Parenting small children is making plans and pretending they will actually go ahead

I persist in writing in our plans, even though they invariably, one by one, wind up cancelled

Life is what happens when you are busy making plans, and parenting small children is making plans and pretending that the plan is actually going to go ahead until somebody (you, the baby, the toddler, your friend, your friend’s kid, your kid’s friend, the babysitter) gets sick and it all gets called off.

There’s a whiteboard calendar in my kitchen made up of 7 squares wide x 5 squares down that you can wipe clean at the end of every month then fill in with the details of the new month. It’s where we put all of our appointments and events. It’s not a perfect system because it only caters for one month at a time so you have to just remember what you are doing the next month which we don’t always do. But it mostly works and it’s what we turn to every morning when we’re trying to decide who needs the car the most that day.

On the first day of the month, I wipe it clean and standing in front of it, marker in hand, pretend to myself that I'm Carol Vorderman, speedily working out calculations in a glamorous dress with 4-inch heels when in reality what I'm doing is writing in "Vaccinations @ 10" or "Book Club @ 8" in my decidedly unglamorous pyjamas.

Bare and empty

I persist in writing in our plans, even though they invariably, one by one, wind up cancelled.

Every time this happens, I approach the board like a sad little Carol Vorderman, wiping it clean until it is eventually as bare and empty as it began. Vomiting bug, chicken pox, close contacts, temperatures, lice, boils, locusts – it really is just one plague after another.

In one week, our plan to meet friends for dinner was called off because somebody had Covid. Wanting to take advantage of the babysitters already lined up, we arranged to meet other friends but before the week was out, they had contracted Covid as well. With heavy hearts, we accepted that, we would in fact have to go out with just each other.

We’ve been close contacts three times in the recent past and the experience of regular antigen testing which ensued bears a lot of similarities to pregnancy testing. Once you hear that you’re a close contact, you immediately begin to imagine symptoms even though you know it is too early to have them.

“Am I tired? I think I’m tired. But I’m always tired. Am I fatigued? I think I’m fatigued. Yes I’m definitely fatigued”.

While waiting for the result, you weirdly can’t tell if you’re hoping it’s positive or negative. You become so convinced that you definitely have Covid/are pregnant that when the test says negative, you don’t accept it as true and simply need to immediately find out another way. But there is no other way than to wait and test again.

The cost of buying tests racks up. You give yourself a headache trying to read something into the test that isn’t there – holding it up to the light asking: “Is that a line? I think there’s a faint line. Is it a smudge? Is a smudge a line?”

Despite the culture of cancelling, I remain ever optimistic and continue to plan events in the blind hope that they will actually come to pass. Having celebrated my dad’s 70th across Zoom, a friend’s 40th outside in the rain and attending funerals online rather than supporting friends and family in person, I decided it was important to mark life events – big and small – when we can.

First birthday

With this in mind, we began planning the baby’s first birthday party in earnest and like the size of my children’s heads, the excitement levels were off the charts.

A few days before the party some friends sent their regrets: their baby had a cold. The morning of, a family of four texted to say they wouldn’t make it as three quarters of them had fallen ill with the vomiting bug.

I barely had time to register this as I was too busy tidying and decorating and getting everyone dressed and generally immersing myself in that pre-party tension that only bursts once someone arrives or you give up on the tidying and sit down with a drink, whichever occurs first.

It was one minute to partytime (10am). I could see the first guests pull up outside. And just like that, the baby threw up everywhere. It was too late to cancel. We welcomed guests with a literal health warning and a mimosa.

I asked the baby if she was okay and she looked me in the eye and said, “Mammy, the show must go on”, so it did.