Looks like, once again, I spoke too soon...
It turns out that while the children were recovering from the plague, I was merely succumbing to it at my leisure. Scary Karen was very keen to find out all about it when I phoned her yesterday to explain why I couldn't bring Marie round to visit. She asked so many questions, I don't think I can go through it all a second time and I'll spare you the slimy details. Suffice to say, my digestive tract spent much of the other night in a concerted effort to expel its contents by the nearest available exit. Sarah's sleep was disturbed so frequently by the sound of me retching that when she woke at half-six and all was quiet, she felt the need to get up and check on me as I dozed in the lounge. You know, just in case I was dead.
I was propped up on the sofa, groaning mildly to myself, as News 24 went round in an endless, half-hour loop before my eyes. The main story was about how much food we waste. It was accompanied by pictures of rancid salad being thrown into a bin. This wasn't hugely helpful but I'd lost the remote and any ability to move. Sarah changed the channel to breakfast TV for me and went back to bed.
Later, three children bounced into the room and started arguing with each other. I ignored them. They ignored me. I watched the weather forecast for the twenty-eighth time in seven hours.
"What's the weather going to be like?" said Sarah, entering the lounge.
"Dunno," I muttered.
"You just watched the weather forecast."
"Uh-huh," I grunted. I knew the forecast had been on. I was vaguely aware that it probably hadn't changed much during the night. If I'd only paid attention one of those twenty-eight times... "Wuh?"
She looked concerned and lowered the questioning to Neanderthal level. "How cute was the girl talking about rain?"
Even this was aiming too high. "Uh? Girl?"
She patted me gently on the head. "You really are in a state, aren't you?"
"Ug?" I said and mournfully huddled deeper under my blanket.
Luckily, Sarah had a few days off work anyway. Well, lucky for the rest of us, that is. I'm not sure she'd really planned on spending her holiday around a smelly, incapable husband and a trio of demanding and constantly complaining children.
Of course, the kids are always like that but much of it is directed at me. Worse, having a substitute domestic servant presented more opportunities for complaint.
It's not that Sarah can't manage. I'm fortunate that she can cope with looking after the children on her own. I know plenty of housemums whose partners wouldn't know where to start if left in charge without warning for twenty-four hours. On the handful of occasions in the last eight years when I've been too unwell to move, I've been secure in the knowledge that both the kids and the house will still be intact once the delirium has passed. There may be a little more mess than usual and the fridge will probably have been emptied but there's no great risk of disaster.
That's not necessarily how the kids see it, however. I resurface and they act like they've had to train up a newbie, fighting over each other to tell me all the things Sarah got wrong, couldn't find or spilt.
It's not her fault. Although looking after children isn't rocket science, any individual child tends to have a complicated list of care instructions that has been developed and honed over a lifetime. Put three children together and the combined manual of likes, dislikes, medical history, social calendar, pending treats and suspended punishments is impossible to take in all at once.
Lewis gets out of school at 3 o'clock but Fraser comes out at 3:20. Lewis gets eczema cream on his arms and legs when he gets up and before he goes to bed. Fraser does too but he applies it himself. Marie gets it in the morning but only on her wrists at night. They all have different toothpastes. Fraser won't eat cooked vegetables, Lewis will put up with them, Marie prefers cooked to raw.
None of them likes change.
Sarah can do something perfectly valid, like cut up the boys' toast, and they'll complain that that's not the way Daddy does it. Marie, meanwhile, will complain if her toast isn't cut up. There's no way that Sarah can possibly know all these things but the kids make a fuss nonetheless.
I trust her but the kids aren't so sure. They live on their nerves in case she gives them the 'incorrect' cup or cuts up their carrot the 'wrong' way. It gets a little draining for everyone after a while, I imagine.
This came to a head when, after a long day, Sarah sat the kids down for tea. She'd cooked a pizza. Unfortunately, I'd bought different frozen pizzas from normal. When she plonked it down on the table and it was square, they simply couldn't work out what incompetent thing she'd done to achieve something so unnatural...
Marie followed this up by whining about her fork 'not being colourful enough' and then wittered on about how she was 'the ring-master of the colourful forks'.
Apparently, it was all a bit much.
They survived the incident but, when I stumbled down to the lounge once the children had gone to bed, Sarah said, "Now I understand why you buy beer."
"Uh-huh," I replied and switched on the TV. It was the weather forecast. I still didn't manage to take in the details but the girl was cute.
"Are you feeling any better?"
"Think so," I said. "Thanks for looking after the kids."
"That's OK but I'll be glad when you're able to take over. Have I told you how much I appreciate you lately?"
"I appreciate you, too," I said. It was the truth. "I should be well enough to go buy food tomorrow."
"Good. The fridge is empty."
"Uh-huh," I said and closed my eyes. I must have drifted off. When I woke up, the weather forecast was on. It was bedtime.
The rest did me good, though. I'm mostly fine now. It just may be another day or two before I can look salad in the face again...
Yours in a woman's world,
PS When I went out to buy food, I got rained on. For some reason, I wasn't expecting that...