The phone rings at 6.20am. From experience, I know something is up.
“Mum,” says a small voice. “I’ve got a really high temperature and I can’t move. Can you come round a bit earlier?”
My poor daughter has succumbed to the bug. It’s no surprise. Teachers often get everything that’s going. Naturally I whip round – not on my bike because regular readers might remember that I fractured my elbow last autumn after my shoe laces got caught up in the spokes. So I’m more careful now especially as it’s still not quite light at this time.
Son-in-law opens the door with a finger to his lips. “She’s asleep,” he whispers.
My daughter is a trooper. It takes a pretty big bug to lay her low and not be able to go into work.
Rose lifts her fingers to her lips too. “Mummy poorly. Mustn’t wake her.” Meanwhile little George who takes everything in, is distinctly unsettled so I sneak him a biscuit on the quiet.
Children don’t like it when their parents are ill…
It feels really odd looking after the children while my daughter is sick upstairs. I want to rush up and see if she needs anything but there is a small, silent shape under the duvet. I leave a glass of water by her bed and go back downstairs to do the only thing I can. In other words, make sure that Rose and George feel secure. Children don’t like it when their parents are ill, no matter how old they are.
Rose is playing with her doctor’s set. “I’m going to make Mummy better,” she announces.
Really? Last week she was going to be a ballerina.
George grabs her stethoscope. Rose lets out a furious yell. “Mine.”
My grandson hasn’t mastered that particular word yet but he makes his feelings clear with a tug of war that results in laying out his sister on the carpet. Fortunately only her pride is hurt. But the noise is deafening.
“Shh,” I say to everyone, including the cat. Only the latter obeys me.
My mind goes back twenty-six years ago to when I was laid low with three children under eight. I had no-one to help me and just had to get through until my first husband returned from work late at night. How did I manage? Not very well, actually. So I’m relieved to be here to help. Except that I’m not sure I’m doing a great job.
I try to make a start by putting on the vacuum cleaner but it doesn’t work. Looks like it needs emptying. Oh dear. Have I broken the catch on the rubbish bit?
By the time I’ve sorted it (why are other people’s gadgets so much more complicated than your own?) it’s time to get Rose to nursery.
Recently her daddy has been taking her but he’s got a meeting so I need to get both children in the car. It’s raining and I can’t find their wellington boots or Rose’s ballet stuff. “Help,” I text my husband. “Could you come round and help, please?”
“I’m having breakfast,” he texts back. Since my husband has retired, breakfast has become a ritual that almost extends until lunch. It consists of several slices of toast and a long read of the papers. But he can tell from the yells that he’s needed so – bless him – he comes over.
Immediately peace is restored…
Then I remember something. It’s World Book Day. I’d promised to give a talk to the older children at Rose’s school about how I make up stories. The school has already been warned that I need to bring George as it’s a granny day. But when we get there, one of the staff offers to look after my grandson for an hour. I’m not sure about this. George doesn’t take kindly to strangers. But to my amazement he goes running in after his big sister and plonks himself down in the corner of the play tent for a story.
But I can’t help worrying about my daughter. When we get back, she’s still asleep. In fact she zonks out until next day, waking only for tablets to control the temperature and sips of water. And then the children catch the bug.
Oh no! I’m due to go up to Wales the following day to take part in My Weekly’s readers weekend at the Warner Leisure Hotel in Bodelwyddan. I’m going to be talking about my life as an author and giving writing tips. My son-in-law is still weak himself from having recovered from the lurgy last week. How can I leave them all? If only there was someone else to help.
“We’ll be all right,” says my daughter but I feel awful all the way to the airport. I’m going to be eight hours away. What if they need me?
So I text a much wiser friend of mine who has grandchildren herself. “No one is indispensable,” she says. “They will be all right. Have faith.”
My husband says something similar but he doesn’t have children. How can he understand? At the same time, I don’t want to let down My Weekly. At the airport check-in, I almost turn back. I know this lovely family magazine would understand. But as I get on the plane and listen to the safety demo, I realise something. My older and wiser granny friend is right. One day my three will have to be without me. If I keep mollycoddling them, they will never learn to be independent.
So off I go. And oh my goodness, it was incredible. I met some wonderful readers as well as the amazing team behind your favourite magazine. My husband and I also had some time to ourselves, walking round the wonderful grounds, swimming in the pool and dancing along to the evening entertainment. In between, despite that pep talk to myself about not fussing, I kept ringing my daughter to check that everyone was all right. No-one was fully recovered but are getting there, touch wood.
I’m writing this on the plane home. “We can’t wait to see you,” texts my daughter just before we set off. “We’ve missed you.”
I’ve missed them too. How nice it is to be wanted! But tomorrow I’m off again. This time to visit my 96-year-old father several miles away. It’s what comes of being part of the sandwich generation. But I wouldn’t have it any other way…