The nursery is shut for 10 days – how will my son cope?

We heard from our friend Mary first. ‘Did you get the call from nursery?’ We checked to see if anyone had called, or left a message informing us our son had lost an arm in a threshing accident. Within seconds, we had our answer when my phone rang and we were told that a secondary Covid contact meant they had to shut for 10 days. Suddenly we were wishing for threshing mishaps, as the reality of 10 days without childcare hoved into view.

I have to tread carefully here, of course. I respect the protocols and think they should be followed. I’m also keenly aware that the prospect of 10 days without childcare is hardly the most onerous blow people have experienced in the past 18 months. But I’d be lying if I said all of those things were at the front of our minds as my wife and I sat down with our calendars and portioned out the times and days we could spare for the next week and a half.

Suddenly, all decorum and perspective was out the window. I argued, persuasively I thought, that my wife’s job doing important work for a charity was secondary to my own vocation in writing gently humorous descriptions of things. Yes, she helps to oversee fundraising in response to giant crises all over the world, but is this really as important as the seven interviews I had scheduled to promote my book on local Irish radio? At this point, I think she said something about how saving lives was important too. Without the joy of literature, I countered, would we not mere animals be? She’d left the room by then, like a coward, so my very good point still stands unanswered.

In the end, my wife worked in the mornings and I took the afternoons. For his part, the boy was very pleased. He’s still pretty sketchy on his days of the week, but even he began to wonder why the weekend was lasting so long. Not that he was complaining; he delighted in the strangeness of his break like it was a summer holiday from a dead-end job.

To be honest, it astonishes me that he relishes time away from nursery since I’ve been in that place and it’s amazing. I don’t want to be reductive, but I think I’d quite like a nine-to-five routine where I got to build Lego and play at water tables all day, with a dozen of my closest friends. He even gets cuddles any time he asks, which would quite rightly be frowned upon in most workplaces. So I’m amazed he’d ever prefer to be in the company of his large, boring, stressed parents, trying to keep him occupied in the small flat he’s known his entire life. We baked, painted, read every book we owned, astounded but charmed that he was taking to our company so enthusiastically.

By day 10, some of our appeal had waned. ‘Is tomorrow weekend?’ he asked, pensively, on Sunday night. ‘No,’ we said, our lips pursed and our eyes heavily bagged. ‘Good,’ he said, with something close to relief.