DD’s 55th Woodford Diary

swvgbabypaintseptoct22cmyk400©Evelyn Rowland

Some South Woodford scribbles from DD, our resident diarist, commentator and observer of all things local

Over the past few years, we’ve gladly clapped for our ‘keyworkers’. Now, I invite you to applaud another batch.

“For three Covid months, they just held him up at the window for me to see, so there was a bit of a backlog of hugs waiting for him.” In George Lane, Karen enjoyed chatting about her grandson. “He’s three now.” She shares part of all his days now. “My mother helped me, so I help my daughter. It’s as simple as that.”

“Is parenting like you expected?” I asked Katrina. She was enjoying a cup of coffee with friends at Costa. She needed no prompting: “I love it,” she replied and then launched in: “I have two sons, 10 and 12. I am recharging all the time – that’s what it feels like – seeing them grow into good people. The kindness I have invested in them is being reflected in their kindness to others. In a very, very minuscule way, I hope I am contributing some good to the world. I see them having to make choices in a world that’s different from the one I grew up in. But I’m there for them.”

“Thoughts on parenting?” Matthew was happy to pause. (It was during the heatwave and we had some shade.) He was strolling home with Audrey, their Covid baby, and Livia, due to start school in September. “It’s full on! We had no childcare early in lockdown. I felt I was juggling our life. We have the young kids and the elderly parents too. That’s the stage we’re at. And I am pushing my career forward at the same time. But it is all so obviously worthwhile!”

On a bench outside M&S another dad was sitting, with his wrist heavily bandaged and a sleeping baby in a buggy. Doing his shift, I thought. “I wouldn’t mind talking but actually I’m at work. Expecting another call any minute.” In his good hand, his iPhone was buzzing. Another juggling multitasker.

Outside Boots, two mums were exploring possibilities for the six-week summer holiday challenge. Upbeat, merry characters, both of them. Denise has children 10, 11 and 14. Xanthe has two, aged six and eight. Both are working as teachers. Both eagerly joined the discussion: “Much more has been expected of us during lockdown… Much harder to achieve a work-life balance… Marking work from pupils but also being the teacher at home, like other mums and dads… ‘You’re not my teacher! You’re my mum!’ That’s what my son says. ‘I’m not going to listen to you!’… Our children have been getting one-to-one tutoring from us at home. That’s more than they get at school. So, it’s pretty demanding… But I admit it: I cried my eyes out when they were able to return to school. Now, we’ll be famous! Appearing in the South Woodford Village Gazette!”   

Leon and Lorena were having lunch with their children at Zest. Their son was graduating from the nursery that day. A landmark: caps and gowns expected. Very exciting. “We both work,” said Lorena. “It’s not all fun and laughter; I often feel I’m trying to keep some control over the day. But it’s wonderful to see them flourishing.” Leon joined in: “We love seeing them learn. They come out with knowledge we didn’t know they had. They ask so many questions. You see how their minds are working. But at times, when I’m alone at home, I sit down on the sofa. No TV. I just savour the sound of silence.” 

Holly was sitting outside Creative Biscuit with one of her two boys, waiting for a lift. He’d been to a birthday party there. He was hugging a large balloon. “I’m four and three-quarters,” he informed me. “D’you like my hat?” I did. Holly was in thoughtful mood. “It’s not really like I expected being a mum. I’m managing to do four days’ work each week. We can see the children’s nursery from our front gate, so that’s really convenient. It’s a bit like being on a hamster wheel. That’s the best way I can describe it. But, you know, I was watching the news yesterday: war in Ukraine, the cost-of-living crisis, mushrooming Covid cases. And I feel very grateful that we are where we are and coping.” Her husband’s car appeared. We said goodbye.

Katy was breezing along with Molly in a pushchair. Stopped dead at the idea of chatting about her children. “I gave up my job when our daughters arrived.” “You could manage financially?” “Yes, we made lots of sacrifices, of course; my husband fully supported me. Covid was actually quite helpful; we didn’t go out much, so we spent less, and my husband worked from home. I feel quite trembly already at the thought of Molly going to school. My babies’ time will be over.” “Do you regret giving up your job?” “Never. You really know what your kids are passionate about this way: Molly at two just wants to climb, to be athletic, to dance. Lottie is four and she’s desperate to read. She’s much more cerebral. She’s cracked a lot of it. I have been helping her but I did it without feeling I was teaching her. More as if it was a competition with little prizes. Another thing: I was an only child myself, so I’m learning about sibling relationships. I see how important they are. I will go back to work in a year or so. But meanwhile, we are all together.”

I started to move away but she called me back: “Oh, by the way, I have also realised there is no ‘time off in lieu’ for mothers. Last Saturday, I suddenly said to my husband (he’s terrific with the girls), ‘I’m going out. I’ll be back in four hours.’ I just walked out. I walked to Leytonstone. Weird, really. I sat down in a café and had a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. And I was quiet and still, watching the world go by.”