Throughout my childhood, Dad kept cows. It wasn’t a farm. We just had cows. Only two at a time. One outcome of having a peculiar pet is that I know more than most about bovine medical ailments.
So, when Mary phoned me towards the end of an eventful day at work and said that she had the same illness that frequently afflicted Daisy and Clover, I really struggled not to blurt out, “On your udders?” My wife had mastitis. Our cows often had it. Fortunately, I managed to make suitably neutral noises like, “Oh?” and “I’m sorry” while I managed to process the full implications of my wife’s quasi-udder-related illness.
I realise that I sound heartless. I’ve tried to work out how to justify the way my brain makes such weird connections when my wife is really poorly. Imagine if someone you loved said, “I’m sorry I’m limping, I’ve got a case of hoof rot” or even “I’ve got foot and mouth” (and I do know that humans really do get “hand, foot and mouth” as a real illness. Come on doctors, please find a more impressive sounding name, because all sufferers find their friends wondering if they’ve been licking cows recently)
So that night was one of the many occasions in the first few months of a child’s life when we unashamedly relied on friends. I pity anyone who has to survive those first hard yards in isolation.
I now tell all friends expecting a child to join a good church. It doesn’t matter, at this stage, what they think of Jesus or Christianity, “Get yourself to church.” Rarely in life will they so feel the need of a supportive, local community full of older, wiser parents who have walked these paths before them. One friend spent time working in an inner-city children’s Accident & Emergency department. Her observation was that the parents who came in with the most minor difficulties had no parents or older folk living within easy reach who could sit with them, listen to their situation and give sensible advice. Every church should put on the side of their building, “Expecting a child? Come to us. We’re less hassle than A&E”
That particular evening I had an event at work in the evening, so a great friend offered to stay in with my wife. She was kind. She also had had mastitis. It was her insight that moved me from udder obsession to real sympathy.
“Mastitis? Poor her. The pain is somewhere between flu and cancer. It’s worse than child birth. At least with child birth you know there is a finish.”
When I finally got in from work, I was told that Mary had been in bed for the last 2 hours. Our baby was finally asleep. My friends’ advice?
“Give your wife a good night’s sleep. Although if she doesn’t feed him during the night, her boobs will explode by the morning.”
So it was that I was growing up. I learnt that when an adult mentions boobs, particularly in a phrase that features the word ‘explode’, I must not snigger, or say out loud, “You just said boobs”. I was also starting to understand that a good church is God’s emergency service.