A thing that drives me absolutely wild with rage is when new mothers are made to feel stupid for being neurotic about their childrens' health.
It's almost always only in the first year of the first child's life that mothers slightly lose perspective on health issues anyway; it is in those initial 12 months that you become paralysed with fear, able to talk only in a whisper because your breath has literally left your body with terror when your nine month old has a temperature of 101F.
Any temperature is fucking terrifying the first time it happens. And the first time it goes really high, like 104F or, SHRIEK!, 105F, you can feel quite demented with panic. Because it means your baby or toddler most probably has meningitis. Okay, only in your head. But those long dark nights with a feverish infant are long and they are frightening and you've never done this before.
So when anyone, whether they are a health professional or just any old person, suggests even for a minute that you might be overreacting, it's just not fair. It's NOT FAIR! Okay, I might not know how to react appropriately to a massive midnight nosebleed in a 13 month old, but can you calmly write 600 hilarious, correctly-spelled words about making brioche for a national newspaper in 90 minutes? No, I thought fucking not. Can you write a legal advice for a high street bank wishing to repossess a council property without gibbering with anxiety? Can you think of a brilliant marketing strategy for the "She-Wee" (the portable ladies' loo) with a straight face??? No. And no-one would expect you to be able to. So lose the fucking attitude, yeah, Mr Doctor?
At last, when your child hits about 18 months old, you have more or less seen the full range of horrors, you don't do a vertical take-off at every runny eye or neon snotfest. You have also heard of horrors from others of impetigo, scarlet fever, tonsillitis and kidney infections. You are aware. You have experience. But after that time you do occasionally see something you've never seen before and you're right back there, in that awful place, where you don't know how worried you're supposed to be.
Because if your child's leg drops off, or they go blind or deaf from disease, you will cope. Because it is your child and it doesn't matter what's wrong with them, you will look after them. In fact, if something ghastly happens, they will need you MORE you can be MORE devoted you can sacrifice MORE.
The thing that parents, mostly mothers on the frontline, cannot cope with is the idea that they have in some way been negligent. What keeps us awake at night is the fear that we should, right now, be in hospital, not just lying in bed listening to our baby coughing. What keeps us awake is the idea that we did not go to hospital because we did not want to panic unduly and then in the morning the child is fucking DEAD or irreversibly damaged and it is our fault.
I thought I had seen it all, I thought I had been so out of my mind with panic so often in the last two years, that there were no more panics left to panic. We've done non-blanching rashes, Noro (twice), nuclear fevers, sticky eyes, terrible falls headfirst onto concrete, bizarre nappies, massive nosebleeds and eczema.
But then last week Kitty's hand swelled up like a football and I completely lost my shit. It was a bite - maybe two bites, on her left had, which I am now convinced were contracted in the large sandpit of our local council playground. I can't be sure, though: the biter didn't leave a note.
Anyway she was bitten and her hand went red and swelled up. Then the next day the palm of her hand was covered in disgusting little blisters, which gradually filled with PUS - oh my god... the skin was taught and red and hard.
Disgusting skin infections are my thing, you know? I can deal with shit and puke no trouble - lucky because those are the effluvia you have most exposure to with small children. In fact I have animated discussions with Kitty's nanny about which - shit or puke - we would rather clear up, (shit every time; puke splatters), but anything involving a rash or blisters or swelling, or pus or any sort of... growth... makes me really freak out.
But the worst thing about it was that I'd just never seen it before. And I was transported instantly back to that awful feeling - that feeling of what should I be doing? Making an appointment to see the GP in 8 weeks' time? Go directly to the Royal Free, do not pass Go and sit there for 3 hours in A&E only to be patronised by some bastard 22 year-old doctor?
What happened next is not important, but basically Kitty's hand was really gross for a few days and she absolutely refused to take the antibiotics prescribed for it, so I shoveled a lot of Piriton and Ibuprofen down her and it gradually got better. Meanwhile Kitty shamelessly held her swollen paw out to everyone she met, to see if they wanted to see her "itchy", not that at any point did the bite or infection seem to bother her. Only me. It just bothered me so much.
I had a similar novice-panic experience in the kitchen the other day. My husband has declared that he needed to go off carbs for a while as his weight is teetering on the edge of unacceptable - so I turned for only the second time in my cooking career to a poached chicken breast.
Regular readers of this blog will know that the essential thing with a poached chicken breast is to camouflage it as best one can, because a freshly poached chicken breast is about as appealing visually as a corpse freshly dredged from a canal. So you must smother it with some sort of fragrant sauce.
I didn't feel like doing some sort of vinegary hollandaise thing, so I decided instead, at the last minute, to do a mushroom sauce.
Only I didn't really know what I was doing. And I didn't have any fresh mushrooms. I turned for inspiration to a book called something like How To Be French, or I Love Garlic, by Julia Child, and in there was basically a mushroom sauce that I could just about knock up from the ingredients I had to hand.
And it worked surprisingly well and was terribly easy, although the actual assembly and cooking of it was not relaxing at all because it was slightly unplanned and I'd never done it before. It's just such a shame that there's no emergency service to deal with that.
this would go well with either pork or chicken
2 tbsp dried mushrooms rinsed and rehydrated in some boiling water
3 tbsp double cream
about 200ml chicken stock - just out of a cube, I use those Knorr jelly concentrate thingies with Marco's face on them. I actually used the stock that I was poaching the chicken in
1 garlic clove
1 strip of lemon peel
1 sprig of sage - only if you have it
salt and pepper
1 glass shitty white wine, vermouth or leftover prosecco or anything like that. not sherry.
2 shallots diced into teeny weeny weeny bits
1 Melt the butter in a small saucepan or frying pan and then add your diced shallots and fry over the lowest available heat for 10 minutes - do not let them catch or your sauce will be bitter and gross
2 Chop up your softened mushrooms and add to the shallots, cook gently for a further 4 minutes.
3 Now pour over your glass of shitty white wine and let this bubble away until there is barely any liquid left. Turn the heat down to low-medium and pour in the stock. Allow this to cook for 8-10 minutes before adding the cream, salt and pepper, sage sprig, whole garlic clove and lemon peel.
4 This can sit about and cook over a very low heat sort of indefinitely while you get the rest of your dinner together. If it's looking too low on juice, just add more stock.
5 Fish out the garlic clove, lemon peel and sage sprig before serving.
Eat and TRY NOT TO PANIC.