As I look out at the pale grey sky of Sheffield, my phone pings with a post from a friend currently in Portugal. It’s all sun and smiles there as she basks in winter temperatures of 18C. Scrolling down to the other extreme, I come across another friend waving her skis at me from a snowy Alpine scene. I sigh and head off for my twice weekly visit to check on Darling Daughter and Little Angel.
I open the door with trepidation. I never know what I’m going to find. Some days a screaming, red-faced monster is thrust into my arms by a sobbing mess of post-partum hormones. Wild-eyed and hysterical, my sleep-deprived daughter proclaims her devil child will be put up for adoption unless intravenous caffeine is administered immediately. But today, thankfully, it’s all gurgles and giggling. Little Angel has discovered her hands and finds them hilarious. Super Son-in-law did the night shift so Darling Daughter is well-rested and wearing clean clothes rather than her usual, sick-stained dressing gown. ‘I think motherhood’s going to be ok,’ she announces, gazing fondly at the baby, who is enjoying the taste of tiny fingers. But then, tragically missing her mouth, Little Angel pokes herself in the eye and, just like that, the atmosphere changes, and the air is filled with banshee wails.
Returning home from my day of emotional extremes, I wonder what culinary delight will be awaiting me. You see, the Nearly-Beloved has taken to cooking as his contribution to grandchild care. The only problem is that he is no more proficient in the kitchen than I am. His first attempts at standard, pre-millennium school dinners are met with horror by his son, who proclaims liver and onions to be ‘disgusting’ and rice pudding to be ‘bland and boring’. But my husband isn’t put off, rising instead to the challenge of creating more ‘interesting’ meals.
‘Quick! Water!’ gasps Grunting Teen, spitting out a mouthful of black pudding madras. ‘I asked for spicy, dad, not flame-thrower hot!’ And even though the addition of strawberry yoghurt counteracts the heat, this now sweet and sour curry has been banned from future menus. The dessert of fruit pizza, whilst novel, and a nod in the direction of health, doesn’t improve my son’s mood. He’s been grumpy ever since he came back from school.
It turns out his recent grades are the problem. I point out that if he’s not at work or the climbing wall then he’s spending all his free time on the PS4 or with Polly Pocket, his pint-sized girlfriend. Maybe the answer is to spend a bit more time on his homework? These observations are met with a stony glare and a foot-stomping exit. But my words have sunk in and the following week he locks himself in his bedroom, studying until the early hours. The results are reflected in his new top marks. So why does he look so unhappy?
Maybe, like me, he’s been tuning in to the news headlines with their black and white coverage of the world around us. We’re either still Brexit or Remain, Vaccinated or Anti-Vax, pro-Djokovic or against. Whatever happened to a half-way house point of view?
But fast-forward a week and a happy balance has been found. Darling Daughter sends me a photo of Little Angel looking Buddha-peaceful in her Moses basket. She’s settling into a routine and life is no longer so full of rollercoaster highs and lows. As for the Nearly-Beloved’s recipes, a run-of-the-mill Spag Bol is his current go-to staple and what’s not to like about that? And Grunting Teen has realised that switching from ‘all play and no work’ to ‘all work and no play’ is not the way forward either. There’s a middle ground of having both decent grades and a social life.
What’s more, when my friends return – one with unexpected sunburn and the other with tales of blizzards cancelling all skiing – I give thanks for my grey skies. Extremes exist. But they aren’t always the best place to be.