Joyce Fegan: Two life-changing years were shaped by the bug or a buggy — or maybe both

"Everything settles when they reach two."

The parental prophecies of both men, neither of whom dealt in false hope despite a new parent’s desperation for it, have been proven more or less right. The nocturnal child is now two. She has settled — into a consistent pattern of two nightly wakings. We gladly take it.

But there’s a lot pandemic parents don’t know. Scraps of information have been gathered here and there, on mountain tops and over work calls, from the most unlikely of village members. You’re always glad when they’re not virtual.

Pandemic or parenthood?

Now, as we pass the two-year mark of the pandemic, and “get back to normal” despite current case numbers, I’m not sure what parts of my life are parenthood and what parts are pandemic. For me, parenthood and pandemic are synonymous. Their separation is proving tricky, for they both began at the exact same time.

The last two years for most of us have been a mix of masks, routine following, being housebound, lives lived within narrowed geographic confines and loungewear.

“Get your travelling in before the baby comes,” veteran parents said. “Enjoy going out for dinner, just the two of you,” they also said. Well no one could travel and no one could eat out, so what was pandemic for everyone was also parenthood for some.

We're neither fully in, nor fully out

But now that the restrictions are gone, the likes of loungewear hasn’t.

Am I institutionalised, or is this just parenthood? If it had been baby number two that arrived at the end of February 2020, I’d know the answer.

This week my neighbour needed someone to take a new photo of him for his work badge. He had a shirt and blazer on top and jeans on bottom — the upper part the only one on public display. To accurately document the truth, and for posterity’s sake, I photographed the entire rig-out.

The next day, St Patrick’s Day, a friend called from America between work Zooms. She had her mascara on, her hair done and she was wearing a green dress shirt for the day that was in it. When she took us on a virtual tour of her apartment, her flannel PJ bottoms came into view.

We’re neither fully in, nor fully out.

There’s a lot about early parenthood that’s all smeared Sudocrem, odd socks, unshaven faces and “roots” (grown-out highlights). In the name of sleep and peace, personal grooming takes a back seat. Something’s got to give, right? The Sudocrem aside, a lot of that sounds quite pandemic too. Hairdressers and barbers were closed and social lives shrank into non-existence, so personal grooming slipped down the priority list.

Joyce Fegan: Two life-changing years were shaped by the bug or a buggy — or maybe both

What do they say, it takes 21 days to form a new habit, or is it 90, either way, laissez faire grooming had a long time to take hold. Maybe I never liked wearing mascara anyway, and both the pandemic and parenthood provided me with the excuse to retire it completely.

But what I did like was wandering farther afield, be that a spontaneous day trip to Lahinch, followed by salty chips for dinner, or suggesting a long hike on the WhatsApp to friends the night before. Spontaneity and spaciousness were both casualties of the pandemic. There was to be no socialising anyway, so why suggest it, and you couldn’t move outside your 2k at one point, so you made the most of what was inside it.

I’ve yet to recover my sense of spontaneity or spaciousness. Some days I find myself still in the confines of my 2k. Well-worn paths are easy to choose. And my days look a lot like they did, both geographically and structurally speaking, this time last year. Is this pandemic institutionalisation or parental? I’ll answer the latter here, six hours there and back to Lahinch don’t exactly scream idle toddler conditions and now that I think of it, on top of all those mountain peaks, I never saw many buggies.

Instead of asking about sleep, I want to know about adventure. Dear veteran parents: is it standard practice to have a set list of five child-friendly locations, and never shall you deviate? I would hate to think Covid killed adventure.

Dinner, and the evening stretching ahead...

The evening time is another area I have questions about. Dinner is always at the same time, and there’s a set list here too.

Its items you’ll probably be able to guess: a variation on spaghetti Bolognese complete with hidden grated carrot, pasta, chicken, peas, and if we’re lucky, white fish but covered in pesto. The time is the same. The meals are more or less the same.

Deviation again is not welcomed. There’s a strong pandemic feel about this, the routine and the repetition, but instinct tells me that this part of the last two years just happened to mirror parenthood too.

But what about post-sunset socialising? Once bedtime was successfully navigated, book, bath, bed, there was Netflix, whatever biscuit to have with your tea, or an Instagram/Twitter scroll, to look forward to in the pandemic. And everyone was in the same boat.

There was no shame to be felt about your evening’s schedule. Not like you could attend a gig or even a dance class. Again, like the grooming, or lack thereof, this routine bedded in.

I did a recent personal poll of parents, I even asked the women I knew about their partner’s bedtimes. I made sure to ask people who had some pre-pandemic experience of parenthood. Across the board, bedtime for adults of young children is 10pm. This was a small anecdotal body of research, and sometimes bedtime was as early as 9.30pm, but the findings speak for themselves. Parents go to bed early, pandemic or no pandemic.

One other thing, housekeeping. In the rearing of children in the absence of villages of intergenerational and community support, many things have to give. The housework is one of those things. In the pandemic having people into your home was not the legal thing. We got used to it, and we got used to passing piles of laundry on the landing, among other uncompleted domestic chores. We were the only ones who had to co-exist in the chaos.

Much like my neighbour’s suit and jeans ensemble and my friend’s PJ set-up, this feels like a hybrid issue, where pandemic and parenthood meet. In the pandemic we didn’t need to keep on top of the chores — who’d be calling in — and in parenthood there’s not enough time to.

What's your view on this issue?

You can tell us here

Parent or non parent, I’d like to know now that restrictions are gone seven weeks or so, what pandemic habits, psychological or physical, have become a part of your life, and how many of those are by choice or by circumstance?