My mum was supposed to visit on Monday. I told the boys she was coming. She called in the morning to say she wasn’t coming after all as there were builders doing some work in her building and they needed open access to all the flat doors. Fair enough.
We rescheduled for Tuesday at 1:30pm. For an hour beforehand the boys kept saying “Is granny here yet?”.
At 1:40pm, the phone rings. I know it’s my mum. She says she’s not coming because the weather has gotten all dark and a storm is coming in. I look out of the window. It’s 20 degrees and sunny. I do admit – it was windy out. But that’s all.
She says “they said a storm was coming, and I don’t like to drive in bad weather.” I get off the phone and tell the boys granny isn’t coming for the second day in a row and they both burst into tears. They cry and cry and cry. I hug them both and I want to cry too, because at that moment, I hate her. I want to call her back and say “Can you hear this?? You did this.”
When the boys have calmed down, I check the forecasts. There is no mention of any kind of storm anywhere. My mother, as usual, is lying, in order to get out of telling the truth and being honest about why she is doing something. She lied and lied and lied all through my childhood. I watched her do it with others, and I know as an adult, instinctively, when she is lying to me.
With all the shit that’s been going around my head about her recently, it just brings it all up to a bubbling rage in my thoughts. Not good. And a bad place to parent from.
Well, the next day, I had a playdate arranged with a lady who I don’t really like that much, and to be honest I don’t really like her kids that much either. They came to our house once and it was AWFUL. They ran riot, drew on the walls (!!), climbed all over the bedroom furniture, spent the whole time playing wrestling and killing games, and were just like two animals at the table for lunch. I’ve avoided her since then, but last week she sent me a text saying “Would you like to do a playdate on either Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday?”
So, here’s where this starts to tie in with my mum. Somehow I have grown up with this terrible fear of ever offending anyone. I will agree to things I don’t want to do so that I don’t upset other people, even if that means I eventually upset myself. How stupid is that? This is because my mum does a wonderful job of playing the victim – as a child I was told over and over how hurting other people and not considering other people’s feelings is the worst thing you can do. As an adult I can see that she was trying to teach me that (as an abused child), that she wished people had taken her feelings into consideration more. Nothing wrong with that, but the general lesson I have learnt is that I should put myself firmly last for fear of EVER upsetting anyone else.
So, because we are clearly not on holiday, and I can’t bring myself to refuse outright, I agree to a playdate on the Wednesday, even though I don’t want to go.
I decided to set some boundaries, to keep it short, so I explain we’ll come after lunch until before tea, which will give them a couple of hours to run around at the local woods (I suggest this because I do not want to be at either our house or her house, and I don’t want to pack picnics and carry heavy bags around for hours).
But she doesn’t respond, and then I saw her at a party last weekend. She says to me “Are you still okay for Wednesday?” all bright and smiles. And then she says she thought we could go to a lake that’s half an hours drive away, take a picnic, use the splash park and visit the free museum there.
Er, right. So this ties in with my mother again. I am like a rabbit in the headlights at this point. This is nothing like what I said in my text that I was able to do, so what do I do? Instead of sticking to MY boundaries, I watch aghast as I find myself saying,
“Oh we haven’t been there for a long time!”
I don’t actually agree, but I don’t disagree either. So now I’m angry on two counts – my weakness at not being able to set my own boundaries and her lack of consideration for disregarding what I had suggested completely, and coming up with a totally different plan.
The next day I text a compromise and say we’ll come in the morning from 10, bring food and head off after lunch. She responds, “perfect!”.
I spend two days dreading it.
The first thing that happened when we met at 10 was her getting crisps and grapes out for her kids. Her kids are ALWAYS eating. She says they eat all their meals, so that’s great, but mine are pickier, and I’ve been reading a lot about snacking recently and how it’s not great for kids or adults, and how we shouldn’t be afraid to be hungry for our meals. So the boys ask me for something – I say we will eat at lunch as I have a nice picnic for them, but she says they can share the crisps and grapes… my boys are diving in before I can say anything, so I let it go.
Then, her boys just take a piss whenever they want to go. They just go up to a tree, pull down their trousers and go. Once, a while ago, she told her son to pee round the back of the school building after school instead of just going into the building and using the goddamn toilet. I know that a 5 year old needs to go, but what she is teaching them is that at the age of 19, when they are walking home from the pub it is totally acceptable to piss up against a tree in someone’s front garden, or round the back of a garage, or even outside the building of a public toilet. I think it’s just plain wrong. But what do my boys do? Of course, they want to do the same – it’s different and exciting to wee outside the toilet. Sigh. Since the toilet block is a 5 minute walk away from the play park, I let that go too.
Then she wants to go off and buy some crabbing kit so we can look for crabs in the lake. I think this is a bad idea, because a) my kids are still 5 and 3, and there are some things that they will appreciate more when they are older and b) it involves the lake. Actually, the lake turned out to be about 18 inches deep all round the edge (man made), so that part was okay, but the crabbing thing. Oh man. Her kids didn’t bother to put shoes on after playing in the park sandpit, so they walked down to the lake in bare feet. I insisted the boys wore their shoes, which caused some grief, but it’s not a f*cking beach, it’s a concrete path littered with swan poo and dropped ice-cream and god knows what else.
The crabbing held the boys interest for about 10 minutes, as I thought it would. Then they started running around, playing with the crab lines, wrestling each other, and generally being difficult. We should have gone back to the park, or done something else, but she was adamant she wanted to catch a crab. The wrestling continued, and the next thing I know, I look up and my son and her son are half way around the lake where they have wandered off on their own. In alarm I let her know and she says “oh I’m trying to give mine a bit more freedom.” Well, I’m not, and my 5 year old is the other side of the fucking lake.
I say to her, “I’m going to get them” and I run around the lake to ask them to come back closer. She starts talking about how she walked to school on her own from age 5, and how her parents got the balance right, which I counter with how it was a different era back then and how I also walked to school on my own at 5, but that’s because my mother spent my childhood asleep on the sofa and was generally useless.
I start to get the impression she thinks I am too controlling, and expect too much of my kids, which really galls, as I come from just about the loosest background imaginable and I am by no means a strict tiger mum. My priority is their safety.
Anyway, things go downhill from there (if that’s possible). My oldest, who has always been challenging in his behaviour starts to behave in a way I haven’t seen for a long time. We eat lunch and straight afterwards, the other boy comes to tell us that my son has thrown the whole crabbing line (handle and everything) into the pond. This isn’t the first time my son has done something like this with other people’s things.
The mum looks shocked and asks him to ask someone for a net so we can retrieve it.
Next, my oldest just randomly shoves my youngest hard as he walks past, and he falls onto the concrete and screams in pain. This is because he is feeling hurt and upset after the crab line thing and he doesn’t deal well with these emotions.
This is the moment at which I should have left (as I was going to after lunch), but the mum has suggested we take a quick look around the museum before we go. I reluctantly agree (my mum again), but on the way, my son picks up a toy from next to someone else’s picnic blanket, walks off with it and throws it hard into the museum building wall. Again the other mum looks shocked, and that is when I take action (too late).
I say we’re going to go home. She looks at me in disbelief almost, that I am reacting this way to his behaviour (but I know there’s no stopping it now), and heads off into the museum. I insist that my son returns the toy to the rightful owner and then I explain that we’re going home. My three year old instantly starts crying loudly (he wanted to see the dinosaur in the museum), and my oldest, who is now in full-on rage mode refuses to move. I have lost patience by this point, so after I count to three I end up dragging him by his arm back to the car park. He struggles and tries to punch me in the stomach, which I avoid. I parade them both back through the park, one crying, one screaming and struggling.
When we get there, I am so, so angry. I am angry at my son’s lack of respect, at how he hurt his little brother, I am embarrassed at his behaviour, and I am angry with myself for coming on the playdate to start with and then for not standing up for all the things that are important to me. I’m angry that he has tried to hurt me, and I’m angry (from fear) that he could have hit my stomach with the baby in there.
I get both boys in the car and get in myself. I’m about to start the engine when my oldest opens the door and climbs out, saying he refuses to go.
At which point I lose it. So I walk around and I smack him. The thing I have always been dead against, the thing that I feel so strongly about, the thing that is bound up with fear that I will somehow become my grandmother and the abuse will skip a generation.
He cries and cries, but still refuses to fasten his seatbelt. I drive all the way to the car park exit (I would never go into the road) and he is crying, telling me I’ll get into trouble if I drive while he isn’t strapped in. I scream at him “PUT ON YOUR SEATBELT NOW!”. Which he does, but then he blows a raspberry at me.
And (I feel total shame even writing this, don’t judge me, I have already cried for hours over this), I get out of the car and smack him again. He then hits me back, I smack him yet again. He cries.
It was the worst parenting moment I have ever had.
We all sat in silence on the drive home. I spent the whole time trying not to break down into a sobbing mess.
So. The aftermath.
When we got home, I settled my youngest into playing with his cars, and went to talk to my oldest. I asked him what had driven his behaviour and he explained that the other boy had upset him. I explained (as I should have done hours ago), that getting angry with someone happens, but that taking our anger out on other people’s possessions isn’t the right thing to do. I asked about the toy he picked up and he said he didn’t realise it belonged to the picnic group – this may be the case. It’s sometimes hard to tell with him. We had a long hug and I told him that I never wanted to have a day like this again. And I also explained that it was better if we didn’t have playdates with those kids again because their mummy had very different rules to our rules. He seemed fine with this, which is interesting as he would have protested if it was someone he was very fond of.
So, in the afternoon we went out for a bike ride, and visited the mobile library, and all was well again. But before I cooked tea, while they were watching cbeebies, I went upstairs to our bedroom and sobbed as silently as I could. I cried so violently, with such great gasps of breath, I thought my throat was going to rip apart.
I was a horrible, horrible person for those moments and it was only partially down to how my kids were behaving. It was mostly down to me. My issues. My problems. And ultimately, my anger.
And that was the point I knew something had to change. I fantasised about calling my mother and telling her not to visit again. That I didn’t want her to be involved in our lives any more. But it’s just fantasy – I don’t think I have the guts to ever do that.
So I contacted a counsellor. I’m booked in for 25th August (too far away, but she had nothing nearer).
And I know that I need to start standing up for myself. Not least because I am a role model for my kids and if I don’t say what I want, and what I’m happy with, how will they ever learn to?
If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.
Right? Well, I’ve fallen for anything my whole life. My idea of standing up is running away, which I’ve done over and over. I know that I spent years seeking inappropriate attention from boys to fill the void of missing affection I never got at home. I know that I struggle with routine and structure because my mother never did those things when we were kids. I know that I seem to have taken on a whole boatload of my mother’s worst qualities, even though I was never the child that was actually abused. I know that I live in fear of turning into my grandmother because of the rage I feel inside (possibly also transferred from my mother during my childhood). I know that I often feel alone, and unimportant, and like no one really cares about me (because if your own mother doesn’t fill that role, who the hell will?).
What I don’t know, is how to lay all this to rest.
So that’s what I’m going to find out. I’m going to pour my heart out to this woman (she has no idea what’s coming). I’m going to tell her, no holds barred, how I really felt about the time my mother threw my new knickers (that had lace on, which I was so proud of) into a group of my friends at my 10th birthday party as a joke and laughed about it. How I felt when she sent me to the shops with my dad to buy sanitary towels for my first period, how I felt when she laughed at the fact I’d have small boobs when I grew up. How she slept with dogs in her bed and tended diligently to budgies, fish, tortoises but could barely bring herself to spend time with me and my brother. How we turned up at her place for Christmas one year and my brother’s room had a bare fucking mattress on the floor and an uncovered old duvet to sleep under, while she had put me in her bedroom with a made up double bed (why would you treat your children that differently??). About how she got drunk and told me, laughing, exactly how she killed my old and sick gerbil to put it out of its misery. About how she asked me, when I was an adult, if my uncle had ever abused me sexually (he didn’t), yet she was the one who sent me off to spend time with him. I’m going to tell this woman all the things that make my soul ache for how uncaring my mother was all while teaching me to spend my life bending over backwards to make sure I don’t upset other people.
What a fucking joke eh?
Oh yes – and I got a text from carefree mum this morning saying she really enjoyed yesterday and after we left they went to the splash pool and had a really great time. She also said that illness can cause “less than perfect” behaviour. I can’t help wonder if there’s a subtext here – that we missed out on a “great time” by leaving or that I was expecting perfection from my kids and was wrong to take them home after three instances of not very nice behaviour… I don’t know. My paranoia often interferes with an objective interpretation. I certainly wasn’t expecting my son to be perfect yesterday, but I do expect him to have respect for other people’s possessions. Sigh.
And onto the work of leaving the past behind.