Last week my sweet, kind, spirited and funny little boy called me an idiot.
And I felt my heart crack.
As he has grown from toddlerhood to boyhood we’ve had our standard supply of tantrums and meltdowns. Typical and normal, a manifestation of big emotions, tiredness, hanger and expected patterns of behaviour for his age at the time.
But last week was the first time it felt personal. He got personal and I’m not sure if it’s a good thing we’ve come this far with only one declaration that I’m an idiot or if other parents would be outraged if it were they being called an idiot by their own delightful offspring. It could be that this is my cue to strap myself in for more to come. Forewarned is forearmed I suppose.
I can’t recall the whole episode that prompted the name calling, but I think it may have started with a simple request to have a shower that quickly turned our night to custard. Hell hath no fury than a child who does not want to get clean.
You know, I could have sworn that I read it somewhere that parenting gets easier, or maybe not easier per se, but, I don’t know, more fun.
I’m not having much fun and I feel pretty shit for admitting that. This feeling is heightened by the fact that my work is going well and so mum guilt is peaking at an all time high. Killing it in one area of life only to be failing dismally at another. That is of course why balance is bullshit, because there is no balance, that whole notion of ‘having it all’ and feeling as though I’m getting the hang of motherhood, adulthood and careerhood shot down by the simple yet profound use of the word ‘idiot’
Not long after having recovered from being called an idiot that an incident at Woolworths a few days later had me further questioning my parenting skills and wondering where the hell my kind and loving child had disappeared to. A showdown in the chocolate aisle over a Kinder Surprise being the impetus. He’d already been given one Kinder Surprise, eaten it and upon discovering he did not like the useless plastic toy inside he thereby demanded a replacement Kinder. To his credit (not to mention his stellar negotiating skills) he offered me the chocolate as long as he could have the toy. The standoff prevailed and passing shoppers pretended to ignore us as my littlest love stomped his foot and made his demands known to all, from the fresh food section to the freezer aisle. I knew I’d won simply because I didn’t relent but on the drive home I felt depleted and pretty shit and most definitely not a winner. Instead of just thinking this was possibly, probably typical behaviour of a child defiant and keen to test the boundaries, I began to question all of the decisions I made, certain that this particular incident was my fault. I work too much, I buy him too many things, I haven’t taught him resilience, I am too strict, I am not strict enough, he needs more quality time with me, I should do more. I should be better at this. But what does that even mean and what is the measure of being better? Better than whose standards?
In more from the ‘words of wisdom’ file, I recently read ‘small people, small problems, big people, big problems.’ Most of my friends have much older children – teenagers and young adults juggling the challenges of social media, p plate driving, friendship concerns, body image and mental health. I’m sure as they wrestle with these fundamental issues that have worrying consequences they are thinking that a debacle in a supermarket aisle would be a welcome reprieve.
“Little does she know” they whisper.
Even as I write this, thinking that this parenting gig is surely getting harder, it dawns on me that it is going to continue to get harder and the enormity of this is equally terrifying as it is intimidating. If a supermarket showdown threatens to derail me how the hell will I manage when I find out he is being bullied online?
There is no question the best thing in my world is the hardest and most exhausting and most relentless thing. A contradiction of complicated emotions.
The expectations that we put on ourselves and on others is madness and even though we are surrounded by the message that parenting is hard and imperfect I often think that everyone around me is much better at it than I am. Where some are describing this age as the sweet spot of parenting I am floundering about wondering what am I missing? Then more guilt threatens to further engulf me because arguments over Kinder Surprises and battles at bath time aren’t even real problems. There aren’t even anything. I have spent enough time in IVF clinics to know that there are people who would do anything, anything, to argue with a kid in a supermarket and the reality of this is not lost on me.
Days later, a peace treaty in place (further supported by grocery shopping sans child) and calmness restored we are lying in bed reading tales of crazy treehouses. Charlie places his hands on my cheeks, squishes every so softly, looks me in the eyes and tells me I’m the best mum in the world, even better than Bluey’s mum. He sings ‘Here comes the sun” and the crack in my heart mends completely and utterly.