Empty flat

Reuben and Joshua's bed
Reuben and Joshua’s bed

I struggle with weekends at the moment.

During the week I’m busy. I usually rise around 05:45, say morning prayer, have breakfast (usually porridge… what can I say, I’m Scottish), get myself together and head in to the office early. In the evening I return to my flat and get stuck in to hall life and other little projects that I have on the go right now (writing, illustrating, music, reading).

Most weekends I have my three children over, and I love it. I love them. I love being with them. I feel whole again. They have such energy, such life, such wild imaginations and we spend hours riffing off each other’s silliness with word play and rhyming (earlier today we had “stranger danger with the lone ranger”, and “I am Gimli, son of Glóin, son of… George?!”).

Some weekends they come over on Friday evening, still in their school uniforms, bouncing with energy, irritable with tiredness, overflowing with cuddles. A few hours later, they are asleep in bed, and I’m either asleep too or I spend a quiet evening in the lounge enjoying the emotional glow of having my boys with me again.

Saturday is usually filled with all sorts of activities. Reuben enjoys lying beneath his duvet on the bedroom floor with his tablet, watching cartoons on Netflix or Minecraft tutorials on YouTube. Joshua and Isaac migrate from the sofa to my PC and back to variously play computer games on my PC (mostly LEGO, although they’ve recently got into the multiplayer Ballistic Tanks and Dirt 3 rally) or their tablets. Usually at some point the LEGO comes out. Yesterday Reuben presented me with a packet of Papercraft models he’d received for his birthday asking for some help to build them. Translation: Dad, could you please build all of these for me while I watch?

Minecraft, but on paper: Papercraft.
Minecraft, but on paper: Papercraft.

This morning I heard Isaac (who will be six next week) exclaim, “Look at me! I’m doing elf parkour!” while playing LEGO The Hobbit.

Sometimes we’ll go out, though by the weekend they are often ready for a quiet day in, especially if the weather is foul. (Me too!) Yesterday we went out shopping for new winter hats and gloves, and they then spent a couple of hours (and most of the heat from the flat) traipsing in and out to play in the snow.

By Sunday lunchtime I generally begin to feel melancholic and heavy as I begin to anticipate the loss that I will feel when they have to go home. It’s unusual for me not to shed a tear after they are driven away. Not always immediately, but certainly at some point.

On some occasions Joshua (mostly) has simply refused to leave and has curled himself up in a ball on the sofa in a sulk and has stopped responding to any encouragement to leave, or simply repeats “I don’t want to go!” Sometimes I’ve just let him stay for a few more hours and we’ve enjoyed a fabulously fun afternoon, just the two of us, before cooking dinner and driving him back to Anstruther in the evening.

This is the hardest part of the separation for me. I’m sure I’ve said this before—I’ve certainly mentioned it in conversations more than once. I can accept that Jane doesn’t want to be with me: I’ve broken up with girls in the past. But it hurts to not live with my children.

I’ve often wondered what other people think about me because I moved out. It wasn’t easy. I think it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. On the day I moved out, my brother at times had to physically carry me. I’ve never experienced grief like it—my father’s death nineteen years ago was a walk in the park (well, in the cemetery, at least) compared with this. I would have happily stayed with them but it’s less socially acceptable for a mother to move away from her children than a father.

During the week, where I can, I nip over to Anstruther after work to see them for an hour or two, in a house from which my memory is slowly being erased. It’s not enough, but it’s better than nothing and it keeps me going until the weekend when we can enjoy another few days of silliness and laughter and cuddles together.

This weekend, for some reason, the WiFi went off in my flat. So it was a good opportunity to introduce them to the wonders of setting up a portable WiFi hotspot using my smartphone (4G, thankfully). And then watching them gobble up about half a month’s bandwidth allowance in two days between them on their tablets.

We also started to play around with Microsoft Kodu, which is designed to introduce children to computer programming.

This is Isaac's latest world and Rover.
This is Isaac’s latest world, and Rover the robot.

Using nothing more than an Xbox games controller (and/or keyboard and mouse) Kodu allows you to easily create games within a simple point-and-click environment. It was amazing to see Isaac get into it and think through how to build his world and program the controller with the basic framework of when X, do Y, e.g. when I press A on the gamepad, fire a missile; when I bump into a rock, make it explode; or when I press the right trigger on the gamepad, make my character grow to four times his normal size. Their experience with Minecraft: Pocket Edition has done wonders for their creativity and problem-solving skills.

And so… to my usual Sunday evening routine. Over the next few hours I will sink back into the silence of the flat, enjoy the warmth of the memories of another fun weekend with my children, and look forward to the next one. And prepare for my week ahead.

A weekend of LEGO building

Kylo Ren's command shuttle and Poe Dameron's X-wing fighter
Kylo Ren’s command shuttle and Poe Dameron’s X-Wing fighter

Reuben and Joshua have spent the weekend building LEGO models they received for their eighth birthdays.

Reuben built Poe’s X-Wing Fighter (75102) while Joshua built Kylo Ren’s Command Shuttle (75104). And so that Isaac wouldn’t feel left out he received a wee silver Captain Phasma stormtrooper minifigure.

It took them pretty much all day, finishing just before bedtime.

Gardening, stamina and Joshua’s chalk drawings

Our back garden in a state of order
Our back garden in a state of order

One of the delights of this past weekend — apart from almost seeing the blood moon eclipse last night (there was too much cloud cover at 03:47 when I peered out of my south-westwards facing study window) — was getting the back garden tidied up.

Of course, the front garden still looks like a jungle. (Sorry neighbours!) But the back garden looks splendid and neat. The secret to tidy-looking gardens, I believe, is simply in defining straight lines and borders. It’s a bit like web design. But without the benefits of flexbox.

What is frustrating, though, is that my stamina still hasn’t returned after last year’s headache.

It’s been over a year now since I was in hospital. When I got out my GP said that I shouldn’t expect to begin to get my energy back until January or February; it was more like April when I began to feel that I was making some improvement.

But then in July the headaches began again. I know I was pushing myself too hard: cycling every couple of days, staying up too late, and I need to get my eyes tested again (appointment booked for Monday).

Time to reel myself in a bit and be a bit more sensible and disciplined.

Still, in the meantime at least the shed is tidy. And who doesn’t love a tidy potting shed?

Look! You can now walk in through the door and not tread on something.
Look! You can now walk in through the door and not tread on something.

And I think I may have discovered that Joshua is the secret identity of Banksie.

I love this cheerful drawing of a man and... a thing.
I love this cheerful drawing of a man and… a thing.

Seemingly to the right of the cheerful man is his thought bubble. I need to ask Joshua again what he’s thinking. Because I seem to recall that it was something random. Like a pie.

The boys ‘helping’ me with my studies

Boys on the desk
Reuben, Joshua and Isaac ‘helping’ me with my studies

 

For the next few days I’m on a course at work looking at DSDM Atern agile project management. It’s certified, so I have exams on Wednesday morning (foundation) and Thursday afternoon (practitioner).

When I got home last night, after dinner, I decided to sneak upstairs and get about 45 minutes of study in before the boys had to go to bed.

It turns out Reuben, Joshua, Isaac and monkey had different ideas and came to ‘help’ me study.

Why you shouldn’t screw your flip flops to your feet!

A pretty drastic way of ensuring that you prevent your flip-flops from falling off is to screw them on!
A pretty drastic way of ensuring that you prevent your flip-flops from falling off is to screw them on!

This week hasn’t quite turned out as planned. For one, yesterday morning I had to manually remove a No.8 (40 mm) screw from the bottom of my foot and go to hospital for a tetanus booster injection.

Reuben and Joshua have been on holiday from school since Wednesday, and as they have repeatedly asked if they could have ‘a sleepover’ a Grannie in Selkirk’s I took these three days off too and planned with my Mum to head down yesterday morning (which would also have been my Dad’s 69th birthday).

The plan was to take a leisurely drive to the Scottish Borders and then spend the day showing them a bit more of Selkirk: where I grew up, where I played, where I went to school, and also to visit my Dad’s grave and lay some flowers to mark his birthday.

I was woken around 06:20 by Reuben leaping onto my bed. “When are we going to Selkirk?!” were his first, excited words.

“After breakfast,” I replied getting out of bed.

I still had to throw a few things into a bag but first, looking out of the bedroom window into the backyard, I realised that the bin needed to go out—the paper-recycling lorry would be round soon.

After a quick detour to my study to pick up an R-kive box that I use for storing paper to be recycled we tripped downstairs and as Reuben and Joshua got comfortable at the breakfast bar I said I’d just be a minute and I headed outside into the cold, pulling on a jumper.

I also had my flip flops on. I love my flip flops. I love walking around in bare feet but I have quite flat feet and so it gets painful quite quickly. These Quicksilver flip flops have been perfect: giving my foot the cushioning they need and my arch gets the lift that it deserves. And they left me walk quite comfortably on stones, even gravel. (But not wood screws, as it turns out.)

I stepped across the stones and tipped the contents of the R-kive box into the grey wheelie bin before I started to pull it towards the gate and the main road.

I stopped. The back door was still open. I reached over and pulled it closed, only to turn around in time to see the wheelie bin tipping over and spilling half its contents into the backyard. “Oh no!” I groaned righting the bin and then getting down on my hands and knees and scooping up handfuls of scraps of paper that were now being blown around in little eddies around the yard.

I looked over at the R-kive box. Surely it would be quicker if I scooped the paper into that: less distance to travel. I stood up, stepped across the gravel and reached out for the box, sitting on top of the blue general waste bin.

“Ow!”

I stepped on something sharp; stones likely. I lifted my right foot and gave it a shake. It was common for small stones to slip beneath my foot and my flip flop. I heard a few stones fall out and click on the gravel beneath. I put my foot down and quickly lifted it again.

“OW!”

A sudden fear went through my mind: something has gone into my foot. A sharp stone? There’s a sharp stone embedded in my foot! It seems to have gone through my flip flop too.

The paper continued to blow around the enclosed backyard. I needed to clear that up first and as I couldn’t exactly walk without pain anyway I dropped to my knees with the blue and white R-kive box and crawled across the gravel to the paving stones.

I could feel the panic rising within me.

“Joshua!… JOSHUA!” I screamed. The back door was still ajar; it hadn’t closed entirely.

I frantically scooped up the paper into the box: scraps of A5 notepaper, newspapers, food packaging.

“JOSHUA!”

I pulled myself up using the bin and tipped the contents of the box into the wheelie bin once again. Joshua appeared at the door, “Yes?”

“Joshua! Get Mummy please. I need her help. I think I have a stone in my foot!”

Joshua ran off as I closed the wheelie bin lid, turned around as carefully as I could and tried to make my way into the house. The pain was excruciating now. My sense of panic was growing. I held onto what I could grab and I began to hop up the steps and in through the back door.

“Jane!” I yelled. “JANE!”

“I’m coming!” I heard her reply, sounding slightly irritated. Jane was recently diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, a back condition that has left her in a lot of pain herself. She had spent much of the night squeezed into Isaac’s bed beside him and she was struggling to get out of bed.

I collapsed onto the sofa in the kitchen as Jane arrived.

“I think I’ve stood on a sharp stone,” I said quickly. “I think it’s gone into my foot.” I was beginning to go into shock by this point. And the pain was so intense that I felt like I might pass out.

“Breathe… breathe…!” I told myself. “Slow your breathing. Deep breaths.”

Jane switched on the lights and took a closer look. “I think it’s a nail!”

“A nail?!”

“Oh, hang on… it’s a screw!”

“A SCREW?!”

It was a screw. It turns out to have been a No. 8 (40 mm) Pozidriv screw. As my colleague Steve confirmed later: those are the painful kind!

Jane couldn’t get a grip on it. “I think I may need to cut your flip flops off,” she apologised.

“Do it!” I said. I’ve watched Casualty on TV: I know how it goes.

After another failed attempt I realised that I was going to have to do it. I’ve often prided myself on such a strong grip. I didn’t realise that one day I would have to manually unscrew a No.8 from the bottom of my foot!

I sat up, took a deep breath, crossed my legs and took a closer look. I felt sick.

If a man, trapped in the mountains can saw his own arm off using a Swiss army knife, I found myself thinking, then I can remove a screw from my foot.

“Which way does it go?”

I considered at this point of sending for my Black & Decker electric screwdriver. At least it has buttons to differentiate between in and out.

I grasped the screw head tightly between by fingers and began to turn it anti-clockwise. It was coming out! It was coming out!

Just over an hour later I was sitting in a treatment room at the minor injuries unit in St Andrews community hospital having the wound washed out and getting a tetanus booster injection to my arm.

An hour because we’d phoned NHS 24 for advice and well… they promised to phone back within three hours(!) and I couldn’t wait any longer; and Jane had phoned her parents asking if she could quickly drop the boys off at theirs so that she could drive me to the hospital and her dad had insisted that they be dressed first… and they really weren’t up for playing that game. Forty-five minutes to get three dressed on a non-school day was actually pretty good going, compared with other attempts.

So the trip to Selkirk was postponed, I got my pain relief under control, and I sat with my leg up for most of the day.

Today it really hit me: I felt floored, I had no energy, I slept a lot. Tomorrow… well, I think I have an infection brewing. I’ll be phoning the doctor first thing.

Update

Friday 14 February

I have an infection in the foot. I’m not long back from the GP with a small bag full of medication:

  • 28 Flucloxacillin 500mg (4 per day)
  • 21 Ibuprofen 400mg
  • 100 Co-codamol 30/500mg

My mum recommends Listerine original for infections of the feet, but my local chemist only has mint or anti-cavity.