This has not been a typical month. But none of them are, are they? Each month brings its own minor miracles and milestones in family life. Even so, this one has been more momentous than most for us.
Benedict started school. He’s a ‘rising five’ as they say, so his official full-time education began. Getting him ready for school was much more traumatic for me than for him. His nursery school had caringly primed him for Primary. I felt less prepared.
Sitting up late on the eve of B Day before Big School, I had to construct a shoe bag for his plimsolls and sew on Cash’s name tapes. It all made me feel terribly old – more ancient even than my ‘descending’ 36 years.
No-one forgets that particular first time
Those little name tapes and the smell of new rubber gym shoes transported me back to my own first day at school. I went on my fourth birthday, anxious to start life on my own, independent of the younger sisters who seemed to be arriving an¬nually. Beret with its stalk still upright, knee-high to a grass¬hopper and knee-low to an oversized green blazer – I can remember it vividly. I don’t think anyone forgets that particular first time.
My husband Simon says he can recall his first day with unfaded clarity; from the grey socks he wore (everyone else had brown) to the picture of his family’s Austin 7 he drew on that first morning.
Small boys in the uniform of grown men
Benedict, too, set off in grey socks. Grey cord trousers with a real fly zip, royal blue top and navy lace-ups proudly polished by his father to a high-gloss shine that all but reflected his mother’s misty eyes. What is it about small boys dressed in the uniform of grown men that catches at one’s heart? Partly the incon¬gruity isn’t it, like a toddler Dad’s giant boots. And that glance back in time you get at what your husband must have looked like on his first day.
Benedict strode ahead of me that morning, his dinner money a-jingle in his new backpack (satchels are out, you understand) with a reflec¬tor embedded in it for going to school in the fog, he tells me. I hardly noticed the other mothers handing over their offspring to Life. I felt atroci¬ous; gripped by searing abdom¬inal pair, dizziness and nausea. My friend Sally, whose Katie was starting, diagnosed it at once: ‘First-morning nerves,’ she said, ‘I had mine last night.’
‘First-morning nerves’ developed into pelvic infection
I left Ben laughing happily in Class 1 and crept home. Within five hours I was being rattled off to hospital in an ambulance. My ‘first-morning nerves’ had developed into a severe pelvic infection. Mir¬anda, who was still being fed by me, came too. Our large suitcase contained her nappies, creams, stretch-suits, rag-boy doll, jars of food, trainer beaker, sterilising equipment. For me there was a toothbrush and some overdue proofs tor Family Circle. The hospital duly supplied me with a standard issue disposable nightie – the sort made from the same fabric as J-cloths.
‘The Domestos Treatment’
I looked like a badly lagged boiler. I didn’t care. At first I feared I was going to die at once. As the pain raged on, I feared I was not going to die soon enough. That’s salpingitis for you.
Imagine the scene if you will. I am being given a cocktail of antibiotics (called affectionately by the consultant, the ‘Domestos’ treatment, because a kills 99% of all known pelvic bugs). This is administered intravenously. Above my bed hangs the drip; Miranda, caged and restless in adjacent hospital cot, takes the drip to be a mobile like hers at home and swings delightedly on it whenever she can reach it. Consider, too, the problems of trying to change the nappy of an unco-¬operative baby in a high cot whilst wired to a drip.
My daughter thought hos¬pital a quiet, dull place and strove to make it otherwise. Which is probably why we were asked to leave (well, discharged with unseemly haste) at the end of the week.
What of Ben’s first day at school? I imagined him deeply traumatised, just think, you go to Big School in the morning, and when you get home, they’ve taken your mum to hospital. We both survived.
‘Where’s yer fish?’
He has a fairly laid-back attitude to hospital. My own mother’s long illness means that he’s used to hospital visiting and is unstirred by curious sights and practices. Once, observing an elderly catheterised colonel carrying his transparent plastic bag down the ward, he pointed to the clear liquid and challenged him: ‘Where’s yer fish?’
Seasoned visitor of the sick, he knows the phrase NIL BY MOUTH above a bed. ‘That means we can eat the grapes we brought, doesn’t it, Mum?’
My magic mother-in-law, Gwen, materialised like a fairy godmother to mind the family. After a week of Gwen’s care and steamed fish (her faith in the restorative powers of fish is probably her only failing), I felt able to collect Ben from school.
‘Some kind of exotic pet’
‘He’s been a bit hot and tired this afternoon,’ said his teacher. That evening brought a high fever, rash and diagnosis of German measles.
When, last year, Ben heard that a friend had this fancy sounding disorder, he wept with envy and demanded one, too. It turned out that he thought it was some sort of exotic pet – Gerbil Weasels.
The week of our joint confinement at home does not bear describing. Even if I had been able to get out of the house I could not have gone far. Simon was out driving when an American-style pick-up truck piled into our car and drove off. He dutifully went to report the accident to the police. They informed him that the registration number of the hit-and-run vehicle he’d reported belonged to a combine harvester. Then they breathalysed him. As it was mid-morning and he was sober, his feelings were hurt.
Anyhow, bits of the car now work, Ben’s back at school, I’m better. Yesterday I was spoon¬ing Savoury Beef and Noodles into Miranda’s obliging mouth and thinking I might be overfeeding her since her face looked rather chubby. By night-time she resembled a smiling football. The spotty chest and temperature con¬firmed it. We are again being visited by Gerbil Weasels…
Perhaps next month will be less typical, and more quiet.