Sneaky bug

It strikes. I knew it was out there and they were instructed to be extra vigilant with the old hand washing. Not allowed to eat a morsel without scrubbing first. It is not funny when a vomiting bug hits a house of seven. So when marque 4 saunters out of school, guitar in hand, and announces that someone threw up all over the shared desk I let out a little yelp. Or perhaps a loud shreik.
‘Did you wash your hands before you ate your lunch?’ I ask, hopefully.
‘Yes, and the vomit splashed everywhere, it even landed on someone’s school bag’ he says chortling away.
‘But you washed your hands?’
‘Yes. I don’t think it’s a vomiting bug. It looked like porridge. I think he just didn’t digest his porridge properly’, he says reassuringly. So I know from then on that it is lurking. It is lurking waiting to pounce.

3.30am Saturday morning. Wine coursing through the veins after an evening of the Late Late, a fire and a curry. I love Friday night more than any other. It’s intoxicating just thinking about not having to find uniform bits, make lunches, cajole them into finishing homework, sign notebooks. I’m on a high every Friday before a drop of wine enters into it. I love Friday and I love the weekends, more so every year. So when at 3.30 marque 5 comes running into us calling ‘come quick, he’s choking, he’s choking’ a little part of my maternal instinct is reluctant to kick in. I go in to view the extent of it, and like all middle of the night projectile surprises it’s gruesome and my first thought is not ‘you poor little mite’ as it should be. It is ‘well that’s it. The weekend is ruined. We’ll all go down now’. I peel the PJs off him, strip the bed, clean him up, get a bowl and set about the washing downstairs. Of course it’s not as simple as bunging it all in the machine. All the lumps need to be washed free first. So I’m up to my neck in the sink, with poorly digested Friday treat Domino’s pizza chunks, moaning to myself about the loss of the promise of the relaxing weekend. I must be talking out loud because suddenly from the corner of the kitchen the pale little waif pipes up.
‘We all were Mum’.
‘All were what?’
‘We all were SO looking FORWARD to the week-end’.
Oh dear. That’s when it kicks in, the old instinct. Full throttle. The poor little fella. And he gets it bad. Every half hour for 12 hours solid the bile chokes out of him. We offer teaspoons of dioralyte and flattened 7up and watch for the signs in everyone else.

It’s a sneaky one and it takes its time. Waits until you are feeling a little bit smug. That your bleaching and scrubbing must be supreme because no-one else is getting it. Ha. Strike two. Three and a half days later. Makes sense. He was sharing a room with marque 4. Strike three. One and a half days later. This is poor little marque 5.
‘Sorry Mum’ marque 4 chimes staring at marque 5.
‘Sorry for what?’
‘Sorry for brining the vomiting bug home, look at him, he’s so sick’ he says.
‘It’s not your fault, anyone could’ve caught it’ I say a tad guiltily. Somewhere in my message about vigilant hand washing a little blame game is being played. ‘Especially if someone throws up at their table’ I add and he laughs.

It is sneaky and misleading, giving false hope and laughing at us all. Particularly now. It laughs hard and loud. Because we’re eight days into it and wise mother that I am I’ve booked last minute to get us out of the big smoke for three nights of the mid-term break. From tomorrow. I’m sure we’ve beaten it. We’re running out of bleach after all. I’m packing the bags. Strike four. Wake up and smell the coffee. There’s still three to go. Cancel. But somehow I’m crossing my fingers. Coming out with ludicrous wishful thinking statements like ‘maybe it’s only the younger kids that will get it. Maybe it’s just a young kids’ bug’. I’m eight days tending to the sick and cleaning up. No sign. Neither for himself nor for marque one. Maybe once you’re over a certain body weight it just can’t get a hold, the wise mother think-eth. It’s a discerning clever bug and selects the under twelves only.

There’s a vote. We all agree. We must go. We head off with just in case sick bowls and disinfectant wipes planted about the car, risk takers that we are.

It’s bank holiday Monday and we are knee deep in storm strewn seaweed on our favourite beach. We walk the length and breath of it. Stop to marvel at the colours, the giant bird’s footprints in the sand, the peculiar witches’ hat pattern cast at our feet.


It is a hand holding, hoods up excursion blowing away the cobwebs of the first term. Marque 1 wonders out loud if he’ll have to go to the Gaeltacht next summer. He does not want to go. We preach mindfulness at him, tell him to just be here in the moment, noticing and breathing in all that surrounds him. He is not to be fast forwarding to next summer. Not here. Not now. Especially when the notion of the Gaeltacht hasn’t even occurred to his parents yet.

Strike 5. Twelve days in. Marque 1 succumbs on a glorious holiday Tuesday. But it has lost it’s power over us. We don’t care any more. We defied it. We’ve had a just what the doctor ordered couple of days. It will get the parents yet and we’re here waiting, finger beckoning it. Come on you bastard. We’re ready for you.



It’s the least of our concerns. There are many, many things to pre-occupy us at the moment. The NCT on the old juggernaut doesn’t even enter the space. We just want it done before that date in December. The penalty points date. We most certainly want it done before then.

Somehow though it has crept in. It has crept in and taken hold. The real life issues are squashed to the peripheries. It’s a whole new world I’ve entered into. A dipetane fuelled rev obsessed world.

‘Just mix some dipetane in with your diesel the next time’ the kind man says over the phone when I book in for a pre-test. Ah yes, dipetane. Never heard of it. Didn’t think you could ‘mix’ anything in with the fuel. Surely that’ll cause little explosions or seizures or something untoward.
‘People do it all the time. It’s used on boats an’ all. You can even throw some in with your home heating fuel’ he says. None of these scenarios do anything to re-assure me. I take him at his word, purchase a bottle from him and receive more little pearls in person.


‘Put in .4 of a litre for a quarter tank. Then drive in low until the revs are up around 3-4000. Then slip it into 2’. I feel as if I should be jotting all this gobbledygook down. I nod sagely instead, repeating all the numbers in my head. I tell him I’ll see him next week for the pre-test.

The eye contact from my new mechanic friend is not so hot after the pre-test. He knows it’s going to fail.
‘It’s very smokey’ he says. ‘You didn’t use much of the dipetane’. Well, I used what you said. Just we didn’t get out that much over the weekend. Vomiting bug and all that jazz.

‘It looks like it hasn’t been serviced in a good while’ my frenemy continues. Ah yes, the old service situation. It’s just that I’ve noticed when I put it in for one, things are found. Hundreds of euros worth of things. What you don’t know won’t hurt you. Or your pocket. I prefer to wait until brought to a halt by something clanging off the ground. Much more economical.
‘If it was my car, I’d put €5 of petrol in the next time with the diesel’, he says without batting an eyelid. Is that even legal?
‘Are you serious? Dipatene and petrol and diesel. Wouldn’t that harm the engine?’ He laughs. Ha, ha. But I have a vague memory of somebody putting diesel into a petrol car and the car going kaput. Paying not too insignificant a sum to get every last drop sucked out. Didn’t seem too funny at the time. It’s the only chance left for getting the smokiness down he says. It’s the last resort. He’s only saying that’s what he’d do. Is all. If it were his. I can take or leave his tip.
‘What if I get a quick service then, would that help?’ and he’s given up smirking at my naivety. The car will fail no matter what. Best to see what they come back with and work from there he suggests. He charges not a cent for his time and tips. Sure I’ll be seeing him directly after it anyhow.

I rev on up to the nearest garage and position myself at the diesel and petrol pump while whipping the dipatene out and plonking it alongside the others. An elderly man and lady pull up behind me in a modest silver micra. He gets their fuel while she gazes unflinchingly at me working the diesel, then swapping to work the petrol which fails because, of course, you have to pay for the one you’ve finished with first. I toss a load of dipetane in instead and feel the poor lady’s eyes widening on me. I think about popping over to her window to explain. No, I’m not in the middle of a nervous breakdown. I know how it looks. Juggling with three nozzles. As if any old thing will do to get this thing moving. I’d frighten the life out of her if I knocked on her window. So I run in to pay the guy for the diesel and back out again to try my luck with the petrol. My lady friend is still there, still staring. What the hell is taking her husband so long? I mix my cocktail, run back in to pay, with a niggle that I poured in too much dipatene for the amount of diesel – should’ve jotted those figures down – and I announce to the nice young dead-pan faced guy that I’m going to get another tenner’s worth of diesel. For the hell of it. Oh, and I’d like to pay in advance this time. I run back out, wrestle with the diesel pump again, ignoring the gob-smacked lady. At last. It is done. I do not expect the engine to start after all the mixing and messing around. But it does. And I drive all the way across the yard to the hoover. The less said about hoovering the thing -which hasn’t been done since the summer – the better. Suffice it to say that there are socks being wrenched back out of the hose. And that one €2 shot doesn’t do it. Not at all. Oh well. It’s the shells that get me. All the little shells of the day from the holidays, filling the door pockets and under the mats.

Sometimes when I open the door a shell falls out at my feet. Brings me right back to the magic of a day at the beach in the West. They must now be hidden in readiness for the silly test. Lest they be deemed a safety hazard. Slip under the brake pedal. Jam the accelerator to the floor. So I busy myself hiding the real life. That’s how it feels as I pull and push the hose around sucking up mountains of sand. Then someone beeps me gesturing to move so he can get past. Some other absent idiot is blocking him but I’m the sitting duck. A busy sitting duck which the rude man chooses to ignore. ‘You’ve got to be kidding’ I find myself mouthing, possibly looking a tad frazzled, waving the time ticking hoover at him. How I wish I was back at that beach.

I finish off my morning at the garage with a manual car wash and a neutradol air freshener. If it smells fresh and looks clean perhaps they won’t notice the plumes of smoke out the rear. I collect the troops from their labours. They admire the new car look. Then I rev off in low, the needle tipping into the red danger zone and we screech all the way home from the school.

‘Go Mum, Go Mum, Go Mum’ the excited chorus chants to the boy racer noises. If that’s all that comes out of this, that’s good enough for me. Rock on 14.20. We’re on our way.


Ha !


It all boils down to a flashing shoe. It’s as simple as that. One irrepressibly flashing shoe turns the morning upside down. If I could take back the time that we spent choosing them in Clarke’s shoe shop I would. Go for the ones with the little gifts in the soles instead. But the lovely funny shoe man showed us the off button. If you don’t want red and green neon flashing all day in school just press the off button. Sorted. Decided. Marque 4 and 5 chose the same pair of shoes. Deadly or cool or whatever the lingo is. Until the little off button no longer works.

Marque 4’s shoe flashes from the shoe box in the porch. Each time I pass by the glass window I startle. It magnifies through the bubble glass and I think it’s the police or the fire-brigade or some sort of emergency taking place at our front door. It must take some battery to power those relentless lights. Marque 4 hurls the shoe down the kitchen in a bid to make it stop. It doesn’t. I press gently and firmly and every which way on the ‘off’ button to no effect. One of marque 5’s shoes has been flashing merrily for weeks now. He doesn’t mind. He’s a senior infant. It’s allowed.

This morning I’m up extra early. There’s an emergency dental situation for marque 2 and we have to make it there, after the school drop off, by nine or we won’t be seen. I am cruising along. I’ve located and laid out all uniform bits and shoes for everyone. Lunch boxes and drinks are deposited into the relevant bags. Breakfast things and orange juice are doing the rounds. Shoes, hair and teeth. Almost there.
‘I’m not wearing the flashing shoe. I’ll be in trouble. It’s not ok in second class’ marque 4 throws into the mix with immediate impact on my pulse.
‘Why did you insist on having the flashing shoes if you’re not allowed them?’ I say, possibly muttering something about sixty bloody euros. I should’ve gone to Lidl like I did last year. Seven euros for full leather shoes. Nothing flash.
‘Because they have an off button’ he says logically and I suppose I can’t really blame him, much as I might like to, for that seizing and rendering the shoe a permanent flasher.
I root around in the shoe box and mercifully pull out another pair of matching shoes – last year’s, but looking good.
‘Here, wear these then’ I say, we are still on track, we can still make it. He squishes his feet in and lets out an exasperated sigh – he might have learnt from me – and claims that they do not fit. He opts for the flasher instead. But now, lo and behold the flasher has gone missing. One of the brothers helpfully tries to make it stop and then loses it. Now we are getting late.
‘You’re going to have to wear the old ones for today’ I say, but his shoeless heels are dug in. He’s going nowhere without the flasher. He is on the verge of tears now. Perhaps if I leave the room it’ll all get sorted. Head on out to the car and they’ll emerge, gleaming teeth, shining hair, two shoes a piece.

It is finally located. Someone has been cheerfully sitting on it while getting their own shoes on. We are a good ten minutes late leaving. The dentist is a far off aspiration. I start a little rant in the car. Along the cringe worthy lines of ‘when I was your age going to school’. How today the parents do EVERYTHING for the kids. Hand them everything. Dress some of them. Make sure they have every last little thing. And still they manage to be late. When I was…cringe. I tell them how I set my uniform out the night before, set my own alarm, got up and got my own breakfast, packed my lunch, and headed off to catch the 7.30 bus. Because if I missed that the next ones along were all full. All my mother had to do was sign my homework notebook, without checking if the work was done because she knew it would be. There’s a communal deafness in the car. Rightly so. But I feel better for having said it. If they’re going to morph into me then I’ll have to get out of their way and let them. If I do less for them they’ll be more than capable of doing it for themselves. I resolve to do less. From this moment on they are on their own I say to myself, pulling up the handbrake which seems to seal the deal.

We flash on up to the school and I turn around, hot tail it back to the car, and screech up to the dentist. It’s 9.05. They’ll probably turn a blind eye. And they do. All’s well as it happens. The emergency milk tooth can be pulled if it continues to be troublesome but it looks close to falling out so we opt for the natural way.

Back in the car marque 2 remembers that he hasn’t finished his Irish homework. No worries, I tell him, all relaxed now, sure I’ll get you a hot chocolate (don’t tell the dentist) and you can finish it before I pop you in. Only we end up chatting. He asks me some lovely questions about my time spent with my grandparents in England as a child and we are laughing and sipping and forgetting about the clock. Eventually he pulls out the Irish sheet. It’s one of those where you have to fill in the gaps. Not that there are words supplied for you. No. You’re supposed to know them or look them up in the dictionary. So at ten o’clock he’s writing speedily while I google, like a fool, crutches and stretchers and bandages. Some stupid Dad has, it seems, broken his leg playing soccer. Crutches. We definitely didn’t learn that when I was in school.

I write a note about being late because of a trip to the dentist. He goes in happy and smiling and warm from the hot chocolate. I start the journey home to clear up the mess from the morning. Somebody needs to teach me a few new tricks.


They love weather. The changeable sort that we are used to. So the trip to school on the morning after the storm is accompanied by fever pitch excitement. Autumn, it seems, has finally arrived. Strewn debris greets us on our walk. There are whoops at the sight of a parked car – it’s tyres submerged in flood water. They run and skid on the blanket of fresh foliage that has been cast for their delight. There’s a nip in the air. At last. Yes a definite nip.
‘Smell it’ marque 2 says, standing still, breathing deeply in. ‘Just smell the freshness after the storm’.

And so we believe that the summer which has gone on, bewilderingly, for half the year is now over. Time to put the sandals away and whip out the boots. Time to hot-tail it up to T.K. Maxx for a coat. We are ready to welcome the next season. Late is better than not at all. Up in T.K. Maxx everyone else seems to have the same idea. The isles are thronged with merry post-storm knitwear and coat buyers. It’s a dizzying affair and I’m no good at it. Row upon row of quilted coats with fake fur hoods. Where to begin? I stand watching the skilled buyers making their way methodically through, going from left to right, making sure not to miss a hidden bargain. I’m in the way, hovering, wondering if I could borrow one of them for a minute to dig me out. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, the coat hangers go all around me, mockingly, to the deft hands of the discerning clever purchasers. I scowl around the myriad colours and styles and sizes all mixed up. Can somebody just help me please?

I know I can’t leave without something. You don’t make a trip up here and leave empty handed. I check the time. Getting close to the first pick up. A quick call to see if he is in the area and if there’s any way he could do the collection. Yes, sure, and this should make me feel better, having that extra half hour. But I’m starting to feel that my knees are going to cave. I’m going to keel over, right here in the centre of the store. And then I’ll probably be trampled on.

So I retreat from being a nuisance in the narrow isles to a corner where there’s a free standing display of fresh arrivals. Room to swing things. Mirrors. Air. I can do this. The first coat I pluck from the stand fits perfectly. It’s by a designer I’ve never heard of but hey, that’s probably good. Then there’s another woman who comes over and smiles at me, says she loves the coat and nabs one for herself. We are side by side taking turns in the mirror, looking very much the competent calm T.K. Maxx purchasers. She twinkles at me and thanks me for alerting her to these. This has made her day. Maybe she was sent to help me I think, in some other worldly way. Or maybe the CCTV cameras picked up the exasperated immobile mess in the centre isle and sent an undercover staff member to cheer me along. Pretend the coat was lovely, get one for herself, and hoosh me right out of the store.

As I exit with the autumn-winter purchase I am blinded by the sun. It’s sweltering again. For feck’s sake, all the newly found competence draining out of me as I think about hurling the boots to the back of the cupboard, retrieving the sandals and waiting for this Indian summer to finally cough itself to sleep.

At night, with all the homework almost done, I announce that we are going for a walk. They look at me quizzically as I pull the purchase from the bag. Mutterings of ‘great new coat mum’ resound and I smile.
‘Just something I nabbed for the cold weather’.
‘It looks so, so posh’ marque 4 says giggling. Posh – the unintended consequence of a panic buy.
‘I don’t think we need to bring our coats, do we? It was ROASTING today’.
As you please, dear children, as you please.

Mercifully a soft drizzle descends and I whip up my hood, feeling decidedly less ridiculous now. They run ahead, coat-less arms outstretched, welcoming the change, while imbibing the smell of seaweed that has been thrown onto the path in last night’s storm. A harvest moon sparkles and winks at us on the sea. Embrace the changes as they present themselves, much like the kids do, he seems to be saying. Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s what he means.