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Jun 15

Disaster city …

I. has fallen off a high climbing-frame and broken his arm.  Horrific for all of them.  Esther said he’d been safely up and down it about ten times when the baby began shouting for milk.  Just as she turned her back he lost his grip, and when she rushed to pick him up, it looked as though his right arm had two elbows.

I can’t recall ever taking Esther to hospital when she was small.  Partly this was because she was a physical wimp – she’d never have fallen off a climbing-frame for the simple reason she’d never have got on one in the first place, whereas I.’s up them like Spiderman.  But poor I. has had more than his share of waiting-rooms.  There was the scald, then some virus ate his ankle, then his squint (now miraculously cured).  And now this.  Poor little boy, it’s really bad luck.

When I got there he was in a sad way.  Not only is his right arm in a sling, but he’s also getting his last molars and had caught a virus from somewhere – possibly the baby, who has just been inoculated against something or other and went down with a minor dose of whatever it was.   I.’s dose, though, is far from minor.  At the weekend he’d run such a terrifying fever that they’d rushed him back to A&E, and he was now on 3-hourly doses of alternating paracetamol and ibuprofen. Occasionally you caught a glimpse of the boy he usually is – when I said I was sure he’d be back on his bike in no time, he gave me a huge relieved grin. But in the meantime all he wanted was cuddles from Mummy, who of course was largely otherwise engaged, either wearing the baby in a sling to get her to sleep, or feeding her, neither of which leaves much scope for cuddling other people.

Meanwhile, as though this wasn’t enough, the philosopher is also out of action.  Not only did he put his back out again a couple of weeks ago, which makes him unable to do any of the thousand odd jobs that involve lifting, he has also caught the virus. He was at the university when I got there, but halfway through the day called to say he was coming home, and when he did so collapsed into bed.  Lucky you’re not ill, I said to Esther.  I can’t be, she said.  Women can’t be ill, and even if they are, they can’t just relapse into bed.

One of the more oblique consequences of I.’s fall is that Esther, in the absence of an extra pair of hands, is effectively housebound.  Like all mothers she relies on motion to get the baby off to sleep, and when I could scoot or bike, this was no problem.  She’d pack the baby into the buggy and off they’d go.  But now I.’s reduced to walking, they can’t get up enough speed to induce slumber, and even if they do go out, he gets terminally tired long before they get back home – the virus means he isn’t eating or sleeping much, not exactly an aid to vitality.  Esther does in fact have two attachments either of which would allow I. to be pushed along with the buggy, one a sort of trike arrangement that clips on to it, one a stand-on buggy board that is less convenient  but (you would have thought) more reassuring.  But, perhaps understandably, he refuses to risk either one-handed.

They do, however, have a second buggy – the heavy cheapo one we bought to keep at ours when I first started taking I. for the day.  I recently brought it over to theirs so that the philosopher can use it to take I. to the nursery.  So me being there did at least that solved the motability problem, and off we went, each pushing a buggy.

What has worried me most about this whole business was the possibility I. might lose his nerve.  He won’t take long to heal – at I.’s age – just three – you’re growing so fast that making new bones is a far quicker business than if you’re in your teens, let alone older.  But it’s been a horrid experience, though apparently the morphine they gave him when he got to the hospital means he won’t remember the worst of it.  However, our outing effectively dispelled this worry.  The park we went to has skateboard ramps, which I. studied with extreme interest.  And the first thing he asked, when he got home, was whether, when his cast’s off, they can go back there with his bike (I.’s new balance bike, that he got for his birthday, is fitted with thick tyres good for jumping.)

Now for the next hurdle.  I.’s nerves are clearly unaffected.  Esther’s, however, are another matter …

They will try the ramps.  But I suspect her heart – though not his! – will be in her mouth.

May 15

Gardening for grandmothers

Last week was I.’s third birthday, so another rain of presents descended.  Perhaps he’ll think this is normal, in which case a rude awakening awaits. Their house looks like a toyshop, I observed to Esther, who said yes, she  keeps meaning to do a cull, but a) this can only be done while I. and the baby are both asleep, a comparatively rare and cherished occurrence, and b) I. tends to notice the absence of even long-neglected items.  Still, she persists, and on my last visit the place did seem a little clearer.

At least of toys.  Everything else was thickly on display:  dirty dishes, dirty laundry, last week’s prunings still waiting in their bag to be removed from the garden … In the midst of it sat Esther, wearing the (unconscious) baby and looking panic-stricken.  What’s up, I asked.  More or less everything, was the answer.  A couple of nights previously the baby had decided sleep was for wimps, had dozed off only for the odd ten-minute interval, and otherwise had remained awake requiring more or less back-to-back feeding and de-winding.  She would now sleep only when being worn.  And to cap the delights the philosopher has put his back out again, and is now reduced to the hobbling wreck that became so familiar when they did their move last year.  It had taken him, she said, an hour – an entire hour! – to get out of bed for a pee that morning.  As for helping with childcare, forget it.  She couldn’t even imagine how I. was to get to nursery, a lifeline on which her sanity depends, but that requires pushing him in a buggy, something of which the philosopher is currently incapable, and which she can’t do because the baby may require feeding at any and all moments..

The only upside was that, I., terrified of his mother’s thunderclaps now her fuse was so spectacularly shortened, was behaving angelically – not a single tantrum all day.  He knows she means it when she tells him off – when she says, sternly, ‘I’m going to count to three,’ he pleads, ‘Don’t count!  Don’t count!’  But it had got some way beyond counting, and she was feeling guilty because the last thing she wants is to frighten him into submission.  I don’t think that was what was going on, though.  It’s more that small children are super-aware of their mother’s moods, she of course being the centre and linchpin of their lives, and in a real emergency will respond accordingly.  They know which side their bread’s buttered.

In fact it took very little time to reduce the house to order.  I put a wash on and hung it up to dry, emptied the dishwasher so that it could be reloaded with today’s dirties, rinsed out a load of plastic recycling and binned it, emptied the prunings bag, and there we were:  a few small jobs, none of them very effortful but all of them requiring two hands.  Meanwhile a combination of ibuprofen horse-pills, codeine and paracetamol is returning the philosopher to an approximation of humanity.  And his mum has angelically promised to come and stay for the nursery-run days (an excuse to see more of the baby, Esther suspects – unlike me, who can’t wait for them to grow bigger and more interesting, the philosopher’s mum loves tiny babies.)  But what do people do who can’t afford help and don’t have grannies to help out in extremis? Survive to fight another day, I suppose.  But it must be hell. Esther not only has two functioning grannies but, generally speaking, a functioning husband as well.  How single parents cope, I can’t imagine.

Esther said that when she told I. granny was coming, he said:  ‘She can do some gardening!’

That’s me told, then.