You came into our lives at about 8.10am this morning. I was standing outside my house, my youngest kid kitted out and ready to go, his older brother screaming hysterically at the top of his lungs, quite possibly waking every single person in Drumcondra our side of Griffith Park. See, he didn’t want to go to school by scooter. “Awww,” you said, tilted your head and looked at my son, and I ignored you.
“Give him a hug,” you said then, with a tone that struck the perfect balance between empathy and demand. If my morning had started off in a bad way, it shot up on the crappy-morning metre at this exact moment, but I kept ignoring you. You couldn’t know that I’d had no more than four hours of very broken sleep, that I had a splitting head ache and was running out of patience as well as hugs.
Then you walked through the gate, into our garden, right up beside me to where my child was now hiding behind my legs from the strange woman suddenly practically in our home, repeating your “awwww”, and I couldn’t ignore you anymore. “I think I’d better deal with this myself – thanks,” I said, softly, and it suddenly became clear that you were not going to listen to me. “But the child needs a hug,” you repeated.
“You need to let me deal with this myself,” I said again, colder this time, possibly even raising a hand slightly. “Please leave now.” I was getting upset but holding it together. You were definitely crossing a line or five, but you couldn’t know that he’d had plenty of hugs and the clock was ticking and we’d reasoned it out and gone through options and choices, and I was desperate.
Then you turned around, returned to the path, stood there and looked at me: “It’s very clear he doesn’t want to go wherever he is going.” I don’t know what you thought I would do with this information; child doesn’t want to go to school, so child stays at home – was that your thinking? But the thing is, Sherlock, that the child did want to go to school, and he was starting to miss out. It was the scooter he didn’t want, and a long list of other things that had already happened and I could no longer do anything about, such as me having closed the door, us having had no ham for his lunch box, and a million other things that probably had very little to do with scooters and doors and ham but became really very important and hysteria-inducing at this very moment in time.
“I’ve worked with children for years, it’s very clear that…” and that’s when I lost it. See, I’m a great parent of other people’s children too. I know how to prevent their meltdowns, how to get them to eat what’s on their plate and maybe even sleep through the night. I know how to help them snap out of hysterical meltdowns and distract them through a long walk they don’t want to take. Perspective is a beautiful thing, but it requires exactly that – perspective; it can’t be passed down in a moment of desperation.
I was angry, shaking, and could no longer stop the tears. I told you that this isn’t how it works; you don’t get to go around giving unsolicited advice to parents in stressful situations, especially when they explicitly ask you to leave them alone. I told you that you didn’t know a thing about my morning, how long this had been going on, how many hugs I’d already tried and how we got to a situation where we were standing outside of our house waking the entire neighbourhood. And I put on quite the show. I had to, because you didn’t take a hint, nor did you get it the first few times I told you to take your unsolicited advice and shove it somewhere it hurts, far away from my sight.
So how did we get to a situation where we were standing outside of our house waking the entire neighbourhood? Why was the scooter so important, why had I run out of hugs, how did my son get so tired and overwhelmed that the only way he could communicate with me was through a meltdown over a scooter, and why, when things went from bad to worse, did we not simply step back in? These are all questions worth asking, and questions I’ll be asking myself for the rest of the day – note: I’ll be asking myself. Because as much as I believe in democratic principles in parenting, my parenting is not a democracy. You don’t get a vote. You don’t have to live with the guilt and regret either, so happy days.
I’m not proud of my performance as a parent this morning. I mean, it was definitely in my top-five worst parenting moments ever even before you came along, and by the time you walked away I think I can say that it had raced all the way up to the very top. I hope that makes you feel good. I hope you’re proud of approaching a mother who was just holding it together, and tipping her over the edge.
We made it to school, my son happily skipping in only about five minutes late – scooter in hand – and I said I was sorry and gave him a big hug, and he kissed me and told me he loved me. Maybe there’ll be extra hugs tonight. I’d say most certainly there will be extra hugs tonight – but not because you said so. My relationship with my child has nothing to do with you, stranger, and my hugs are not yours to give away. I know that the job of being a parent comes with a responsibility to provide endless hugs, and that by running out, I failed. I know that the first rule of parenting is never ever to be in a rush, but then life happened, and school, and lunch boxes and unexpected toilet trips and insomnia. I’m a person too, complete with feelings and frustrations and flaws and occasionally very insufficient patience – and I’d like to think that I’m teaching my kids that that’s OK. I guess I’m also teaching them that when someone crosses that line and starts to interfere with your business in a way you’re very much not comfortable with, you have every right to tell them to get lost. It’s kind of ironic when you think about it, isn’t it?
PS. A Freudian analysis of the above would quite possibly look back at my childhood and a moment when my mother threw me out the door into inches-deep snow wearing nothing but moccasins, and my snow joggers after me, in pure frustration. It would suggest, I guess, that I’m acting out trauma from childhood experience. Or, I don’t know, maybe it would simply say that I’m getting what I deserve. Maybe this is it: it’s payback time.