"Come and look outside, daddy… It’s urgent!"
As my son, Thomas, stood there trembling with excitement, it took me straight back to when he was a toddler and how he used to flap his hands and bounce on the spot when something interested him.
Ignoring my rather blank gaze as I looked up from a work email, Thomas grabbed my hand and towed me downstairs in the wake of his enthusiasm. Out into the garden, to the overgrown bit where, with exaggerated care, he crouched down and pointed.
My eyes, still adjusting to the sunlight from the gloom of indoors took a while to focus, but suddenly, I saw it. It was a spectacularly large frog. An absolute giant.
Thomas and I crouched there together, entranced by the green, mottled skin, glistening in the daylight, watching intently as the beast slowly turned its head toward us before languidly extending its back left leg and slouching off into the deep undergrowth away from our transfixed gaze.
"Can we have a pond, daddy? The frog has nowhere to live."
It was bedtime and, as usual, Thomas was eking out the time before lights out. He had his "Gardening for beginners" book open at the mini pond project. We looked at it together for a while. After some haggling, I agreed to get on with our project right away and his face lit up with eagerness.
We started the next day.
We ordered the liner, three types of plant for the water and special soil and basket pots to stop the pond being overloaded with nutrients.
When the plants finally arrived they had to be temporarily housed in buckets until, at last, the liner turned up and it was time for the fun bit - building and filling the pond. There was no reason for either of us to get wet doing this but we both ended up drenched, muddy and giggling.
The next day we finished it. The early morning reflections on the surface of the water were eagerly disturbed by the ceremonial submerging of the plants. We launched hand decorated paper boats to celebrate completion.
Over the coming weeks, we kept adding to the pond. First, some ferns and hostas to soften the edges. Then, a small statue to lurk in the ferns. Then, a homemade bug hotel from a toilet roll insert and cut up bamboo canes. Then, a shimmering beach of forgotten shells from holidays past. Then, a silver birch tree to provide dappled shade. Finally, a bird table. Soon, we had water snails, water boatmen and skimmers. Unidentified wiggly things wriggled in the water and buzzy things flitted above the surface of the water. And then there were frogs.
The experience of Covid has been beyond my imagining; shaking up our lives in unexpected and challenging ways. So many negatives and so much sadness and fear as the ground continually shifts beneath our feet. It is not over yet.
And yet, maybe there are silver linings to even this dark and menacing cloud? For me, it has meant more time with my wife and son than I could ever have hoped for. Learning together, strengthening our relationship - having fun. Also, it has allowed for a reengagement with the outdoors and nature; a big part of my life that had gradually faded so gently and quietly that I hadn't noticed.
"Come and look outside, daddy!"
I wonder if it’s another frog, or maybe something better…