And here is a link to our last ABC612 Parenting Panel of the year, containing a rerun of my favourite bit of the whole year, when Brad the Traffic Guy read my parenting traffic update.
It’s not a new year’s resolution. It is not a Dry January nor a detox nor a diet. It’s no post-40 turning of a new leaf. I simply need to know that I can. I have been drinking a glass or two of wine every day of my life for several years running. Mr 6 recently drew a picture of me with my female friends and we were all sitting around a table with glasses of wine. Clearly, it’s time to scale it back. My inner critic has been whispering furiously all this while. Am I…? Inspired in part by fear and in part by my brother-in-law who has had a month long medically induced alcohol ban and has lost 6 kg in the blink of an eye, I have set about a radical overhaul of my drinking habits. I absolutely love wine and wine loves me so I will not be going fully dry. Life is far too short and I’d become an insufferable bore. I’ve set myself two rules to follow until at least the 31st of January. Rule number 1: I can only drink at social events outside my house. Rule number two: I cannot drink two nights in a row. Given the critical blow that young children have inflicted upon my social life, I don’t think there’ll be much drinking.
We (mothers of the young) are the new face of alcoholism. We are the “Oblivion Drinkers” – mums who also work outside the home (or don’t) and self medicate with a glass or two of wine to help the stress of the day get sorted. Google mothers and alcohol and you’ll disappear into a worm hole of writings about how we’re all getting mildly or madly juiced up in the evening day after day and not noticing a habit creeping up on us. We pour with automaticity while chopping the carrots, with dinner and again once the little darlings are finally quiet, having fallen into sleep at last. We sigh and collapse, we deserve this. I could be the poster girl for a generation of Sauv Blanc Mums.
I don’t have a drinking problem. I’m also pretty keen not to get one. I want to continue my love affair with wine for joy, not for survival. So I am just over a week into my new rules. This first week included New Year’s Eve, which was of course an exception. One night of wine consumption though (as opposed to seven or eight) is a win in my view. I’m giddy to report that apart from self congratulatory day counting, I haven’t missed it. My skin in clearer (related?) and so is my head. Wish me luck!
There is no place to go. I hate where I am and cannot go anywhere else. Around me, there are people who care, but those people will rotate in and out of my life daily, weekly, every few months. There is nobody near me who I have known for more than six months. People look intently at me, assessing, scribbling notes, making assumptions, making diagnoses. Without my knowledge or consent, people sit around huge tables and talk about every single, horrible, private and shameful detail of my life. They all own a little bit of me but I own nothing. I have nothing more than what fits in two drawers, one box and a schoolbag. My house does not carry the sounds of life, but the echoes of a place that people are getting ready to leave. The walls are ragged and weak from my rages; vicious and visible scars that are a perfect image of my pain. I move through this alternate universe like it is normal. In fact, it is. Not a single day in my life held the kind of normal that you know. My normal is ten different houses in one year and ten different schools in ten years. My normal is to be sent, taken, pushed, hidden and locked away. My normal is not to think for a moment that anybody else will do what they said, so there is only me. My world has locked doors, case notes, uniforms, therapists, impossible words and long, long days of trying so hard to survive, that when the night comes, I have to let go. The need in me to rage is like your need for water in summer. I want a cluttered home. Noisy. With people laughing and arguing and watching TV. I want school newsletters, junk mail and bills piled up on the kitchen bench. I want to live in a house where they don’t lock up the knives, the baseball bats and the paracetamol. I want to get dropped off at school and make it to 3pm. But there is nowhere I can go. I am too unpredictable, too violent, too impulsive. Some people like me enough to wish they could have me, but they know that they will not be safe with me around. So I cannot have a home. All I get is an echoey room and a whole bunch of people who can see the crack up ahead through which I will fall.
Brothers, it’s me. Twin 2 she calls me, or Trouble, or Baby B. When she is in a good mood, or has had a couple of glasses of that yellowy water, she might call me Bunny, or Sausage, or Chicken. Anyway, I’ve snuck away. There may only be moments to spare. Not a sixty second period goes by where she doesn’t suspiciously say where is your brother? Or she shouts my name, quickly followed by what ARE you doing? Honestly that woman does not trust me alone for a single moment. If we tally up the number of times she shouts all the names, I’m way out in front. I am not suggesting for a moment that I am the innocent in all this, but I do think she overreacts at times.
Take for example the time I flushed the bath plug down the toilet, followed by the face cloth, and my teddy, undies and other things she doesn’t know about. She and Daddy pulled out their serious, deep voices that day. So overdramatic brothers. And I can’t help it if I like to empty things. Like bottles of Dettol, and whole bottles of bubble bath, and cooking oil, hand sanitizer, toothpaste tubes and my cup of water into my dinner. Just trying to be helpful people what’s the big deal? Sheesh. And why not bring the business end of the garden hose into the house to speed up the cleaning? She is always wiping things and cleaning food off the floor, surely the hose is more efficient brothers?
I am a born risk taker brothers. When I am a teenager this quality will ensure I am on a first name basis with the local Emergency Department nurses. As an adult, it will make me a millionaire in stocks. And then bankrupt. And then a millionaire. But at 3, well it’s a tricky skill to balance. Mum freaks out when I come out of the garage with a razor sharp pocket knife that I’ve managed to locate (those parental types continually underestimate my detective skills). She also loses her shit when she finds me in the playroom with Dad’s screwdrivers, secateurs and lawn mower.
I am also an unsung artist. We all know about my previous escapades with poo painting. Now that I hold a somewhat more mature view of excrement, my media are less offensive. Or so I thought. She seems impossible to please brothers. I thought that the white floor tiles downstairs were, well BORING!! I thought some dark brown paint would look GREAT! She is always carrying on about how freaking amazing my drawings are so why the big meltdown about my paint work? Brothers, do not try to understand adults.
If the stock market is not my future, then Junior Masterchef certainly is. But still I go unrecognised for my skills in my own home. Let me tell you, grated cheese and breakfast cereal IS a delight, no matter what your mother tells you about having to pick all the cheese out of the cereal box. And why am I the first to discover that custard and orange juice is a match made in heaven? People please.
Brothers, I will soldier on. If only to carry your faith in me as a valiant warrior would. But I am not without self reflection. Before I go (get caught) I must bare my soul in order to seek absolution. To the innocent fish at Day Care, I am sorry. I am so very sorry. You did not deserve the terror that was visited upon you. Please forgive me.
I thought I would wind up Passing Phase when the twins got themselves toilet trained. Having a house full of people personally responsible for their own excrement has been my mental line in the sand for many things. We’ll be able to go out without the children’s section of a department store on our backs, whole days out, less laundry, no nappies, camping even! But the time has come and it has come in lengths ahead of the twins being nappy free. I need to write about stuff other than parenting. I need to move on.
But I’ve fallen in love with Passing Phase. I really have. Writing just gives me something I can’t find anywhere else. So PP stays, but the brief will change. My new Facebook page here (please go and like it!!) will hopefully bring new readers, criticism, praise and disagreement. I am still waiting for my first troll. My writing focus will be opinion, fiction and maybe a bit of parenting.
The whole point is to build readers. I’ve got an important story to tell and when the time is right, I want to tell it loud and clear. I also want to build an audience who is interested is joining the discussion about disadvantage, education and the profound junction at which the two meet.
Join me. We’ll have fun. Or at least, an argument 😉
Someone is going to say I am delusional. Or naive. I saw you coming and I knew straight away your story would break my heart. And it did. Your carefully constructed outer layer with your swagger impressed me. A boy who has had to be a man since well before you should have. You have had no defender of your own; you have had to do it for yourself your whole life. I wondered, when you were little and sweet, did anyone ever gently stroke your hair as you slept? Did anyone ever lovingly sneak a jelly snake into your carefully packed lunchbox?
You have not enjoyed the nurture of gentle hands, kind words, unconditional understanding. Fight and flight are your two best skills. Where is my magical chisel, that I can crack into that incredible shell. I know I wont be the one to save you, I know my job is not to save you. I know I know I know. But I wish I could save you.
I know there are people who have had enough of you. People who, probably hurt by you, roll their eyes and shake their heads. People who have tried, failed, tried, failed and given up. You have not met people half way. You refuse to take responsibility. I can picture the hell you have raised. I can’t help but think that yes, this one would fire up easy.
I hear something that makes my heart stop and all the pieces fall into place. I get it now. On paper you are broken beyond repair and you probably don’t even know it. But all I can think of is how unforgettable your eyes are and that there is a spark inside of you and that you are not at all lost to us just yet.
My plan for my kids was that, number one, they would be fantastic people. I of course would be an amazing mum, who would humbly refuse to take credit for their fantasticness, but I’d be quietly yet smugly thinking how freakin awesome a mum I am. I’ll admit that it was gratifying to hear people, day care teachers, extended family, random strangers, tell me again and again how lovely polite gentle smart creative well behaved my first and oldest is/was. I’ll admit that I thought he was better than most kids I knew. Yes, better, I said. I’ll admit that I, at times, basked in the warm pool of smug self congratulation.
So imagine my shock when I found out one of my twins is in fact a scamp. He is the sand throwing, toy chucking, face slapping, ear drum popping, troublesome one at day care. He is the one around whom the day’s activities are often planned, so that we can manage him. Well, when I say found out, it’s not like I didn’t know. I just didn’t know he was as bad at day care as he is at home. I want to fall into a sink hole, but I paste my smile on. The young day care teacher is nervous. Nervous! Her usual, more experienced partner is absent for the day and management of my boy will fall to her on this day. I want to rewind to the part where I was a great parent. My stomach simmers with a fear that this is all my fault.
I’m terrified that this is not normal behaviour. Somewhere in my head there is a voice saying hey, he’s not yet 3, he will grow out of it. But what if he doesn’t? What if I have in fact, wrecked him? What if all my great strategies actually don’t work? What then? I want him and love him just as he is (and he is fantastic), but I want others to approve of him also. I was devastated recently when someone referred to him as a nightmare. My boy? My little boy?
My children have stripped me bare. I don’t know how to measure success of anything anymore. I don’t know anything about anything. Least of all parenting. Great parenting can’t be as shallow as simply having a well behaved nice kid. Can it? It can’t be intellect, emotional maturity, happiness. Can it? Surely I can hope for more than just raising a kid who can behave? It’s an ugly mess this job. It reduces me to a fool, a bumbling side act in a bad slapstick routine. It takes away any measure of self efficacy I may have, takes my confidence, drags me kicking and screaming out of that nice warm pool.