The blessed sound of whining

We have all known weeks that drag on forever. Ones where the Mondays seep slowly into endless Tuesdays, which refuse in turn to give way to the promise of mid-week. By the time Friday rolls around, we’re ready to throw our hands up and give into the powers that be. Let it end, we cry, desperate for the relief that a brand new week will bring.

The past two weeks have been a bit like that for me. For my entire family, in fact. Torrid, never-ending.

There I was, still basking in the newness of the year. Still firmly sticking to my resolutions. I was disciplined with my writing. The edits I had struggled with at the end of last year now seemed under control, and I hoped to have the next draft of my novel ready by the end of the month. And I was sticking to my plans of posting fortnightly on this, my fledgling blog.

That’s when my husband (we’ll call him H, shall we?) fell ill. The kind of ill that stops you in your tracks. Nothing serious, no, just your seasonal ailment fraught with misery and self-pity. He coughed through the night, he monopolised the living room – colonising the sofa and the TV – so we had to step around him while feeling guilty for invading his space.

Work was impossible. Suddenly the complete burden of childcare fell on my shoulders. I undertook the school drop-offs and pick-ups, took the children to the playground. I did all the cooking, all the cleaning around home while H lay on the sofa and complained how exhausted he was.

And then, just as he was beginning to recover his health and equanimity, our two children came down with the flu.

At the same time.

They had been running around the place, clamouring to be taken out to the playground. We’d fetched their woollens; it being early February in London and all. And as I reached to lower my son’s jumper over his head, I felt something as comforting as a hot water bottle in bed at the end of a cold, gruelling day. Except, the comfort of this touch was fleeting. It was my son placing a burning hot palm on my face.

I turned to H. “I think,” I said, “he has a fever.”

H felt our daughter’s forehead. He nodded grimly. “She does too.”

Out came the thermometers. Both children registered a temperature of 40 degrees. Ignoring the genius of their synchronisation, this put paid to any hopes of our family outing. For the day, and for several to follow.

We gave up our work for a near fortnight. I forgot about my writing, forgot to check in on the world. We abandoned all hope of personal hygiene and routine. Instead we became soothing machines. We sang lullabies. We made puzzles. We read books. We cooked soups by the gallon. We fed them water, sip by slow cajoling sip. And in a move that saved our sanity, we let them watch TV.

It was bad, worryingly bad before it got better. And most worrying was seeing them listless at home. There was no clamouring to go out, to meet their friends. There was no stubborn insistence on doing things their own way.

They were too tired by their flu, and that, more than anything else, brought home to us how poorly they really were.

And then, one morning, my son woke up ready to return to school. “Not today,” I reasoned. “Wait till you’re better.”

And to my delight, he argued. He whined. He unleashed the dreaded ‘but I’m bored’. And I was thrilled. Finally, after the fortnight when time stopped for us, my son became conscious of how still things had really become.

My daughter was on the mend too. Her energy returned as suddenly as it had disappeared, and all at once, her toddler demands resurfaced. Instead of TV, it was now park, or blocks. She wanted to be on the move.

And they were suddenly hungry again. They turned away from soup now, from the lentil and rice khichdi that has always brought me succour when ill. They wanted pasta. The wanted cake. They wanted something different.

And as they discovered their resistance, as their voices grew plaintive and then high pitched, H and I discovered that after the weeks of bated breath, of sleepless nights and endless worry, time was starting to move forward for us again. Tomorrow I’ll worry about my missed deadlines, but today, while the clamour of bored, healthy, childish whining builds to its inevitable crescendo, I’m grateful for its noise.

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