‘Of course you’ll need a week off work after the operation’. And with that, the consultant slotted the X-ray of my disobedient wisdom tooth back into his file and sent me on my way. I was to come back to the hospital in a month’s time to get rid of the pesky thing once and for all, and with it all the recurring infections and the will-it-or-won’t-it-ever-come-through speculation that had been taking up unnecessary space on my worry list.
I’d been umming and ahhing about it for a while, unable quite to volunteer myself for surgery unless I was sure it was absolutely necessary. It was the doctor’s gentle reminder that ‘with all due respect, you’ve probably stopped growing’ that hit home; the chances were that it was never going to budge and would always bother me, to a greater or lesser extent. Time to be a grown up and get the bloody thing out.
At first I thought my usual dentist would just whip it out for me, but no sooner had I broached it with him than he’d started reeling off the names of various surgeons he’d recommend. Apparently mine was ‘tricky’. These guys deal with wisdom teeth all the time, he assured me, and to them it’d be as simple as shelling peas.
With that I was dispatched to a surgeon, a lovely man who explained how he’d cut and peel back my gum and then prise out the tooth. If it put up a protest, he’d cut it into four segments like an orange and take each out individually. There would of course be a risk of permanent damage to my nerve, he explained, so I’d need to keep still. So what anaesthetic would I like? There followed a very brief discussion during which he seemed to assess my nervousness on a scale of one to ten and decide on my behalf that it would be better for all involved if I was out for the count. Fair enough. But it did mean a period of proper recovery afterwards, he said. And a week off work.
Oh how I laughed. And so did he, a father of three, when I told him my day job. Children don’t understand if mummy’s ill or tired or, far too rarely, hungover. They’re not even very sympathetic if mummy needs a wee or wants to be able to hear herself think in the car as she navigates a tricky roundabout. So the chances of them taking it a bit easy on me because I’d just had surgery were slim to none. Would they promise to cry less or demand fewer trips to the park, eat fewer meals or need fewer nappy changes? Perhaps they would resolve to sleep through the night and not leave their own beds at least until the radio breakfast shows had started. Nope, not likely.
And so it was that we decided that I’d go straight from the hospital to my mum’s for the weekend to recuperate and Mr B would look after the children. It was what I’d been dreaming of for ages: a weekend to myself, not being clambered or slobbered on or having to answer incessant questions. All I had to do was recuperate: read the papers, watch endless cooking programs and eat my mum’s special line in delicious-but-soft-homemade-food-for-the-recently-operated-on. The only thing I had to worry about was how Mr B and the kids were getting on.
I should explain that Mr B has never had to look after the children on his own before overnight. With one thing and another – blame breastfeeding or my own control-freakery – I haven’t had a night apart from them both since the baby was born just under a year ago. I could mention that I’ve looked after them both overnight several times while he’s been away – on stag dos or for business – but as I’m always telling myself, it’s not a competition. I digress.
So delighted was I at the prospect of living the dream at my parents’ house for two nights that I couldn’t really have cared less what Mr B, the baby and the boy got up to in my absence. As long no-one went hungry and no-one got hurt, I’d be happy. We’re at the stage where both children are easily pleased. The baby is happy just to have some attention; if someone holds her hand and walks around with her – at home, in the park, wherever – she’s delighted. Likewise, give the boy his scooter and let him scoot up and down the path at the park and he’s content. Neither of them needs much in the way of entertainment.
I was rather surprised, then, when Mr B gave me his itinerary for the weekend. Instead of keeping it local and low-key, as I would have done if I’d been solo parenting, he’d planned to fill every minute. His first stop after leaving the hospital once I was out of surgery was to pick up a rental bike complete with trailer and two kids’ helmets. This was to be their mode of transport for the next two days – something they’ve never tried before and something that one or other child was likely to object to, for no other reason than children like to object to stuff.
As well as the bike hire, the agenda included a birthday party, meeting friends in a nice restaurant in town for lunch, a bike ride several miles out of the city and back, a visit to soft play and checking out a new park. He named it ‘operation distraction’: fill the time and the kids won’t notice that I’m not there. As he told me his plans, I felt a mixture of admiration at his ambition, and pity as I predicted the various meltdowns that were likely to scupper them.
And so it was that last Friday my tooth was prised out in four segments and Mr B embarked on his weekend of distraction. On Sunday afternoon he collected me; I was rested and suitably relaxed, albeit with a bit of a golf ball look going on in one cheek.
How did he get on? I asked. ‘Good. But you couldn’t bring kids up like that all the time’, he admitted. They hadn’t had a bath, neither of them had eaten very much and they’d taken to going to bed late, getting up late and not eating breakfast until 10am. The long bike ride was shelved because they all had a long lie-in (what?! This never happens), a meltdown made lunch with friends tricky, and the birthday party was hard work because the boy took exception to an on-duty Viking and was inconsolable for half an hour. But as we drove back home, all limbs intact, one less tooth between us, it was clear they were happy. All very dirty, but happy.