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Pandemic FOMO

After over two years of coping with a global pandemic I am dealing with what I have started calling Pandemic FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Over the summer, as the pandemic entered yet another surreal stage -- a stage where normal life seemed to be allowed to resume, as people cast off masks and barely anyone mentioned it, even those who had it -- and I found myself saying yes to everything and in a state of constant overscheduling and exhaustion.

On one Sunday, my son C said to me, "Mummy, on Saturday, you almost lost your mind." I thought, perhaps he has a point. 

Needing more time to watch bees

But yet, it's hard to say no. When you go through over two years of having so many elements of your life restricted, when the world is cast in overwhelming sadness of death and loss, it makes you realize how you have to embrace the good things when you can, be grateful for what you have and not miss a single minute of life. 

Ergo, saying yes to going to two weddings in June -- on the same day. There were friends visiting from out of town, playdates, parties, holidays to plan, and I have something equivalent to a new job. There is a lot going on, not to mention our usual caring responsibilities as a family, for a young son and my mother-in-law. 

I don't regret for a single moment any of the exciting things we've done so far this year, although I am starting to realize that something has to give. As much as I want to seize the day, it is starting to defeat the purpose. Recently on a Sunday, C was having a total meltdown and I felt similar, after another punishing weekend of constant plans. 

I looked at our pre-schooler having a tantrum and suddenly my own recent malaise and exhaustion made sense -- of course he was a hot mess -- I wasn't faring well either, so someone his age with far fewer coping mechanisms was bound to fall apart. 

And as summer has turned to autumn, things have not slowed down, but in fact got even busier. That's why I have been trying to practice building in more down time. One weekend in late summer, after a lovely morning of wandering among the blooms planted in the moat at the Tower of London, the three of us sat in a pub having lunch. The Hub picked up his phone to google tours of the HMS Belfast. 

"No!" I said firmly. "We are going home." 

And so we did. And spent the rest of the day pottering around the house. As I sat folding laundry in the living room while C played with his trains, I felt the happiest I had in weeks.

Until it was time to get ready for the babysitter to arrive, as we had a table booked at the top of the Shard for the Hub's birthday. Old habits die hard.  

I stand by my desire to do things in this life, to say yes, and to seize the moments when I can. The way the world is and has been over the last few years continues to teach me that we must do this. However, these moments don't have to all be dinners in the sky or three exciting activities in one day. 

Small moments can be the big moments. Having no set plans and discovering a new expansive park in London at the end of a tube line can be more fulfilling -- and let's be frank, more restful and relaxing -- which is what weekends are supposed to be for. As the holiday season fast approaches and life doesn't seem to be slowing down in the slightest this is something I'm going to keep working on!   

On Being A Bad Driver

Last year we finally bought a car. I've always lived in cities post college, and until having a kid the Hub and I never felt we needed one -- plus of course all the environmental and cost reasons. But with caring for an elderly parent added to our lives as well as having a toddler and a global pandemic thrown in for good measure, we decided it could help make things just that bit easier.

And so, as an experiment, we bought my mother-in-law's 14-year-old car that was just sitting in her driveway. 

I got my license in the U.K. back in 2016, which was already a challenge. But becoming a driver again as a new car owner has been a whole new world. 

The last time I drove regularly was during my junior and senior years of high school - when I was 17 and 18 years old! I was honestly knee-knockingly nervous about driving again, particularly in a city like London, and on the opposite side of the road. 

Last time I was a regular driver

For months, the night before I was going to drive, whether it was the hour-long journey to my mother-in-law's house or just to one of our local parks, I would already have butterflies in my stomach. It was not just the actual driving, but the parking, and having to navigate the narrow roads with cars parked on either side, just waiting for someone to honk at my sheepish uncertain driving skills. I was a bad driver, and I knew it. 

But the Hub and I had a rule: I had to drive every weekend, no excuses. If we had nowhere to go, we'd find somewhere, even if it was just to drive to the other side of Streatham to the common - which frankly was too long of a walk anyway when you were trying to get a toddler home in time for his nap. And I kept pushing myself -- I've now done a number of long journeys, including one to Peppa Pig World and one to visit friends near Bath, both with broken air conditioning and a toddler who gets carsick. I'll never think of Winchester again without the all-too-vivid memory of stopping as we drove down the hill on the outskirts of town, stopping to clean the puke out of all the little nooks and crannies of the car seat.   

Thing is, learning how to drive -- again -- has taught me something even more valuable: you can't expect to be good at something if you're out of practice. And there are no shortcuts other than being bad at it for a while, gritting your teeth and doing it. 

This awful discomfort is why I think as people get older they avoid learning new technology, saying they're not capable. It's not that our brains start to fail or we are incapable of learning new things, it's just that the awkwardness of learning something new or re-learning in my case, can be daunting and uncomfortable and we'd just rather not. 

As the weeks and months have rolled by, I stopped feeling so anxious, and now I even barely think about the fact that I will be driving the next day. I wouldn't say I'm a great driver yet -- but I'm getting better and I expect if I keep it up I'll continue to improve (hopefully). I've even stopped using the GPS so much and have started mapping out my own routes -- preferably the straightest routes possible to avoid needing to clean up puke again (so far, so good). 

And the other good news is that for now, having a car has made our lives a lot easier, and maybe even better. During the U.K.'s third lockdown when we were sick to the back teeth of walking to the same parks all the time with the little guy (as park visits were the only thing allowed), we were able to expand our park repertoire. It's been easier to go visit friends, and of course travel to my mother-in-law's house.   

It's been a good reminder of how hard things are worth it. I recently read Glennon Doyle's new memoir Untamed, and in it she writes about her mantra of We can do hard things. I know she meant things more existential than driving, but still, it helps me. In the meantime, I would recommend exercising great caution when driving near Streatham! 

Exploring Self-Compassion

When it comes to the pandemic, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But I've found the past few months have been particularly tough, perhaps even tougher than at the beginning of the pandemic. Here in the U.K. we are still in a third lockdown, and I have been feeling fed up with just about everything. 

To cope, I was doing something that in my mind I was calling "lowering my standards". I decided not to worry so much about how clean our bathroom was or that sometimes our son was eating toast and apples for dinner on the couch next to me in front of an endless loop of Laurie Berkner's "kindie" videos. He has now moved on to a slightly unhealthy obsession with Peppa Pig.

A typical lockdown activity.

And then I was listening to a podcast -- something I do a lot at the moment to break the unbearable silence of working on data on my own in a quiet room -- and the subject of compassion came up. It was not just compassion, but self-compassion, a concept of course I knew about, but not exactly the kind of thing I practice very much of. Sure I'm compassionate to other people, but myself, what does that look like? I've always got to do better, get more done and just get on with things. If things aren't working, then work harder.  

I don't know about you, but I don't feel like I can work any harder at the moment. I was struck by the idea that maybe what I was trying to do wasn't in fact lowering my standards, but more like showing myself some compassion. After all, things are not exactly life as normal at the moment. And then I thought, shouldn't this be something I'm always doing? I'm human just like everyone else and I would never talk to anyone else the way I talk to myself. I was also very interested to learn from this podcast that there are studies that show self-compassion can help with procrastination. That certainly caused me to perk my ears as procrastination is something I have always struggled with.  

I think a lot these days about my actions in a way I haven't before, because now I'm 100% responsible for another human's life. Two years and a bit in, this still feels new and is starting to cause a shift in my own thinking about the way I treat myself, because I need to stay emotionally and physically healthy for someone else. It's that old put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others idea. 

I think there's always the concern that self-compassion means "going easy on yourself" or lowering your standards, as evidenced by my original thinking. But thinking about self-compassion reminded me of something I've read about concerning toddlers. 

One of the constant themes that comes up in parenting books is acknowledging the feelings that toddlers have. And they have some crazy emotions. My toddler has been known to cry over the fact that the peel cannot go back on the banana, that he has to wear a coat outside, or that we won't let him scramble his own eggs.  

The idea is that by acknowledging toddlers' feelings it can help them cope better with this bizarre world that they're getting used to. And what else is compassion other than acknowledging feelings? If you feel heard, it's easier to cope with life's difficulties. Food for thought as we struggle to get out the other side of this mess. Be compassionate, of course to others, but also to yourself. I'm certainly going to try. 

Views are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer. 

Midlife Mama

I never intended to be an older mom. But sometimes things don't end up how you planned. And I think like most things in life, it's less important why it happened, or how you got there. The reality of the situation is that I ended up being a 40-something midlife mama. 

I know that having a kid is a challenge at any age. But I think as an older mom, I feel self-conscious about it more than I'd like, and tend to get worried about the negatives. I fear that at some point someone is going to think that I'm C's grandma, I worry that I won't be around long enough for him, and that he will be embarrassed of us. But I suppose he will be embarrassed of us regardless of our age. 

C at about two months. Me at 42.

Many of my friends have older kids, and it seems as though they have been through what I'm dealing with so long ago. I'm always aware that I'm older than most of my mom friends, in particular the new ones I've made. But then again this is turning out to be more of a positive. Having friends of all ages is great, and think our lives can be all the richer for it. In fact, in recent years I've collected some new older friends as well, as I've got to know a lot of my mother-in-law's friends since she had her accident.  

Those friends of mine with older kids, they are a life saver. They can give me the perspective that every stage passes, and I am constantly reminded by them to treasure the moments I have now with my toddler, as he won't be one for very long. Also, who knew that older kids like babies and toddlers so much? When we were allowed to meet up with one other household over the summer, we got to actually enjoy spending time with some of our friends, as their kids happily played with and entertained C.  

Another thing I really like about being a midlife mama is that I don't care what anyone thinks about my parenting decisions. I'm sure many people would be that way at any age, but for me -- someone who usually cares too much about what other people think anyway -- I don't think five or 10 years ago I would have had the same confidence in my own decisions. I have fed C the way I wanted, worked on his sleep in a way that felt right to us, and although I love to get other people's opinions, we are definitely doing things our way. 

The hub and I have also had a lot of fun and time the two of us already. Whether you're changing diapers, endlessly feeding (and cleaning up after) your child, or just spending yet another Saturday night watching a movie or a box set and eating take away it just doesn't seem like a sacrifice. We've partied, we've traveled and we've spent a lot of time working. Although at the moment, due to the pandemic, it feels like we'll never do any of those things ever again (apart from the working of course).  

For me personally, I struggled a lot with my body in my 30s. I had chronic pain -- which is actually the reason I started this blog in the first place. I feel like I was lucky to have sorted out my pain issues prior to having a child as I can't imagine pregnancy, giving birth or even parenthood while in the middle of that mess. One of the things that has really surprised me about parenthood is how physical a job it really is. I look forward to the day that I have time to take a yoga or zumba class again, but I certainly don't feel like I need extra exercise as when C is around as I rarely get to sit down. 

Instead of focusing on the negatives and my own insecurity, I'm trying to focus on the advantages and the positives of being an older parent, because I want to encourage those people that for whatever reason find themselves as parents at a slightly older age than the average. Because most days I'm just grateful I am lucky enough to be a parent to C at all.  
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