After 20 years in London I had managed to get tickets for the Christmas lights event at Kew Gardens. I accepted that I would mess up the kid’s bedtime but since we were leaving London I resigned to having him nagging me throughout or just sleeping in his buggy. He spent the whole three hours walking around (he was 2 years and 3 months old), pointing at things, saying “wooooooooooooooowwwwwwwww, look mommy” and having a whale of a time. It was the first time we had actual fun together – i.e. not just him having fun and me helping. I was looking at him toddling around, waving at people and wanting to touch the lights, with such a sense of wonder and all I could think of was how proud I was that he is an enthusiastic Londoner, just like me. This is definitely not what parenting feels like most times but I had to break it to you gently.
This is the best description I can give you of how having a child feels to me. When I was pregnant I had more amniotic fluid than expected. This can be a number of things, some treatable – like gestational diabetes – some worrying – like serious foetal abnormalities. I had done a number of tests and the only thing left would be to risk an amniocentesis. I sat at my mum’s kitchen table, paralysed with fear, unable to make a rational decision cause nobody can guarantee you that’s a risk you should or should not take. I made the best choice I could make, completely unable to say if I had taken the right decision and hoped that it would all work out in the end. Basically, that’s how parenting feels like to me most of the time. You try to study and ask the specialists, you think about things seriously but ultimately nobody can tell you how to do it and you have to do the best you can, hoping that it will all work out in the end.
Before the spawn, I knew I wanted children theoretically and I also suspected that it was a good thing I didn’t have them earlier. This is because I was both not ready and with completely unsuitable partners (most lovely people and suitable generally, just not the right match). Upon reaching 38 I also surmised that the famed clock just doesn’t tick for all of us and decided to honour the vague notion that I wanted children, especially since I had found the right partner.
The idea of the right partner is also a bit of a joke because nobody knows what sort of parent they will become until they get the actual child – at which point there are no backsies. So I chose a life partner having no idea what parent either of us would become and that could have gone horribly wrong but somehow it worked. It’s a mystery to me how humanity has survived considering that parenthood is sucha gotcha moment. I digress.
Being pregnant in London was a breeze. I had my little tube pin and people gave up their seats – and when they didn’t I was old enough and not British enough to ask them to do so. My workplace was flexible and so I worked from home when I had to. I also had no relatives and Greek friends around to constantly express their opinions about my lifestyle and the fact that I was travelling constantly for work. Apart from the major drama of the amniotic fluid we managed to have a good 9 months, calling the foetus “little pea”, preparing his room and thinking that parenthood would be completely different than what it actually is.
When he was born we were between two first names and we chose Philip because his one eye was closed the first couple of days. You take your laughs where you can get them post-birth. And his middle name is Ecthelion because I wanted dedicated fans only to know how deep our fandom went.
Bringing the kid home though was whole different story. I very quickly understood what a complete lie is the idea that two people can raise a child. It takes a village. Suffering from some spectacularly bad baby blues I was saved by my NCT group, my friends (some of them online) and my family members who took it in turns to come and deliver us from the utter desperation of sleep deprivation. I spent the first four months sleep deprived with my nipples chewed off as both the kid and I were trying to get to know each other and Antonis was trying to support us both. At the six month mark we took him to his room and I stopped breastfeeding. Both I and the kid did much better after that – turns out we both needed our autonomy.
London with a child is different. I had to be exposed to infuriating services – with midwives calling me “mum” instead of with my name. They were designed badly, the waiting times were long and the approach patronising. It drove me absolutely fucking mad. Accustomed to being a professional woman with a voice I was reduced to a “mommy” who was dismissed. I started noticing how disappointing I found a lot of parenting approaches around me. Before I lost my nut completely I went back to work and started feeling alive again but with that said, I would not wish the first year on anyone.
We split the first year between us – the UK having a Shared Parental Leave policy. I took six months and then Antonis took another six. As his return to work was looming closer we were faced with the chaos of the pandemic – what the heck would we do since child care was not available? Enter my rock n roll mother and my stepdad who upped and moved to London for a bit of an adventure. We rented them a little house close to ours and in the midst of lockdown we had family close and somewhere to go when cabin fever was a distinct possibility.
Having the grandparents here meant that Philip – and they – blossomed. It was like having 3 Londoners in training around all the time. All three of them were learning things like how to take the bus, how to go to the GP, how to enjoy the park, when to take the tube and when not, what’s a proper Sunday roast and how to survive the winter. My mother quickly got over her reluctance to go for a walk with Philip when it was cold cause… it was cold quite a lot. Grandpa took him along when he was mowing the grass and taught him how to tend the flowers of their little London garden.
Eventually nurseries and schools reopened and we sent Philip for a couple of days – pandemic babies being in desperate need of socialisation. His language skills improved no end, he started using knife and fork and begun singing songs with a London accent that I find adorable. From a shy boy in the beginning I am told that he is now helpful, kind and a little bossy – our true offspring to be sure.
Just before the pandemic we went and bought a travel buggy. It was a light number, collapsible with one hand – while holding the baby in the other – and I had so many ideas about how much fun we would have together, riding the tube to some London thing. Well, you know what happened next. Still, we didn’t do too badly. Epping forest is close to us so we got him super excited about trees, leaves and ducks. And mud. Obviously. And we did manage to do some London things – most memorably taking him to Fortnum & Mason for afternoon tea where he was utterly captivated by the pianist and the pretty colours.
When we went to the nursery for a parent’s evening I only had one question to ask, if he’s kind. I’m very aware that he is an only child and regardless of how much we try not to spoil him he’s undoubtedly caught on to his own importance. But this is what I was told he does: They have little water cups in the nursery for each child, with their photo on it. Whenever a child sits and plays alone, Philip goes in search of their cup and brings it to them. So you know, pandemic baby or not, I am feeling a bit chuffed.
I thought long and hard about us leaving London with Philip because we were both very dedicated to raising him here. But life will takes us where it wants to. We decided very early on that his father and I count too and he needs to understand that we are also a priority. He’s not a teenager yet to accuse us of ruining his life even though I’m sure that’s coming too. In the end though, who knows. Like I said, ultimately nobody can tell you how to do it and you have to do the best you can, hoping that it will all work out in the end.
And he better be a proper Londoner or else.
- Grexit/ Brexit
- The way to anyone’s heart is through the stomach
- The night bus
- Words save our lives… sometimes
- The rest is noise
- How not to bite your nails in the Officials’ Box
- Always have a sister
- Greek London
- This green and pleasant land
- The bridge of aspiration
- The knight in well travelled armor
- Carpets in the toilet and other adventures in housing
- Moments in Art
- The NHS hunger games
- In nocte consilium
- The friends we found, the friends we lost
- Blogging tips for beginners
- Lord of Gondolin, Bane of Gothmog, mighty beater of his headboard, conqueror of the slide, aka our child
- γνῶθι σεαυτόν
- How to leave London