My name is Helen, and I’m a heron.
While on maternity leave in 2016 and slowly losing my mind, I hit upon an idea to combine my keen interest in social media with joylessly pushing a pram around the local park for hours’ at a time.
My brain felt as though it was beginning to calcify and I panicked that my professional know-how was being displaced by a deep and intimate knowledge of baby-arse-cleaning-tactics.
I enjoyed updating my personal social media accounts but was conscious of becoming another ‘Instamummy’; posting pictures that captured the one millisecond of the day that O wasn’t shitting, screaming or sleeping on me.
So I decided to adopt the persona of a resident that everyone who lived in my town would know – the Carshalton Heron.
(There’s a whole family of herons living here, to be honest, but I figured if I was going to pretend to be a bird that could somehow communicate through Twitter, I could get away with conflating an entire flock of birds into a single tweeting entity.)
I started by wandering around the park taking pictures of the heron and assorted wildlife, and followed other local accounts.
I began to look forward to tweeting as the Grove Park Heron. More so than as myself. Because, who was I now, anyway?
As I pushed my pram past busy morning commuters, rushing into work in their smart winter coats, bags and boots, clutching a coffee-chain cup in one hand, their mobile in the other, I couldn’t have felt less ‘me’.
I spent my entire adult life defining myself by my career.
Now I was unemployed, wearing leggings and an oversized jumper, hair scraped back for maximum efficiency when tending to a puky baby.
Birds of a feather
I felt weird, and lonely.
And, although I had some ‘mum friends’, there was still a lot of time to fill on my own with O.
There are these posts on social media that you see from time-to-time that talk with great reverence about how you’ll never get these precious days with your baby back again. About how you need to treasure every minute. about how you should hold on to the magic of maternity leave…
But all this stern guidance is aimed at mums. Not dads.
Because mums are supposed to fall to their knees in gratitude every day that they’ve been granted this time together. And what sort of a woman wouldn’t enjoy this? Wouldn’t want it to go on forever? Wouldn’t want to face friends with a rabid smile, professing their lives complete?
Well, um, me.
I hope it’s not necessary for me to explain at this point that I love my daughter dearly. (The most predictable retort to any woman daring to complain about time with their child – “you didn’t have to have them!!!”)
But being a mum can be really soul destroying at times.
Pretending to be a heron helped get me through maternity leave, and I’ll forever be grateful that I found a little outlet.
It meant that I could still do things that O would enjoy. Probably. She was a baby and therefore walking round the local park with baby-in-pram is obligatory.
I used the heron account to share poetry I liked, too. Something that I’d cringe to do through my main account.
In the end, the Grove Park Heron may not have soared high, like some social personalities, but it did give me pleasure. And an outlet. And a little community of people to talk to who genuinely engaged with my content.
For example, when I saw a lovely swan one day, I tweeted that I’d seen ‘Ron, the Beddington Park Swan’ on my travels. It was a complete fabrication for my own amusement but, lo, a day later a lady tweeted the Heron account, excitedly, asking if a photo she’d taken of a swan was in fact Ron, too?
It was stuff like this that made me smile on days where perhaps I’d not managed to do much of that. O was such a fearsome baby I felt nothing much else than exhausted and a little bit frightened most days.
But, thanks to the heron, my thoughts took flight in another way. I took a little bit of time to be someone else, and clutched onto that during the darker days.