I’ve just come back from Charlie’s room. He was moaning. Not quite crying, but wailing as if in pain. I couldn’t get through to him. I tried to comfort him in his bed. His moans became louder. I lifted him out of his bed. I didn’t worry that he would wake his brother, I just wanted to help him. He kept moaning. His cries are always dramatic and impossible to ignore, but tonight I was worried. He just couldn’t stop. This is it, I suppose, night terrors.
I thought back to events earlier in the day. I wondered if it was something I’d done or said that had instilled fear in him. Mostly it had been a good day, but I became frustrated with him on the way home from a movement class. In the class, he was his usual untameable self. He couldn’t stop moving. He did some of the exercises, but mostly came to me, asked me to sit near him, tried to interact with Miko, told me his tummy was sore (this could be true). I have despaired at him in previous weeks, but today I knew that if he could do one tenth of what was being asked of him, that would be OK. This is who he is.
But I always feel the other mothers look at me as if I created Charlie. I have been too soft on him. I don’t discipline him enough. Or maybe I don’t love him enough. I show too much that he gets to me with his continuing to do something, through endless pleas to stop. Or, no, maybe I’m not soft enough. What is too hard and soft? Why can’t I just be his mum, and be who I am to who he is in any given moment? It’s probably all in my mind, and they’re having their own struggles, and couldn’t care less about the way I’m looking after my child, but in these classes I always feel so on show and so judged. It’s always been this way. While other mothers sit and chat and offload, I’m the one running to all corners of the room, collecting a small boy, or playing cars with him, or turning him upside down, because I know he needs me to be with him, and he needs physical action at all times. Oftentimes, while they discuss the best way to prepare quinoa, I’d be telling him to stop doing one thing after another, and then telling him what he can do, because I’ve read too many child psychology blogs and know that positive parenting is best. I mean, I love that he’s active, and he’s more full of life than I ever dreamed would be possible. He’s extremely special for that. But sometimes, just sometimes, drinking a cup of coffee while it’s warm would be nice.
On the way home, he couldn’t sit still in the buggy. Miko, sitting on the lower tier, was crying loudly for a bagger (digger). He had a car in his hands. He threw the car out of the buggy. I didn’t realise this until a short way down the street. I stopped and spent some time scanning the pavement, up and down, looking for this car. It was Michael’s. An old Matchbox. I felt so bad to have lost this. Charlie was climbing in and out of his seat, and I worried he’d fall off. My worry, combined with guilt about the car, and the stress of knowing that the more time I spent here looking for the car, the later dinner would be, and the more screaming I would have to endure from two hungry boys.
This manifested itself into an angry face. Charlie started saying, “mama, are you happy?” the stock answer, “yes, Charlie,” but without conviction.
I didn’t think of myself as an angry person before, and I’m not sure I even had an angry face, but now I have one. It’s very serious, and the corners of my mouth turn down and… my god I’ve become my mother. I used to be afraid of that face. She wore it once to a public speaking event I did, where I was given five minutes to prepare a speech on a random topic. I came out to the lecture theatre, feeling OK, successfully suppressing my shyness, until I looked up and saw the angry face. I wondered what I’d done wrong: did I wear the wrong clothes, was my hair messy, was I boring, was I terrible at speaking? I froze. I stuttered a few words about nothing and walked off the stage, leaving a little piece of me embarrassed for eternity. Afterwards she told me she didn’t mean to wear that face, she was just concentrating. But to 14-year-old me, one look was enough to paralyse me.
So now I’m doing the same to my own son. I’m scaring him. Me, who’s afraid of a ladybird that flies too fast. He’s having night terrors now, because of me, and my angry face.
I sat him on my knee, and held him tight. One arm around his back, sometimes touching the skin peeking out when his top pulled up. Warm and with a hint of eczema. The other arm curled around his neck, my hand cupping his head, stroking his thick hair. He felt so heavy. I said, “I’m here for you Charlie. Me and papa will always be here for you.” It felt good. I felt like I was a protector, like this was my role, and I knew then I would fulfil it. Sometimes I worry that I’m too weak and unable to handle responsibilities, but holding him there as he moaned, I knew I was strong enough, and had the will and power to carry him forever. I felt like I grew older in that moment. That, despite my putting myself down, I did know the right thing to do, and I would be able to give him the support and guidance he needs. “You never need to be worried, or scared. Never. I will always take care of you.” His moans became less. He relaxed into my chest. “You can always come to me. Whenever you need to. Never be scared. I will take care of you.” I asked him if he wanted to get back into bed. He said yes. It took all of two minutes for him to fall into his heavy breathing pattern, and for me to take one last look at him, tuck his covers tighter, and leave the room.
I was happy to learn that I will always be there for him. I knew it, but sometimes even I need to hear it. I will be weak sometimes, but through it all, I am strong, and I hope so much that he knows that, and that I can work on my angry face so he knows, no matter what he does, I’m there for him.