was obviously the hardest part but we managed with Facetime dinners and remote bedtime stories. I tried to keep in touch with friends but quickly tired of Zoom socialising (don’t even talk to me about Houseparty), with the notable exception of my poetry club, a group of women writers who meet regularly at our homes in north west London to discuss poetry over dinner — basically a book club for time-strapped literary nerds.

What happened with poetry club during lockdown was interesting. Normally we meet at each other’s homes once or twice a school term. One member cooks a delicious and elaborate dinner which we eat while laughing and gossiping and drinking too much wine, only getting down to the poetry after the pudding’s been cleared and we’re all over-fed and tipsy. We’ve tried to simplify the format or meet up more regularly but we all like to cook plus we have kids and jobs and partners and social lives so it’s just not feasible. During the lockdown though poetry club increased its frequency, meeting on Zoom fortnightly, sometimes even weekly. Naturally we don’t enjoy each other’s conversation or cooking in the way we used to but the ritual of reading poems to each other is strangely soothing. Additionally there’s the meaning and connection we draw from the language, combined with the novelty of having an absorbing and intelligent adult conversation about something other than Covid 19. 

I’ve always loved poetry club but in quarantine it has been an unexpected solace. Not a single poem has been specifically about the pandemic and yet somehow all of them are. I’ll leave you with a short one, Wild Geese by the late American poet Mary Oliver,  chosen by my friend Daisy, which I’ve returned for comfort again and again in this strange and unsettling time.

Wild Geese 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

by Mary Oliver