The boy is not well so there’s plenty of snot and lots of cuddles

Séamas O’Reilly
Photograph: Alamy

The boy has been off sick, which is trying for us all. I mean, him primarily of course, but us, too. Tensions were already high since his cautionary dismissal from nursery meant we had no childcare for an entire week, and forced us to shift working hours, arrange time off and pull a few late nights. Not for the first time, we marvelled that the universe doesn’t free you of all other obligations just because your child is unwell.

The stress of arranging all that was a blessing in its own way, since it distracted us from the instinctive horror you get when your perfect little dumpling falls ill. We’re not as bad as we once were. The first time it happens, you react as if they’ve been hit by bubonic plague. You’d be a monster if you didn’t. Thankfully for people bored by the plaintive angst of new parents, you do become a little bit more like that monster over time, gradually realising that minor illnesses are a common, in fact necessary, part of human development, which frees you to complain about the inconvenience of it all.

Which is not to say we had zero reservations. I’d make a bad doctor, since a lifetime spent courting sympathy by exaggerating my own illnesses has given me a healthy distrust of any patient. Some small, petty part of me wondered if he really needed to be making such a fuss. He was snottier than usual, sure, but his par for such things is fairly high at the best of times. My son accumulates mucus like an incontinent jellyfish, and spends most of his life wreathed in a thin patina of unedifying slime. Trying to differentiate between a healthy or unhealthy state of snottiness for my son would be like diagnosing sunburn on a red ant.

It was only once he developed a cough and upset tummy that I regretted my incredulity and committed to four days of cuddles, Peppa Pig and about 600 iterations of that game where I pretend to eat his feet. So the full cutting edge of medical science.

In return, he clung to me like a newborn, which is one of the few saving graces of having a poorly child. It is unethically satisfying to feel wanted and needed by a toddler, especially one as recalcitrant as my son, who often acts as if he’s three weeks away from asking to move out. I’m fairly sure he only has us around because he can’t afford to buy Babybels himself, and figures we’re handy for that, like two small birds permitted to follow a rhino about the savannah, so long as they clear away his ticks.

Some of my interventions were less popular than others, and he took to greeting his medicine – a syrupy, sugary offering almost identical in flavour to his favourite yogurts – as if he was being shot in the throat with a blow dart. For all my concern, care and cuddles, he can’t yet know I have his best interests at heart. But I’m sure he’ll come round. I’m not a doctor, of course, but who else eats his feet like I do?

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