So, here we are. Advancing well on the roadmap out of virusville and, big hurrah, I’m afforded a little bit of freedom during my last trickle of maternity leave. Soon, I will be returning to work.

As tempting as might be to lament what I could have won during a ‘normal’ mat leave, I’m not going to torture myself – or you, dear reader. But with the sand timer slowly running out, I suppose I’m going through a processing period following a heavy nine months, which has left me with a weird cocktail of emotions.

Of course, there’s always the delicious joy of our tiny human. But you just can’t avoid the bitter taste that remains after the isolated and lonely existence of being a new mum during a global pandemic. And it’s certainly taken its toll, particularly during these last few months. By the time my wife had finished work to begin her chunk of shared parental leave a week or so ago, I was barely able to drag my vacant carcass around. It was a potent combination of a baby hurtling through development and only the four walls of our house plus me for entertainment all day, alongside his fervent aversion to meaningful sleep. Well, you get the picture. I was bloody knackered, I tell thee.

Did I mention the last hurrah of my mat leave will be spent co-parenting with my wife?

Sharing parental leave was always in our plan, pandemic or not, and a fortuitous fluke of factors, including the many bank holidays that occur in spring, means that we have been able to take advantage of a bloody lovely, long crossover period. And, having survived the past nine months, I cannot tell you how much I could squeal at the mere thought of all that lovely family time.

Hayley-Jane SimmsWhen it comes to the outside world, the boy has a lot to catch up on. Exposing him to situations for the first time, which, in more ordinary times, would have been an automatic part of his world can sometimes make me strangely emotional. During the first time where he experienced a park rammed with feral kids, you could almost see the little cogs turning as he realised that other children exist. He couldn’t give a fudge about his first encounter with a swing. Instead, he was utterly transfixed by the fellow small human who was now his swing neighbour.

These are the things that you don’t necessarily realise that your tiny person might have inadvertently bypassed during a pandemic. Simple things such as having hardly any exposure to other children. Recently, he sat in a highchair in a public place for the first time and was alongside another baby of the same age. We watched as he kept reaching out to touch his little friend as if to check she was real and not figment of his imagination.  

Any fears that I may have harboured regarding his strange start and how he could be wary of the world, well, I think it’s safe to say we’re all good on that front as he appears to thrive around people. In fact, now he’s had a small sip of the world that beckons, the mere sight of the front door opening and he’s flapping his arms in excitement. To be fair, I’m with him on that front and so, off we go on our family escapades. We’re grabbing any opportunity we can to let our adventure boy explore the world and, finally, we’re able to experience what being a family is like outside our teeny orbit.

As I write, we’re packing for our first family holiday. Yes, most of the facilities at the place where we are staying are shut. Nevertheless, we’re going to gobble it up. Even if he keeps us up all night doing his favourite Pterodactyl impression. Who cares? We’re free.

By Hayley-Jane Sims