I do not want to forget how difficult these first few weeks in April were. I was trying to cope with the new environment, the new territory, and the rules of my new house mate. However, I still had to be thankful for having a friend to stay with. I don’t think I could have coped by myself for the first few days. On our second day at our new home I was off from work, Robert was recovering slightly from the injection’s effects and I was busy trying to organize our room and our life. On Thursday I started what will be my routine for the rest of the month for morning shift work. I woke up at six – before sunrise, fed and clothed Robert, then took him in the pram towards his dad’s place. The walk takes about twenty minutes, and I always aimed to get there at seven or just after. I delivered Robert to his dad, with a bottle a change of clothes and diapers then ran down the hill to catch a taxi to work. When my shift was over I picked up Robert and walked back home with him.
The interim arrangement I had for April was to continue in this way, with dad looking after the baby when I worked morning shifts and Lucy, Jackie’s nanny/domestic worker taking over on the afternoons when she is off. Miriam let me completely down and I was left without a back up plan. To complicate matters further, I could not just employ whomever I choose, because Jackie is extremely paranoid about admitting strangers into her place.
I thought that the best solution to work around these problems was for me to work at night. I put in a request through to my managers for permanent night shift work. My rationale was that Robert sleeps through the night, and only needed someone to be there in case he woke up, which he rarely did. I was waiting for an answer for over a week now, and as luck would have it, I received my answer on that first day at work after moving out.
When I was notified by their refusal I was so upset I broke down and cried. It was something I have never done before in a professional environment, and it made me feel so ashamed. It was really enough for me to deal with the humiliation of telling my story, and asking for special working conditions, and now this. What I thought was the perfect solution for my problem was no longer possible but management compromised by allowing me to plan my own schedule, working whenever I can, until such time when my boy can be accepted in day care, and I can have normal working hours like everyone else. I was back to the drawing board on that one, trying to find another plan at work.
As if I did not have enough on my plate, Robert became feverish on Thursday afternoon. I gave him infant drops, bathed him and expected the fever to break quickly but it didn’t. I wasn’t feeling great either, my immune system must have buckled under the strain; I had a runny nose and the symptoms of the cold. I did not feel like facing the floor either, so I called in sick for then next day (Friday) and planned to take Robert to the doctor as well. Early on Friday morning I had a very bad fright; Robert woke up at dawn, and he was boiling hot. I took off all his clothes and started putting cold compresses on him, but I was in panic when the ear thermometer showed 42 degrees. I didn’t know what to do but wake up Robert’s dad and ask him to take us to hospital. In his usual calm manner he pointed out that at a temperature like this the boy would have been comatose, so perhaps it wasn’t correct. So I took another measurement with the rectal thermometer which arrived in Auntie C’s package, and this time the temperature reading was 39 degrees. This was still fever but not a death threat. I gave Robert more infant drops, and stayed up with him giving him cold compresses until he felt a little cooler and went back to sleep.
In the morning I made an appointment for him to see a GP in our area. Since I did not have access to the car I thought I might as well get used to the services available at walking distance from us. My appointment with the doctor was at eleven and after that I had also a meeting with the lawyer at 12 in town. The timing was a little tight but still doable. We took the long walk to the doctor, and made it just in time to see Dr. L. I was impressed with her gentle and thorough manner. It was clear that she was a good physician who was very good with children, she looked like she was expecting one of her own too. Robert’s diagnosis was upper respiratory tract infection, and Dr. L advised symptomatic treatment. She gave him a prescription for a different type of syrup to alternate with the infant drops I was already giving him. She also instructed me to monitor him for the next few days, and bring him for a follow up if the fever didn’t break. On Saturday I was supposed to work an early morning shift starting at five, so I had to get a certificate from Dr. L. to prove the reason for my absence. The last thing I wanted now was trouble with work. After the doctor I had to rush into town to catch my meeting with the lawyer. I had to call Robert’s dad to fetch him, and save me the time and effort of walking all the way up the hill to his place, then running down again to the taxi stop. Ron met me halfway up the hill and I rushed into town.
At the lawyers I had to sign some legal paper, then he gave me an affidavit that needed to be signed in front of a commissioner of oaths. So on my way back I had to make yet another stop at the police station to get this done, before walking back to get Robert. When I arrived he was asleep, and his dad said that he did not mind if I stay with him until he wakes up; he was leaving to gym anyway. While I waited I checked on my internet accounts and downloaded my mail. This turned out to be the last time I would use my computer in a month.
Robert recovered slowly from his ailments and fortunately I had three days off work where I could finally relax from running around. I just sat at home, played with Robert in our backyard, warmed my chilled soul in the gentle autumn sun and read. Jackie is very supportive of us, she loves Robert and interacts with him all the time. He responds to her quickly when she asks him to “clap handies” and loves it when she rough-houses with him. Robert is benefiting from our different styles of play, and Jackie has somehow -at least during playtime- jumped into what is supposed to be dad’s role.
When I am home I still have many things to do. I need to go shopping every other day, because I cannot carry too many groceries while pushing Robert in his pram; I wash our clothes by hand on every dry and sunny day; and I cook us some extremely simple meals. In the meantime I am still taking a lot of emotional strain; I am deeply aware of the chaos of my life, and I find myself craving the perfect order I used to reject in my previous life. I know that I am grasping at the outward order to compensate for the complete emotional and personal collapse. I get stuck on small details, and cannot get past the need to organize things that under normal circumstances I would have found unnecessary. A few days ago I wanted to replace the silicon nipple on Robbie’s bottle, and I walked all the way down our main road, asking in every shop. Then I retraced my way back to the other end of the main road where I finally found a replacement set. The exercise took two hours and Robert and I arrived home past dark, both extremely exhausted. It was one of the few days where I put him to bed without a bath.
Although things are extremely difficult for us at the moment, there are also moments of happiness that shine through, and kindness that comes when least expected. Jackie’s mom bought Robert a set of colourful stacking cups which I am now use for his bath. She also bought him a couple of jars of baby food. I guess Robert now has a Cape Town granny.