Best laid plans

Last week’s post was full of my recent social whirl and my plans for half term. With the benefit of hindsight it reminds me of an old Spanish proverb – “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”. Pretty much as I was writing last week’s post, Anna was busy cultivating an ear infection which segued seamlessly into a tummy bug, so we haven’t been anywhere or done anything all week.

My husband was away last weekend, and my parents were coming to keep me and Anna company. I had all sorts of plans (you see, that word again). We were going to go on a lovely autumn walk through Epping Forest; I’d even bought a little wildlife spotting book so to keep one step ahead of my daughter’s insatiable thirst for information. This would be followed by a visit to Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, as my mum is fascinated by Tudor history, and then a lovely lazy lunch in a nice cafe I’d discovered. I’d also wondered if I could talk my dad into giving me a little help sorting the garden for autumn – I’m no expert, but have a vague idea there’s something you’re meant to do with bulbs at this time of year?

I’d planned that on Saturday night I’d cook a delicious risotto for the grown-ups to enjoy with a bottle of wine after Anna had gone to bed, whereas on Sunday we’d all enjoy a traditional roast dinner together. On Monday my parents were leaving just after Anna’s bedtime, so I’d decided to make a big cottage pie which they could have with Anna for an early evening meal before their 5 hour journey home, with the leftovers for my husband and I to have when he got home later.

Where to start? I hadn’t known Anna was going to be poorly, and therefore hadn’t taken into account how clingy she would be. Normally she is more than happy for Nanna and Grandad to put her to bed (I suspect she has far more fun with them than with me), so at around 7pm on Saturday evening I despatched the three of them upstairs and began preparing a risotto. Just when it had reached that crucial needs-constant-stirring-stage the anguished wails filtered down from upstairs. “Where’s Mummy? I want my mummy”. La la la. Stir stir stir. I’ve never been any good at ignoring Anna crying, though, so I sprinted upstairs, yelling at my dad to get downstairs and stir, dammit, stir.

I cuddled, soothed and read the bedtime story with most of my mind on risotto, and (luckily she was very tired) got her settled in record time. My dad had saved the risotto, and it was delicious, although my image of a relaxed evening of leisurely eating, sipping our wine, was replaced by me glugging desperately from the bottle on the worktop I’d opened for cooking and spooning risotto down double-quick before the inevitable call from upstairs for water, or a cuddle, or to rescue whichever soft toy had escaped down the side of the bed.

On Sunday Anna did seem a little brighter, so we decided to risk the trip to Epping Forest. What I hadn’t bargained on when I made my original plans were the hurricane strength winds which were starting to sweep the British Isles, making a walk in the woods seem somewhat less appealing. Especially for a child with ear-ache. We did explore the lovely Visitors Centre, and my mum got to see Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, but Anna clearly wasn’t very well, and low-level whinging was the constant background music. The leisurely lunch was more like cramming food into our mouths as fast as we could so that we could get home before the whinging escalated to a full-scale meltdown. Fact no-one ever tells you about parenthood Number 3722 – you eat more meals more quickly than you would ever have dreamed possible.

The roast chicken dinner went wrong when I opened the packaging on said chicken only to be overwhelmed by the sickly sweet stench of rotting meat. Cue a mad dash to the supermarket before they closed, both to get my money back and purchase something else for dinner. Chicken pieces seemed like a good idea; after all, there was no time to cook an entire chicken now before Anna’s bedtime, but with chicken pieces I could at least still serve the roast potatoes, gravy, stuffing (made into balls and cooked separately) and veg which I’d planned. Unfortunately what I didn’t take into account was that I don’t normally cook with chicken pieces like that, and I had no idea at all how long they would take. Longer than I expected, is the inevitable answer. I  always used to get very stressed making roast dinners – my husband still loves to tell the story of when, driven to despair by my gravy, I threw an entire tray of roast potatoes across the kitchen. I wouldn’t advise it as a stress relief strategy to be honest. Anyway, recently I feel like I have nailed a roast chicken dinner, but the lack of a chicken had thrown me off a bit. There weren’t enough pan juices to make proper gravy, so I turned to the Bisto, only to find that there was a scant teaspoon left in the tub. Nevermind, in the back of the cupboard I spotted a sample packet which had come with a magazine at some point. Only after making the gravy did I notice the word ‘Beef’ on the front of the packet. When I took the chicken pieces out of the oven to serve and started cutting one up for Anna I noticed a distinctly bloody tinge to the meat. Panicked now, as everything else was ready, I shoved them back in the oven, turned it up to Gas Nine, and basically roasted hell out of them. Fifteen minutes later (and forty-five minutes later than I’d originally planned) we sat down to a delicious meal of dried up chicken with beef gravy, overly-crispy stuffing and over-cooked veg. Yummy.

I ran out of time the next morning to make soup for lunch, and so popped out to the local shop for a couple of cans of trusty Heinz Tomato. My dad asked me to pick a newspaper up for him while I was out. I forgot completely. Blaming my memory lapse on lack of sleep, I served soup and then realised with horror that the mince to make cottage pie was still in the depths of the freezer. There was no way I had time to defrost it in time to make a 5.30pm meal. A quick rifle through the store cupboard and I decided that cottage pie would now be tuna  and sweetcorn pasta bake. On the bright side, the pasta was tasty, and a spare pack of mince meant that we could have chilli for dinner the next night.

Needless to say, the weather meant that my plans of giving the garden a good autumn sort out were confined to dodging torrential rain showers to try and clear fallen leaves off the path and out of the drains, so my bulbs are still unplanted.

My parents went home, and the next day Anna’s ear infection turned into an upset tummy. So, this half term we haven’t seen friends, made Hallow’een cakes, been to the Museum of Childhood or gone pumpkin carving. We’ve watched Cbeebies. Pretty much nonstop actually. Anna’s TV viewing has always been quite restricted, and limited to select programmes viewed on i-Player at a carefully specified time of day, so she has, of course,  been overwhelmed by the pleasure of totally indiscriminate viewing, and keeps on repeating in tones of delighted wonderment “Cbeebies is on all day. ALL day! It doesn’t ever stop.”

“Only when you’re poorly, darling.” I keep on repeating.

“Am I still poorly today?” she asks anxiously each morning. So far the answer, unfortunately, has been “yes”, but I dread to think how we’re going to cope with the withdrawal symptoms when she is well enough to get dressed and resume normal life.

It’s been horrible seeing Anna so unwell, and I’m really disappointed that she’s missed out on all the treats we’d planned. “I don’t like this, Mummy, I really don’t,” she’s kept saying imploringly, and it is so hard not to be able to make her better. My heart goes out to parents of children who are seriously sick.

I’ve also got a major case of cabin fever myself. I had a hospital appointment on Wednesday afternoon, and my husband came home early to look after Anna. I felt positively excited, it literally was the social highlight of the week – even being turned into a human pincushion as the nurse tried, and failed, to find a suitable vein to take a blood sample didn’t feel as bad as it might have done compared to yet another episode of Zingzillas. And if I managed a sneaky half hour afterwards, in a cafe near the station, with my kindle and a hot chocolate, well, I think that was justified, don’t  you?

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