In ordinary times, people might celebrate with having family and friends round, perhaps having a full scale party. Some people might even hire a hall or combine the occasion with a naming ceremony. While restrictions due to covid-19 are easing in the UK generally at the time of writing, there are still restrictions in place around larger gatherings and local lock-downs in some areas. So re-framing expectations can be a helpful approach – if we can’t throw a party, how can we mark the occasion?
While we may not have the option to have a big party, we can still have a few family and/or friends over, depending on what the local rules are. We can also choose to get creative with the extra flexibility a smaller group might offer for activities. We chose to go on a 1st birthday hill walk followed by a staycation.
This might be a scrapbook, photobook, portrait for the wall, coffee mug for returning to work after maternity leave or – for us – a clock for your baby’s nursery.
We’ve been keeping a time capsule during covid-19 with a record of our lives during this time. We have kept birthday cards, photos, home education projects and worksheets for my daughter, paintings, stickers..
I was introduced to the idea of using poetry to mark children’s birthdays at a parent and toddler group at our local Rudolf Steiner School. I really like the idea generally, and with more time to be creative at home now seemed the perfect time to try it. I took the advice not to fuse too tightly with poetry rules and allow the words that mattered to come to the fore. I initially liked the idea of rhyming but combining that with an alphabet structure got too restrictive.
Here’s what I came up with ..
A is for Adorable entropy and alarming charm
B is for Biting boobs, burps and head bumps, beaches and baba babbles,
C is for Car seat stand offs and covid-19, complaints, cruising, coos and cold tea cuddles,
D is for Destroying and destruction as Daddy’s little boy
E is for Eating money, grass and steak pie
F is for Fun with family and friends, first smiles and steps on sea and sand
G is for Giggles and guinea pigs, Growls and grabs, garden games and granny’s new potatoes with the Grand old Duke of York
H is for Hair pulling, hugs and head shaking with Humpty Dumpty
I is for Ice-cream and ice cube painting
J is for Jumping for joy
K is for Kicking first balls, human and otherwise
L is for Love, laughter and lockdowns
M is for Mischief, mayhem, movement, music and magic
N is for No sleep, no “free time”, no adult social life, not minding
O is for Octopus bath toys and envying the mummy octopus her limbs
P is for Peekaboo in the Pentlands, page turning and tearing
Q is for the Quickest year of my life with moments in slow motion
R is for Rages over 5 second delays for feeds, rhymes and running down slopes
S is for Squirrels stealing our strawberries causing frustration
T is for Ten night feed nights cutting ten teeth, and for two handed walking with human pull along toys
U is for Unbelievable cuteness
V is for Vrooming the car round the kitchen
W is for Widging wiggles wanders and wonders, and for weeing on faces, including one’s own
X is for Xylophones and Xray free zones
Y is for Yoghurts and yummy specks from the floor, and for sibling Yin and Yang
Z is for Zebras, zoos, zoom and zzz (well, hopefully sometime soon?!)
I’ve been reflecting on the similarities and differences of having my daughter as a baby in ordinary times and my son as a baby during covid-19. My daughter and I went to a lot of baby classes and groups as well as playdates. We were able to go to groups that were multi-cultural and meet families from a variety of backgrounds who took a diverse range of approaches to parenting. I enjoyed hearing about how families were influenced differently by their own backgrounds and experiences, and it helped me appreciate that while there are typical parenting patterns in Scotland that are well known and reinforced by statutory agencies, these are not always evidence based or right for everyone. For example, it is typical in Scotland for babies to sleep in cots and the NHS advice would be to do that. However, in many other countries co-sleeping is considered normal and encouraged. Both my children have quickly demonstrated to me that while cots may be advocated as the safest sleeping solution for all, they are a liability in cots. They would both roll around constantly, bang their heads and wake themselves up every half hour. They also love climbing. So for me, cots lead to no sleep and bruised heads. From baby groups with a more diverse group of mums I learned that co-sleeping could be a valid option, following guidelines on how to do it safely (no duvet, no pillow, no alcohol). By co-sleeping up to the age of 6 months I got enough sleep to function as a good enough parent which I wouldn’t have had if I persisted with the cot – so for us, co-sleeping was the best and safest fit with our needs.
With covid-19, my son enjoyed groups and playdates for his first six months, but his second six months have been without groups and his social contact generally has been much reduced due to the risks and restrictions. I’m very aware I’m lucky to be a second time mum during covid-19 and I worry about first time mums who might not get the opportunity to go to groups and new mum meet ups. A likely consequence of losing out on groups is that parents will largely meet more with other parents similar to themselves, which will reduce exposure to different solutions and experiences that might help solve parenting challenges like sleeping, weaning and toilet training – for each of these the local average is not what has worked for my children. I worry that as a society we will get more egocentric and WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialised Rich Democratic). My profession (clinical psychology) lacks diversity (too many WEIRD people in it) and is actively working on ideas to change that (see Twitter). We know that people can suffer ‘us and them’ and ‘in group vs. out group’ thinking biases and that these are unhelpful when our aim might be to connect and relate to others better. If we want our children to learn values around diversity, tolerance and compassion it will be trickier to build the foundations living in segregation. More simply though, I miss sharing the joy of my child with others. I used to enjoy the moments in music classes where one of my children would show their infectious giggle and others would giggle too. I also enjoyed watching the subtle changes every week in what each child could do. During covid-19 I’m aware of relying on myself, my own family and my own resources more as a parent. I’m aware I’m more privileged than many in having those resources, since I have a supportive family and two psychology degrees as well as a permanent job to return to after maternity leave. I feel that through my blog I can act on my value of contributing to a community to offer something to the communal pool of parenting wisdom that is increasingly driven online – it does still take a village to raise a child, even during covid-19. I’ve also joined Instagram for the first time during covid-19, and have enjoyed tapping into a more diverse range of parenting ideas there. However, I continue to miss the human connection of day to day real life relationships. Values and sadness are often two sides of the same coin – where there is a feeling to notice, it’s always worth considering if there’s a value underneath.
For any parent, a child’s birthday is a good milestone to pause for reflection. For me, some other questions I’ve been pondering are –
What memories have we made as a family this year?
Which of these do I want to hold close?
Which would I rather let go?
Given that our minds like to hang onto negative memories to protect us from repeating them, and that not being willing to have memories leads us to think of them even more, how can I accept the memories of events I’d rather had gone differently? And how can I strengthen the links with the memories that mattered most to me so I have a better chance of remembering them?
Am I happy with our direction of travel as a family? Are there any adjustments I need to make to ensure we are moving towards our shared values? How have we been taking care of ourselves as a family this year? How well are these structures meeting our needs as individuals?
What progress have we made this year as a family?
How has having a second baby changed our relationships with each other?
What little things about my son at this age have I noticed recently? What early signs can I see of the toddler he’s becoming?
What do I hope for us in the future?