That perennial unwelcome house guest, sickness, comes to stay once more. Honestly, you would think it would have got the message the last time it visited, what with all that barely-disguised tutting, sighing and eye-rolling I did. But no, here it is again, banging loudly on the front door, dumping its belongings in the hallway for everyone to trip over and leaving a bad smell in the bathroom.
This time, it is E that cops it. One evening, he starts to complain he is feeling unwell and a cursory touch of his forehead is quite a surprise: he is, indeed, running a temperature. I would have put a tenner on the fact that the complaint of illness was solely down to the fact that cleaning teeth and bedtime were imminent and he hadn’t finished watching this particular episode of Scooby Doo, but it turns out that mother definitely doesn’t know best. Well, not this mother, anyway. I shall have to employ a more competent mother to make judgement calls about my son in the future, I think.
One dose of Calpol later and he is in bed, insisting – despite the ambient temperature of his bedroom being somewhere between tropical and naked flame and him seemingly ignoring the fact that you could fry up a couple of chipolatas on his forehead – that he has his duvet pulled all the way up to his chin. We have a mini tug-of-war with his bedclothes, as I try to explain that he really needs to not cover himself with 10 togs of heat as it will make him feel worse, whilst he pulls it up even further just to prove the point that he is going to win this battle. I persevere for a while, as I really do not want his internal organs simmering in their own juices, but I soon realise that I am engaged in one of the most common parental past times there is: wasting oxygen. So I leave him, just two eyes and a forehead visible over his bedding.
He is still running a temperature the next morning, which is most concerning: I have a huge to-do list of work that I really need to get done. I decide that it is just a viral thing (don’t panic, I am a fully trained medical practitioner: I have a qualification from the university of Google, you know), ergo, there is no problem sending him to nursery. And then stupidly, when he asks for his morning milk, I oblige without a second thought, no doubt as I am too busy attempting to extricate a five day old pea from B’s mouth, or trying to stop him from sticking his finger in the electrical socket. Approximately three minutes later, there is a shout from the lounge: “Mummy, I am going to be sick!”
Now, I am not known for my swiftness of foot. But like parents everywhere, when they see a child a) teetering on tip toes on the back of the sofa shouting ‘look at me!’, or b) reaching up to the cooker just as you spot that you have left a tempting pan handle within reach or c) threatening to ruin your upholstery with vomit, I can give Usain Bolt a run for his money. The god of warp speed shone his faster-than-light on me and within the space of ten seconds, I had scooped up E under my arm to deposit him in the bathroom, realised that M was in there, changed direction toward the kitchen sink, remembered that E cannot reach the sink unaided, grabbed his stool mid-run from under the table, plonked it in front of the sink, dumped E on it and angled his head sink-wards just as the milky contents of his stomach came rushing out to play. There are not many moments of unalloyed triumph in parenting, I find. But this was one of them. I allowed myself a little smile of victory on behalf of my sofa as I watched my son wretch so hard I thought his oesophagus may put in an appearance at any moment. That smile was soon gone from my face though, as firstly, E grabbed my hand and wiped his sick-smeared mouth on my forearm, and secondly, I realised that there was no way I could send this boy to nursery now. Bugger. I picture my to-do list, gathering dust, beside a mountain of paperwork, a pile of urgent bills and a stack of notes I need to look at, under which somewhere, perhaps, is my desk.
So I do what any caring parent would do with a sick child: pull another chair up to my desk, plonk E on it, find an old episode of Scooby Doo on the iPad and tell him not to say a word as mummy has some work to do. The one flaw in my plan is the instruction ‘don’t say a word’. It’s a bit like sprinkling chocolate buttons over his lap and asking him not to eat them. It just ain’t gonna happen.
“Mummy, look at this bit, Scooby and Shaggy are trapped.”
“Oh yes,” I say trying hard not to lose the thread of what I am typing.
“No, look, mummy.”
“I am.” I angle my head a little toward the iPad, but don’t take my eyes off my screen.
“You’re not looking mummy!” he protests.
“I am,” I lie.
With a sigh, I look. And by the time I look back to the screen, my thread has been well and truly lost in the dark recesses of my brain and I have to start that line again. This is going to be a long, long morning.
“Mummy, can I draw on this?” He waves a brand new pack of Post It notes in front of my nose. Usually, Post Its are not for E. Gone are the days when I can use Post It notes with gay abandon: I work for myself, so have long given up the ultimate employee perk of an all-you-can-eat stationery cupboard. But today, in a desperate attempt to get my work finished, I acquiesce. Ten minutes later, we are bobbing on a small ocean of bright yellow paper squares, curling slightly at the corners, each one bearing a small scribble, or a single letter, or a hastily drawn shape. Finally, after half the aforementioned Post Its are stapled together until my stapler jams, my ruler gets posted down the back of my desk never to be seen again and a large proportion of the pages of my notebook have curiously been crumpled, ripped or folded, I finish the urgent client document and skim read it before there is nothing salvageable left in my office. I don’t see any obvious accidental inclusions of ‘Scooby snack’ or ‘jinkers’ in the text, so I hastily email it off.
It is at this juncture that the Calpol is starting to wear off, and E wants to lie on the sofa and feel sorry for himself. I oblige, installing a blanket under him to protect my sofa from any further outbursts of a vomity kind and a sick bowl by his side.
“Stroke my head, mummy,” he says. I do so for a while, until my arm aches.
“Cuddle me, mummy.”
“Can I lie on you, mummy?”
“Can I have some more water, mummy?”
“Can I have a little bit of toast, mummy?”
“Can you stroke my head again, mummy?”
And so it goes on. The demands of a slightly ill child. Each one met with marginally less sympathy than the last by his tired, slightly mean-spirited mother. The trouble is, I have very small sympathy reserves. Whilst some people worry themselves about the nationwide power generation crisis, foretelling of power shortages in two years time, I am more concerned about my own sympathy shortage. by my calculations, if E keeps on getting ill, I will have totally depleted my sympathy reserves by 2015. Some parents seem to have unlimited supplies of the stuff. There is no end to the sympathy they can shower on their offspring. My mum for one. No matter how ill, how whingey or how irritating I was, she turned on her sympathy tap and out it poured, embalming me in the warm, comforting glow of her care. I don’t really seem to have a sympathy tap. I have more of a… shallow sympathy puddle. I don’t embalm my son in sympathy, more that I begrudgingly flick a few drops in his general direction. I want to be more sympathetic, I really do, but I get a bit… bored.
“Do you want to play Guess Who?” I ask, hoping that we can break the monotony of Mr Bloom’s Nursery. Watching a load of talking vegetables is making my remaining IQ leak from an unspecified orifice. But E only shakes his head in that slightly piteous ‘mummy, how can you be so crass as to suggest a board game, I am ill, you know’ kind of way that makes me want to tickle him to see how ill he really is. But I don’t, and turn my attention back to a gurning cauliflower making inane comments instead. Two seconds later and I have to find something else to do before I hurl the remote control at the screen, so I decide to do something constructive and will myself some more sympathy. It can’t be that hard, surely? I concentrate hard on feeling sympathetic. I look at E, lying forlornly on the sofa.
With effort, I reach out and pat his ankle. Well, look at me, with my sympathetic patting. I’m like a modern day Mother bloody Theresa, me.