So, here I am, back on Planet Earth, and back to what I was writing before the lovely Oliver whisked me away for a weekend of facials, pedicures, and heartburn-inducing gourmet meals. Thank goodness for Zantac is all I can say.
“Yes, you are going to school this afternoon, sweetheart. And you’re staying to lunch first, but remember – it’s not like proper school today. It’s a just a Valentine’s party. You like parties, don’t you?”
Jack fixed me with a suspicious stare. “Are you sure there’s ice cream at the party?”
“Of course,” I said, without missing a beat. Too late now to backtrack on yesterday’s bribe. “There’s always ice cream at parties. Your favourite. Strawberry.”
He made an exasperated clicking noise with his tongue – a habit he’s picked up from Oliver.
“Chocolate’s my favourite now. I don’t like strawberry any more.”
Ah, Strawberry must have been flavour of the month for January, so the half-gallon tub in the freezer presumably will stay there until it becomes pink sour cream.
I sighed. “I expect there’s chocolate too. Or vanilla. And cupcakes. And biscuits, of course, because we made the biscuits, didn’t we?”
Jack looked at me as if I’d escaped from a high security institution for the prematurely senile.
“Cookies, Mummy! Not biscuits!”
I shut my eyes briefly. It had happened. My son was now American. “Cookies, then.” I hesitated. “And we’ve done all your cards and sweets – I mean candy – for your friends.”
I’d been a little taken aback by Patsy Traynor’s emailed list of instructions for this party. No peanut products – fair enough – BUT, Patsy stressed with random capitals and italics, if you were going to send in Valentine cards and candy, you MUST send in something for EVERY child in the class, not just your child’s special friends.
So we dutifully wrote out eighteen cards last night and Jack, with his tongue sticking out in concentration, printed his name on all of them. That took over an hour. Then we squashed Sellotape around a lollipop onto the back of each card. The Valentines, which we bought in a pack of 32 – 32! So much love to spread around! So much profit for Hallmark! – were only slightly larger than a postage stamp, and (surprise) had pictures from Disney’s Cars on them. Jack spent a lot of time deciding who was going to have which picture. His best friends were honoured with Lightning McQueen; little girls he had a crush on would receive pictures of Sally Carrera, the blue Porsche. His least favourite character in Cars is Mater, the rusty tow truck. Only one child got a Mater card.
That’s right. Dominic.
And the sweets? We bought a big bag of assorted lollipops. Jack likes all of them, except for the Root Beer flavour. (Reasonably enough. It smells like Germolene.) Naturally, Dominic will receive a Root Beer lollipop.
I get the feeling that Jack would rather exclude Dominic from his bounty bag altogether – and to be quite honest, I don’t blame him.
Still, it is a party when all’s said and done, and I think Jack should have a good time this afternoon.
Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m suddenly so keen for Jack to go to nursery after keeping him away over the Dominic issue.
Simple. Today I need a babysitter. Maggie is going out, Oliver is in Seattle, the coffee morning ladies have gone home en masse for a winter break visit, and I – oh, lucky Libby! – have a three hour appointment at the hospital’s diagnostics office, having starved myself since midnight last night.
While Jack is ingesting sugar in cookie-, ice cream-, and cake-form, I shall be sitting in the diagnostics office having an armful of blood drawn every hour, after downing my own special Valentine’s sugar rush – the most disgustingly sweet fizzy lemon drink, specifically formulated by the medical profession to give me diabetes.
That’s not quite what it’s for, of course – the test is to see if I have pregnancy diabetes in the first place. But as I don’t eat many sweet things – OK, I love chocolate, as you know, but I don’t inhale the stuff – I don’t know why this test is necessary, or even good for you. Mine is not to question why. I don’t wear a white coat, and the white coat people get a bit snippy if you question their methods, and they make disparaging remarks about Britain’s NHS and Obamacare and things.
One thing’s for sure – a twin pregnancy in the USA is very different from a single pregnancy back home.
* * *
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I dropped Jack off at nursery. A celebration at the return of the Prodigal Son? Patsy welcoming us with open arms and tears of joy in her eyes?
A good thing I had no expectations. Patsy’s welcome, while not exactly chilly, wasn’t over-effusive either.
“You’re welcome to attend the party yourself,” she said. “If you want. A lot of the parents are coming back to take pictures and videos.”
Another parenting obsession I never quite get: compulsive filming of the minutiae of your child’s life. I always used to forget my camera for these occasions, although since getting one of those smart phones that does everything, I’ve improved.
“I don’t think that will be possible,” I told Patsy, and explained about the three hour appointment.
She nodded, sympathetically. Or maybe it was mock-sympathetically.
“But you’ll be back to pick him up on time, won’t you?” she asked. “You know our policy on children being left behind at pick-up time.”
“Of course.” She takes them to the dog pound or something. I paused. “It’s taken quite a bit of persuading Jack to come back to school today, so you will watch out for him, won’t you, and make sure there aren’t any…incidents?”
Any sympathy, real or mock, in Patsy’s expression dissolved instantly, and she drew herself up to her full height, although as she’s shorter than me, it wasn’t that impressive.
“I always keep a strict eye on the children. You should know that, Mrs. Patrick.”
Since she was offended enough to call me “Mrs. Patrick”, I refrained from pointing out that she’d been oblivious to previous incidents involving Dominic and my son, and hoped that she’d taken my point.
“Call me on my cell phone if you have any problems,” I said.
* * *
By the time I reached the hospital, it was 11:45 and I felt ill with hunger. Normally this test is done first thing in the morning to avoid lengthy starvation, but with the babysitting situation, I had no choice but to do it later in the day. Either that, or drag Jack along with me to the appointment, which would send my blood pressure up and precipitate a whole new series of tests to determine the exact cause of my sudden hypertension.
Starvation it was, then.
The appointment wasn’t that bad, really. I brought along a book and my iPod, and once I’d drunk the fizzy goo (and kept it down) I was free to wander around the hospital until it was time to have more blood drawn. Syringes don’t bother me any more. It’s one of the dubious benefits of pregnancy – you become immune to having needles shoved in every available vein.
So, perverse as it sounds, without Jack I had a very peaceful three hours. I toured the maternity wing – more like a hotel than a hospital ward – walked in the gardens, did a little window shopping in the on-site gift shop, lay down on a couch in the diagnostics office and read my book…
In fact, everything was hunky-dorey until the nurse was stabbing me for the final time, and, in the depths of my handbag, my mobile phone began to ring.
It’s not a subtle ring tone. It’s one you have to answer straight away or die of embarrassment.
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find out what it means to me! R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Take care, TCB, Oooh…”
I scrabbled around in my bag with my free hand, but the phone was buried under my book and purse and iPod.
“Honey, stay still,” the nurse said. “I can’t draw blood if you’re moving around. Least, not from where I want to draw blood. If that call’s important, they’ll call back or leave a message.”
I slumped back in the chair and watched my blood slither into the tube.
“Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me…”
After a few seconds Aretha Franklin subsided, and the phone pinged to tell me someone had left a message.
The nurse withdrew her needle for the final time and stuck a Spongebob Squarepants plaster in the crook of my elbow.
I retrieved my phone and dialled the voicemail number.
“Mrs Patrick, this is Patsy Traynor at the nursery school.” Her voice was icy. “I realise you’re busy, but if you could come to the school as soon as you can… I’m afraid there’s been an incident.”
* * *
I burst through the front door of the school, and the polite hum of chattering parents dimmed as everyone turned and looked at me.
“Where’s Patsy?” I demanded of one parent, the mother of Tom, the little Milky Bar Kid.
She pointed in the direction of Patsy’s dusty office, and seemed about to say something, but I was already storming towards the office door.
“An incident” Patsy had said in her message – no mention of what type of incident, or whether anyone was hurt, and yet, when I tried to ring her back, the line was busy. Lucky for me that no state troopers were on the road at the time I was driving here from the hospital, or I’d have clocked up a speeding ticket to add to the fun.
I opened the door, and a small sobbing tornado hurled itself at my legs.
“Mummy! Dom said I hit him, and I didn’t, I only didn’t give him the lollipop.”
I sat on the nearest chair, plonked Jack on my knee, and wiped his face.
“And there wasn’t ice cream, either,” he snuffled.
I looked around the office. Patsy sat regally in her office chair, her hands folded on the desk. Against the wall with the framed preschool artwork sat Caroline with Dominic on her lap. Dominic had bits of dried blood caked around his nostrils.
“Is this true?” I asked Patsy.
“That’s correct. There was no ice cream,” she said.
I rolled my eyes. “About Jack hitting Dominic?”
“Your son,” Caroline said, through a tiger-mum smile, “has broken my son’s nose.”
Patsy nodded vigorously. “I’m afraid I can’t tolerate behaviour like that in my school, Mrs. Patrick.”
I did first aid courses with St John’s Ambulance many years ago, and his nose looked ok to me. No swelling – actually, it looked as if he’d just had a mild nosebleed.
“And my son,” I replied, “says he didn’t hit yours. Mrs. Traynor, did you see what happened?”
“Well, not exactly, but Dominic says Jack hit him with a toy car, and he’s a truthful child, so…”
“And so is Jack a truthful child. But you thought it would be advantageous to believe the child of the mother who is contributing the most to your new playscape, correct?”
Patsy turned an interesting shade of mauve, and began to splutter.
“Certainly not! I would never–”
“Actually, you would. I think we already determined that, several weeks ago. Jack, sweetheart, take no notice of these nasty ladies, and tell Mummy yourself what happened.”
Jack sniffed; his chest hitched. “I was playing with the Tonka truck. The big one. And…”
“Yes?” I encouraged.
“And Dom wanted it, and he took it off me, only I said no, it was my turn with the Tonka truck cos he plays with it all the time, so I tried to take it off of him, but he hit me on the head with it.” He sniffed again. “And I pushed him away, and the truck banged his nose.”
“Did you tell Miss Patsy this?”
“I tried to tell her, but she was being cross because Dominic’s nose had a bit of blood coming out of it and she said I did it and I was bad.”
I glared at Patsy. “Guilty until proved innocent in this place, is it?”
“Nevertheless,” she said, “no one saw the incident, and therefore… Dominic, is this true what Jack said?”
Dominic shook his head and sucked his thumb.
“One child’s word against another, I’m afraid, and given Dominic’s injured nose, I must give the benefit of the doubt to him.”
“Unbelievable.” I rocked Jack and kissed the top of his head. “It’s OK, sweetie. Mummy knows you’re telling the truth.”
After all — if your mother won’t take your side, who will?
There was a tapping on the door, and someone poked her head into the room – Tom-the-Milky-Bar-Kid’s mother.
“I think you should see this,” she said, holding up a smartphone. “We were videoing the party, and we caught the, um, incident on our camera.”
* * *
“I have never been so insulted in my life,” Caroline said as she stuffed Dominic’s arms into his pink fleece. “I donate generously to your playground fund, and then you tell me you won’t tolerate Dominic’s behaviour? He’s just a little boy.”
“No one would guess it,” I muttered, “the way she keeps his hair long and dresses him like the Sugar Plum Fairy. No wonder he wants to bash other kids’ brains out with monster trucks.”
“You heard.” I smiled sweetly at her.
“We disapprove strongly of telling lies, especially ones designed to deliberately get other children into trouble,” Patsy said. “This is really quite serious, Mrs Hatton.”
Goodness. Caroline was now a Mrs.
“Well,” she said, “I’m taking him home, and he won’t be coming back. Come on, Dominic. Mummy’s going for a massage now, and while I’m there we’ll buy you some cream for your dry scalp. I know it’s $50 but you’re worth it. I can’t have a child of mine with dandruff.”
She tried to push past me with Dominic, and as she did so, I looked down at her son’s head, with its mat of long curls. There were white flakes, sure, but —
“Take him to CVS instead,” I said. “That’s not dandruff. That’s headlice. I’ve seen them before, at playgroup back home.”
Patsy’s face was horrified, and I remembered what Maggie and Anna had said about her aversion to things like impetigo. She came out from behind her desk and peered at Dom’s head.
“Definitely headlice,” she said with a shudder. “Perhaps you should consider getting his hair cut. And check your own hair. The health spa you go to on Main Street isn’t renowned for its hygiene, you know. When you’ve lived here as long as I have, you learn these things the hard way. My husband caught scabies from one of their towels after a sauna there.”
Poor Caroline. I had to bite my lips to stop myself laughing as she flounced out of the room.
“Libby,” Patsy said. “I am so sorry. What can I do to make this up to you, in any way at all?”
I stared at her. She really thought she could make this up to me?
“A refund of the weeks Jack hasn’t attended would be a good start.”
“Of course. Consider it done. In fact –” She pulled out a chequebook, scribbled one, ripped it out and handed it to me. “There.”
I glanced at it, nodded, and put it in my pocket.
“And how was the test today?” she asked. “Not pleasant, I imagine.”
“It was fine. I have to have lots of tests, of course, because of –” I broke off. She didn’t know about the twins. What else did Maggie say? Something about her loving twins in school for the publicity? “Because I’m expecting twins,” I finished.
Patsy clapped her hands together. “How wonderful! I love to have twins in the school. My husband is one, you know. You must bring them in when they arrive, and we will have a photograph of Jack with his siblings. My relative at the Woodhaven Observer will be thrilled to have the story in the paper.”
Big story. Small town news. I suddenly appeared to have joined Patsy Traynor’s club of Elite Moms.
She opened the office door for me, and I stepped into the classroom, where quite a few parents still milled around, gathering up paper plates and cups.
“Now that the, um, cause of Jack’s distress is no longer here,” Patsy said in a low voice, “I hope we will see him again next week.”
She held out her hand, and I took it. Held it. Looked her warmly in the eye.
“Patsy,” I said, raising my voice so the other parents could hear, “I would do a three-hour glucose test every day for the rest of my life before I brought my son back to your school ever again. Goodbye.”
I squeezed Jack’s hand. “Come on, sweetheart. Let’s get some ice cream.”
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