Tonight got me. It got me good. Our whole family has been knocked by a stupid cold and while everyone else in the house can fall apart with their sickness, we all know us mums don’t get the chance to be sick. So after a hectic week (several weeks actually) at work and late nights and weekends and feeling like a crap mum already I find myself at tonight. Nothing special about tonight. Haven’t slept in 2 nights because I can barely breathe through my nose whenever I lie down, but that’s by the by. Husband goes off to rugby as per usual on a Thursday, kids have had dinner and been through the shower, baby is in the bath and I’m thinking “I got this”.
PJs are all laid out.
Dishes are (mostly) in the general direction of the dishwasher.
I’m sitting next to the baby, who is splashing around happily, bemoaning the fact that there is no wine left in the house then wondering if I can even have wine on my cold medication (and other philosophical imaginings).
Miss 5 comes in, puts her piece of paper down on the table that the baby’s bath is sitting on and the paper gets wet. A bit wet. A TINY bit wet.
SHE LOSES IT.
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At this point it’s relevant to mention that I have Irish in my blood and it is entirely my mother’s family’s fault I am stubborn (and that my daughter is JUST like me) but by God I wasn’t getting her another piece of paper when the first piece was totally FINE except for a minuscule bit of water. Cue epic meltdown from 5-year-old. Cue Mexican stand off from mother. Tears (her), yelling (her and me). After a while, her angel brother simply says “I’ll use that paper mum”, takes the cursed piece and draws a lovely 3-year-old rendition of me on it.
Miss 5 pulls out a clean sheet of paper. Draws 3 green hearts and then brings them over to me sitting by the baby’s bath… WHICH IS A WET ZONE REMEMBER. New paper gets wet too.
At this point I’ve lost all will to live. My foot is absolutely down about ANOTHER wasted piece of paper, so I scoop the baby out of the bath and ignore the now screaming 5-year-old.
Change baby, tickle, giggle. Smile even. The walking tantrum reaches me in the lounge and now she’s poked holes in the paper with her pen and is telling me her paper is ruined beyond repair and that she NEEDS a fresh piece. My foot is still down and we argue back and forth about all the other (billion) options of scrap paper I could currently see in the lounge. She’s not budging and neither am I.
Baby needs sleep. Make her a bottle, head upstairs. Tell Madam (unfairly if I’m being totally honest) that she better have stopped crying and “carrying on” by the time I come back from putting the baby to bed. Telling her of course in little more than a harsh whisper because by this point I’ve actually lost whatever voice I had to begin with from yelling the whole time.
Feeding the baby in her room. It’s peaceful up there, it’s dark, the vaporizer is on and so it’s warm and soothing. I am feeling better already. Then I hear it. The wailing shrieking sound from downstairs that pitches at just the right level to make my skin crawl. The tears flow. From me this time. In silence, in the dark. Those silent stinging mummy tears of guilt and frustration and anger and exhaustion and self-doubt.
I realised then that all I’d done all evening was fight fire with fire. And on my fiery child, that strategy never works. Stupid stupid me. But I was sick and tired and on my own and and and and…
I sang the baby her bedtime song through choked tears. Braved the stairs. Makayla is on the lounge floor sobbing, heaving. She tells me through breathy gasps that she’s crying (this time) because her brother told her he didn’t like her picture.
I look down and there, on a FRESH white piece of paper I can only assume she snuck while I was upstairs, is a picture of me with the words “Makayla and Mum” and a giant heart.
I let my knees take me heavily to the floor and she collapses on my lap. I have no words. Even if I’d had a voice to speak them with.
It was only then that I was able to reflect on the entire nature of the argument - that she wanted some paper. How stupid, how ridiculous this now all seemed. Paper was the straw that had broken this camel's back and sometimes, when we're in the thick of it, when we're exhausted and running on empty all it takes is something as simple as a piece of paper to do so much damage.
We sat there for a while, her and I, not speaking, just holding. When I had started to feel slightly less like the worst mother in the world I asked her if there was any other reason she was so sad, knowing with her that emotional outbreaks usually stem from something else, and she told me that she doesn’t like school. (This, by the way, was a TOTAL shock to me). I asked some more and she confided that it just gets so tiring having to try and get things right all the time.
It sure does.
She told me that when she’s doing something or learning something new she’s always so worried about getting it wrong that it makes her really tired. She told me that she tries her hardest to do the best she can but she sometimes still doesn’t get it right.
With a shaky voice I told her, I told both of us really, that it’s actually okay to get it wrong. That we’re all still learning things, all of us, all the time. That even adults get things wrong. That I certainly do. I told her that the most we can do is try our hardest and eventually (maybe) we’ll get it right. I told her I’m still trying.
She smiled at me then. And laughed a little at the thought of me getting something wrong. In that moment I realised that in her eyes, in our children’s eyes, we are somehow faultless. What a poignant lesson to learn. What an important message, which I wanted to share with you all – we, as mums, won’t always get it right. There may be times we feel like we NEVER get it right, but we keep going, we keep trying, we keep doing, we keep loving. In these moments our mantle is tested as mothers and when it turns out we’re only human after all, our little ones remind us that to them, we are the world.
The kids are all now (thankfully) in bed and I’m still lamenting the wine.