“Don’t panic,” says my husband on the phone. “But I’ve got to go in for emergency surgery tomorrow morning. The MRI showed that I have a massive blood clot near my spine.”
My first thought – as is often the case with a shock – is that this can’t be happening. The second is that thank heavens it’s not a granny day. Otherwise how would we manage? Little George simply won’t go to anyone else. Of course, any rational person would realise this isn’t a priority but the brain does strange things to you at times like this.
“Want to speak to Grandad,” says Rose, hearing my husband’s voice on the phone.
“Not right now, poppet,” I say, putting on my brave voice. “He’s a bit busy.”
There’s been a lot of illness in the family recently. And we don’t want to worry them.
That night, my husband and I don’t sleep a wink
We’re in the hospital by 7.30am as instructed and I wave him off to theatre at midday. Now what? I’d like to take my mind off everything by being with the children. But they’re having a family day at an adventure park. It’s important, I remind myself, that they have space. The art of being a grandparent, I’ve worked out over the last three and a half years, is to be there when you’re needed (however inconvenient) but also making yourself scarce when you’re surplus to requirements.
So I take the dog for a walk in the park, casting wistful eyes at parents and grandparents playing ball and having ordinary lives. It’s strange how everything can change just like that, isn’t it? Then I ring the ward at the agreed time with my heart beating.
“Your husband’s in recovery,” says the nice nurse. “He’s doing fine.”
Phew! After sending up a prayer of thanks, I go straight in to visit him. The blood clot has apparently been safely removed although his legs and ankles are still swollen from the first op. He’s also tired so I don’t stay long. Then I get a text from my daughter asking how her stepfather is. “Would you like to come round, Mum?”
Try to stop me! It’s bath time which means utter chaos. Pure bliss. Just what I need. Tonight is hair wash night – something which, I must confess – I struggle with when I’m on my own with little Rose and George. It’s a tall order to wash and dry both at the same time as per my instructions laid out in the unwritten “What To Do” list of rules which seems to change regularly. But with three of us, it’s almost a doddle even though both children are whizzing around the landing while we’re chasing them with towels and hairdryers.
“Why do they suddenly get a burst of speed when they should be tired by now?” asks my daughter.
“It’s called the inverse law of parenting,” I tell her. “The more exhausted you are, the more energy they have!”
To make it even more challenging, George has decided that he doesn’t want to wear nappies any more. In fact, he furiously yanks them off when we try to put one on him.
“Maybe he’s telling you he wants to be potty trained,” I suggest. “After all, he did do a little wee in Rose’s the other day.”
My daughter groans. “I’m not sure I’m ready for that. I was going to wait until the summer holidays.”
“I’d go with George’s instinct,” I say.
“Maybe you’re right, Mum. Thanks. Sure you don’t mind? One of my friends has got this great book on it. It means you can’t go out of the house for two days so you’ll have to miss granny playgroup but they’re clean after 48 hours.”
What have I let myself in for? This wasn’t what I had in mind at all!
So much to do…
Meanwhile, my husband is discharged on crutches and we fall into a crazy convalescent routine. I get up at 6am to walk the dog (who’s taken to sleeping on our bed despite my protests), cycle round to the babies at 7.15 to help with breakfast and bring George back to our place while Rose goes to nursery. George and husband and dog have breakfast together. I leave husband for a nap when we go to playgroup. We repeat this at lunchtime. Then I have a rota of friends’ husbands to sit with said invalid while I collect Rose from nursery along with her phonic homework and then give them tea at their place until the adult children return in the evening.
“I don’t know how you manage,” says one of my granny friends.
But you do, don’t you? After all, I think we’ve been very lucky.
But then something happens… I oversleep!
This might not sound like a big deal but when you’re running a tight ship, every second counts. I am having a dream about catching George with an oversize nappy when my husband gives me a gentle prod in the ribs with his crutches. “Janie!” he says. “It’s 7.20.”
WHAT? I don’t even remember getting dressed but somehow I manage to be at the babies’ door within ten minutes. “We overslept too,” said my daughter kissing me goodbye before I’ve even removed my cycle hat. George and I shoot back to our place to walk the dog. Then I realise I have a phone interview with a big radio station. It’s all part of the publicity for my new Penguin novel I Looked Away which comes out in paperback this Thursday.
Luckily they can do the interview on my own home phone rather than the studio “provided it’s quiet”. And amazingly it is! George has dropped off in his pushchair. Husband has done the same on the sofa. Even the dog is exhausted on his bed. I keep all three within eye shot. “So,” says the presenter, “tell me about your writing routine.”
“It varies,” I say, “depending on whether it’s a granny day.”
“Do your grandchildren give you inspiration?”
And how! “I couldn’t have written my novel without them because it’s all about that intense love which us grandparents (and steps) have for our babies. Even though it’s a challenge to get everything done, the stress, in some strange way, fires my fingers as they fly across the keyboard.”
“So what’s next?” asks the presenter.
“Potty-training the youngest, getting to grips with phonics and weaning my husband off crutches, of course.” I’m not sure that’s the answer he expected. But I wouldn’t mind getting back to normal before too long…