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Mummy Musings is a fortnightly column where Elisabeth Lee navigates the ups and downs of bringing up her daughter.
I’ve always wanted to be the kind of parent who is always there for their kid. The one who says “sure, I’ve got a minute” instead of “not now, can’t you see I’m busy?” It’s one of the reasons we moved back here to Canada, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, to raise our daughter A.
I’ve also always wanted to be that calm, unruffled parent. The one who always has the right reaction when things go wrong, the one who can calmly de-escalate a tantrum without threatening a time out, the one who treats the general chaos that is parenting a young child with the equanimity of a professional juggler of flaming chainsaws.
For the most part, I think I do OK at this. Especially if I have gotten a full night’s sleep and have a fresh mug of coffee in my hand. But as the day wears on, it gets harder and harder to be the model mum I wish I was.
By the time bedtime rolls around in our household, I’m often ready to call it quits before my child is. There I am, collapsed on the couch, trying not to drink all of the wine, while my daughter still has enough energy to rival the Energizer Bunny.
Fighting our way through the bedtime routine is often all but impossible. Especially if you are up against the champion negotiator that is A – sometimes I think we should send her to resolve the Middle East conflict. We do have a routine, and we are pretty good at enforcing boundaries in a loving, respectful way, but sometimes, it is still an exhausting process.
Take last night, for example. Eventually, we made it to bed, pyjamas on, teeth brushed, face washed. A had her last sip of water, then made one last trip to the toilet. She picked out two books – one for me to read, and one for her to read to me.
We got through the books (Llama Llama Red Pyjama, which was fun the first time, unadulterated hell the hundredth time), I turned off the lights, kissed A good night and hoped she was tired enough to sleep. Some nights, she’ll be so exhausted she will fall asleep instantly. Other nights, she bounces around in bed, singing to herself, arranging and rearranging her stuffed companions.
But last night, she surprised me. We were lying there in the darkness, A was still and quiet. Her breathing was smooth and regular. I was just about to sneak out when I heard a very quiet “mama?”
“Yes,” I replied.
And then it all came out. Stories of what happened in pre-school, fights with friends, challenges with sharing and teamwork. All of the feelings she had bottled up all day, all the new, intense emotions that had leaked out during the day in the form of challenging behaviour and tantrums, came out in a torrent of words.
There was nothing for me to do but listen. And hold her. Never mind that my glass of wine was growing undrinkably warm in the living room. Never mind that our plans to watch an episode of Game of Thrones were now probably never happening. Never mind that I still had dishes to wash, lunches to prep, laundry to fold. I listened.
And after it all came out, and we had talked about everything we could, she snuggled up to me and whispered, “Mum. I’m happy I told you. I go sleep now.” I hugged her back, my crazy child with the world’s biggest heart, and said, “I’m so happy you told me too. I love you.”
And with that, she was asleep.
At the end of the day, it didn’t matter if the chores got done, or if my child went to bed at 7pm or midnight. What mattered was that we had a special, sacred time when she felt that she could open her heart and mind, and tell me her secrets. And that I had the time to listen.
Elisabeth Lee is proof that it is never too late to consider a second, third or even fourth career, having come to both motherhood and writing late in life. She occasionally freelances and can be reached at bethgoeswriting.com.