We have had a lovely, sunny summer. We have transported the entire family to Europe, spent time with extended family, driven the length of French motorways, shepherded the flock dutifully around dusty old churches and monuments, toured towns, swum in lakes and swimming pools, played countless games of UNO and Gin Rummy, practised times tables, stocked up on school paraphernalia for the new academic year – in short, we are all ready for “back-to-school”, or “la rentrée” as they so succinctly put it in France.
I am actually exhausted. Obviously it’s lovely being surrounded by the children for the holidays; I am a “#proudmamma” on Instagram and “Loving the long break!” on Facebook. But in reality I am more than ready for them all to disappear back to class.
So we find ourselves on a scorching summer’s morning standing smartly, albeit rather wiltedly, in approximately 40 billion degrees of heat and goodness only knows how much humidity at the school bus stop. I am joined by my neighbour and her three children.
“Gorgeous summer!” she trills.
“Fancy a coffee once the bus has gone?” I ask.
“Oh my god, yes,” she enthuses. “I’m bloody exhausted!”
“Mum,” mumbles the Boy Child, screwing up his eyes against the ferocious Asian sun. “I’ve got a tummy ache.”
“You’re fine darling!” I rejoinder quickly. “It’s just the heat!” Oh my god, I can’t do sick days for at least another month. Plus I’ve got a “Welcome back to Hong Kong lunch” with the tennis team today.
Just then, the bus trundles up and they all reluctantly climb aboard. I repair back to the house for coffee with my neighbour to dissect the events of the summer.
And so my first day of “freedom” passes by relatively uneventfully. The lunch is lovely – and cheap, just the one salad and a glass of wine – no ketchup required, no ice creams, no plates of fries. Heavens, I’m almost starting to miss the kids.
But before I have time to dwell further on that somewhat surprising thought, the bus is back and they’re all climbing exhaustedly off and asking what’s for tea.
“I still don’t feel well,” complains the Boy Child. “I’ve got an itchy tummy.”
Back home, I strip him down under the air con and – horrors – his stomach is covered in spots.
To be fair it doesn’t come as a total surprise. Following a rambunctious weekend with the French cousins, I received an email from my sister-in-law the following week informing me that two of her offspring had been struck with the dreaded chicken pox. To my utter relief, and after rifling through tatty old baby books at the bottom of the filing cabinet, it transpires that in a particularly organised moment in the distant past I had all of mine immunised. Phew.
Only it turns out I should have had them immunised twice. That’s the problem with trying to manage immunisation schedules set in one country and carrying them out in totally different other countries. If you’re as bad with paperwork as I am, you end up with randomly immunised children who possibly don’t have immunity to anything very much at all.
Rats, I think, heading to the chemist for chamomile lotion. Double rats, I mumble, as the Blonde Child wakes up on Day 2 of the new school term also covered in spots. I now have two out of four children lolling around the house glued to iPads, and the Tween Child is also complaining of a headache. Grrr.
And then my neighbour emails. “Oh no! The children appear to be covered in spots! Just a heads up in case your guys catch it!”
I fleetingly consider feigning surprise but decide in the interests of healthy on-going neighbourly relations that I need to come clean. “Although it’s a Parisian variant,” I add for good measure at the bottom of my WhatsApp reply. I’m not sure if this will make it better somehow, maybe a chic-er or more cultured version of spots?
By midday even the school has got involved. A round-robin email pops up informing us that Years 2, 4 and 6 seem to have been affected by a chicken pox outbreak. “Please check your children for spots.” The recommended time to be spent away from the school premises is two weeks. Good god. I can imagine a lot of hand-wringing amongst the other mothers so I stick to a vague “tummy ache” absence excuse email to the primary school administrator, hinting more towards possible heat stroke than the Pox. If rumour gets out that it was my children who introduced a highly contagious disease into the school just as everyone is joyously returning their children to class after the long holidays, my name will be social mud until at least Chinese New Year. I know I can count on my neighbour to keep her lips sealed – she owes me one after I took over Year 4 netball coaching in the spring so she could go on a school reunion to Phuket.
However, it turns out that all the other mummies must have been a lot more organised than me and managed the double immunisation, as I learn via my Mahjong group on Thursday that practically nobody else is absent.
And although it’s annoying to have four malingering children draped around the house whining that they’re bored, so far I’ve missed a bake sale, a dress-up day, a Year 4 piano recital and a school assembly. Which begs the question, maybe I am one of life’s winners after all?