‘Are you wearing dad’s clothes?’ asks Grunting Teen as I miss my mouth for the umpteenth time, spilling cornflakes over the Nearly-Beloved’s stolen shirt.
I wait for my carer-spouse to reposition his ‘it doesn’t matter’ smile as he rushes to mop up the mess, whilst I give up on the spoon and stick my head in the bowl to syphon up what remains of breakfast.
‘Yes, I am,’ I reply, milk dribbling down my chin, ‘I’m trying out a new metrosexual look. Also, it’s the only thing I can pull over this broken shoulder without screaming in agony. And by the way, how on earth do you make being left-handed look so easy?’
Grunting Teen shrugs, ‘Not always easy, mum for us lefties – the special 10% of the population. It’s always been awkward using scissors at school. But at least it comes naturally to me.’ He reaches over and uncharacteristically hugs me. A tsunami of pain washes over me and I feel sorry for myself all over again. I can’t believe how much I am missing physical touch. But at the moment it’s out of the question, as are many other things I normally do.
On the plus side, the hidden unsung duties of a mother are now having to be shared out. The ‘Mum, where’s my packed lunch?’, ‘Mum, what’s for tea?’ and ‘Mum can I have a lift?’ are now being prefaced with a ‘Dad’ and responded to with a series of eye-rolling and head-shaking.
Just as life was returning to normal and the Nearly-Beloved was getting into a routine of playing tennis, working out at the gym and drinking in the pub garden, he now finds himself back supermarket shopping. He can’t be trusted on his own after 2020’s shoplifting incident and DIY debacle, so I am forced to accompany him. It is not a happy experience. He doesn’t like the nearly pre-Covid conditions. ‘Where’s the man spraying the trolleys?’, ‘What happened to the one-way system?’, Why are people walking so close?’ he mutters before terrifying the assistant at the checkout as he bellows ‘How much?!’ and grabs the receipt off her to double-check the total.
Once home, after another melt-down when he discovers the shopping doesn’t magically pack itself away, he disappears with a stiff drink, only to reappear with a smile of satisfaction. ‘All sorted,’ he tells me, ‘I’ve ordered a delivery for the next few weeks. I don’t know why you’ve never thought of that.’ It turns out I’ve also never thought of using an ironing service or hiring a cleaner. Sometimes walking in someone else’s shoes, gives new insights. And at least we’re helping the local economy…
And Grunting Teen is quickly developing survival skills as when ‘What’s for tea, dad?’ is met with a ‘I’m off to play tennis,’ he realises he’s the household chef today. Despite cutting with the blunt edge of the knife, dropping half the ingredients on the floor and singeing his eyebrows on the gas flame, he does a passable job, and even washes up without complaining. Giving me an air hug, he tells me ‘Mum, I never realised how much you do for us.’
I smile. Sometimes walking in someone else’s shoes, gives new insights.
Later that day a friend in France Skypes me to see how I’m doing.
She’s widowed and been on her own for the whole of lockdown. And now I really appreciate how hard it must’ve been, with no one to give her a much-needed embrace. We avoid talk of Jersey, fishing and warships and concentrate instead on the vaccine roll-out and how it’s providing us all with an escape route.
We reminisce about how we met many years ago on a Sheffield-Lille school exchange. It was quite a shock to the system. She had to adjust to strange British eating habits whilst I had my first taste of horsemeat. We both walked in each other’s shoes for several weeks and the experience definitely gave new insights.
And maybe this is one of the positives we can take from the whole Covid epoch. The chance to understand what others do for us. Our friends, relatives, neighbours and those around us – the medical staff, scientists, shop-workers and delivery drivers. Every job and every person has their value. We just need to walk in their shoes to realise this.