It is possible, entirely possible, that I am a bit oversensitive to other people’s criticism or perceived criticism of me and my parenting. This was very delicately pointed out by a friend of mine when I freaked out a few weeks ago because Casper (11) and Ned (9) weren’t served at a local food market because they had my card to use for payment instead of cash. I assumed they weren’t served because they were unaccompanied at 7am (in their school uniforms, with a handwritten note from me listing “Milk, Bananas, Croissants”, one of them clutching a reusable plastic bag to put the groceries in) but it looks like it might have been because the cashier knew the card wasn’t theirs, and therefore was perhaps stolen. The kids ran back home, she called me to check it was ok, and they ran back to buy their breakfast. So…extremely….conscientious of her, no?
I got really cross about it, of course, and felt that I was getting called out for sending the kids out into the world without me which is something that is seen by lots of people as quite a risky thing to do because of the Dangers Out There. I think the Dangers Out There are overstated. If the refusal to serve them was not about the Dangers Out There and was really about the kids having my card, I would argue that context is all. They weren’t buying fireworks or cigarettes, after all.
But in any case, it does seem as though I move through the world ready to take one glance or imagined ‘tsk’ as a full throttle assault on my parenting character. This has perhaps always been the case but got worse after a summer fiasco where I got myself into a handful of trouble because I left the baby in a tent for a few minutes with his brothers and a Child Protection Officer discovered the scene. It was brutal and public and shaming and terrifying and it has had real and lasting consequences on me, my sense of self, my confidence in my choices and in my parenting, and my friendships. So now, I am a totally unhinged about this stuff.
Cue yesterday then. A big bad day of getting-into-trouble-ness. The last day of the mid term holidays, after what has been a pleasant week with trips to Battersea Park for mini golf, long days in the sand at the Princess Diana Playground, walks through Mayfair, trips to Pret, Portobello and a full day in the rain making dens at Forest School.
We had plans to meet a new friend in Kensington Gardens, so there was some time pressure to get out of the flat by 10:45. After a week on holiday, this was a bit of a struggle – Ned and Casper were supposed to walk the dog but spent a lot of time ignoring the request or just saying NO, and Casper bookended that by fighting, screaming, talking back, arguing, knocking us all on the shoulder as he skulked past in a faux ‘wanna fight?’ kind of way, kicking things up and down the hall, chasing the others which lead them to hide in the bathrooms while he tried to kick the doors down. This was all while we were trying to get out of the flat and running out of time. Noah, meanwhile, was being lazy about his job hanging out the washing and pulled too hard on the line and broke the whole thing. There was wet washing everywhere, no way to dry anything, seven loads to do, and it was time to leave.
Casper wouldn’t let up with his constant assaults and I was getting angrier and angrier with him – I took his phone and said the next time he did something I would cancel the scout camp trip he was supposed to be going on this weekend. I asked him to drag the buggy up the stairs for me to give him a job and keep him occupied; he did it purposefully slowly and in the most difficult, passive aggressive way which meant that the postman couldn’t get through and I couldn’t get past to open the gate and he just made it all as hard, slow and awkward as he could. After I came up behind him and strapped the baby in, I exploded with rage – finally broken after the full morning of relentless baiting. I left the buggy and the gate still open with the other boys upstairs and asked them to watch things while I went back down to sort the fallout from our fight.
I apologised, though tried to explain that he has to learn to manage his behaviour better, especially when he can see that I am losing it. We were finally ready to get out of the flat but I saw there was a man waiting for me upstairs. It turns out that during the Casper drama, the dog had sneaked out past the kids who were watching the baby in his buggy (and also distracted by some impromptu hide and seek) and he had wandered down the road to his favourite rubbish bins. This man, someone I had never seen before, was all ready for me. He was furious – he had seen Magic a few streets away and had come back to our flat (not bringing the dog back, mind) to tell me that I was a terrible incompetent dog owner and the next time he saw Magic out on his own again, he was going to take him. I tried to explain, saying that I had asked the kids to keep watch while I was in the middle of something important and he said OH THAT MUST HAVE BEEN SO TOUGH FOR YOU in a very sarcastic kind of way and just kept repeating that I was incompetent and bad and that next time, he would take Magic away. He then took off, leaving me a shocked and embarrassed and upset but – there was a dog to find.
I sent the big kids off in one direction and I went in another. I found Magic, snuffling into some rubbish bags as per, and bought him home but the other boys were still on the hunt. I thought the two littlest had gone ahead to the park in all the confusion, so grabbed the baby and Casper and went there, incredibly late for our playdate, hoping to find them waiting for us. They weren’t there. The big boys weren’t there either, and didn’t have their phones with them, and probably had no keys for the flat.
Luckily, each big boy had a little one with them and they had scoured the streets for about an hour until they went back to the flat where Casper was waiting with keys.
In the afternoon, still upset about the random man who wants to steal the dog and who knows where we live and after feeling terrible about my inability to cope with Casper’s provocations, I was lying about all glumly and then a delivery man comes to give us a package and then the baby went to have a bath. A few minutes after, another man comes down our stairs with the dog. The delivery guy had left the gate open and Magic had slunk off again to the bins for afternoon tea. This new man had the same story – he had seen Magic out earlier and was beyond furious and told me that if he ever saw Magic out again he would call animal welfare and Magic would be taken from us. He said, just like the other guy, that we were incompetent dog owners and were a danger to Magic. I tried to explain that the delivery guy had left the gate open (there’s a big sign saying PLEASE CLOSE THE GATE) but he said that was my problem and I needed to sort it out. After he finished his tirade and stormed off, he bloody well left the gate open! I shouted after him THE GATE! THE GATE! and he turned around and I ran back inside because a) he was big, with a bald boiled gammon head and a face like an angry football hooligan and b) he knows where we live. When Mark got home half an hour later he was still standing at the spot he had turned around at. So now I think he’s gonna get us. And the dog. And you wonder why I think everyone wants to expose my crapness at looking after people and things?
PS I know we need a self-closing gate. I know.
In Other News
I haven’t yet been invited to anything where I can wear my £4000 Mary Katrantzou gown.
Mark has high blood pressure which makes me think we need life insurance. I hope it doesn’t mean that he sits down too much now.
I’ve been asked to contribute an essay on Motherhood for a new anthology. What larks! What irony! Anyway, it’s the first time I will be published in an actual book, so I am excited about that. You’ll all know the truth – that I am a bit crap – but for the essay, I’ve glossed over that bit. Out in March.