Last week we had to take my oldest child for a check-up, and foolishly I took both kids on my own. I thought that my son knows what to expect, and his little sister is used to sitting through appointments too, it’ll be fine.
It wasn’t fine.
Actually the doctor was fine. That bit was fine. I’m a pro at doctor’s appointments. What I apparently can’t manage is taking kids to the toilet. Trying to cram a toilet visit in was probably a bad idea, but it really looked like waiting would be a worse option. Instead of recognising my motherly wisdom my son just starts yelling
“No. I don’t need to go. Noooo”
And I kinda have to drag him in and practically pry his fingers off the doorframe. Eventually I hustled him in, with his sister toddling along and squeezing in with us. And the whole time he is yelling, and I’m trying to appear competent by remaining calm and collected and firm, not permissive, so I’m saying
“Okay, let’s just try before we see the doctor because we can’t go during our appointment.”
And I don’t know why I even bother because he is not listening, he is just yelling, and it is true he doesn’t need to go – anymore. At some point someone knocked on the door and I tried to hurry him up by pointing out people were waiting but it didn’t help. After resisting sitting on the toilet he is now resisting getting off and washing his hands. Then the toddler inexplicably decided to add to the experience by yelling ‘fart’ loudly and repeatedly. After what felt like a hellish eternity I opened the door, only to see a very tall young doctor about to knock, again.
Unfortunately, I blush very easily.
To be honest, I think I handled it fairly well. It was embarrassing, but kids are kids. The doctor was lovely and took it all in his stride. Too often though, people around you don’t react like that. Like that time when that old man shouted at my upset son on the bus. (To be fair, he was again behaving appallingly, but since he came down with a fever soon after, I think he wasn’t at his most rational. And I know my son well enough to know when yelling isn’t going to work, so I wasn’t yelling and guess what dude, you’re yelling didn’t achieve anything – did it?) Sometimes my husband says I must see the worst come out in people. Sometimes I think I’m just more observant than my husband. Or maybe I’m less competent at parenting than him. Or maybe I’m held to a different (higher) standard of parenting than him due to ingrained patriarchal values. Maybe.
And if you just took these snippets of my days when my son is behaving poorly you might think he was this dreadful, out of control child. He’s not. He has been ill a lot lately, and that does affect his behaviour, but most of the time he is lovely. So I should also tell you about how much he loves to help in the kitchen, and how he helps his father chop vegetables, diligently snapping broccoli florets up and even *gasp* eating some of them. Or his limitless curiosity especially when it comes to things like outer space or dinosaurs. Or how patient he is with his sister’s silly games, especially the one where she plays ‘bump, bump’ in her chair and we all have to ‘bump, bump’ along with her, and if he doesn’t bump she yells “Wah-wah bump bump” across the table at him until he bumps. (And no, Wah-wah is not his name, it is just what she calls him. Which is very cute, but as far as legal names go it would be a bad one and what kind of mother do you think I am?)
If you took the snippets of my days when I’m not handling things well, you might think I’m not a great parent. Things don’t always go well. I get cross. I get stretched too thin, especially lately, when I’ve frequently been stuck at home with sick kids. My kids can be infuriating, and it’s exhausting. I definitely, definitely, do not love every minute.
It is never as simple as a good day, or a bad day. My children are all quicksilver. The stars can be all aligned and then along comes a new gravitational body – everything wobbles on its axis. Can I maintain a steady course or will a terminal slide into chaos ensue? Tears dry just as quickly, their eyes sparkle again, and their mother better be ready to leave her own frustrations behind, because the fun is happening, now. They create joy in the most mundane events. A cold wet downpour is a chance to spring from puddle to puddle. Games are invented seemingly out of thin air, and you are all laughing, and life is good and the minutes fly by. Then there are the quiet joys. Like the joy of seeing your four year old intent, concentrating hard on his latest art project.
My hours are full of books and kisses and toys and cuddles and crayon on my walls and TV and chasing and trying to buckle a pram and jumping on the bed. Life. They are full of life.
These little lives feel like they came from nowhere to take over your own. Did you know, did you really understand, how much possibility there was the first time someone handed you your baby? Getting to know your child, to learn how they interpret the world and think and feel is the ultimate privilege of parenthood.
At this age my children’s behaviour can be ridiculous, and appalling, and embarrassing. But they are four and one. Sometimes people act as though the process of civilisation is something that should take just a couple of weeks, in between weaning and toilet training at what is considered to be the proper time. As though our children are not individuals with their own needs and impulses and fully contained personhood. Instead they are to be controlled and whipped into shape and if you just do it right they will never yell fart at you while locked in a public toilet.
A few weeks ago we had another public argument with my son. Everyone was avoiding our eyes and hurrying past us. It’s funny isn’t it, how there is never anyone stopping to tell you to enjoy “every minute” in these really unenjoyable minutes? Tears dried and noses wiped, we arrived at the pharmacy we needed to go to. There were long queues, but oh joy, a wooden track with wheels to roll down it. I took the kids to play while my husband waited.
This toy just happened to be in the euphemistically named ‘feminine hygiene” aisle. While the kids played happily a couple approached, and stood whispering in front of the pregnancy tests. There is a lot to think about when buying pregnancy tests. For many it is the first of the arbitrary and important-seeming hurdles that really don’t matter when you look back on them, but boy did you agonise about it at the time. Does the brand matter? And how many should you buy? One might give the answer you want – expect – but will you believe it? What if it is wrong? Perhaps you should buy two just in case. Five, maybe five. Just to be sure. Or maybe this is a false alarm, but what about next month, or the next. Should you buy extra so you have them? Just in case?
They stood, heads bent together and while I tried not to listen they caught my son’s interest. He wandered over, peering around them, cluelessly butting in as only a four year old can, and while I tried to gently re-engage his interest my daughter spotted her opportunity. Gleefully she darted forward, hands mussing shelves, then with a tube of something called ‘intimate soap’ in each hand she sprinted down the exit ramp. I followed the trail of laughter, and luckily caught her before she passed the security alarms.
By the time I had returned all the feminine hygiene products to their proper place the couple were queuing hand in hand. Trepidation, love, possibility spilling out of them, an almost visible aura of hope.
My children were back to playing. These wilful little beings who have taken over our life. Who can make an afternoon or evening a tedious drag. Or make a mundane chore a hilarious adventure. Who test and defy me on a daily basis. Who embarrass and delight me in equal measure. Would I really have them any other way?
And maybe we came across as chaotic. Maybe if my children look willful and defiant that is because they are. But one day they will be adults who won’t throw themselves down to the ground in despair in supermarkets, or sob on buses because their favourite seat is taken, and one day I won’t have to worry about them accidentally shoplifting.
Until then, would I want my son to be less curious? Would I want my daughter to be less cheeky?
I’m lucky, my hopes for the future are already here, right in front of me.
I might not love every minute, but I love them. Every minute, of every day, I’m loving them.