The other day, a woman on the bus stop complained about my child. She said he was too loud, too boisterous, why didn’t I “control” him?
She then flounced off in a huff, saying she could take no more of my son and his appalling behaviour.
Another parent at the bus stop turned to me, his own child perfectly entertained and compliant despite a wait of over 45 minutes, and told me to ignore her.
I knew in my heart that he was right, that she was an elderly malcontent who’d had a bad day and thought things were better in 1950 when children were seen and not heard, buses were always on time, jumpers for goalposts, everyone left their doors unlocked, jolly olde England, wasn’t everything better back in the Blitz/Tudor times/some other improbable era when things were definitely worse, but a part of me wondered if she might be right. After all, Piglet drives me to distraction pretty much every day.
There are times when I feel as though I am just not cut out to be a good parent. Times when parenting feels like wading through sludge. Times when I feel as though Piglet’s aim in life is solely to drive me to the very end of my tether, to test me and see how much I love him by being the very worst he can be. By screaming on the bus because he knows I hate it, running away to see if I will chase him, refusing to get dressed because he wants to be the one in control of the household; a tiny dictator with me all in thrall.
He wants his diet to consist entirely of chocolate, ice cream and a lifetime’s supply of yo-yos. He wants to be sat on a cushion and fed beans on toast very specifically shaped like “an open-top bus” or “an EasyJet” like a child king from some ancient empire. He will turn the television off before we have to go swimming, but if and only if he can see a dinosaur on it first. He will wake up in the middle of the night, and when you’ve scooped him up in your arms and carried him to the comfort of Mummy’s bed, will scream the house down at 1am on a school night because you couldn’t carry his water bottle as well.
I love him, but I snap at him, I reach the end of my tether. I’ve got work in the morning, and a child who won’t sleep, and the local busybodies sitting on their thrones of judgement on bus stops all over town. It’s at times like these when I realise that the benefits of two parents are not merely financial, or conforming to some heteronormative societal narrative I fear I’ve failed at, but having another person to be the sane one when you feel the onset of boiling rage as yet another tantrum brews and you find yourself helpless in the face of a howling four year old making outrageous demands. Without another calming presence, I fear I am an over-emotional wreck, unable to fulfil my child’s basic emotional needs and destined to be the sort of evil mother written about in those books which always seem to be on the bestsellers list in WH Smith, adorned with photos of mournful looking children on the cover, and titles like “The Child Nobody Loved.”
There is even a secondary school age child we pass on the way to school every morning who stops to watch the unfolding show as Piglet refuses to walk down the hill and I scream at him that we are going to miss the train; and I am sure he is an emissary from social services sent in disguise to gather evidence of my ineptitude as a mother. One day he is going to make a citizen’s arrest, and I will be dragged kicking and screaming to the jail for neglectful mothers.
This too shall pass, I tell myself as I arrive at work, already exhausted though it’s barely 8am, and throw myself on the nearest sympathetic colleague to warn them never to have children/desperately clutch at them, asking if their own children do the same (delete as appropriate).
This too shall pass.
And then it will be the teenage years, and woe betide those if I don’t “get him under control,” as a random person at the bus stop would say.