They say it takes a village to raise a child.
But right now, many of us are separated from our villages.
Those of us who have chosen to live interstate, or overseas, knowing we were just a plane flight away from our families anytime we needed them.
Until one day, we found ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, and suddenly we weren't.
Suddenly the MVPs of our villages – our parents, grandparents and siblings – were stuck on opposite sides of border closures and restrictions. Or for those in Melbourne, stuck within the same four walls.
For others, family may not be as far away, but the only way to keep them safe is to keep a safe distance, for now.
Thank God for Facetime. But even the most soul-warming of video chats can't replace that magic felt when families are together.
A phone call just isn't the same as a real life, like-you-mean-it, held for an extra second longer hug.
And nothing compares to that flood of gratitude and relief when you swing the front door open to your mum or dad, knowing they're busting to take a little human off your hands, give you a break, and let you revert back to being a child yourself. Their child.
Even if you now have one yourself. And are in your (almost) mid-thirties.
I live in Sydney, with my husband and our fiercely independent yet adorably affectionate almost one-year-old.
He's a determined, busy little wrecking ball, who keeps us on our toes - as most babies do - but he's also hilarious and full of personality.
The rest of our family live interstate.
My mum, dad, parents-in-law and brother-in-law are all in Adelaide, and my poor brother and his girlfriend are in Melbourne, back in lockdown once again.
I've always felt a pang of sadness that they don't get to see Max as often as we'd all like.
But we've always made sure we had the next trip booked in, and rarely went more than a month without seeing each other.
It's really hard not knowing when we'll all see each other again.
And I'd be lying if I said this pandemic hasn't made me reconsider, at least for a moment or two, our decision to relocate away from our village for our careers.
Especially during those times of overwhelm and guilt, when you're racing out the door for work, the house looks like a bomb has hit, you've eaten leftover curry for breakfast and you're dropping your baby at daycare.
While back in Adelaide, there's two sets of grandparents who would love nothing more than to step in and take him for the day, just to spend time with him.
They had both offered to be FIFO support, but COVID-19 had other ideas.
And while it would be lovely to have a few extra hands with the endless washing, food prep and cleaning – let alone care, attention, love and energy – that each tiny person requires, I know for many of us it's not so much the shared workload, but the shared experiences we're missing most.
I'd give anything to have my family close by right now just so they could see for themselves how quickly my handsome little man is growing.
To witness those first wobbly little steps he's threatening to take.
The way he points now to show you what he wants, or finds interesting, or funny.
The look of pride on his face when he pushes his own pusher around.
The way he sits at our front window, giggling, waving and calling out to random strangers walking past, trying to get their attention and score a smile and wave back.
Photo: Alice and her husband relocated away from their families. Supplied
On Sunday, it will be his first birthday. And his doting, besotted grandparents and proud uncles won't be there to spoil him (and arguably just as importantly, drink wine and celebrate with us the fact we survived 12 whole months of this parenting thing).
Of course he won't know any different. But they will, and we will.
And of course a missed first birthday is nothing compared to the deaths, hospitalisations, missed funerals, cancelled weddings, job losses, economic fallout and mental health implications this virus has created.
We have so much to be grateful for, and we remind ourselves of this every day.
But it still sucks to be separated from loved ones. Especially on milestones or special occasions.
You're allowed to feel a bit sad about it.
I am. And I know I'm not alone.
You're not alone
It's a feeling shared by so many friends, colleagues, girls in my mother's group, even mums I get chatting to in the playground.
They, like I, are missing their villages.
They, like I, feel grateful for the precious extra family time a forced slow down and working from home allows, but can't help also feeling stuck in a bit of a Groundhog Day grind.
Where you start out full of energy, determined to give the very best of yourself as you set up a full pots and pans orchestra and get super in to playing diggers and dump trucks.. and end the day sitting on the floor with a cup of (cold) tea, doing absolutely nothing to stop them as they pull every single object out of the kitchen cupboards and eat smooshed peas and cold pasta off the floor around the high chair.
(And that's before you throw work into the mix, and the endless domestic stuff that comes with keeping a household even semi-operational.)
And then they, like I, oscillate between feeling horribly guilty for not always feeling #blessed, and feeling wildly happy and so damn lucky for our beautiful little fam.
If you can relate to this, you're not alone.
And you're not selfish and you're not ungrateful.
It's okay to admit it's hard. There's no clear end date to this thing, with no trip home booked in the calendar or upcoming visit from family that you can look forward to and work towards.
But I find it helps to know while you might feel like you're doing it alone at times, you're part of an even bigger village, of mums just like yourself in similar positions but very different circumstances, right across Australia.
My friend and colleague (and fellow Essential Baby writer) Natalia Cooper hasn't seen her family in Western Australia since last Christmas, and with no sign of the borders opening anytime soon – almost certainly not before this Christmas – she has no idea when she'll see them again.
"We miss them so much, it feels like they're very far away and it's tough," she says.
"In the eight months since we've seen our families Ezra has gone from being a baby to a fully-fledged toddler. He's learnt to walk and his vocabulary has gone from one or two words to about 30.
"I feel like everyone is missing seeing him grow up and it breaks my heart a little bit.
"I know this will all be over one day and that we'll see them again, and that people are in much harder situations than ours, but it's still challenging".
Davina Smith, our daytime newsreader/army wife/mum of beautiful four-year-old Rose, is not only separated from her family, but also her husband for the foreseeable future.
He's with the military on the Queensland side of the border, and she and Rose are in New South Wales.
"For the second time this year our little family is apart with no idea of when we'll be together again. And it hurts!" she says.
"We're no strangers to distance and separation – but this is unlike any deployment or work trip we've faced."
I'm blown away by her strength and resilience. Running a household, balancing a small child and busy job without family around is tough enough, let alone doing it without your partner sharing the load (and the bottle of wine that's inevitably required after some particularly testing juggling acts).
"It's another level of sacrifice we make. It might feel like you're alone, but you're not! You're extraordinary!" she says.
And of course, none are feeling it more acutely than those amazing mums doing their best in lockdown (AGAIN) in Victoria, including my dear friend Soph Brown of lifestyle DIY blog 'nestihome'.
The woman is a machine. An organisation and life hack queen who is full of creative clever ideas to make home life more simple and functional, and keep her two busy boys entertained.
Yet, under this second wave of tough Level 4 restrictions, even she says she feels like her kids are "one episode of Paw Patrol away from speaking with an American accent" and that she's "fighting a constant battle to keep the house from turning into a hoarders den due to a growing online shopping addiction".
In the absence of our families, many of us have created our own amazing "non-blood" villages, made up of friends, mother's groups or colleagues.
I know how important this has been to me. Natalia calls her amazing village of friends her "Sydney family".
And in my conversations with many mums, it's become clear that what we're all craving most is that shared connection and community.
People we can lean on, laugh or cry with over common shared experiences, and swap tips and tricks with to make this crazy wild ride of motherhood that little bit more manageable.
Especially during a global pandemic.
I want everyone to have access to that sort of community.
So over the next few months here at Essential Baby we'll be creating our own virtual village.
We'll be running a series of articles featuring women you'll definitely relate to and even learn a bit from, as we ask them to share the nitty gritty of how they're managing the juggle during a time that's never felt so unstable and uncertain.
We'll also share advice and tips from a range of experts and professionals, covering topics like:
- Overcoming mum guilt
- Working from home with kids
- New ideas to keep you and your children entertained and your house from looking like it's inhabited by hoarders
- How to carve out time for yourself and keep your mindset positive when you're bogged down in washing and sleep deprived
- The importance of your own goals and ambitions, and how to still make time for them
And above all, we're creating a community where all mums can come to be a little bit vulnerable, share their own chaos, fails and lessons, and pass on the ideas that make their lives that little bit easier.
So if you're currently separated from your family, I want you to consider this your village.
I hope you see yourself in many of the stories and anecdotes.
And I hope some of the ingenious life hacks and solutions that have worked for some, might help you too.
If you're reading this on Facebook, drop a comment below. Let me know your situation, how you're managing at the moment, the women you'd love us to interview and the #mumlife issues you want discussed and addressed.
You never know how much your vulnerability and shared advice could help others, and the impact it might have on the mum who needed to read it most.
And if you know an amazing mum doing incredible things during this challenging time, please email me. I want to talk to them and share their stories.
Those every day women doing incredible things in extraordinary times.
Because let's be honest, that's all of us right now.
We're all just doing our best and given the circumstances, that's bloody brilliant.
We've got this, together.
This is Your Village.