The Diary of a Stressed Out, Sleep Deprived Mother: The Isolation Edition Part 5

Throughout the lockdown period, my husband has warned me repeatedly about the risks of leaving tablets and cleaning products within the reach of the children. “Now you have kids”, he reminds me, “you cannot leave anything and everything wherever you fancy. You have to be more responsible with potentially hazardous items.” As a result, he has installed locks on all of our cupboard doors so as to prevent the kids from inadvertently poisoning themselves with a concoction of medicines and household chemicals.

One morning, I leave the kids unattended for a brief period of time whilst I go to the bathroom to relieve myself. My husband is at work, and so I am once again solo parenting. When I come back downstairs, I almost soil myself (despite having only just been to the toilet) as I see that there are a variety of tablets strewn across the kitchen floor. Some are capsules, which appear to have been chewed and/or burst. A series of ghastly scenarios begin to flood my imagination. These mostly involve my kids being desperately ill in hospital, my husband signing up to Tinder in order to search for a more responsible wife, and me in police custody charged with grievous bodily harm. I search frantically for my handbag, thinking that I must have left it on the floor by mistake, thus allowing the kids easy access to a pile of paracetamol (as a parent you suddenly find that carrying copious amounts of paracetamol around with you is essential- listening to the story of The Three Little Pigs (or any other equally irritating fable or TV show) repeatedly does often result in a headache).

After some searching and a heck of a lot of swearing, I am unable to find my handbag, but I do discover a plastic container upside down on the lounge floor. I realise that this is the container that my husband has been using to store vitamins in, and that contrary to my thoughts that this whole incident was almost certainly going to be my fault, the kids have actually got hold of his vitamins because they were left on the kitchen surface this morning when he left for work. I phone my husband and ask him exactly what was in the container and in what quantity. After he clarifies this, I count the squashed and, in some cases half-chewed, vitamins and realise that I am able to account for all of them. This thankfully means that the children have not swallowed any of the tablets and, after a bit of further research, I establish that anything they may have ingested would not have been in an amount capable of producing adverse effects or toxicity*.

Once I’ve calmed down significantly thanks to knowing that I am not going to be responsible for an accidental vitamin overdose in a 1 and a 2 year old for the sake of going for a piss in private, I come to my senses and bellow down the phone at my husband “THIS SERVES YOU RIGHT FOR CONSTANTLY TELLING ME OFF FOR SUPPOSEDLY BEING CARELESS WHEN IT COMES TO THE STORAGE OF MEDICINAL SUBSTANCES IN THE HOUSE! YOU WILL NEVER HEAR THE END OF THIS! Anyway, hope the rest of your day goes ok, bye.” I go and make myself a cup of tea, but what I really need is a stiff gin.

As the lockdown is gradually eased in late summer, we are able to catch up on a bit of socialising, albeit still under a degree of restriction thanks to Covid-19. We enjoy a couple of socially distanced gatherings, and are able to get merry with friends. Despite the restrictions, it is nice to be able to see one another again after such a long time. Plus, we suspect that it will only be a matter of time before case numbers began to rise again, and so we want to make the most of the end of the summer and this new-found “freedom” while it lasts. Of course, it is somewhat difficult to avoid getting a bit carried away at times.

Over the August bank holiday weekend, my husband and I attend a “bottomless brunch” in honour of a friend’s 30th birthday. Unfortunately, as I am soon to discover, parents who are “letting their hair down on a child-free night” and “bottomless brunch” do not mix. In fact, the combination of the two apparently causes more devastation than throwing gallons of petrol on a naked flame inside a house made entirely of wood.

Following 5 months of house arrest with a 1 and a 2 year old over the spring and summer, I find the temptation of endless cocktails and prosecco too much. The end result being that I have to be escorted from the premises at approximately 10pm by my husband because “my legs have suddenly stopped working.” I subsequently vomit in the street, all over my husband’s designer shoes and, as I discover the following morning, in my hair. Needless to say, James is pretty cross with me over this, and so I agree to help him with a powerpoint presentation that he needs to prepare for work later in the week. As I drag myself to fetch my laptop from the study, I ask him what the presentation topic is. To my horror, he replies “vaginal discharge**.” Oh for fuck’s sake, I think to myself, there are not many other topics that would be worse than this when I’m this hungover. (**my husband is a GP hence having to prepare a presentation on this topic for teaching at work, before you get worried).

Later that day, the kids are brought back after having stayed at Nanny’s house the night before. As Henry comes through the front door, he points to me and exclaims “MONSTER!” Blimey, I think to myself, this is worse than I feared. I know I’m hungover and don’t look my best, but I also don’t think I warrant that label. Luckily, as I divert my gaze downwards in shame, I am relieved to see that what he’s actually referring to is the Cookie Monster on my T-shirt, and not in fact my hungover appearance.

Most of you will be familiar with the extreme inconvenience caused by the household boiler malfunctioning. Throw a couple of kids into the mix, and it’s a million times worse. I discover this fact when, one Sunday morning, Edward awakes having produced an impressive “poonami” which has leaked out of his nappy and all down his legs. I quickly realise that the situation is not rectifiable with only baby wipes, and so I shout to James to run an “emergency bath.” It is at this point that we become aware of the fact that the water flowing from both taps is ice cold and we conclude that the boiler is not working properly. Of course, these things always seem to happen on a Sunday when no one is available to come and fix the problem, and also when one is up to their elbows in actual shit, as I am.

The following day, an engineer is sent to our house to inspect the boiler to see what is causing the problems with the heating and hot water. James leaves for work that morning hopeful that he will have the luxury of a hot shower when he returns. I warn him that he is probably being stupidly optimistic about the situation and that my money is on the engineer coming, diagnosing the issue, and then declaring that a new part for the boiler is needed, which he almost certainly won’t have on the day and so will have to return to fit at a later date. In other words, I feel his chances of a hot shower later today are extremely slim, if not non existent.

Sure enough, the engineer informs me that the boiler needs a part replacing and he needs to order it and come back tomorrow to fit it. I break the bad news to James, who is understandably frustrated. It is at times like this that I am grateful for the time I spent working in Kingston, Jamaica back in 2011. We did not have a reliable supply of running water in our apartment and so, we often had to improvise and “make do” by washing with bottled water. This means I am well equipped to cope with filling the sink and washing from that whilst the boiler is out of action. Plus, not much can be worse than waking up in the tropics with a raging hangover as a result of getting wasted on overproof rum and grape soda the night before (by the way, this was an incredibly unpalatable concoction, which I would fervently discourage anyone from trying- we were short of mixers on that particular occasion) and finding that you have no running water just before you are due to embark on a 5 hour car journey to a distant part of the island. On this particular trip, there were about 8 of us packed in a minibus like sardines and you could practically smell the rum oozing from our pores.

Despite being well equipped to deal with the absence of hot water, I begin to become gradually more and more irritated when the engineer returns several times during the week and is still unable to fix the problem. First he needs to order a part, then the part is faulty, then the second replacement part (which took another 48 hours to become available) is faulty and so on and so forth. Eventually, after about 5 days of visiting the house daily, the boiler is still not fixed and he concludes that the root of the problem is a mystery to him. He declares that the manufacturer is going to have to come and take a look at it (again, at a later date). After becoming increasingly exasperated over the course of the week, I finally lose my tolerance for the whole situation after taking the kids for Sunday lunch with Nanny and Granddad.

Anyone with young kids will understand that toddler meal times can get extremely messy. Not only do the kids throw food everywhere, but they get it all over themselves, the surrounding furniture and, more often than not, all over you. The situation can become even more hazardous when the child insists upon sitting on your lap for part of the meal (as was the case on this occasion). Essentially, by the time I exited the restaurant, I was so sticky as a result of policing two toddlers during a pub lunch that if you had thrown me at a wall, I’m almost certain I would have stuck to it far more successfully than Spiderman himself. For crying out loud I thought, enough is enough, I just need a bloody hot shower! (The boiler eventually got fixed the following day- thank goodness).

Towards the end of the summer, we are working on trying to potty train Henry. Despite almost losing the will to live early on in the process after an especially unsuccessful day during which he pissed down his leg multiple times and attempted to take a shit on one of the rose bushes in the back garden, he gets the hang of it pretty quickly. Soon he is reliably going to the potty and even insists upon emptying it into the main toilet himself. Whereas this is quite sweet in a way, there have been a couple of instances during which his grip on the potty has been somewhat precarious and his footwork rather clumsy, and therefore I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before he trips over and plunges headfirst into a pale of his own piss.

As autumn gets under way, I notice the garden is becoming infested with mushrooms. Whereas I’m no expert when it comes to fungi, I do know that those that are white with white gills (as most of the ones in my garden are) tend to be toxic. Given that Edward eats practically anything he gets his hands on (including stuff that isn’t even edible) I am naturally keen to rid the garden of these potentially toxic mushrooms so as to avoid the kids being tempted to dig in to a poisonous snack. As I’m frantically circling the garden, uprooting and collecting all of these wretched plants, the neighbour peers over the fence to say “hi.” Obviously intrigued by my collection of pickings, he asks what I’m up to. “Oh nothing much” I reply, “just gathering dodgy mushrooms.” He looks at me, his expression that of someone who is one third intrigued, one third horrified and one third almost excited that I’m up to no good. I swiftly clarify that I’m disposing of potentially harmful mushrooms in order to prevent the kids from eating them rather than gathering “dodgy mushrooms” for recreational purposes in the hopes that they may have hallucinogenic properties. He leaves me to it after this, perhaps slightly disappointed that his neighbour isn’t quite as rebellious and edgy as he momentarily thought.

Early in the autumn, I develop a very mild head cold. Even though my symptoms are very mild and involve only a runny nose and slight congestion, my husband is naturally panicking that I have contracted the dreaded Covid-19. As a result, he regularly shoves a thermometer in my ear when I’m least expecting it in order to check I haven’t developed a fever. Later on I complain about this repeated temperature checking to a friend over text message and she makes a good point by saying “I can understand why you find it annoying but just thank your lucky stars it isn’t a veterinary thermometer.” During negative times like this, it is important to surround yourself with positive people who are able to point out the silver lining in practically any scenario.

As the weather begins to get colder, it is becoming obvious to us at work that cases of Covid-19 are beginning to increase again. Sure enough, plans for a further national lockdown are announced before long. Given that a lot of businesses will be forced to close, Nanny points out that it would be wise to book the boys in for a pre-lockdown haircut so as to avoid us having to attempt this at home (you may recall from a previous diary entry that we were forced to trim the boys’ hair during the first lockdown and the kitchen was left looking a bit like Sweeney Todd’s Barbershop following a mishap involving the electric shaver and Henry’s ear. His ear was not badly injured, but it’s amazing how much a small, superficial graze on the ear can bleed). We book them into a barber near nursery and take them late one afternoon.

Edward is surprisingly well behaved and tolerant of the hair cutting process, and ends up looking rather smart. Henry, on the other hand, has a complete meltdown to the extent that myself and the barber agree that it would not be practical or safe to persevere with the trim. This is after multiple bribes involving chocolate and cake are made in an attempt to get Henry to comply. I apologise profusely to the barber, and Nanny and I proceed to take the boys back to the car so we can all drive home. Nanny walks ahead with Edward, whilst I deal with Henry.

After marching him out and scolding him for misbehaving and making it impossible for his hair to be cut, I inform him that he will not receive any chocolate on account of his performance. He’s clearly very pissed off with me as a result of this and begins throwing an epic tantrum on the pavement. I am then tasked with trying to drag him towards the car with one hand without dislocating several of the joints in his upper limb, whilst simultaneously trying not to spill the piping hot Starbucks coffee that is in my other hand. Eventually I manage to get him to the car with all his joints still intact and my coffee unspilled. He is later very remorseful for his actions when he realises that the length of his hair will likely rival that of Rapunzel’s by the end of the lockdown and that I really did mean it when I said his performance had precluded his receipt of a much coveted chocolate lolly.

One of my friends from medical school recently mentioned that the hardest part of parenting can be trying to keep a straight face when you are trying to discipline your kids and they say or do something that is really funny at the same time. This is especially true for me when, one night, the boys wake up at about 1.30 am. I go into the nursery to try and settle them back down again and, as I’m tucking Henry in to bed, Edward begins throwing his pillow and duvet over the side of his cot (he likes to get into bed with Henry and so throws his bedding out in preparation for moving it to Henry’s bed). Frustrated, I mumble “oh stop being a pest, Edward” under my breath as I pick his discarded bedding up and begin to place it back in his cot. Before I have the chance to do this however, Henry stands bolt upright, points at his brother and, in an attempt to reiterate my statement, exclaims “EDWARD! STOP BEING A PEST!” For some reason, this sounds utterly hilarious coming from a 3 year old in the middle of the night, and I end up laughing and totally wrecking my attempts at being a scary and authoritative mother.

As the second national lockdown approaches, I receive a letter in the post advising me that I will have to shield again throughout this period of restrictions due to being clinically extremely vulnerable. This time, the letter says, the rules won’t be as strict as they were during the first lockdown. For instance, rather than being advised to stay home at all times and see no one other than those you live with, you are encouraged to go out for exercise. Ironically, on the same day, James and I both receive notification from the NHS Track and Trace app that we have been in contact with a positive case and we are required to self isolate for 14 days. I can only laugh at the fact that, despite shielding being slightly less restrictive this time around, I will now have to spend the first 14 days of lockdown under complete house arrest anyway, thanks to Track and Trace.

For the first time in my medical career, I have managed to get two weeks off over Christmas and New Year this year. This was especially good seeing as though last year I spent the majority of the festive period in hospital and essentially missed out on the entire thing. I have to laugh at the fact that, due to an unprecedented global pandemic, I’ll most likely be able to do fuck all over Christmas and, in fact, this year is potentially the best year to just work the lot. Still, being at home with the family whilst eating, drinking and being merry has got to beat being in hospital, even with the Covid restrictions.

This year, we have installed several wireless plugs in the house and we have programmed our various Amazon Alexas to do things such as switch off lights or TVs when prompted. We have an Alexa in the boys’ nursery and my husband has set it up so that you can ask it to play nursery rhymes and switch on the baby monitor. One evening, the kids have gone to sleep with their bedside light on. Whereas prior to this technology, I could have simply crept into their nursery and switched the light off myself, now I have to ask Alexa to do it because the whole system is set up through her. However, it turns out that you have to be very specific in your instructions/requests to Alexa because unless you are word perfect, she won’t understand what the heck you are asking her to do.

I begin by quietly instructing Alexa to “turn the boys’ bedside light off.” She then replies and says she “doesn’t know that one.” I wrack my brains in an attempt to remember exactly what James has programmed her to respond to. I endeavour to get her to comprehend by subtly changing the key words in my request- the volume and pitch of my voice increasing gradually with each attempt due to my escalating state of exasperation. Eventually, I am running out of options and have also reached the end of my tether. I practically scream “ALEXA! TURN OFF THE KIDS’ BEDSIDE LIGHT!” To my delight, I’ve cracked the code and Alexa does as I ask, but to my horror, my loud and high pitched instruction wakes the boys up. Sometimes I truly believe that technology just complicates what would previously have been an incredibly simple and minimally disruptive task.

One of my best friends has recently become the proud owner of a new puppy. One Sunday I receive a message from her saying “Mate, how on earth did you manage with two kids under two?! This puppy is hard enough!” I reply that I have no idea how I managed, but somehow I did and it does get easier. We speak on the phone later and I give her some encouragement and tell her that she can absolutely cope with this puppy and she will get the hang of it in no time. She feels reassured by our conversation and says that before this chat she had been questioning whether she’d done the right thing in getting the puppy in the first place. She then asks me if I ever question why I had children. As I look around the bomb site that is my lounge, see Edward bashing Henry on the back with a plastic golf club and notice for the first time that Edward has drawn on a sizeable portion of the kitchen walls with chalk and wax crayon, I tell her that I tend to ask myself this question several times per hour, but I can honestly say that despite this, I’ve never regretted having them and I’m sure she won’t regret getting the dog either. Despite the fact that parenting is hard work and having kids undoubtedly changes your life, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course I love my kids to bits. I also remind her that having ties such as kids or a dog does not mean you can’t have a social life or be silly from time to time. After all, I have a 2 and a 3 year old and I vomited in my hair after bottomless brunch a few months ago as a result of being horrendously drunk. We laugh together and declare that it’s true that some things never change (we partied A LOT in medical school).

Later that evening, as my husband and I get the kids ready for bed, Henry successfully uses the potty. We both praise him enthusiastically for being such a clever boy. I turn to my husband and say “you know parenting is hard work. There is so much responsibility. You’ve got to have eyes on the back of your head, you have to baby proof everything and you have to have so much patience. You know sometimes I wouldn’t mind being a toddler again for a day. All you have to do is take a piss on the potty and everyone gives you a round of applause.”

*I have been a doctor for 9 years and so I’m reasonably confident in assessing a situation like this and concluding that no harm is likely to result. If you are unsure about whether your child has ingested a harmful substance then always seek medical advice.

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