My nan has a real way with words. She’ll tell you tales about the ‘nippers’ down her road, the ‘dancing queen’ downstairs and the singers at her club, who are “gay, but they do sing nicely.” If she wasn’t 80-something and almost blind she’d get in a lot of trouble.
Most of all she loves to give half a sigh and pronounce, “well, it’s not as bad as it could have been.”
Which would be fine, if she wasn’t talking about the painstakingly handcrafted birthday card she’d received. Or the song you’ve just sung for her. Or the name you’ve chosen for your child.
It’s a standing family joke. Why say something’s great when you can give a backhanded compliment-disguised-as-an-insult. Even Wes, with his upbeat South African mindset, has embraced it as a cover-all phrase. It just works.
Trouble is, over the last week I’ve been getting worried. Very worried. That things might actually be bad.
I’ve worked myself into a fret over the upcoming return to normality. The end of the holidays. The needing to function on my own again.
I’ve convinced myself that I won’t be able to make dinner with two small children running around. Despite the fact that I managed it last year. I’ve been certain that I’d never be able to write again, that I’d lost any skill I ever had. That somehow changing calendars had drained all my creativity. That when real life reared its ugly head, I just wouldn’t cope.
Wes was worried too. Veering between hugs, pep talks and baking treacle tart. Perhaps I should panic more often.
When yesterday dawned, January 6th, I was nervous. To say the least. Apparently it’s the most depressing day of the year. Even if you’re not already depressed. I didn’t fancy my chances.
Wes left the house at 6. The children were up at 7. And miraculously, they were happy. Smiling. Not screaming or shouting or stamping their feet. For the first time in weeks. I’m still not sure why. It’s amazing what a difference that makes.
I surprised myself by how calm I felt.
Which was just as well. By lunchtime there were 9 of us. A combination of cancelled doctors appointments, overcrowded soft play centres and not-yet-reopened toddler groups saw 3 adults, 3 pre-school girls and 3 smaller boys converge on our kitchen for sandwiches and treacle tart.
There weren’t enough chairs. The girls ate their lunch on a picnic blanket in the space between the back door and the washing machine.
I cut the bread with my usual degree of skill, which meant that most of the sandwiches had holes in. Joel spent an hour post-lunch eating scraps from the floor.
It was chaos. But somehow, it wasn’t stressful. At all. It was wonderful.
Afterwards Joel napped, Elvie drew thirty yellow pictures and I decided to stay true to my year of gentleness by dozing on the sofa and making a dinner which consisted of moving trays from the freezer to the oven.
Wes arrived home to actual laughter. For the first time in months. Elvie blowing bubbles in the bath and Joel running naked through the hallway. Turns out gentle can be fun.
Over a cup of tea that evening I assessed the day, in true Nan style, as ‘not as bad as it could have been.’
Somehow that doesn’t seem enough. All that Britishness and playing-things-down. I love it. I’m an expert. But sometimes I need to admit that actually, I had a good day. It was fun. We enjoyed ourselves. We went to bed happy.
I know why I’m so scared to be positive. The awful fear that if something good is happening, there must be untold horror around the corner. It’s crippling. And it means that I don’t have much fun.
I don’t want Wes to be surprised when he comes home to happiness. I don’t want my children to be surprised when I say yes. I don’t want to be surprised by having a good day. I’d like it to be much more natural.
Perhaps it’s time to start using another of my nan’s failsafe sayings. Which comes out whenever the rain pauses to catch its breath. “Oh look, it’s brightening up.”
It is indeed Nan. It is indeed.