There’s no denying lockdown’s been stressful for many. But the easing of restrictions brings its own concerns. We learn of pubs opening then closing when Covid strikes again, forcing landlords to become amateur track and tracers. Hairdressers have welcomed customers back but nail bars and beauticians are still shut. And whilst the Nearly-Beloved enjoys a game of tennis, Grunting Teen still hankers for his climbing walls.
Most jobs rely on life carrying on as normal. But the new normal is filled with different stresses. What happens when the furlough period ends? Will I be made redundant? The Nearly-Beloved, for once, is remarkably upbeat, ‘It’ll be fine. You’ll be fine,’ he tells me.
I’m not so sure. ‘What if there’s no work for me? Perhaps I should apply for other jobs? ‘I bet there’s a shortage of cleaners now,’ I say, causing him to splutter tea everywhere. ‘Cleaners, yes,’ he replies, ‘so I think that rather rules you out. Good job there’s no shortage of cooks or A & E would be overrun with cases of food poisoning!’
‘Are we short of money then?’ asks the teenager pushing his corned-beef surprise unenthusiastically around his plate. ‘No, we’re fine. It’ll be fine,’ I reassure him. I don’t want adult worries to land on his shoulders, for he’s an upcoming member of the notorious snowflake generation, where resilience is low and anxiety is high.
He’s been out of school for four months now and the lessons he’s learnt are how to sleep all day, how to play on the PS4 all night and how to grow twenty-four-seven. At least, I console myself, those XL trackie bottoms I bought him at the start of lockdown have been a godsend. But education-wise, he and all his contemporaries have clearly been disadvantaged. What does the future hold for them? Will there be any job opportunities for these youngsters? Let’s trust they’ll be fine, that it’ll be fine, as the Chancellor announces ‘no one will be left without hope.’
The Nearly-Beloved gets up to switch off the news, slips on the rug and executes a world-class triple-axel into the sharp corner of the sofa. There’s a sickening crunch and his routine ends in a dying-swan finale on the floor. ‘Are you alright,’ I gasp. ‘I’m fine. It’ll be fine,’ he groans between clenched teeth as I rifle through the cupboards of wasp spray and indigestion tablets to find some paracetamol. The next morning, he doesn’t look alright at all. ‘Are you sure you should be going to work?’ I ask. ‘One of us has to,’ he replies, ‘besides, I’m fine. It’ll be fine.’
But that evening, when he staggers, grey-faced and breathless through the door, I know it’s time for action. Hearing the commotion, Grunting Teen sticks his head out of his cave and rolls his eyes. ‘I’m about to take part in a gaming competition, can you keep the noise down,’ he asks. Then catching sight of his father, his face fills with anxiety. ‘Is dad okay? What’s happened?’
The last thing I need is a panicked teenager on my hands. ‘It’s fine. Dad’ll be fine. Just a stomach upset. I’m taking him out for some fresh air. Okay?’ Grunting Teen nods, as if my corned-beef surprise holds no surprises for him.
‘I’m taking you to A&E,’ I hiss to my hospital-phobic husband. And instead of telling me it’s fine and that he’ll be fine, he meekly agrees, clutching his ribs in agony. And thank goodness for Corona traffic, as we make it across town in record time. Once there, the Nearly-Beloved, hater of masks, allows me to muzzle him and lead him gently to the reception desk.
But the Covid prevention measures are not conducive to clear communication. Through layers of material and perplex screens, ‘Watkins’ turns into ‘Watson’, the ‘13th March’ becomes the ‘30th May’ and my poor husband’s year of birth reflects his state of health by adding a further ten years to his age. Thank goodness I’m there to translate. But now my services are no longer required and I’m asked to leave.
Promising to return as soon as he texts me, I have a sudden moment of dread. The Nearly-Beloved hasn’t commented on the previous patient not using hand-sanitiser. Nor has he objected to the man opposite whose mask-wearing technique leaves a lot to be desired. This means he’s definitely not alright and I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But instead, I kiss his cheek and say, ‘I’ll see you soon. It’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.’
I drive home and brave a foray into the Cave. ‘You okay?’ I ask.
The teenager grunts, ‘Great, got through to the quarter-finals. Can you go now, mum? It’s a bit tense.’ And indeed, it is tense, as the hours tick by. Even the luxury of watching my secret recording of ‘Diana in her own words’ doesn’t alleviate the fear. Finally, a text pings, with an instruction to fetch the invalid.
I venture back into the Cave. ‘Just popping out for a bit. How are you getting on?’
‘We’re in the semi-finals now,’ he tells me, ‘I’m a bit nervous though, mum.’ I smile, ‘you’ll be fine’, I tell him, although I wonder how my fragile snowflake will deal with potential failure.
I rescue the Nearly-Beloved from A&E. He’s still ashen-faced but alive and seemingly intoxicated. ‘A chest infection brought on by the fall,’ he grins, dosed up on anti-biotics and industrial strength pain-killers.
As we stagger into the house, his father’s manic laughing brings Grunting Teen to the door with an accusation of, ‘you’ve been to the pub, haven’t you?’
Deflecting the question, I ask, ‘Did you win?’
‘Nope,’ he replies and my heart drops, wondering what psychological damage this will cause him. And for once it’s not just the corned-beef surprise that’s full of surprises.
‘I’m fine,’ he says, smiling, ‘It’s fine.’
And, indeed, it is.