Five things to do for a friend whose child is in hospital

The smallsmall was admitted to hospital this year on Christmas Day. Sound dramatic, right? Well, it was a bit – breathing is kind of important and he wasn’t being terribly good at it, so in we went and ended up staying for four days.

Shittest Christmas ever, you might be thinking. But actually it wasn’t so bad. The nurses and doctors were immense (and of course were WORKING on Christmas Day – where were you, Mr Cu- I mean, Hunt?…) and even when I fell asleep leaning on the side of the bed the boy was on, they just brought me chocolates and left me face down in a puddle of saliva as they went about their very important business.

Like most British people I moan about the weather and my inabiliity to get a GP appointment but on the whole we know that when the chips are down, the NHS always stumps up.

My mum’s cancer (x2), the instrumental birth of my first child, the midwifery care for my second, the weeks my preemie nephew recently spent in NICU, and now this little episode of festive drama – every time the NHS has proven themselves to be a little bit of ace in a world full of too much shit and Donald Trump.

Having said that, when your kid gets admitted to hospital, the resources are quite rightly pointed in their direction. There is little sleep and no food for the anxious parents (unless you count guiltily hoovering up the cold remains of your kid’s shepherd’s pie while hiding behind a blue curtain).

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It would have been a waste, right..? The cake and custard was good too…

So, while I was sitting around in hospital I gave some thought to what would make the stay easier for me and anyone else who finds themselves in this position:

Food. Most children’s wards have kitchens which parents are able to use. One of the most helpful things friends/ family can do is bring/ send in food that can be easily warmed in a microwave.

Just a note of caution – I do mean actual food, not the snacky kind of junk food that we all imagine someone stuck in a hospital will be craving. The chances are that after the first 24 hours, the parent in question will have already consumed Christmas-like quantities of crisps and chocolate and will be feeling a little sick.

Proper food is the one here, folks. And if you have no time to cook (fair enough) then grab a decent ready meal, some soup perhaps, or a sandwich of superior quality to the average hospital canteen’s, and rest assured the gesture will be greatly appreciated.

Slippers, socks, (new) pyjamas. An unexpected hospital stay means no time to pack, no time to think what you need, and there is definitely no time to consider the fact that it might not feel ok to be forced out of your comfort-home while wearing your comfort clothes.

You can’t even fall back on being ill and therefore not caring, because you’re not.

I’m putting on my PJs at home generally means I’ll be donning the tshirts too tatty to wear in public, coupled with a pair of pants. If I’m feeling frisky (said with sarcasm and meaning exciting-but-not-really, not that kind of frisky) I might stretch to a pair of the Mr’s boxers.

Clearly this was not going to cut it on a hospital ward.

When it comes to socks, there was also something embarrassing about taking off my shoes to uncover an unwelcome toe or heel waggling at everyone. People generally were kind enough to pretend not to see it, but we all knew.

I’d change my clothes quicker than a self-conscious teenager in PE, in case the next footsteps swept the blue curtain aside. I worried that the sight to greet three doctors and two nurses “on their rounds” would be me, precariously balanced on one foot, arse in air, midway through changing my pants.

I’d guiltily wolfed down the small’s leftover banana behind a blue curtain as I waited for the Mr to appear with breakfast (see the first item in this list). It was 10am already, and I had considered eating my own arm.

And I’d been holding in my farts way longer than can possibly be healthy.

Having holes in my socks was just an indignity too far.

I really would have welcomed some new ones, a fancy pair of PJs so I could pretend I was in control (I’m totally taking this all in my stride – look my pyjama bottoms match my top) along with a pair of slippers because the Mr kept forgetting mine – no judgement, just a worried dad trying to hold together the other pieces of our life.

Take note.

An opportunity to nap. It’s likely that the parent has had little sleep. The combination of observations, medications, the noises of other children, and snoring of their parents, make sleep on a paediatric hospital ward impossible.

Ear plugs are frowned upon. Should your kid’s various machines starting bleeping and dinging in an alarming way (which apparently is different to the routine bleeps and dings that wake you up all night, or the ones that happen when your kid pulls off the oxometer. Again), I’m imagining the doctors and nurses rushing to your child’s aid would prefer not to have to rouse you from you slumber.

Should you be paying a parent a visit therefore, bring a cup of tea, then sit in a chair while they collapse face down on the bed and doze for an hour or two.

This will be the kind of sleep they will wake from not knowing their name or where they are, but the knowledge that their child is supervised and cannot launch him/herself from the bed will be enough to allow them to give in.

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Don’t go to sleep, mummy! I don’t care if I only have half a functioning lung – I’ll land on my head if you go to sleep! I will, I will, I will!

Hand cream. Wash your hands on your way into the ward, on your way out, after nappy changes, after going to the loo, before eating, after eating, and after every time your kid spits their meds all over you (how they ever get better, I don’t know). The hand washing is BRUTAL.

Soon the skin on your hands starts to resemble the heels of your feet (which are hopefully now swathed in brand new socks).

Hand cream will be very welcome.

Bring your best chat. Once you’ve dispensed with the questions about how the small person is, ask how they are. They’ll no doubt tell you they are fine but let them know it’s ok not to be. Be ready in case they cry. And just let them for a few minutes.

Then pull out your phone and do some full-scale bashing of whatever you know floats your mate’s boat. Whether it be football results, the news, politics, celebrity gossip or you’ll never guess what so-and-so-in-the-village has done now, just bring it.

Your mate will relish the opportunity to think and talk about something other than medication, test results, or whether that bleeping is one of the important ones or not. They’ll feel rejuvenated by talking about something normal for once so research it beforehand if necessary, just do your best not to turn up with your head in shed – that’s going to help no-one.

There are about a hundred other ways that you can be useful to parents whose children are in hospital – this is just a start. If you’re really not sure, then why not ask?

And finally, to any parent reading this whose child is in hospital regularly, or who’s stay lasts longer than four days: you are a fecking hero.

 

NB. I’ve purposely said parents in this piece because most people care about their kids. But I also think most of these concerns might be peculiar to women (or maybe that’s my unconcious gender bias rearing its head – I just can’t imagine the Mr being quite so bothered about the sock thing. The food, yeah, but socks…?) What do you think?

Why there is no winner when Home plays Away

I’ve been moaning a bit recently. Mostly about how bored and frustrated I feel being at home more-or-less full time with two small children.

It is true that my job was far from being my dream and, to be completely honest, there were elements of it that made me fantasise I was a unicorn and could stab people in face by nodding I disliked.

But when all is said, done and dusted, I do miss it; not just, but also not least, because there were things that I loved about going to work.

I loved earning my own money.

I have found being “kept” like a pet cat distinctly disempowering. And while cold hard cash struggles to survive the onslaught of childcare costs, a little will hopefully be yours. You earned it. And you earned the right to decide how it should be spent.

Staying at home full time means I feel like a passenger in the financial affairs of my household. My inner voice laments, This is not how it was supposed to be, and stumps up a pathetic defence against the uncharitable thoughts I had in the past about women who did not work (karma btw, is a snippy bitch, sitting on a bench with teething, sleep deprivation and no friends).

My thoughts come back to sneeringly haunt me and even though I fight the good fight not to use the word “just” in front of “a mum”, like the babies I grew who used my bladder as a bed, that feeling is a heavy weight on every penny I spend.

I loved leaving the house alone.

Leaving the house with one bag, one coat; opening, walking through, then shutting the door behind me, without breaking into a sweat or a swear-word, is an under-appreciated pleasure.

So, on the mornings that you get to shower, dress, drink coffee, eat breakfast and leave the house alone please take a second to breathe in the peace. I know you’ll be on the clock, I know you’ll probably be stressing about the day ahead, but please appreciate that the soundtrack to your morning is not Paw Patrol, no one is crying because you wouldn’t let them drink the mouthwash, no one repeatedly slammed the toilet lid as you attempted to complete a thought in the shower, and when you stepped out of its steamy warmth no one asked you why you were wobbling.

I loved sick days (or the ability to take them, at least).

Not that I took many. But I could take them. That is all there is to say on that.

I loved the opportunity to concentrate.

Sometimes I get through the day by thinking of my children as my employers. Choosing between park or soft-play is the stay-at-home-and-feel-my-brain-slowly-shrivel-and-die equivalent of choosing between answering emails or making phone calls – they’re not the things that dreams jobs are made of, but its all part of the job.

Also part of the job when you’re actually at work however, are times when you need to concentrate on one thing for an extended period of time. This is when international office code for Chuff Off comes into play: out come the earphones, in they go, and regardless of whether you actually have anything attached to the other end, you just crack on uninterrupted. Bliss.

Being at home with small people however, means being relentlessly subject to the whims, fancies and bodily fluids of someone else Every. Single. Second.

Even if you snatch a moment of peace behind the fridge door, the universe dictates you’ll be left forcing down a sticky, half-chewed chunk of Dairy Milk because those noisy little fuckers you live with have somehow set to mute, sniffed out your enjoyment, and snuck up behind you with the question, “Wha’ you got?” Your time is never your own.

Conversations not about my children; that buzz of getting something really, really right; being measured, assessed and found to be good at your job; the freedom of being able to call and say “I’m going to miss bedtime”, knowing that someone else is there to keep the small people alive; being me-me not mum-me; are all things that I miss about work.

But I also know the grass ain’t all that much greener on the other side of the fence.

It is tempting to romanticise any situation that is not your’s, especially if the over-riding mindset that accompanies your current position is one of, How did this happen? I don’t want this. But perhaps there are things to be grateful for on this side of the fence too – perhaps the grass isn’t green just yet, but maybe the soil is fertile and there is an opportunity to grow there too.

I love mornings.

Neither of my kids are at school so I know this won’t last forever, but for now I don’t have to drag children out of bed, rattle a toothbrush around their resistant teeth, wrestle them into some clothes, then fling them in the car for the hurtle to nursery. I don’t have to shove them through the doors still rubbing sleep out of their eyes, then drive like a lunatic to get to work five minutes late. No longer having to do this is excellent.

I love the laughter.

Parenting has brought with it an awful lot of tears. Some – stitches, exhaustion, PND – are justified, others – not being able to find the charger for the laptop, the John Lewis Christmas advert, DIY SOS – less so. But goofy happiness and laughter also feature large in the landscape of my parenting.

I laugh so much I sometimes cringe at what my shining-pride-face must look like to people immune to the charms of my children. My face hurts with the effort and while the smile is often turned upside down mere seconds later, it is not long before the full-beam is switched back on.

Whether it’s The Boy saying he is “Bahn memmeh’s baosh [bouncing Mummy’s balls]”, or The Girl informing me that she was going to the toilet to have a wee and a baby (a misunderstanding that arose after I told her that babies “get out” through a woman’s “noonoo”), the lols roll in several times a day and I would hate to miss out on any of it.

I love the flexibility.

Admittedly I’m not able to go to the gym or the hairdresser basically ever, and come to think of it I don’t really get to eat my meals or wee when I want to either, but I do get to go on nursery trips to the seaside. I can take my son to his hospital appointments, and I’m able to visit primary schools for my daughter over the next few weeks without feeling like a burden on anyone.

If I were still working, I know I’d be fighting the guilt that I was prioritising my children over my work, I’d be taking great pains to show how appreciative I was, and would repeatedly reassure anyone who would listen that I would be logging on later to make up the time… I don’t miss any of that.

The truth is that there are good things and bad things in play whichever team you are on. Mentally throwing golf-balls at your partner/ friend’s face because he/ she wears the Home kit, is pointless and self-defeating, because she/ he might be envying the “me-time” your commute to work represents to him/ her.

The reality of course is that attired entirely in Away, you spend way too much time trying to avoid sniffing a stranger’s sweat patches.

Meanwhile his/her days resemble being forced to eat cake all day, every day. She (ok I’m dropping the pretence of she/he, because we all know this mostly affects women…) loves cake it’s true, but if it’s the only thing she ever gets to eat, all day long, and she has to eat it whether she is hungry or not, and she knows she might be startled awake multiple times a night to eat more cake… well, I’m sure you can forgive her for looking a bit sick.

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What do you mean you don’t want to eat all of them? You said you liked cake. God, you’re so ungrateful.

The thing is that this should not be a competition. It is not about winning, losing, or who has it best, worst, hardest or easiest, it’s about recognising and respecting the various difficulties that our journeys represent.

Instead of glaring through green-tinted spectacles, we need to take the glasses off and really see the desperation in one another’s eyes. Then we simply need to give each other The Nod.

Because the over-riding truth in this hardest ‘hood of all is that, when we’re forced to choose between home and away, for many of us there is no winner.