‘Mama, Mama,’ It’s 3 am, and my eldest’s voice can be heard without the monitor. By the time I get down the stairs to her room, pillow in hand, because who am I kidding, I’m not getting back up those stairs tonight, she is crying.
‘My stomach hurts,’ she wails.
I aim the gizmo out her brow, no fever. I palpate her stomach, and she jumps a foot in the air when I get to her left side. Not appendicitis.
‘Want to sleep with me on the couch?’ I ask, my eyes open but not really awake.
‘She climbs in beside me, and I wrap my arm around her. She pushes my arm away. Close, but not too close, she’s always been like that. ‘Sit with me Mama,’ she would say and so I would snuggle up to her. ‘Don’t touch me, Mama,’ she would say, scowling at my neediness.
I close my eyes and slip back into sleep.
‘How come I can’t sleep with you?’ asks my youngest five minutes, ten minutes, an hour later, I’ve no idea, time is nonexistent now, I just know its night time and I’m not sleeping.
‘Hop in,’ I say lifting the blanket at the other end of the couch,’ knowing before she says anything, what is coming.
‘I want to sleep next to you.’
‘There’s not enough room, darling. You can sleep next to grace and I’ll sleep at the other end. But Grace isn’t well, that’s why I’m next to her. Remember how I slept next to you when you were sick.’
‘Okay,’ I love that she doesn’t fight with me on this. She simply snuggles in under the other end of the blanket, the cool pads of her little feet pressed against mine.
Some time later, my youngest asks to go downstairs, ‘the sun is up,’ she tells me.
‘Okay,’ I’m too tired to check. A little while later, I carry my eldest upstairs to my bed. She wants to watch tv. I don’t know when tv became synonymous with illness. Sometime in my childhood, I think. It doesn’t actually let her rest properly though and part of me thinks she needs sleep. I let that part win the argument today and refuse to get the iPad. I drift back to sleep. It must have worked because when I wake up, my daughter’s eyes are closed and her breathing is rhythmic. She whimpers every now and then but doesn’t wake.
Four hours later she wakes up. I feel sick too, now, which succinctly answers my anxiety versus illness question. I surrender, and the tv comes on. ‘Line up everybody, line up, line up,’ ugh, Bubble Guppies, I hate this show, but she loves it. I try to block it out and lie there, willing sleep to return, it does not.
Hours later, her sister comes home, I hear her chattering away about her day, and then her footsteps on the stairs.
‘Can I come into bed too?’ she asks, pushing open the door. Her sisters face changes instantly, the quiet vanishes and in its place is a bitter resentment. I haul her sister up onto the bed, it’s still a little too high for her to clamber onto easily.
‘How was school.’
‘Good,’ she says, eyes only for the iPad, ‘I had fun.’
‘What did you do?’
Silence. She scoots over to join her sister, who abruptly turns her back, obscuring the iPad from view.
It’s good to be loved…
‘Would you share the iPad with your sister,’ I say, ‘she’d like to watch with you?’ I know the answer, though. So does her sister. My youngest looks crushed. I hand her the other iPad, and she snuggles in beside me. I lie between my girls, two different episodes of Dora competing for attention and close my eyes, pretending I can’t hear the backpack song being sung in rounds, as if by a group of stoned 10-years-olds.
The TV war continues inside my head. I don’t want them watching TV for hours on end, I don’t care that they haven’t watched TV for weeks now, not since they were last sick, I just want to be like the families that don’t have a TV at all. Putting aside the fact that I actually like TV, and I like watching it, I have to wonder what the hell do those families do when they are sick alongside their kids? I don’t want to read, I don’t want to set up painting activities, I cannot build the mermaid puzzle anymore without my head exploding like that man who ate too much in the meaning of life. I love Monty Python. Oh, I do love Monty Python. See, TV. I feel like I’m just making my life difficult for the sake of it now. I decide to ignore myself.
‘I want to watch what she’s watching,’ says my eldest pointing at her sister.
‘Well ask her.’
‘No,’ is the curt reply, my youngest now rolls over, obscuring the screen with her back. I try not to smile.
‘Well you’re not my best sister anymore,’ is my eldest’s retort.
‘Hang on,’ I intervene, trying desperately to make this a teaching moment about kindness begetting kindness. I say my piece, both girls nod, they even apologise, which melts my heart and I think, yes, I’ve got somewhere, tv aside, maybe I’m doing okay. But then my youngest rolls away again, still refusing to share the iPad, and my eldest looks crushed and pissed.
I close my eyes again.
‘Mama, I don’t like this bit,’ says my youngest, her voice querulous, her hand covering her eyes. I notice her sister is watching the show over her shoulder.
‘Why don’t you hold your sister’s hand?’ I suggest to my eldest. ‘She’s scared. That’s the great thing about having a sister, you guys can take care of each other too.’
‘No,’ says my eldest.
I hold my youngest’s hand.
My eldest takes her sister’s hand.
Her sister pulls it away.
At some point, though, they stop trying to win and just hold each other’s hand.
Maybe sometimes TV is okay.