Category Archives: Christmas

Positive

I’d known it was coming. The symptoms were all there, after all. I’d thought we’d been so careful, we always were… But clearly something had slipped through. Someone. I should have known it was too good to last. I should have known it would happen, sooner or later. Still, when the result flashed up in its little window, I was shocked. How were we going to cope? What were we going to do? I looked again. Yep, no denying it. Positive. I reached for my glass of wine, because I may have had fucking Covid but at least I wasn’t pregnant.

Fortunately, I’ve been one of the lucky ones. I’ve had symptoms for just over a week and the worst thing has been the loss of taste and smell, mostly because I’ve no idea how long it will last. The first few days, back when I thought I just had the kids’ cold – the viral wheeze aforementioned here – I mostly had a bit of a headache I ascribed to several evenings spent partaking end-of-December measures of gin and a slight cough that was so pathetically infrequent I didn’t give it a second thought. I didn’t feel great but I certainly didn’t feel pandemic-level poorly. Then, on New Year’s Eve, the oven wasn’t broken. I’d cooked a slow-roast pork shoulder and realised, around 4pm, that the oven must be broken because the house wasn’t suffused with the usual scents of slow-roasting crackling and succulent, fall-apart meat… But, of course, it was. I just couldn’t smell it. And suddenly this insidious virus which had ravaged across the entire planet had made its way to my home, my family, my lungs.

That was almost a week ago. I’m OK. Most of the time I feel perfectly normal. If this were any other year, I would count myself as fully recovered from a bit of a non-starter and no longer contagious, though I’d have thought the lack of smell and taste a bit odd. Still, if I were working in an office I’d have gone in every day, merrily passing round the germs.

I’m not trying to be blasé with this post. I’m aware that I am extremely lucky to be so relatively unaffected by this virus (touch wood). I know lots aren’t. There is a lot of fear out there. I don’t want to bluster out a trite, “Don’t be afraid!” because there’s plenty on the other side of the coin, and some of them are the 30-somethings on ventilators in ICU. My own kids, if they did indeed have Covid over Christmas (and at this point, it’s looking likely that they did) had it worst than most kids are ‘supposed’ to. There are no definites, it’s just a game of likelihoods. It’s only been around a year or so, after all. I was likely to be OK, and I am. My kids were likely to be less ill than me, and they weren’t. I can’t criticize the government for locking us all down again (the management and the timing of it, well, that’s another story) over something I wouldn’t even bother to use a sick day on, because my mild non-starter is another person’s death sentence. That’s why we’re all so scared, I guess. That’s why we’re all still so scared.

But I have Covid. And I am OK. I’m also a journalist, however lapsed, and I will say this: there is a far bigger market for stories of healthy people getting Covid and not being OK than there is for people getting it and mostly being absolutely fine except not being able to taste chocolate or smell nappy poonamis. Make of that what you will. And, in the meantime, I will continue to stockpile the Christmas treats for when my palate recovers and tackle the stinkiest of household jobs while I can’t smell them. Yesterday I cleared away the ill-fated sourdough starter I made last lockdown. Tomorrow I’ll give the kitchen bin a scrub. Home schooling has been re-established, the kids have been taking their exercise from the garden and Go Noodle (sorry Joe Wicks, we will never be PE people) and next week we will be allowed outside to walk among the fearful once again. In the meantime, we will stay home, recover and try to stay positive. In every other sense of the word, that is.


The NHS that saved Christmas

Not having lived under a rock for the past billion months, we always knew that Christmas 2020 would be departure from the norm (being the hosting, feeding and general merriment/mayhem of the masses over several days). We decided to embrace it for what it was: a chance to have a quieter Christmas, a break from the usual chaos, an opportunity to see how it compared. We delivered our various gifts at safe distances, saw most of the relatives if only briefly from doorsteps and, by the time our area had been headbutted into Tier 4, we had stocked up and settled in to have the ultimate Quiet One At Home. Never did it occur that any of us might not actually be home for it.

B2 started the week with the snots. NBD, we thought. She soon perked up after a day or two, just as the inevitable mucus began to sprout from the nostrils of Bs 1 and 3… No one had a persistent cough, no one had a temperature, and no one’s taste or smell had been affected as far as we could tell, so we mopped noses, Calpoled and Carried On. December 23rd found B1 rendered quite limp and lacklustre on the sofa, pale and bleating of a sore throat. B3, meanwhile, already the cuddliest of the three, became progressively cuddlier as the day went on, his breathing becoming if not laboured but a little huskier than usual as the torrents of snot continued to flow.

It was around 5am the next morning, Christmas Eve, when alarm bells started to stir, if not immediately clang to life. B1 was up, groaning and generally being rather over-dramatic about needing to pee whilst not feeling well and AAARGH there was a SPIDER less than TWO METRES away from her and it MOVED! Roused by these nonsensical, nocturnal caperings, B3 croaked his displeasure from his bedroom as I shepherded B1 back to bed with a dose of Calpol 6+ and firm instructions to go back to sleep as quietly as possible. I brought B3 into bed with me and H, at which point I noticed his breathing had become quite loud and panty, which I thought was down to the effort of bellowing whilst full of cold. A few hours later, once we were all up for the day, the panting had turned into strange grunting noises. Cue – via a bit of dithering, two ultimately redundant calls placed to 111 and the local surgery and, finally, some plainly-worded advice from my various medical relatives all over the space of about 20 minutes – a parenting first, the panic-wrought drive to A&E.

Despite my never having set foot in an A&E with my kids before (or ever, as far as I can recall) there have been some near misses along the way. When B3 was one day shy of four months old, he scared the bejesus out of us when he presented with a non-blanching rash all over his legs which looked horribly reminiscent of every picture of meningitis I’ve ever seen. But, although the timing then was pretty appalling – we had just climbed out of all mobile phone signal/WiFi/4G range down a cliff to a beach in the depths of Cornwall during a family holiday and he’d also done a massive, nappy-defying shit – I think the timing of this occasion ranked worse. A trip to hospital within a Tier 4 epicentre of a rampantly peaking global pandemic on Christmas Eve? Yes. Definitely worse.

August 2019 vs December 2020…

The experience itself, however, was infinitely better, which is weird because he was actually ill this time. I think probably because I knew within 5 minutes of arriving what was wrong and that he was more than likely going to be much better in a matter of hours… Last time it was all stomach-twisting worry about what the hell was causing the strange rash, despite all indicators being that he was absolutely fine (which he was, incidentally, the diagnosis concluding that the marks had been burst blood vessels caused by the carrier I’d used getting down to the beach). The route to that conclusion, though, was traumatic to say the least –desperate driving down country lanes, holding my poor, wriggly boy still so the doctor could try and puncture through his peak four-month-old chub for a vein, wretched attempts to get a urine sample manually (we were on the paeds ward for about 10 hours and he didn’t pee until the ninth) the hints of suspicion when the questions turned to what sort of ‘trauma’ may have caused the marks… All this over the backdrop of increasing hunger, the insistent wedging of a slightly-too-small one piece swimming costume under my very cheap shorts and t-shirt and said garments’ lack of breathability coupled with the warm day leading to a horrible awareness of one’s own increasing malodourous-ity.

This time, however, everything was far more straightforward. We queued for less than a minute and were admitted through to the paediatric A&E before I even had time to text Hub to let him know we’d arrived. The friendly and reassuring nurse took B3’s obs and gave an initial diagnosis of viral wheeze and treatment with a Salbutamol inhaler within a few minutes of us arriving. She also reassured me that I had done the right thing by bringing him in, which made me feel about a million times better because the last thing I wanted to do was burden the NHS unnecessarily during the Covid shitshow when all he needed was a cuddle and some Calpol.

Four hours later, with a far less wheezy B3 and a whole lot of medical gubbins stuffed into my nappy bag, we were heading home. There had been one hairy moment where all B’s symptoms improved except his breathing rate which had stayed high and there had been talk of sending us up to the paediatrics ward for further observation via a Covid swabbing because 2020… But in the end the paeds doctor came down to us and it was concluded that we could carry on his treatment – inhaler, antibiotics in case of pneumonia and a throat spray due to something about mucus indicators – at home. The most stressful part of the whole endeavour was when I realised I’d set off without my wallet and couldn’t make the bloody contactless Samsung Pay app work on the parking machine.

Meanwhile, at home, B1 had taken a turn for the worse. Not to be outdone by her baby brother, she, too, had developed a wheeze and laboured breathing. Worst of all – and always, since the age of 3, a sure sign of illness in B1 – she had taken a nap. Hub had called our GP, updated him on B3’s situation and procured a probable same diagnosis and a prescription for a reliever inhaler of the same ilk. By the time B3 and I got home, she was already receiving her first treatment.

There followed a long night of anxious breathing-monitoring and increasingly adept inhaler-administration and none of us got a terribly great amount of sleep, but Christmas morning dawned all the same and we awoke (B3 starfished in our bed having vocalised the Absolute Unacceptability of being Expected to Sleep in One’s Own Cot after being Rudely Awoken by the Evil Administrations of a Breathing Aid Smooshed over One’s Face) to the excited bellows of our seven-year-old telling the unconscious three-year-old that Santa Had Been. It was not, by a long stretch, the most ideal of Christmases, but it was certainly one we will all remember. The one when we all stayed home and were incredibly happy and grateful – particularly to the fabulous NHS staff of Frimley Park Paediatric A&E unit – to do so.


So here it is, Merry 30

Nothing will hammer home the approach of a new decade of age quite so adeptly as a teenage girl. It’s Sunday, December 11th, I’ve acquired enough shopping to elongate my arms at least another two inches (which I am to feel mainly in my neck and shoulders for the next week) and I’m standing in the queue at Primark in the centre of Reading. In front of me tower two smooth haired, leggings-clad teenage girls of an indefinable, wilderness-angst age. One of them notices one of the impulse buys lining the queue walkway, a handbag organiser that I may or may not have been surreptitiously admiring. She snorts and says, “Oh for god’s sake, what a Grandma thing to buy!”

And there it is. Mortality.

It’s been a suspicion of mine for some time that I’m no longer quite ‘down with the kids’, possibly because I still think of it as ‘down with the kids.’ This suspicion was confirmed when I felt the need to write myself a ‘to do’ list on Monday and then happened to glance a rather jaded eye down it.

I have, mostly, done all these now... except the bloody car tax

I have, mostly, done all these now… except the bloody car tax

That’s right, my memory has reached the stage of degradation whereby I need to have ‘de-flea bedroom’ written down in order for me to actually remember to do it. You’d think being bitten alive on a nightly basis would be reminder enough. You really would.

But, you know, there are benefits to getting older. I wouldn’t want to go back. I certainly wouldn’t want to go back 15 years. Every year brings new experiences. I had a baby, I got married, I wrote two books, bought, sold and bought another house, got promoted to editor of a magazine. I’ve done a lot for 30. And every week brings more new experiences. For example, this week I learned that the secret to de-fleaing one’s house requires a great deal of pure, unedited, incanfuckingdescent rage.

I’ve learned new words. I’ve learned to feel other words. Love. Grief. Joy. Pride. Labour. Words that, at 15, only spun and drifted from the tips of my fingertips, just as they should.

And, sometimes, things don’t feel all that different at all. Standing there in Primark, with presents for my loved ones digging grooves into my fingers, the queue shuffles forwards as the two girls began to discuss a party. “I don’t want to go to Alex’s ugly party,” one exclaims in a fit of pique. “I don’t even like him, he’s a ginge!” Ah. That old chestnut. I’ve certainly changed since I was 15* – I wouldn’t dream of allowing some bigoted, overgrown child’s comments to embarrass me these days – but perhaps the world of 15-year-olds hasn’t, that much. That bothers me. But it doesn’t surprise me.

Maybe that’s the saddest thing about getting older. When the surprises begin to fade into cynicism and innocence becomes a hard-eyed search for faults and cracks. It’s hard to be an optimist now. But not impossible… There’s so much still to look forward to – all the things I haven’t done yet. House renovations. Wedding anniversaries. More books to write and, hopefully – one day – publish. Family holidays. More babies, and guiding them through their own wilderness-angst years. Perhaps these are the sad, past-it ambitions of a handbag-organiser-admirer. I’ll take them any day. Cynicism hasn’t totally consumed me yet. After all, I’m only 30.

 

*Perhaps my new year’s resolution – or new decade’s resolution, if you will – should be to drop the whole “that’s the same as racism” response I came up with at 15 and launch into song instead…


The Great Santa Debate: Why I am a Proud Liar

I took my toddler to see Santa this week. She was pretty excited about the prospect of meeting “Fada Wissmus” beforehand, but when we actually stepped into the grotto she went completely silent, stared straight ahead and pretty much refused to acknowledge the poor guy with the red suit and the passably good beard. There were a lot of one-sided questions, furtive attempts at jollity and a decidedly awkward moment when Lara decided she was more interested in trying to steal Santa’s little decorative reindeer than receiving her gift. Sure, the whole concept of Father Christmas is a bit much to expect from a two-year-old, but at least we got some fairly ridiculous photos and a rather nice jigsaw puzzle out of it.

There has been some debate in the press recently about the morality of perpetuating the Santa myth. One line of argument is that we’re promoting what is essentially a big fat lie, making hypocrites of parents who bring their children up to believe lying is wrong. My problem with this is that it asserts, out and out, that lying is always wrong. I’m sorry, but I just don’t agree. I have no problem with lying if it’s with good intentions. When my dad was dying and shaved his head he asked me if it looked good. I lied then. Was that wrong? Is it really, truly wrong to lie to children about a kind, magical man who gives them and every other child on the planet presents on Christmas Eve without expecting a thing in return?

I don’t remember asking my parents whether Santa was real, probably because by the time I was old enough to ask, I was old enough to know I didn’t really want to know the answer. It didn’t damage our relationship. On the contrary, I credit them with the reason why Christmas time was so tummy-squeamingly exciting for so long in my life. Come to think of it, I don’t actually know anyone whose relationship with their parents has suffered as a result of them lying to them about Father Christmas for however many years. Nor do I know anyone who has suffered in any way whatsoever as a result of having once believed in Santa. So what’s the big harm?

We’ve already covered the grey area around the ‘evil’ of lying. What about kids getting freaked out about a strange man coming into their bedrooms at night? Call me naive but isn’t part of believing in Father Christmas believing in his goodness, his innocence, the great equality of his generosity towards all children in all the world? Our kids are going to become as cynical and suspicious as we are soon enough, why hurry the process? And, if your kid really is that freaked out, just put the damn stocking downstairs like they do in America.

It all comes down to childhood, I think. If your Facebook newsfeed is anything like mine, there aren’t many days that go by without someone sharing a meme lamenting the loss of those carefree, innocent days. Who doesn’t miss the reaches your belief could stretch to when you were little? The days when the tooth fairy, Easter bunny and, yes, Father Christmas were perfectly reasonable… That’s why we keep trying, for so long. That’s why we lie in bed at 12 years old, eyes determinedly shut as dad muffles a swearword as he stubs his toe on his way out with our empty stocking. Even in those days of heady adolescent awakenings, there still flickers a tiny, iridescently vaporous glimmer of belief that maybe, just maybe, it’s not dad at all… The tiniest shadow that’s only there because it’s trying so hard not to die. Something you may no longer remember or want to acknowledge now you know – so irreversibly – better.

 


%d bloggers like this: