It is Thursday and I am on day six of excruciating upper back pain.
“It’s agony,” I moan to NW, who is trying to unfold the buggy before he catches the 06.48 train to work. “It hurts so much it feels as if I’m tripping.”
I have complained that I can’t do ‘really anything’ because my back is ‘more fucked than this country’ and am now faced with holding a slippery NC who, at 11 months old, shoots off like a let-go balloon when you put him down. NG is carefully threading necklaces on the rug next to me so to do so would be like lighting a touch paper to baby shaped dynamite. But my back is fucked. So I put him down.
“Aieeeeeeee,” he shrieks, setting off at top speed across the kitchen floor before reaching the dog bowl. He flips it onto his head, gives a howl and starts off in the other direction, scattering NG’s beads as he careers towards the staircase. I shove a couple of ibuprofen in my mouth and scoop him up again.
“OW! It’s just…”
“Agony. I know.” NW kisses each of us on the head and opens the door. “I’m sorry babe but I have to go – make an appointment with that osteopath, won’t you. And don’t pop too many pills.” He’s gone.
I turn around brightly. “Breakfast.” The easiest thing to make when your back is on fire is anything that doesn’t involve moving. I get two ‘sucky’ yoghurts out of the fridge, arrange blueberries on a plate in a smiley face and leave them to it while I go and lie on the floor next door. Somehow I forget to eat anything myself but I do ring the osteopath and manage to make an appointment later that day. Luckily, it’s NG’s one day at nursery so it’ll just be NC and me. I call my mum. “Is he still behaving like a pirate on a hijacked boat?” she asks warily.
“Yes,” I sigh. “But on the bright side, he’s got another tooth.”
“OK,” she says heroically, and agrees to take him for an hour.
I hoik the car seat into position, belt up and off we drive to my parents’ house, forty minutes away. NC dozes all the way there and I deliver him to my mother. At the osteopath, a horsey looking man who looks as if he’d be more at home in dressage than massage appears and starts his interrogation.
“Can you describe the pain?”
“It’s like lobsters with red hot claws – heavy ones – crawling over my back and shoulders. All the time.”
He looks at me strangely.
“Did you have this problem after your first baby?”
“Yes. I used to spend hours swinging her in the car seat to ease the colic.”
I look at him. “Have you had a colicky baby?”
“Not personally,” he looks apologetic. “I treat them.”
“Have you tried rocking them in a car seat?”
He eyes me narrowly. “No.”
He doesn’t miss a beat. “Not for your back.”
We eye each other suspiciously.
I lie down and, after a bit of feeling up, he delivers a few sharp cracks to my neck muscles. When it’s over, he asks about my hormone levels.
I resist the urge to thump him. “I do feel a bit crabby,” I admit. “I think it’s because I recently stopped breastfeeding and I’m tired.”
He tells me to drink lots of water, not to take too many painkillers and to ‘watch out’ for ‘intense feelings’ because he might have ‘stirred things up a bit’. I hand him fifty quid and resolve not to return, even though my back does feel minutely better.
I pick up NC, who has managed to scale the bookcase twice and eat some bird poo, and we drive to the shops because it’s NW’s birthday so I need to get a present and also NG shoes and a children’s sleeping bag because we are ‘braving’ camping at the weekend. Reports of the Duchess of Cambridge’s five star French holiday don’t help: not for her the blow up mattress. Their hotel’s got a spa, goddammit. She’s probably eating oysters. Talk about mother care. My back squeaks in protest as I haul NC out of the car seat and into the buggy (which I unfold myself). “This is your fault,” I mutter to my son as I wheel him out of the multi-storey.
We start with lunch because it’s 1 o’clock and I’m starving. As I pop NC in the high chair, his face deepens to plum and he convulses with the effort of an express strain. Like the first roll of thunder, the noise of the nappy being filled causes fellow diners to pause. Some frown. I whisk him out as fast as my muscles can manage and into the loo.
The changing table is fixed at a point a seven foot giant would struggle to cope with. NC greets it with a screech of delight: he bloody adores them. My spirits plunge further as I try holding him down but he is so in love with the plastic strap designed to hold him down that in his efforts to suck it to death, he kicks the wipes into the sink where they trigger the faucet. Water gushes onto the wrapped up sandwich and my wallet and the soiled nappy, which was already sodden. It swells to the size of a small pillow and will no longer fit in the nappy bin, so, once we’re out again, I jam it into the empty sandwich bag and stash it at the bottom of the buggy. Something wobbles. It is the back wheel, which has rolled on top of the wet sandwich. The baguette has had it. And I am still hungry.
We head to Mothercare
and I spend fifteen minutes smiling politely at an over-keen shopping assistant proffering cocoon-type sleeping bags that are not in any way suitable for camping and saying nothing because I feel as if I am drifting upwards. I wonder how many painkillers it is acceptable to take whilst running on empty and in the aftermath of a horsey back trainer. I move away, towards the shoes, only for NC to spot a pair of dangling irresistibly in front of his nose. With a whinny of rapture, he reaches out and grabs them.
Before I know it, something wobbles. It is the shoe stand. It crashes to the floor, narrowly missing the buggy as NC rips both tags off and jams the shoes towards his feet. I am torn between awe at his dexterity and mortification as both sales assistants are staring straight at me. I pluck the shoes from his fingers, slam them – with two pairs of ridiculously expensive size 7 girl’s sandals – onto the counter, pay with a soggy tenner and leave.
As we walk towards the car, I hear NC chuntering from the buggy. I peer over and see something in his mouth. On closer inspection, it is the corner of the sandwich bag, which he has managed to extricate and is now masticating like a small calf.
I clench my teeth and open the boot. I take a deep breath and haul NC out of the buggy and into the car seat. I muster enough energy to fold the buggy up and heave it into the back. As I reach up to grab the boot door, I hear a wail and instinctively pick the car seat up and start to swing it. The lobsters crawl across my shoulder blades and something wobbles. It is my bottom lip. I call NW.
“Are you ok?” He can hear NC’s protests. “What’s wrong with him?” The line is crackly – he’s just going into the underground.
“He’s at the top of a multi-storey car park and he knows his mother’s spirits are broken,” I say honestly.
There is silence. Then, “I wasn’t going to tell you this but I’ve booked us a night away. It’s not very posh and it’s not until November,” he says kindly, “but apparently it has the best seafood on the south coast.”
I pull myself together. We haven’t been away, just the two of us, for nearly two years. NW’s back is also broken from sitting on trains for four hours a day. I spot a stale Jaffa Cake on the back seat and cram it in my mouth. I swig some water. My spirits level.
“Amazing.” I say. “It sounds amazing.
“Well, the children always come first and I thought it was about time we were a bit shellfish,” he says. “Gettit?”
I wince. “That was bloody painful,” I say. But when NC grins up at me, I grin right back.