The sound of Oliver coming up the stairs mid-afternoon is a rare occurrence. “He wanted to come and see Dah” explained Mrs Paul as he clambered onto my lap.
Mrs Paul is Nana and I am Dah (along with the other Grandad who Oliver also calls Dah). I thought it was a special name. Seems it is just easier to say that than “Dandad” or any version of Grandad a young one learns. “Wanna play hide-and-seek?” I asked him, “Play hide-and-seek with Dah and Nana?” I tempted. He and I play hide-and-seek each day before his lunchtime nap.
It began as a bowel-moving routine: he “hides” in our bathroom with the door shut while I count slowly to ten – then when I “find him” he has a fresh poo in his nappy. He prefers pooing without being watched – I relate. And he has so much fun that we play every day whether or not it results in a full nappy. There are some loose rules (to go with the loose bowels):
a) I have to help him hide (inside the laundry basket or under the duvet on our bed)
b) I have tell him I am going to count and then leave the room
c) when I call out to begin looking I have to look in three “wrong hiding spaces” before I find him (although by number two he is already giggling with excitement).
Nana sighed. Dah and Oliver have developed quite a few routines/habits. Nana is happy to not have to learn them. “Nana count?” I asked him. “Nanna cow Nanna cow!” he agreed. Nana sighed again. “Dah hide with Oliver?” I asked. “Yes yes Dah hi wi me!” he shouted.
He decided we would hide under the duvet. So all three of us pulled back the cover enough for a three-year old (less a month) to be satisfied it was pulled back enough. Oliver got into the usual face-down position and this time (for the first time ever) I lay face-down beside him. And now Nana pulled the cover all the way back over us and announced she was “going to count”.
Suppressed excitement. Too much for him to lie completely still. Not helped by my hand on his back “shivering with excitement” too. “Coming ready or not” called Nana from what seemed like six feet away. Barely suppressed excitement shaking his little body. “He’s not in the laundry basket.” Tiny wriggle and beginning to giggle. “He must be hiding behind the door. Got yo … He’s not here either.” Almost unable to lie still and now chuckling ever louder. “So he must be in here. Got yo … No not here either – where is he hiding?” And now he couldn’t contain himself any longer. Struggling to sit-up under the double-duvet, to push it back with a dramatic three-year old “Tah-Dah!!!”
“There you are!” cried Nana to his excited laughter and breathless streams of gobbledegook Oliver-words that have to mean “Gotcha! You couldn’t find us! We were hiding right there and you couldn’t find us!!!”
The first lockdown less than one year ago caused us all to see each other as bringers of death.
Last March/April we didn’t play, we didn’t touch, we didn’t come within ten feet of each other. Less than a year ago I was formally advised to “shield”. Advised not to leave the house, not to have visitors, not to let anything unsterilised and/or unbleached into the house, to wash my hands and all the inside surfaces incessantly. That was shielding. Stay home, protect lives, save the NHS (from me dying slowly and inconveniently using up “resources”). Now I am formally classed as clinically extremely vulnerable. One who is much more likely to suffer serious/terminal consequences if Rona catches me unawares (and inconveniently use up NHS “resources”).
I remember the look in Oliver’s eyes … his body language … his unusual quiet stillness … that first time we had a “driveway visit”. When our daughter and son-in-law parked outside our house and “visited” six feet distance from each other. At two years old how do you make sense of seeing-but-not-being? Of being constrained in the place you call “Nana hou”? The place and people that is and are your second home. Where there are – until now – way less rules than home-home.
That look … that body language … that stillness …
Only being swept up into a big squishy breath-taking hug could put that confusion to rest. Except that big hug would have been the bringer of my death. As we were told officially. Just no one thought to officially tell the wee ones. The wee ones were left to draw their own conclusions: Nana and Dah scary. Dah and Nana not right. Nana and Dah not love me. I cried the first time. And the second time. Questioned if the confusion and constraint … his eyes and what they asked … his body-language and what it told … whether all that was fair for this wee innocent (who would bring my death) … to put him through all that each time.
Love found a way. Love always does.
But as I go for my vaccination jab tomorrow I wonder … for those right now still shielding, for those still unable to use the “childcare exclusion” that we have applied and stretched to breaking point, for those still full of fear of these “bringers of death” … how much have we all died a little/lot inside?
How many wee ones and old ones separated officially are still dying a little/lot inside? How much damage is there to repair – damage no vaccination jab or PPE or hand-washing and social-distancing will ever heal. Damage that says to those we love and too young to understand “I cannot – I will not – have you close to me.”
The game of hide-and-seek today was unexpected, spontaneous, lasted just a few minutes. But was beyond price, beyond logic or science, beyond everything I officially learned to fear less than a year ago (and chose to unlearn to fear during that first mentally horrific lockdown).
We all want to live as long as we can.
This last year has caused me to ask “But at what cost?” This brief game of hide-and-seek today might never have happened had I not unlearned my officially taught fear. Fear that many who were advised to shield made into terror. Terror of death causing them to not live. To not even try and find official ethical loopholes. Safe and risk-calculated loopholes. Like childcare. Like my first PPE hug. Like allowing my family to balance their fears for bringing my death with my fear of not being allowed to live. Of our young ones having to carry all our baggage of all our fears without any say in it at all.
Of my choosing to live risk-safe today rather than (imagined) risk-free for (an imagined) ever and ever eternity.
Our home is filled with risk-safe and officially allowed childcare living each day even in lockdown. No baggage necessary. I call that heaven.