I’ve written before about that fuzzy old line that defines (or not) who is the child and who is the parent. In the last four months as my mum lies permanently entangled in her half-life post-stroke, I spoon feed her, change her, wash her and stroke her face, the line has disappeared as my actions mirror exactly those that I perform for my newborn baby. The child and parent in one.
But yesterday the line was broken again by my five year old in that ‘slap in the face’ sort of way. They say you should never work with animals and children, but I say everyone should have a child’s perspective on life kept handy – there is no better way to see the world than through the innocent, uncynical eyes of a child. They have that ability to stand on that box and see inside and out of it. Recently I asked who or what she thought god was. “Is he the police? Because he likes to help people?”
So how do I take her recent golden nugget of observation? I asked her to stop jumping on the sofa and when that was met by a higher leap and a defiant eye I enquired as to who owns the sofa. She slapped that arguement away like a lion brushing a fly off his back with his tail. “Daddy does. He goes out to work. He earns the money. He owns the sofa!”
A very loud silence filled the space between her defiant eye and my horrified face. I decided she could never know the impact of those words. “I own the sofa too.”
“No, you do nothing!”
That loud silence was now filled with the cries of sacrifice in my head – I gave up my career for you! I work so hard I can hardly stand some days.. all those organic pureed foods, all those hours of singing Wheels on the Bus, all those days of playing, all those nights of cuddles, ALL FOR NOTHING!!!!!!
Instead I put my sweetest smile on, reinforced with steel, and said in a tone that allowed no misinterpretation of who is the boss, “My sofa. My rules. OFF!”
She deferred to her better judgement and quietly left the room, while I lay stabbed and bleeding by her cutting remarks. That night at 2am, she whispered into my dreams “mummy, I need you” and I lay for a moment, tempted to say, “your dad earns the money, go wake him!” But that would have been childish wouldn’t it? Instead, I pulled on my mummy face and cuddled her up and put her back to bed. After all, abject rejection and total confidence annihilation are just part of the (yes, unpaid) job description. But it made me realise that I have to step away from my post-traumatic lethargy of loosing my mum and having a baby at the same time, and reawaken the woman I am – a proud mum, an aspiring novelist and a freelance writer – and get back in the game. My five-year old daughter gave me the pep-talk I needed. The child and parent in one.