I've been thinking a lot about babies and children recently, how they grow up, milestones, how they make you feel, that sort of thing. I've just become an auntie for the 3rd time - the first child for my youngest brother, which feels very emotional somehow. Next week, I am taking Blue for his 5 year check up since the end of his leukaemia treatment. Also very emotional, but for different reasons.
It amazes me constantly this passage of time, of the things we achieve as families - what we go through as families, and how the outcomes can shape us.
I wouldn't be the first, and I expect I won't be the last person, to suggest that having children is an utterly terrifying. Joyful, magical, irritating, frustrating, hilarious, guilt-inducing, euphoric, depressing - all these things too, but also utterly terrifying. Right from the moment they appear - or the idea of them even appears on the radar, the terrifying responsibility of another person to nurture.
From the first moment you gag at a glass of red wine and realise something's amiss, up until - well, up until when? My kids are 10 and 8 now, and I am still terrified. There's the general ongoing 'gentle' terror of fulfilling Philip Larkin's gloomy prediction that whatever you do as a parent you will get it completely and utterly wrong. Then there's the terror of the future - of what lies ahead for them in this crazy world. I am not a deeply political being, but the results of the recent European elections, not just in this country but across the continent leave me feeling deeply uneasy and not a little terrified for the world my children may grow up in.
There's also the worst kind of terror - the terror that grips you when something awful happens to them - and you can do nothing about it. It doesn't lessen either, that terror, although it can disappear as quickly as it arrives.
On Saturday, we set off for a week's camping near Welshpool. As agreed, I came home on Monday afternoon to work for a couple of days with a view to rejoining the Husband and the kids on Thursday.
The call came around 9 p.m. on Monday night. The Husband was on his way to A&E with Blue.
I am sure my terror was nothing to that the Husband must have felt when he heard the screaming - but for my part the feelings were compounded by being a good 3 hours drive away from them, with limited fuel. After a false start which took me as far as Aberaeron before I realised there were going to be no petrol stations open (I managed to ascertain that my last hope, Morrisons at Aberystwyth some 16 miles further on had already closed, it being Bank Holiday Monday), I drove back to my nearest petrol station to home where I knew the owners vaguely, and threw myself on their mercy. Fortunately, they proved merciful, so I set off again, across mid-Wales at 10.30p.m. with fear in my heart a full tank of diesel and an ETA of 1.20 a.m.
I only had the bare facts - Blue had knocked out 2 of his teeth riding his bike. I didn't know if there was any risk of head injury, whether he had smashed up his face, had he broken his glasses? Were the teeth broken? WOULD HE BE ALRIGHT??? And along with the terror, the sense of complete injustice too. Blue has in his short life had to put up with a huge amount. Knocking your teeth out riding your bike is, objectively, a perfectly normal childhood type of accident to suffer, but for Blue with his leukaemia and his rubbish eye sight, well - hasn't he had enough?? Surely that gives him a get out for all other nasties? Apparently not. Driving along the winding A roads across mid-Wales in the pitch black, terror and injustice fuelled by an overwhelming need to be with my family, to give poor Blue a cuddle, gave me wings.
The Husband meanwhile had got as far as Shrewsbury A&E, jollying Blue along and looking after Pink too. It is a less happy feature of our new homeland that A&E facilities are few and far between. Shrewsbury - an hour away from the campsite - was the nearest. Once at Shrewsbury, he discovered that he needed to go to Telford for a maxilo-facial clinic, where he had to endure the joys of the bank holiday drunkards - tattoos and all, because Blue refused to sit in the children's waiting area. Fortunately (all those prayers I uttered on the way must have been answered) Blue was seen quickly and effectively, teeth wired back in, so that by the time I reached Welshpool, they were out of Telford. I stayed put until we rendezvous'd, terror mainly dissipated in favour of utter fatigue, and we convoyed back home, arriving just before dawn...
So with the terror back at bay, the practical aspects of looking after a 10 year old with a healthy appetite who isn't allowed to eat solids. Poor child. Smoothies have proved popular - oats, fruit, yoghurt, milk - and this tomato soup. When he can't manage with a straw, I've been feeding him - baby-style - with the Noddy spoon that we still have in the drawer, a throwback to his baby days.
Tomato & Potato Soup
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled & chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 large potato, peeled & diced
2 tins of plum tomatoes
1 litre of chicken stock
1 tsp caster sugar
salt & pepper
Heat the oil in a large pan.
Sweat the onion and garlic for a few minutes, then add the potato and cook for a few more minutes.
Tip in the tomatoes and swill out the tins with the chicken stock and add to the pan.
Add the sugar is you think you need it, and a good pinch of sea salt and some grinds of pepper, then bring everything to a simmer until the potato is falling apart.
Blitz till really smooth and serve - Noddy spoon not essential.