M’s operation was a worry, a relief, and a financial nightmare all in one. There was the worry, of course, about whether he’d be alright, whether the operation would go well. And relief that the operation was finally being done. And a financial nightmare because, although there was money meant to be coming to get us through his time off work, there was hiccup after hiccup that meant we didn’t actually get the cheque until he was actually back at work again. We stocked up like squirrels, kept our heads down, and got through it — uncomfortably close but ok in the end.
But what surprised me was how M’s operation turned out to be a real godsend for us — him and me — and us as a family. When couples go through tough times — and I think it’s fair to say that the last two years have been pretty stressful, to say the least — it’s cliche for one of them to say, “Let’s get away, just the two of us.” I’ve always been suspect about what “getting away” accomplishes, whether any gains made whilst on holiday can translate well into the mundane of life back at home. But, cliche or not, M’s four weeks at home consitituted something of a “getting away” for us. We got away from the grind. We got away from him working until he had nothing more to give, coming home and wishing he were alone, and resenting the burden of we three. And we got away from me being home alone all day, deep in the chaos of two little girls — screaming, destroying, dancing, flailing, flinging, falling, breaking, crying, whinging, charming, mess-making, and wantingwantingwanting — and with no real friends to break the cycle, except the oft-troubled company of mum.
He was home for four weeks in the end — a longer time than any getaway could have afforded — and, though the first ten days were exhausting for me (as the only capable person in the house and so doing everything for everyone), once he got enough strength back to start doing things for himself, we settled into a lovely rhythm. He got into the habit of getting the girls up in the morning and making their porridge. The girls were thrilled to start the day with him like that, and adored having him home. They adored it so much that he quickly became the preferred parent, and I sat back and watched in satisfaction as they asked for his help with every task, sought his attention for every achievement, and wanted to crawl into his arms at every bump or scrape. I should have kept my mouth shut, but I couldn’t: “You see? You see?” But he kept his humour, bless him, and only nodded. He was, despite his best intentions, enjoying being with us — really enjoying our company . And we were enjoying his — all three of us. For four weeks, real life seemed to be on hold, and we were all in a wonderful kind of limbo. We’d got away.
And now he is back to work, and everyone is back to the grind. He comes home exhausted, I am alone with the all-day chaos. And suddenly, there seems to be so much to do! I have to make up for lost time and all the stuff that didn’t get done while he was home. I have a list as long as my arm — which should be frightening me, overwhelming me, but instead I feel energised by it. I want to get to it, I want to get through it and, what’s more, I believe I can. Things feel different.
E2 woke me up this morning, singing to Pink Lamb. “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and…” I listened for a while, sleepy under the duvet, warmed by the happy voice floating down the hallway. Suddenly it changed, rising in mock panic, “Daddy! Daddy, HELP! I’m a banana! A banana! HELP, DADDY!” I was confused for a moment, and then remembered: we’d put her to bed in a yellow sleepsuit. I began chuckling so hard my shoulders shook the duvet.
Loud, urgent, and utter nonsense — this is the stuff of my days and, oh yes, we are very much back to normal on that front. But… she was calling for her daddy — hopeful that he might be home, he might be the one to open her door and start her day — even though he’s been back to work for over a week now. Those four weeks made an impact on us. Those four weeks are still with us.
Long may they remain.