Florence Nightingale and I have a lot in common. We’re both women, we were both born in May, and, er, no, actually that’s about it.
Apparently, Ms Nightingale felt called upon by God to become a nurse. The woman is a saint. I am not.
Until I had children, I’d done no nursing. If I felt ill, I took a tablet and soldiered off to work. My husband was expected to do the same. Now that I have kids, the only discussions that take place between me and God on the subject of nursing go something like this:
Me: Dear God. Please make them better. That coughing is driving me INsane.
Me: Hello? Anyone there?
Clearly, the Lord has better things to do than deal with the ravings of a sleep-deprived, self-centred maniac.
Of course, it’s not just the bodily fluids and incessant noise factor that sends me over the edge. It’s not even the piles of tissues, raging fevers and sooky little scraps of misery that insist on sitting on me all day.
It’s the worry.
I’m sure even qualified nurses come undone in the face of their own baby’s first battle with the vomiting bug. Or the quavery little voice in the night that calls out ‘Mummy, I don’t feel well’. Surely even hard-bitten professionals lie awake, listening hard, wondering, ‘Was that a cough or a death rattle?’
When you sign on for this parenting caper, there’s a lot of information available. By the third month of my first pregnancy, I could have told you all about what I could eat, what I couldn’t, how breast was best and which hospital had the highest C-section rate. It wasn’t until after the birth, however, that the secret truth of parenting became apparent.
We were in the carpark, trying to work out how to get the capsule into the car when it dawned on us: we were responsible for this tiny life. The real parents, who knew what they were doing, weren’t going to swing by later to pick him up. The weight of parenthood settled quietly on our shoulders.
For the most part, I don’t notice the extra burden. It’s like gaining weight anywhere – your body shifts imperceptibly to take the strain. But when the kids are sick, it moves front and centre, like a hard rock in my gut.
Oh, I make all the right moves. I keep the fluids up, try to keep the temperature down, wipe runny noses, play endless DVDs to keep them ‘resting’ on the couch, whip up nutritious smoothies, get them to the doctor when necessary and, generally, channel Florence.
But like any hard rock in the gut, it makes me irritable. I just want them better so that I can throw them out into the backyard with a ball or a light-sabre and have a moment’s peace. I’m sure Florence never felt like that.
Then again, Florence never had to worry about what would happen if she herself got sick with the latest permutation of kid virus to come through the door. If the reality of Sick Kids is a bad dream, the prospect of Sick Mummy is a nightmare.
Welcome to my nightmare...