I pull up my hood and head out into the rain, stroller covered, baby asleep. It’s early on a mid-week morning in Putney, the quiet leafy southwest London neighbourhood we moved to from the other side of the murky Thames a few years ago. It’s family-friendly, mostly residential with a busy high street, a lovely river walk home to many local rowing clubs, and several green spaces. If you head down to the river early enough, I’d say the sunrise over Putney Bridge is one of the best in London.
Other people are out walking, heads down under umbrellas. Perhaps to the tube or the office or just out for some light morning exercise if they’re still able to work from home. Others are jogging, flicking water up each time a trainer pounds the pavement. There are other mums with prams, slings, toddlers in rain gear.
Rain pools on flower petals and snails stretch their slimy bodies out across mossy stone walls. There’s the wet swish of cars rolling along, the constant drip-drip-drip of rain on bin lids, sticks crunching underfoot.
I have no destination in mind apart from possibly stopping by my one of my favourite local cafes for a caffeine fix to take away. Blabar on Lacy Road. Ground on Lower Richmond Road. Artisan on Upper Richmond Road. Mainly, I push the stroller through the back streets, turning at random, breathing in some fresh air (as fresh as it gets in the traffic clogged city streets, anyway), admiring the flowers blooming in front gardens, the pretty variety of colourful doors, the children’s drawings of rainbows in so many windows.
Maternity leave looks so much different this time around. Three years ago it meant endless coffee dates, NCT meet-ups, baby classes, baby clinics, building up my freelance business. With Covid-19 dominating our lives this year, clinics are closed and appointments are mostly by phone, baby classes have moved online, and cafe dates don’t really appeal. I can’t work on MA (maternity allowance) like I could on SMP (statutory maternity pay). Plus I didn’t join NCT classes this time around so there’s no big group of us with babies exactly the same age to have “play dates”. Hard to believe Sebastian is almost three months old and has yet to meet our immediate families, who are all abroad.
But it’s a relaxing maternity leave. I’m often stuck under a feeding or sleeping baby, so I’ve been reading a lot more for one thing. A few recent favourites include “Girl, Woman, Other”, “American Dirt” and “10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in this Strange World”. I set up an Amazon Storefront list with my favourite books in one place for anyone interested, and also joined a friend’s book swap list.
Instead of walking to shops or cafes, I just head outside for a few hours each day. I’m enjoying exploring the neighbourhood streets I’ve never wandered down before. Taking time to notice and appreciate the little details. The crates of empty glass milk bottles waiting to be refilled. Plants growing up trellises and through crevices in garden walls. A lost baby hat set carefully on a fence in case the owner walks by again to find it.
I’ve met a few other mums with similar age babies in the park. I’ve watched the swans bob along the river, the geese pecking through the stones along the bank, the magpies hopping on branches. I’ve spotted veggies (like squash) and fruits (like grapes) growing in front gardens. On nicer days, there are lazy cats sprawled in patches of sun, rolling in dust and leaves, people queuing for iced lattes, and dogs running through the greens.
The photos throughout are all just snapshots from my phone that I’ve taken around the area in the last few weeks. Just wanted to share those and check in really. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen some in my Stories recently. Hope you’re all staying safe and sane these days! Have you spent more time exploring your own neighbourhood this year?