So last year DigitalKate and DigitalSean flopped down on the sofa beside me and FlatmateDaliah.
“We BOTH need a break.”
Now, in the interests of not watching our flatmates burn out, Daliah and I listened and volunteered.
“So take a break, go on holiday, we’ll have Louis.”
And they said “Eeeehhhh…..really?”
And we said “Yeah, sure, why not?”
They made a date, or at least, they picked a week they were both free (the spring half term) and then booked….nothing.
Weeks passed and every now and again sent them text messages – “Guuuuuys? You need to book a holiday.”
Their first plans were conservative – “Maybe if we just booked a hotel somewhere nearby for a few days?”
“Nuh-uh, you need to be *gone*”
“But what if something happens?”
“Like he misses us?”
“Then we’ll give him a cuddle and play Lego.”
“What if he’s sick?”
“We’ll feed him Calpol and watch cartoons.”
“What if he’s really sick and needs to go to hospital?”
“Then his ex-nanny paramedic flatmate will take him to hospital.”
I honestly thought they’d end up in Dundee for an afternoon, the way they were talking. So it came as a bit of a surprise to me when they came to me with a fortnight to go.
“Would five nights be too long?”
“Because we’ve found five nights in Istanbul.”
And they did.
We started scheming, they were brilliant in laying down supports for Daliah and I, the grandparents all got in touch “Just call, whenever, we’ll keep our diaries free.” and the surrounding friends equally got stuck in “Anything we can do, drop us a line.”
Three days before they left, Kate brought Louis to me.
“Louis and I have been talking about the school holidays and how you guys are going to have loads of fun.”
We chatted about plans, about soft play and feeding ducks and maybe the zoo and definitely seeing the Muppet movie and playing cars and trains. He was totally up for it and I was feeling dead successful until he signed GOOD YAY YOU ME MUM DAD
It turns out that all this Middle East working that I do, in conjunction with Daliah’s overseas work, had laid a beautiful precedent in Louis’ head. Sometimes grown ups go away to work for a long time and when they come back they bring you presents.
“So, this time, it’s Mum and Dad who have to go work for a week, ok?”
We sat on the floor with a stack of A4 paper and a tub of pens and drew a day on each one.
“So, on Monday we’ll take Mum and Dad to the airport and we’ll give them a big hug and then they’ll go away and we’ll go and do something fun.”
“So that night, whose room are you sleeping in?”
“You got it. And where are Mum and Dad sleeping?”
“Right. Then the NEXT night, we’ll get up and do something fun.”
“You want to go to softplay that day?”
YES YOU ME YOU ME
“Ok, cool, we’ll go together.”
“Where will Mum and Dad be while we’re having fun?”
“That’s right…and where will you sleep that night?”
“Where will Mum and Dad be sleeping?”
“Yeah, silly billies sleeping at work! Who do you think will have more fun?”
“Will Mum and Dad have any fun at work?”
NO BORING NEENER-NEENER-NEENER
We worked our way through the whole week doing this “And where will you be sleeping? And where will Mum and Dad be sleeping?”.
Because I was a thousand percent positive that I could keep him happy through the day, but i figured that nighttime might be a stumbling block.
My Mum came to stay a few nights before DK and DS left. She looked at my elaborate plans.
“This is…a very new phenomenon.”
“This idea that ‘having fun’ only happens when you *go* somewhere. We never did this stuff with you when you were small. We hung out in the house, did painting, made cakes, read stories, went for walks round the park.”
Before she went to bed I cornered her, out of earshot of DS and DK.
“Do you think this will work?”
“Don’t be bloody stupid, of course it will work.”
“But he’s only four. And only JUST four. And it’s a whole week.”
“It’s five nights.”
“It’s a long time.”
“Rubbish. Your brothers were four and two and used to go to a set of grandparents for a fortnight at a time through the summer.”
“Of course there were tears, they were two and four. But they figured it out after a day or two and then they were fine. You’ll be fine. You’ll BOTH be fine.”
You know what?
We were as well.
We dropped DK and DS at the airport, waved goodbye and went to TheTescoWithTheZoomyRamps, spending an hour or two running up and down the travellators that lead up to the first floor.
DK had suggested I “get an early night when you can,” but I had other plans.
“I figure when he wakes up early, I’ll let him watch cartoons and I’ll sleep.”
“Yeah…good luck with that.”
“You’re forgetting…I have TV in my room.”
“You rotten shit…Sean! We’re getting a TV in our room!”
This part of my plan worked beautifully. Every morning I’d wake up to find Louis tapping me on the shoulder.
Hmm..yeah…so you are.
The first morning he took some adjusting.
GET UP AWAKE TV
“Dude, we have TV right here. Let’s watch Dora.”
NO GET UP AWAKE
“You can be awake, I’m going to have a little sleep. Now, TV or no TV?”
He glared at me.
“That’s what I thought.”
The next morning was easier, the next even smoother. By three nights in he was waking me up.
TV PLEASE SLEEP.
YOU TV PLEASE
We had one blip, just one, on the Wednesday night. I’d, stupidly, thought I’d circumnavigate the predicted “I miss my folks” issues by wearing him out all day, swimming in the morning and hairing around softplay in the afternoon, making him commando crawl and climb up cargo nets.
What I’d anticipated was an easy, exhausted bedtime. What I got was an overtired kid who’d left his usual resilience and flexibility at the door. The final straw was when the tape holding his nasogastric tube came loose. This is a big deal, if his tube comes out we end up in the Paeds ED getting another one put in. It’s not a pleasant experience, so when Louis feels his tape come away he slams a finger on it and holds the tube in place. He did this and burst into tears.
“Can I put some more tape on that?”
“Shall we ask the tape fairy to do it while you’re asleep?”
He was working himself into a complete flap, so I took the initiative, wrapped his arms to his side and taped his tube back in place. He calmed down almost immediately and as we had a hug I asked him.
“This week, if you have a problem, or you’re sad, or you need something, who will fix it?”
“Right. So you’ve got to trust me, mate, ok? I’ll fix it.”
That night he woke up, sad and signing for his parents. I snuggled him up and he signed miserably at me.
“Make? Make what?”
I cast around for other meanings of the sign.
“Make? Build? You want to play Lego?”
“You mean fix?”
“What do I need to fix?”
For most of the week, we did nothing spectacular.
We did a lot of recycling, throwing bottles into the bank and cackling as they smashed. We did a lot of chasing each other around the house and lots of “monster wrestling”.
We played with an ambulance and spent an afternoon perusing the shelves of ToysRUs before spending some of his birthday money.
I learned the joy of having a babysitter on the times that Daliah or his grandparents had him for an afternoon and gained some perspective on the week when I met Don, an old friend whose kids i used to look after, who happened to be in town.
“So he’s four?”
“How independent is he?”
“Mentally? Fiercely! Physically, not so.”
“So he needs help with…washing? Dressing? Feeding? Going to the loo?”
“Yes, yes, yes and yes.”
“Bloody hell…so it’s proper 24 hour care?”
I hadn’t thought about it like that, I’d just sort of thought “Well…that’s Louis.”. But yeah, I guess it was 24 hour care.
There was one unanticipated perk of his disability though. His NG feed that runs over night can be altered to run at different speeds. The faster it runs the more restless he is while he sleeps, but the trick is finding a level at which he gets as much extra nutrition as possible while ensuring that he gets a good nights sleep. On the Thursday he wriggled like a bag of snakes, kicking and elbowing me in the ribs, belly and (on one particularly unpleasant awakening) full in the crotch.
I leaned over to his feeding pump and halved the rate it ran at, he slept soundly all night.
Parents out there? How much would you pay to have a button you could press that made your kid stay asleep? Hah!
Essentially though, the week was easy because he was *so* cool about things, it never felt like a chore. One morning he told me off for talking about his folks because it made him sad. He didn’t cry, or get upset. Just told me that I wasn’t helping and could we play something please?
He’s a smart kid.
His grandparents picked him up on the Friday morning so I could get ready for that evenings nightshift and I spent the day mooching around a house that felt awful quiet and empty.
Most of all, I figured out that when I’ve got him we don’t have to be “doing stuff”. Most of the fun we had was just hanging out and being stupid, dancing around the kitchen or sneaking up on each other and yelling “raaaaaaah!”
Simple stuff amuses me at 30.
I fail to see why it shouldn’t do the same to him at 4.