Read From The Heart Online

Authors: Sheila O'Flanagan

From The Heart (3 page)

BOOK: From The Heart
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He helped me into the car and then turned to me.
‘I thought you’d stood me up,’ he said.
‘I wouldn’t do that,’ I told him.
‘That’s what I reckoned.’ He smiled at me. ‘That’s why I like you, Sadie. That’s why I asked you out. You seem a really nice person.’
‘A bit of a walking nightmare though,’ I said.
‘Not so much of the walking.’ He laughed as he started the car.
He wasn’t an emotional wreck. He was gorgeous and funny and just plain nice. I wasn’t too emotionally wrecked either. I didn’t sleep with him on the first date. Because there were lots of other dates to follow. I didn’t try as hard for those and I didn’t have any disasters either (well, not major ones – there was the night when I thought we were supposed to be meeting in the Morrison whereas he’d said Morrissey’s but we sorted that out). There were other ups and downs, of course. He wasn’t perfect and neither was I. But we managed to work things out. Which just goes to show that sometimes the really gorgeous blokes are meant for people like me after all. And I mustn’t have been Cleopatra in a previous life. Maybe I was her assistant.
A Peaceful Christmas
The idea of going away for Christmas was enticing, but it was something that Jim and Laura couldn’t really afford. Adding to their debt wasn’t reasonable, Jim told himself as he read the ads on the back page of the newspaper, and he was usually a reasonable man. A few years earlier he wouldn’t even have noticed the cost of a couple of days away, but times were tougher now and nobody was spending money on stuff they couldn’t afford. Least of all people who had bought houses at the top of the market and were now firmly in negative-equity territory. Which was what they were.
Jim and Laura’s commuter town house (the developer’s claim that you could get into the city centre in forty-five minutes was still unrealistic, despite the fact that traffic had lessened during the recession) was worth about half of what they’d paid for it and was a millstone round their necks. They’d hoped to trade up eventually and move closer to the city, but that now seemed highly unlikely. Nobody wanted to buy houses in the commuter belt when there were plenty available nearer to town at knock-down prices. Every so often someone would bring out a report saying that property prices were on the up again, but Laura and Jim had a horrible feeling that they’d rise more in the areas they wanted to buy in rather than where they lived now. They felt stupid and cheated and angry with themselves, and with the bank too. But the way they looked at it, they had to keep going. There was no point in getting depressed.
Their bank manager had actually lost his job a few months previously, although Jim said it was through a redundancy programme and not because he’d lent them far more money than they could easily pay back. They wondered if he was struggling like them, but somehow they doubted it. They were living to the strictest budget they possibly could, in which every cent they spent was accounted for, which was why they should make a decision about spending Christmas with either Angela or Caroline and live with the consequences. The trouble was, thought Jim, that he wasn’t sure that living with the consequences would ever be worth it.
Laura agreed with him. The whole thing about Christmas was totally doing her head in, and it seemed to her as though everything and everyone was getting out of control: her parents, his parents and, most scarily, her relationship with Jim. Neither the stress of how to spend Christmas nor his solution to it was doing them any good at all.
Yet it was all so silly and needless! What was the point in putting pressure on them to spend Christmas in one house or the other when it was just one day in the whole year, and when they visited both sets of parents over the festive season anyway? But this year was different, because it was Kirstie’s first Christmas and both grandmothers seemed to think that it was a badge of honour to have the baby spend it in their house. As if, Laura muttered darkly to Jim, Kirstie would know anything about it. She was only six months old, after all! The problem was that Laura’s mother, Angela, and Jim’s mother, Caroline, had morphed since Kirstie’s birth from two apparently normal women into two of the most competitive grandmothers the world had ever known. The moment Laura had been allowed to have visitors in Holles Street hospital, both of them had turned up brimming with advice on the upbringing of their first grandchild.
‘For heaven’s sake!’ Laura had snapped at her own mother after she’d listened to a litany of do’s and don’ts. ‘It’s not an exam. I’ll learn. You did, didn’t you?’
‘It was different in my day,’ said Angela. ‘We weren’t expected to rush back to work. We had more help, too.’
‘I’ll be fine,’ said Laura, although she wasn’t entirely sure about that. She was feeling a bit sniffly and down but she didn’t want Angela to know. Angela was never down. She’d see it as a sign of weakness and use it as an opportunity to lecture her even more.
Caroline, who came in later, put her arms around her and gave her a massive hug. Caroline had never hugged Laura before, and the experience was unnerving (Laura had always suspected that she was second choice as a daughter-in-law as far as Caroline was concerned; she was sure Jim’s mother would have preferred it if he’d married his previous girlfriend, Samantha, a successful PR executive, instead).
‘I’m so delighted for you!’ cried Caroline. ‘Here. Let me take photographs for my Facebook page.’
Laura didn’t really want pictures of Kirstie on Facebook, or indeed on any of the many other social networking sites that Caroline seemed to use. As far as Laura was concerned, she was the only one who should be putting up pictures of her daughter anywhere. But when she said this to Caroline, her mother-in-law looked mortally offended and said that only her closest friends would be able to see them, and that Kirstie was her grandchild as well as Laura’s daughter . . . It had all got a bit heated, and Laura hadn’t been able to stop herself bursting into floods of tears. When Jim walked into the room and found her blowing her nose, he’d told Caroline to leave, which had left Laura feeling guilty.
‘You’re the most important person in the world to me,’ Jim had assured her when she eventually apologised for upsetting his mother. ‘You and Kirstie. Don’t worry about it.’
But she did worry about it. She worried about Caroline and she worried about Angela and she worried that she was caught between two women who’d lost the plot entirely. She worried that she was losing the plot herself. The grandmothers had taken to calling around to the house at unexpected times during the day to check on Laura and make sure that she was coping, which was driving her crazy. (Both of them felt – though they didn’t say it to each other – that Laura was suffering a bit from the baby blues. Well, Angela called it the blues. Caroline had taken Jim to one side, mentioned post-natal depression and given him a number of websites to check out. Jim told his mother not to be stupid, that Laura was perfectly fine, but he did keep a closer eye on her afterwards, just in case she started exhibiting signs of not loving their wonderful daughter.)
Laura herself knew she wasn’t depressed. She could cope perfectly well until Angela or Caroline arrived on the doorstep dispensing words of advice. Then she would get flustered and anxious and do stupid things; on one occasion she found herself changing Kirstie’s nappy after already having just changed it five minutes earlier. (Caroline had been there at the time, and reported back to Jim that his wife was very frazzled, poor love, and that he should consider sending her for a consultation. Just in case.)
‘I don’t know what’s got into her,’ Jim told Laura later that evening. ‘You’re grand, aren’t you?’
‘Do you think there’s something wrong with me?’ demanded Laura. ‘D’you think I’m losing my marbles?’
‘Of course not,’ Jim assured her. ‘She’s overreacting, I know she is. And I’m sorry for even listening to her. ’
‘Oh, I don’t blame you,’ Laura said. ‘Both her and my mother are driving me bonkers these days, so I’m not surprised she makes remarks about it. Mum rang three times today because I told her that Kirstie had a bit of a cold. Every time I got the poor child to sleep, the bloody phone went off. I put it on silent eventually and then realised that I’d missed a call from my pal Bernie because of it!’
‘They’ll get things into perspective in a while.’ Jim tried to sound philosophical. ‘And I suppose it’s good to know that they’re both eager to help out.’
‘If only they didn’t give conflicting advice.’ Laura looked hunted. ‘I mentioned to Mum that because of her cold Kirstie was having trouble sleeping, which was why I was freaking out every time she rang up. She recommended vitamin C and taking her to the doctor for paracetamol or its baby equivalent if it didn’t clear up. Then your mother called and said it wasn’t a cold at all and that she was teething. So she had different remedies for that. But in case it
was
a cold she suggested some homeopathic stuff which in a million years I’m not giving her!’
‘Calm down.’ Jim could hear that Laura was getting agitated. ‘We both know she has a cold and it’s getting better. So you do whatever you think is right for her.’
‘Thank you.’ Laura leaned her head on his shoulder. ‘You’re a pet, really. I don’t know what I’d do without you.’
Despite the presence of the grandmothers, Laura was enjoying being a new mum at home with Kirstie. But because of their financial pressures she went back to work as soon as her paid maternity leave was finished. Both Angela and Caroline offered to look after Kirstie while she was out all day, which threw her into another bout of panic. The poor child would be totally confused by their conflicting views on how she should be reared. She’d probably end up with all sorts of issues afterwards and it would be all Laura’s fault. If it had been an option she would have given up work and stayed at home, but that simply wasn’t possible.
Caroline had made a few niggly comments about the disadvantage Kirstie would be at with Laura rushing back to the office, especially as it meant that her granddaughter would have to be bottle-fed, which Caroline insisted would lower her natural defences. She told Laura that babies did best with their mother’s milk, and Laura said she knew that but there was nothing she could do about it, they needed her salary. Caroline said that it was fortunate she was around to help look after Kirstie.
Angela knew all about having to go out to work, because she’d done it when both Laura and her younger sister Celine were small, and she didn’t think it had done them any harm. Made you independent if anything, she remarked, reminding Laura that her own grandmother had done a good job of looking after the two girls while Angela was working. Angela had resigned from her office job when she got pregnant with her third child, saying that it was too much effort to try to do everything. It’ll be fun looking after Kirstie, though, she told Laura. I bet I’ll be a lot better as a granny than a mammy.
With offers of help from both mothers, Laura was in a quandary. She didn’t say to Jim that she’d prefer Angela to do the looking-after because, being totally honest with herself, she was more in tune with her mother’s down-to-earth approach than with Caroline’s yummy-grandmummy efforts, although she did agree that using natural products was best and she tried very hard to buy organic food whenever possible. (Angela said that organic produce was a waste of money; hadn’t she reared four healthy girls on fertilised and sprayed food? Laura wasn’t sure either way, but she wanted to do whatever was best for her baby.) She was also more confident about her mother’s parenting abilities because she’d seen her looking after Celine, Deirdre and Janice and she knew that nothing panicked her. She thought that Caroline was much more likely to get into a fuss about things, although that was only based on the fact that her mother-in-law was always asking for updates about Jim’s health and well-being.
Jim, however, was quite happy to think of his mother looking after Kirstie. It would be very convenient, he said, since his parental home was only a fifteen-minute drive when you got on to the motorway, whereas even though Angela was closer, local traffic could cause horrendous delays sometimes. Besides, he said, Caroline wanted to help. He’d have thought, he added, that Laura would want that too, given that their relationship hadn’t always been the easiest. It was good to think that Kirstie was bringing them closer.
‘The thing is,’ Laura admitted eventually, ‘I’d really like my mum to do it.’ She’d thought and thought about it and had finally come up with the perfect reason. ‘After all, she’s used to girls. Your mum had two boys.’
‘I can’t see that it makes any difference,’ said Jim. ‘A baby is a baby after all.’
‘Still . . .’ Laura used her most persuasive voice.
‘My mum really wants to help out,’ said Jim obstinately. ‘I think she should have the chance. Kirstie’s her grandchild too, you know.’
How could I ever forget, thought Laura. Caroline banged on and on about it often enough!
She took a deep breath. ‘OK. How about my mother does three days and yours two?’
Caroline said that she was perfectly happy to divide it the other way round, but in the end Laura got what she wanted. Angela looked after Kirstie Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Caroline had her Thursdays and Fridays. Both Laura and Jim agreed that they were actually very, very fortunate to have mothers who were prepared to mind their child at all. Most grandparents, Jim said, were silver surfers these days, wanting to be out and about having a good time and not worrying about things. Very few would commit themselves to looking after a baby. Laura agreed. Sandra Hannigan, her supervisor, was paying a fortune for a crèche for her two small children. She said that she was pretty much working to pay the crèche fees but that, in the end, they were a little bit better off if she kept her job. Though it was marginal at best, she muttered, and they were keeping the whole thing under constant review.
BOOK: From The Heart
4.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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