As a parent of a child with a chronic illness, one of the unexpected challenges you have to cope with is finding people you trust to take on their care, even for a short while. It can be difficult to entrust your child and their needs to anyone other than immediate family and, for Mums in particular I suspect, that may mean you end up doing almost all of their care by yourself. The opportunities to have that much-talked about and desired “me-time” are often few and far between and, to be frank, if you do manage to grab some, it’s usually at the cost of not spending it with your significant other at a point when time together is most needed. In the 6 months since M had his tube, Mike and I have become like those proverbial “ships that pass in the night” as we juggle work commitments, school timetables, extra-curricular activities and those few social events that have helped keep us sane. Any time we have managed to spend together has revolved around appointments or meetings about M and the constraints of school hours.
We are extremely blessed that we do have an amazing support network surrounding us, which pulls together to ensure that we are able to keep going to work and can even occasionally both be out on the same evening, albeit often at separate events. My days are made easier by the fact that M’s school have so willingly shared my burden and responsibility by ensuring there are members of staff who know how to take care of his feeding pump and tube, meaning that I don’t have to be there every minute of every day. Without a doubt, their decision was made easier by the fact that I work less than 5 minutes away and they know they can call whenever they need to, but those phone-calls have been few and far between. My Mum lives close enough that she has been able to continue the routine of picking G and M up from school a couple of times a week, allowing me to work my hours and has been willing to provide some invaluable school holiday care for us too. We even have a babysitter who was willing to learn about the tube and whose GP parents, less than 5 minutes away, were an added bonus for the couple of hours we’ve needed once or twice.
Last week, we had an amazing offer from good friends – in fact, those GP parents I’ve just mentioned – which astounded us and gave us a break from routine that we haven’t enjoyed since last December. It all started at the beginning of half-term, when an unexpected text arrived on my phone as I was in the middle of convincing M to help me clear out and clean the pit he calls his bedroom:
“Hi, we wondered if we could look after the kids for you on Bank Holiday Monday so that you can have a bit of time for yourselves. Let us know what you think. O x”
Then there was a flurry of messages between us as I sat on M’s floor, overwhelmed and close to tears at the kindness of these friends. Not only were they offering to take G and M for a couple of hours, as I originally thought, but in fact wanted to look after them for the whole day and take them to a local wildlife park that I knew my 2 would love. They sorted out food, were not phased by the pump and tube and even claimed to be excited at the prospect of having G and M as their guests for the day. What was even better was that the children were as thrilled as their hosts at having a day out too; and what a day they had! For the rest of the week, it’s been endless tales of marble-run competitions, playing in the hay barn, seeing the animals and the zip-wire in their back garden.
As for Mike and me, well, we had our day together and enjoyed every moment. It may not have been the adrenalin-filled adventure experienced by our children, but we had time to buy some much-needed bits and pieces for the house, enjoy coffee and cake mid-shopping trip and lingered over a late lunch not constrained by complex food allergies and a restaurant of our choice. We didn’t get to the cinema as we had originally hoped we might, but thanks to my Mum, we got our night out at the theatre the following weekend instead – I know, two dates in one week, unheard of! Most importantly, we were able to spend precious time with each other without worrying what G and M were up to and without waiting anxiously for my phone to ring.