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  • jdettmann

Shut Up, If You Please

Last week H was overseas for work. He’s had to do that a fair amount in the past year, so the kids and I have become much better at coping without him when he’s gone, but for some reason this time it caused May Blossom a lot of anxiety and sadness. This manifested in two ways: extreme difficulty falling asleep at night, and behaving like an eye-rolling, sarky teenager to me. As soon as I would remark on that behaviour and use my best firm, kind, in-control parenting voice to tell her how it makes me sad when she speaks to me in that tone of voice, and that it is now time to go to bed and please could she stop kicking the wall, and no I will not go get more food because I reminded her at dinner time that dinner is the last meal of the day and thus there will not be another served until breakfast, as soon as I did that she would lose it completely and spend an hour sobbing about how much she missed her daddy and how very, very mean I was.

One night I let things escalate horribly. I was so tired of being shouted at and told I was very, very mean, when really I am only a bit mean. I shouldn’t have let it get to me but I did. I told her that it was not acceptable to speak to me like that. I said that I too missed Daddy, and he would not agree I was mean, and he would not like her speaking to me like that either.

She disputed this again, so we rang him. Because there’s nothing like being in the wilds of Africa and having your wife and four year old daughter ring and put you on speakerphone so you can hear them shouting at each other exactly as if you were right there in the room with them. Isn’t technology marvelous? I suspect her was staring out at zebras in the mist as he held the phone as far from his ear as he could.

Eventually we paused long enough for H to tell us that as fun and all as it was to listen to us fight, he wasn’t sure quite how he could help from a game park in South Africa. I shouted ‘Just be on my side’. May Blossom shouted ‘NO! Just be on MY side.’

I said I was sick of Daddy being treated as the good guy and me as the baddie, which was perhaps a bit immature. With tears of fury in her eyes, May Blossom turned to me and yelled, ‘I am missing Daddy because he is the one who is not here. If you were the one who was away I would be missing you! So shut up, if you please.’

That’s right, she told me to shut up. If. You. Please.

I did shut up, because what beautiful manners. And I was tired. She is so bloody eloquent, that kid. (Not to mention pretty handy with the subjunctive.)  She had summed up the problem in a nutshell: you can only take out your fury about missing someone on the person who is left behind with you.

Eventually we let H go back to working hard to support the two young dependants and a hobby-blogger who really ought to contribute more, and took a breather from the argument.

Only a short breather, though, mind you. It turned out May Blossom wasn’t yet done for the night. Something upset her again, which upset me again. I think it might have been that as she stomped about saying she never wanted to see me ever again, her little shadow, Garnet, threw the same comment my way, with a startling degree of commitment to the role of Person Who Also Hates Mummy. Up until this point he had been an extra, but now he was her understudy and he was going to be ready to go on stage at any moment.

I think the evening reached rock bottom when I rang my own mother, in tears, despite knowing she was at a dinner party. Possibly that is when her evening also dipped a little. Sometimes when I can’t deal with my own daughter I need to hand over to a person who has done this before. Exactly this, because a large part of what infuriates me and drives me to the brink is that May Blossom is so very like me. Sometimes I can’t deal with her because I can’t even deal with me. But my mum can.

She passed on the same sage advice she has given me for thirty-five years: Try to go to sleep. It will all seem better tomorrow.

So we did, and it did. And now we shall see if what May Blossom said is true – if her fury will be directed at H when she misses me — because this weekend I am going away on my own, leaving H and the kids to their own devices. So far there is an unseemly amount of excitement being displayed. I’m trying not to take it personally.

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