New babies are pure and untainted and as a new Mum, I, like many, was determined to ‘get it right.’ Getting it right means following all the official advice to the letter – or at least that was the plan.

NHS and government guidelines are very clear on screen time for babies, stating that children under the age of 2 should not spend any time passively watching television. Not any time at all. None. Whether it is the fear of damaging their growing brains, affecting their mental health or more encouraging laziness leading later on to obesity, it is not clear. But anyone with a toddler will know that these guidelines are unrealistic.

We are living in unprecedented times, and with the absence of any activity that requires leaving the house, the television has become our go to form of entertainment for our son and there are plenty of reasons why screen time isn’t the worse thing in the world and as of today I am going to stop beating myself up about the amount of television my 1-year-old watches.

Television is the only way I can get my son to stay still. As a new walker, he is determined to explore every low and high of our still un-baby-proofed living room. It has its practical uses, allowing all manner of grooming activities: nail trimming, hair cutting, even teeth-brushing, but its most important role is giving myself and my partner a break from crawling after our son on our solid parquet floor. We crouch poised ready to catch him as he falls over yet again. My heart is in my mouth any time he is on his feet and it’s not healthy that this be for an extended amount of time.

Similarly, without screen time, parents are expected to entertain their children every minute they are awake, and frankly, I don’t have the energy. I can sing songs and dance around but only for so long. Children’s attention spans are fickle and it is challenging to keep them constantly entertained and learning. Television is a bottomless pit of information and at this age my son is learning so quickly. Learning to wave and nod his head are some of the things I am convinced he has learned from television as well as a few words, plenty of actions and noises.

The television is a portal into a world we cannot take him to, (pandemic or no pandemic) and like us he will learn about far-flung galaxies and the ice-cold Antarctic from the comfort of the living room. Television can be a real source of inspiration and does well to feed curious minds. I can see no way in which learning about the world from the television is any better or worse than learning from a book, it can be the perfect accompaniment.

In the absence of social interaction from play dates and just being out and about in the community, characters on television have become the people who children get to know the world by, and it is no bad thing. I have noticed the BBC, in particular, do a great job at celebrating diversity, showing people from all walks of life, and all over the world, people we may not have in our own community. It is important that children see diversity and grow up with it if we are to build an anti-racist and anti-discriminatory society and television should support that learning.

And finally, if there is one thing I have learned about myself during my first year of parenting, it is that I am a massive hypocrite and I don’t really want to be a hypocrite. Whether it is eating the treats I deny my son, or preventing him from sitting in front of the television like I do all day, I don’t want to be a parent who has double standards. I, like a lot of people, have an office job and spend much of my day in front of a screen. In this digital age, it is probable that my son too could end up with a job that also relies on a screen, is it worth fighting this inevitability? To relax, I turn the television on, or scroll through my phone and this is all visible to my son. Screens can be a great source of inspiration, education and laughter, and I don’t want to deny my son those things. They will never replace the real thing, though: walks in the woods, visiting a farm, or talking in real life to real people, but at the moment we don’t have those opportunities. So for me, it is time to relax about screen time, accept that it is our culture, our future and right now, it can be the escapism we need.

We have always been told about animals hibernating; hunkering down in their warm habitats while the colder weather rages outside, snuggling up to their loved ones and snoozing it out, waiting for the warmer weather to arrive in Spring.

I know myself that in Winter, my energy levels drop drastically. The shorter hours of sunlight make the mornings tough, having to force myself out of bed when all my body wants to do is to stay within the warm sheets. The evenings drag after sunset, waiting for bedtime to roll round again. Winter 2020 we find ourselves in a strange and uncertain time. A virus threatens the stability of everything we have ever known. We have been told to stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus and therefore, save lives.

In contrast to the first time we were asked to do this back in March, the weather is mostly awful. When it is cold, wet and windy outside, the warmth of home feels much more inviting, so let’s embrace it.

I appreciate we can’t sleep for months on end, like a bear would, emerging fresh and renewed in the Spring sunshine, but we can take inspiration from nature and use this time to do less and look after ourselves. Get the blankets out of the cupboard; fill that hot water bottle and stock up on warm tea. This Winter, and every Winter, is the perfect opportunity for self-care.

Lockdown has been filled with frustrations. Being told to stay at home has meant many people have lost their jobs and livelihoods, businesses have been taken out overnight, with only the lucky of us being able to work from home. Being at home has for some meant plenty of free time and new hobbies have taken hold. Instagram is filled with new master bakers, skilled sewers and talented illustrators all released from the shackles of the daily commute. This Christmas will see bookshops filled with books celebrities wrote in lockdown, their publishers finally able to get them to sit still long enough to jot down some memories. For some, lockdown has been incredibly productive, but I would say for most of us the constant bad news has been overwhelming and saddening, any motivation zapped out of us. This is a completely understandable reaction to these uncertain times and I think, in fact, the lack of productivity shouldn’t be shameful, it should be encouraged.

Winter is a period of rest. In nature’s cycles Winter is the pause in the year. Animals hibernate, trees lie dormant and flowers hide away. In my thirties now, I feel like I finally understand my own body’s cycles. With menstruation and ovulation come ebbs and flows of energy and, therefore, productivity. I have come to accept that some weeks I am more productive than others, and that some weeks I don’t have much inclination to do anything at all.

In life, productivity isn’t a linear progression as we would like to believe. We don’t get more and more productive as we get older, getting increasingly efficient and therefore getting more work done until we reach some sort of peak before retirement. There are times when we have to pause and slow down. An example of this would be having a new baby. Tiny babies take a while to understand day and night and for the first few weeks, the days are blurred into one another for the parents too. Putting the needs of the baby first means slowing down and stepping out of busy modern lives and we do this without question.

Lockdown has in some ways forced us out of modern life. We don’t have a choice. We can’t go anywhere or meet anyone. Whilst it is disconcerting and worrying it can also be seen as an opportunity to embrace a time of rest. It could be a relief, for example, to not have to make excuses this year to avoid the onslaught of Christmas drinks and parties. This year we can listen to our bodies as they crave rest and renewal in the colder months and use this opportunity for self-care. So please, if you haven’t found that lockdown hobby baking bread or you haven’t written that life-affirming novel, don’t worry. Getting through this Winter one day at a time is enough, looking after ourselves and each other.

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Forget Summer with its sun beaming down on roasting skin, sizzling in the heat. It has never been my favourite season.

Stark shadows mark the ground like a warning sign. The sun: a danger to delicate skin. Fair and freckled, I hide under the canopy of trees; their shade is my safety.

I sense relief as the leaves fall to mark the sun’s retreat. Slowly the days draw in. Anticipation builds as the greens radiate into oranges, reds…

Eager to move through the seasons I remind myself to cherish the glow of early mornings. To catch the sunrises through the window, misty from the outside chill, before they disappear into the months of darkness ahead.

Winter is long and equally relentless. The absence of the sun’s warmth is as much of a challenge to me as its presence. I hide wrapped inside blankets, relying on the comfort of warm cups of tea and hot water bottles.

To me, those few days in early Autumn are the most precious. When the sun shines in cloudless skies but its power is muted by a gentle breeze. A touch cooler. Is it too early for a scarf? I long to be outside, swaddled in soft knits, found like long lost treasure at the back of the wardrobe.

The bright blue sky comes alive with the glow of burning oranges in the trees below. Crisp leaves underfoot; the ground is coated with spiked conkers, undiscovered by squirrels. Inside the deep red gloss shines.

I am reminded of back to school and fresh starts. The clean page of a brand new notebook, or a the shine of a new pair of boots; adventures lie ahead; marks are yet to be made. Autumn’s beauty lies in its endings, paving the way for new beginnings one leaf at a time.

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