On an unseasonably autumnal August Bank Holiday I am celebrating my birthday by sitting in the queue at a drive-in McDonalds, determined to have cheap ice cream.
My daughter and her boyfriend are in the car in front, and my son and his girlfriend are in front of them.
A text comes through from my daughter,
“They don’t have any McFlurries.”
My wife relays the message and says that my daughter is worried I’ll be upset.
“I’m fine. It’s only ice cream,” I say, thinking of worse things in the world and finding, alarmingly, my mind drawn towards the plight of the Afghan’s, which makes me feel terribly ashamed of my own wildly inappropriate comparison.
Instead of a birthday dinner, we decide to have a special one the next day when my son’s girlfriend, who has been living with us since the beginning of the pandemic, returns to medical school.
“It’ll be a kind of last supper,” I say with a laugh that has to leap over a lump in my throat.
After I came to terms with the terror of getting sick I found I began to appreciate the year of restriction and lockdown.
My family was around me all the time. We ate together every night, and I was relieved from the expectation to do anything or go anywhere.
If life became smaller it was the one time when it felt OK that it did.
Now, at the end of summer, the slowing and quieting down is reflected in my life.
We gained, without warning, an adopted daughter twenty months ago, and now she’s leaving.
When she goes she’ll take our son with her who, now that he works from home, might just as well spend a fair chunk of his time working from “home” in Brighton as he does living here.
“When are you back from Brighton?” I ask him, with a breeziness I’m not sure is particularly convincing.
“Will you be home for dinner?”
“You’ll miss Lena won’t you?” I say to my wife.
“I will,” she says.
“I will,” I think to myself.
At least my daughter is still around to walk the dogs at lunchtime with me, for now.
She begins a placement year at uni soon and is waiting to hear from her academic supervisor how often she’ll need to be on site.
“I’m looking forward to going in again and taking the train,” she tells me.
I’m hoping that she can work mostly from home.
Apart from anything else, as all the layers of familial protection are stripped away I might have to consider going out and being social again myself. A thought that fills me with a mixture of dread and something that’s much nicer than dread I can’t quite identify.
Lena buys us flowers the night before she leaves.
In the card, she writes to thank us for taking care of her during such a strange time.
As I cut the stems and arrange them carefully in a vase I think about how it is the children who have been looking after me, and that I don’t really know to manage the next bit where I have to do it all myself.