2022: Two too

2022: Two too

2nd January 2022 0 By Allergendad

Well it’s been a long time! Apparently May was my last blog post but in truth I haven’t been that active as Allergen Dad across 2021 at all. There are multiple reasons for this but actually I’m much more interested in looking forwards at this point than looking back.

There are some big things to update on however… I am now the father of two! Our little baby daughter arrived towards the end of the summer and has, delightfully, turned our world upside down again. Her arrival was quite the contrast to Piglet who arrived in the coldest part of Spring, 5 – nearly 6 – years ago, fairly calmly in a birthing pool in our sitting room. My daughter (who shall hence forth be called ‘Dragon’) arrived by emergency C-section in balmy August. The run up to her birth was a bit of a rollercoaster too: she was at the lower range for acceptable (as in non-concerning) head circumference during pregnancy and as a result tracked pretty low for weight as well. Being right on the boundary meant some medical experts were worried while others just dismissed it. We weren’t generally worried most of the time but extra scrutiny meant more tests and scans to worry about. I won’t go in to the full timeline right now but from about week 20 onwards we went from thinking we were having a home-birth to expecting to be on the labour ward, to hoping to be in the midwife-led birthing centre to fighting the medical team to allow us to have a home-birth to being induced early to a last minute planned c-section (placenta wouldn’t let Dragon out) to eventually a labour ward birth and then an emergency c-section. I’m not sure I could go as far as to say it was traumatic – we were well informed and in safe hands throughout – but it was certainly stressful and we were very relieved to have Dragon delivered safe and sound in the end.

Conscious and standing at this point… In no way a counterfactual to having lay on the floor of the operating theatre to avoid fainting just before the birth!

Being a parent for a second time has been so hysterically different to the first time. All of the initial panic and stress with Piglet disappeared completely with the complacency of parents who have seen it before and have the T-shirt but adding in the chaos of trying to herd two simultaneously brought challenges I could never imagine. Absolutely all of my energy ended up being focused on keeping Piglet sane and my wife retaining any modicum of identity under the battling attentions of two very different little people. The hardest part was actually after a couple of months when the ‘honeymoon’ period for Piglet wore off (he was very excited to have a baby sister and doted on her from the moment she arrived). But there was a clear paradigm shift when he realised that this novelty new tiny human was staying and he would have to permanently have to challenge it for mum’s attention. Cue about two months of unfiltered rage and anger from Piglet (at us, almost never, luckily, at Dragon) as he struggled to process this change. This wore us both down to breaking point multiple times and there were weeks when I couldn’t see how we were ever going to go back to becoming a functional family but a combination of natural progress, excellent research from my wife and primal resilience got us to the much happier place we find ourselves in now. One of the most useful resources was the concept of “Gentle Parenting” and in particular (for me at least) the audio book of “Gentle Discipline” by Sarah Ockwell-Smith (https://sarahockwell-smith.com). This had a profound impact on how I consider my interactions with Piglet and I have no doubt helped tremendously get us back to where we want to be as a family. I wish I had known more of this when I was dealing with Piglet when younger and am sure that Dragon will benefit from both of us knowing it from early in her life.

Focus on the sunset and the adorable baby hat, not in any way the inexplicably bear shoulders…

I feel I should also give a slight nod to COVID and the subsequent lockdowns and general impact to working and socialising and the impact that has had on us for the last two years. My first thought is that we are incredibly lucky: while working effectively has become quite hard, especially in that first lockdown, neither of us has suffered any loss of earnings. Also I’m not aware that either of us has had it, yet, and being now both triple vaccinated, I would hope that the risk to our health directly from COVID is relatively low. The converse, however, is that along with millions of others, I’m sure, I’ve found the changes to everyday life really difficult. I don’t have the clarity of narrative or dexterity with words to explain exactly how but I am now completely sure that my mental health suffered significantly, especially during late 2020 and early 2021. A few things kept me from losing the plot: running, key friends, family etc… But I found my relationship with food harder than I’ve ever found it in my life and there is a part of me that wonders if I will ever remember how to make small talk and get to know new people; things I was arguably not particularly good at when the opportunities to do so were plentiful!

My work life was something I struggled with in particular during the last two years. Being a fairly ambitious and at times high-performing office flunky was made all the more difficult by being at home constantly in a house with one and then two small children. I have had to make a conscientious change to be more flexible and allow the challenges of family life to drive compromises in working commitments that I would never have accepted previously (rightly or wrongly). I should probably be proud of how I’ve eventually adapted to a solution that meets both sets of demands but against a backdrop of multiple corporate restructures (through which I’ve managed to keep my – or at least ‘a’ – job), and therefore new teams that I had never or barely met in person before working from home became the norm, I have become quite disillusioned with my current role or at very least my ability to perform it adequately.

And so that brings me on to my first chance to use the New Year to look forward: In 2022 I will be starting a new job! After 8 years with my current company, in various guises over that time from Nuclear Analyst to Energy Transition Manager, I will be trying something new. The new role is at least a fairly logical step from my current one (unlike my last company change when I moved from high-end fashion into nuclear power plant monitoring!) but I am simultaneously very excited and very nervous about how it will pan out. I have a very strong sensation of what I now know to call ‘Imposter Syndrome’ where I am convinced that the interview process was all a lucky fluke and when I turn up on day 1 they will quickly turn me away again. In my heart though, I know that it’s a great opportunity and that I could be really good at it. I just need to see it as an opportunity to rebuild a bit of confidence and find the performance and impact of a few years ago rather than the last 18 months.

The new job does start a sort of chain reaction of other changes too. While I can commute to the new office location (Oxford) from where we currently live, and will do so for at least the first few months, it gives us a chance to move to somewhere where we might have a bit more space. Something which is much needed considering that Dragon does not currently have a bedroom and Piglet’s bedroom is barely big enough for him, let alone share with a baby sister. It also gives us a chance to choose somewhere that represents a more long-term solution for working from home. A desk that fully fits the keyboard on it would be a good start! That does mean fully committing to living in the countryside though. Something I am coming round to with surprising ease. Having grown up in the middle of a city and the subsequently living in picturesque places such as York, Bristol, Bath and Windsor; our current home feels distinctively rural and out next home is very likely to be tucked away in the fields of south Oxfordshire. I guess it’s a sign of age (and punctuated by lockdown) that the immediate vicinity of amenities within a city are less important and the lure of a utility room or garage start to grow! I’m enjoying the window-shopping stage of house hunting to work out what sort of budget we’d need to work to and scope out towns and villages that do or don’t appeal. I suspect the actual process of trying to buy and sell and eventually move will be much more stressful. But we’ll cross that bridge, potentially literally, when we get to it.

The less desirable, albeit probably necessary, change that follows is to move Piglet to a new school. It’s sad for multiple reasons – we love the school and its ethos for a start – but even if I was happy to settle for the longer commute permanently, the cost of houses around here would make it very difficult to ever get the space I think a family of 4 probably deserve; especially when working somewhere further from London where house prices (excluding Oxford itself) are understandably lower. I know nothing of the process of moving a child between schools outside of the usual timetable of changing schools. There’s a lot of research to do next. My only hope is that we can time it to coincide with the start/end of his school year. We’ve spoken to Piglet a bit around the concept (he’s not likely to miss that we’ve been physically going to look at houses that are 40 mins drive away) and he’s surprisingly receptive to the idea. There are a couple of friends he’ll be heartbroken to leave behind and I suspect there will be tears at both leaving and starting somewhere new. But he’s such an outgoing and sociable soul, I’m confident he’ll make new friends very quickly.

The upside to getting Piglet to move schools is that mum could be around a bit more to help him settle in. My wife is on maternity leave currently and would be due to go back to teaching in September. That is very much still an option and would be possible from the locations we’ve looked at moving to. But we have been discussing the option of her not going back immediately. There is even the potential for her to set up her own business which could see her working a timetable to suit her and presenting a fundamentally different challenge to the unfortunate burden of teaching in the current academic structure. It’s very much still one to think through but an exciting option if we could make it work.

There’s still a lot to be decided and I’m aware how cliche it sounds but I feel like 2022 could be a significant new chapter in our family story. It’s not to say that we’re unhappy as such, but I think it’s clear that there are a few cogs we could adjust slightly to see significant improvements to our quality of life. A combination of our small house and lack of focus on decluttering has meant that ‘home’ has become a small stress trigger for all of us. It’s remarkable how much our collective mood changes when we just get out and sit in the car as a first step to going somewhere somedays. We also don’t see people in social settings as much as I think we should (and COVID can only take so much responsibility for that if we’re honest with ourselves). We have several good friends who have also gravitated towards Oxford and would definitely be able to see them more. But also, a home with slightly more space would make it so much easier to host and entertain than it is currently. Beyond that though, I think our fertility challenges coupled with stressful and/or lack of work satisfaction have seen us in survival mode for a few years now. The arrival of Dragon and the impetus to make necessary changes feels like a catapult to think about our purpose and focus in a new light. I’m genuinely excited about what the next year has in store for us and hopefully having the time and energy to share the most newsworthy parts of it here. If nothing else there’s an entire city and surrounding towns and villages to write up food reviews for!

I hope that you are also able to look at 2022 with a hint of optimism, even if driven by the necessity of changes coming out of two fairly challenging years. But irrespective of your level of rosiness on the warmest New Year’s Day in the UK on record, I urge you to eat well, rest well and move your body in however you find it best responds to. I certainly intend to run deep and far in to 2022. Oxford half-marathon in October anyone?

Toodlepips! X

Here are a few pictorial highlights of 2021