It’s a joke in our family that something is seriously wrong when I stay calm. I’m one of those people who flap over small things.
The past week has been a bit like that. On the Monday, I went to London for an important writers’ meeting. I’d never seen the streets so empty. Then I went on to see my 96-year-old father. “I think we ought to get out more,” he announces. What? My sister and I have been trying to get him and my stepmother to do this for years. (They’ve fallen into the trap of not wanting to leave the house.) Talk about choosing the wrong time!
“I don’t think that’s a good idea at the moment, Daddy,” I say.
I don’t want to frighten him but he’s not stupid. He watches SKY news for most of the day. I can’t help feeling that he’s just saying this because he can’t. It can’t be easy being old. Then I realise that I’m past 60 myself…
When I get home to the sea, I wash all my clothes and then make my own hand sanitising gel just as an experiment in case the shop stuff sells out. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” says my daughter sweetly, “but if it’s anything like your cooking, I’m not touching it.”
Meanwhile, I’m not sure if I should still take little George to our usual Thursday morning sing and song toddler session. And what about Rose going to pre-school? “I think it’s all right,” say my daughter and son-in-law. So off we go. The other mums at the school gates seem to want my advice on the virus. Presumably they think I’ve got more experience, being thirty odd years older. I try to reassure them while explaining that I don’t know any more than them.
When we get to George’s class, we’re told that we don’t have to hold hands during the Here we go round the mulberry tree routine. Everyone else seems happy to take the risk apart from me. This makes me feel terrible especially as the child on my left (not my grandson) keeps feeling for mine and appears rather offended when I ignore him. Of course I hold my own grandson’s hand but I’ve sanitized both our mitts first. I also make sure to put on my gloves so that we leave the hall, my skin isn’t touching the door handle. But where do you stop?
Later, when Rose is at her after-school dance class, George and I zip down to the supermarket to get the usual weekly shop. But the queue is so long that I’m worried I’m going to be late for collecting Rose. I can’t abandon ship because now all the food is on the conveyor belt and the cashier is about to start. I ring one of my daughter’s friends whose child is also at the class and she promises to hang onto her for me. On the way out, the security bleep sounds off. Apparently I’m not allowed to take plastic baskets out of the store. How am I going to manage all these bags? Luckily, a stranger offers to help. “I look after my granddaughter one day a week,” she says. Once more, I marvel at this previously hidden community which I didn’t know about until my daughter gave birth.
Luckily we get to the dance class just before it ends. Next time, I vow to leave more time to allow for panic buying shopping queues.
But things are about to get worse – and not in the way I expected
The following morning, when I am shepherding the children into the car for pre-school, Rose is just about to climb into her car seat when there is a sudden whoosh out of her mouth without any warning. My poor little granddaughter has been sick. “It’s all right,” I reassure her. But my mind is spinning. I need to clean her up, make sure she’s all right and do something about the car. First things first. Her temperature is normal – at least I think it is although these digital thermometers are beyond me.
“Want to lie on the sofa,” says Rose plaintively. So I make her up a little bed and then George decides he needs one too on the other sofa. I let them watch television while I ring round to find someone who can clean out the car before it smells of vomit for the next ten years. (It’s already twenty years old so maybe I’m being optimistic here). Then Rose decides she wants a strawberry ice-cream. So we walk into town (Rose in the pushchair as her legs are wobbly) but we’re only there for five minutes before the mobile cleaning man rings to say he’s arrived early. “Don’t worry,” he says when we rush back, breathless. “I’ve got six grandchildren myself. I know what it’s like to be in ten places at the same time.”
The strawberry ice cream stays down, thank goodness, but Rose doesn’t want lunch. I’d forgotten how hard it is to amuse two small children all day without going out! (It’s started to pour with rain.) I dig out the crayons and glitter but Rose is still peaky and her heart isn’t in it. Should I ring the doctor? Her temperature is normal and besides sickness isn’t a sign of the you-know-what. At least not according to my internet research.
Half an hour later, a friend who’s been walking our dog pops round with our key. We only chat for about a minute – honestly – and then I realise with a heart-churning moment that my grandson isn’t watching television with his sister. The back door is open but he’s not in their little courtyard garden. I go cold. The front door is partly open because the car valeting man has a cable running through to the electric socket. I run to the door. The lane is empty. “George!” I scream.
No answer. My legs are jelly. Something makes me turn. There he is, standing at the top of the stairs. I collapse on the bottom step, weeping with relief. George comes down and gives me a soft little kiss on my cheek. I cry even more. “It’s all right,” says my friend. But it might not have been. And it was all my fault. It brings home the sheer responsibility of being a hands-on gran.
“Can we have a hot chocolate, Gan Gan?” asks Rose from her sofa bed, oblivious to the drama.
That’s when my phone rings…
It’s my eldest son who lives in Spain. He’s just been to the shops and there isn’t any food. “It’s OK, Mum,” he says. “We’ve got enough for four days.” But then what? I did suggest he came home last week but he likes it out there and besides, he doesn’t want to infect anyone just in case he’s harbouring something.
Then I make my daily call to my 96-year-old dad. He’s very distressed because their local supermarket has just rung to say they can’t deliver their order after all because of panic buying. So I go online and find a lovely woman who delivers freshly-cooked meals. My sister sources another company which delivers frozen microwave dishes. Phew! It’s not easy when they live 300 miles away. If only they’d live nearer…
The following morning, my husband returns from Canada after a four-day trip. Apparently the plane was almost empty. He was tested before they left (and proved negative) but what about the risk of infection on the plane? It’s meant to be low because of air filtering but even so, my daughter is understandably worried. “Mum,” she says, “perhaps we shouldn’t see you for a fortnight.”
A whole two weeks without seeing my precious grandchildren? I feel sick at the thought. It’s also my daughter’s birthday this week and Mothering Sunday the following weekend…
But at the same time, I can’t risk giving them anything. I’d never forgive myself.
“Are we being over-cautious?” asks my daughter.
Maybe. But it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Meanwhile, it looks like my husband and I are going to be under the same roof with only each other (and the dog) for company for two weeks. “It will give me a chance to tidy my man cave,” he says.
Hah! I’ve been trying to get him to do that for the past ten years, since we got married. “I don’t believe it.”
“Right,” he says. “I’m going to start now.”
And all of a sudden, I feel strangely calm. If my husband is really going to tidy that upstairs bedroom – which is crammed full with CD’s, old receipts which he refuses to throw away and goodness knows what else – things must be bad…
There’s only one thing to do. Go for a calming walk by the sea with the dog. I think that’s allowed. Isn’t it?