A while ago poor Michael was sick. Nothing serious, just a runny nose, a cough and a bit of a temperature. But, if I put him down, he roared. It was one of my half days and I had tried to nap in the afternoon because I was tired after a difficult night with Michael and had a slight cold of my own but anyone will tell you that, even if your twin babies are asleep with their minder, having a little girl poke you in the eyelids is not conducive to napping. So we went to the supermarket, hung out clothes, fed the neighbours’ cats and generally laboured for the afternoon. The childminder left me on my own with all my children about 6 (terror) and, unexpectedly, Mr. Waffle was stuck late at work (disaster).
By 7.30 the boys were cranky and tired, particularly Michael, but every time I tried to put him to bed he would wake up and cry. Perhaps the whooping from the other two didn’t help. While I was in the bathroom running the bath for the two healthy ones, Daniel was putting his new found crawling skills to good effect in the bedroom and I kept darting in to check that he was alright. I couldn’t put Michael down because he was deeply miserable and the Princess was lying in our bed saying “I’m sick, I’m sick, pay attention to me not to Michael, Mummy come here”. Under other circumstances, it wouldn’t have been a crisis, but I was so tired and it seemed to me that they all wanted me immediately and I couldn’t split myself in three so I shouted at the Princess “You are not sick, you are being a pain”. I had never shouted at her before. I have occasionally gone into another room, stuffed a towel in my mouth and had a rewarding silent scream, but I had never shouted at her. It was absolutely dreadful. She went pink, then white, then pink again. Daniel who I had just plumped down on the bed thought that I was shouting at him and he began to cry in terror, big round tears coursing down his little chubby cheeks (Michael was still in my arms and completely indifferent, I can’t feel that he is the sensitive one among my children). It was awful. I started to cry myself, the combination of guilt and self-pity proving irresistible. I picked up Daniel to comfort him and Michael started to cry because he was not now in my arms. The Princess looked at me in horror – what’s wrong, Mummy? “Nothing” I said sniffing “I just can’t manage everyone and look, Michael is crying now”. She hopped up and put her arms around Michael (who screamed some more at this unnerving development) and said “Don’t you mind him, Mummy, I’ll look after him.” You know how it is, once someone is nice to you when you start to cry, all you can do is cry some more. As I rescued Michael from his sister’s embrace and kept an arm round a more quietly sobbing Daniel (who later in the evening squealed in terror when I put him sitting on the bed – happy memories, clearly), she said “Mummy, when will you be happy again?” So I said that I would be happy by the time she counted to 60 (that’s one minute, everything is a pedagogical opportunity for the pushy parent, you know) and so, I gathered myself together and faced into the remainder of the evening and, I suppose, we all survived.