‘Don’t do it,’ I said. ‘I’m not helping you if you get stuck again.’
My six-year-old was jamming himself between my heavy bed-head and the wall behind it, locking brazen eyes with me as he dropped. We’ve played this scene out a few times. I tell him not to do it; he does it; I pull him out when he wedges solid in the ten-centimetre gap and freaks out.
It’s time, I thought. He’s ready for some Miyagi-style tough love. I cricked my neck and centred, chatting casually with my daughter as he sang his way merrily into a hole.
‘Ok, I’m stuck,’ he said. ‘Can you get me out now?’
I told him that unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to bail him out as he had ignored my numerous red flag warnings and had carried on at his own peril. He would therefore have to free himself, like he would if he was in the real world.
‘Mummy!’ he whelped. ‘I nearly can’t breathe, my face is so hot.’
The bed, a steel-framed dead-weight we’ve lugged with us for the past fifteen years, is a hulk to move. Part of my plan relied on him figuring a way to shimmy himself out so I didn’t have to dislocate a shoulder to budge it. Again.
When I still looked like I wasn’t going to get involved, despite hysteria mounting behind the head-board, my daughter started to panic. WTF is up with this… said her eyes. She extended an arm to try and pull him out herself but he was rolled like a cocktail sausage, arms plastered to his side, and completely immobile bar his mouth, which was set to a piercing scream.
This was my cue. I hunkered down, horsed the bed away from the wall and released the raging chipolata. Before I could clear my throat, lay down my rationale – and our group learnings – he was gone, a tear-streaked bolt of fury.
Once he’d stopped throwing objects at his bedroom door and I’d been cleared for entry, we talked. He thought I didn’t like him anymore because I didn’t save him; I explained that he needed to listen to me, that the air could have been squeezed out of his lungs and I might not have been there. I reassured him with endless rounds of ‘I love you more than…the length of the tunnel I would burrow to the volcanic core of the earth,’ etc and we were all good.
Or were we? Will it become the that-time-I-was-nearly-crushed-to-death-by-the-bed-and-mum-just-sat-there story?
We all have those stories, right? I had the we-all-thought-mum-was-dead-but-she-was-actually-faking-it-for-a-convincingly-long-time story. Or the my-parents-forgot-my-birthday-three-times story. Three! Or the Paul-had-five-f*cking-apples-how-many-did-Anne-have? torturous after-school maths sessions, surrounded by battered fruit. And so many other censored tales. But we move on. In my case, and relevant to my painfully slow evolution and eventual ‘coming of age,’ it was my late twenties before I saw my parents as the flawed but brilliant, hilarious humans they are. And the later arrival of my own children to conclusively drive home an infinite appreciation for all and everything they offered us.
My worry for my own kids is, will my oddness become their happy backdrop or am I skewing their world view?
At some point, the exaggerated stories of derangement and irrationality become part of the technicolour backdrop to your happy childhood. If you’re one of the lucky ones.
My worry for my own kids is, will my oddness become their happy backdrop or am I skewing their world view? This is a valid concern as I am frequently the sole parent on site for weeks or months and tend to follow my instinct – or impulses – which is not always a reliable parenting model. As above, I still have a long way to go on the evolutionary scale and have almost weekly revelations about food and grooming and politics and love and music that most people copped in their twenties. I’m not sure what the transmission delay was but it has brought with it a new sense of self-awareness, a questioning of my ways. Before, where there was only black and white, now there is grey and an admission that maybe my sense of logic is not as linear as I had always imagined.
This screws with your leadership perspective but I still go with my gut. When the four of us sat down for a rare meal together last week I tabled the fate of Harambe – the gorilla shot dead in a Cincinnati zoo when a toddler fell into his enclosure – to gauge the kids’ thoughts. When I insisted that Harambe was killed and not just tranquilised – as per my husband’s Disney version – the six-year-old got so upset we had to segue into Minecraft banter. My husband had the same disappointed look on his face when we were playing two-a-side football and I kept tackling the ball from the kids and trying to score.
Sometimes you just can’t win.
And sometimes you’re completely stumped. Like the only time I used the ‘naughty step’ for my then four-year-old, returning after the requisite four minutes to find him sitting naked in front of a pile of wet clothes. ‘What’s going on here?’ I asked. ‘I just wee’d on them,’ he said, pointing to his soggy installation. All he needed was a cigarette to nail the vibe. And inside, behind the stern face, you celebrate their difference. Or you explode. It still goes either way.
So, here’s to helping them find their way, as I’m still finding mine. If they can’t be kind and curious, by the power of the mighty gods, please let them be funny.