I’m standing in my kitchen trying to escape from the carnage surrounding me. Hudson and Eli are tearing around the house, playing some form of chasing game to which Eli is endlessly outlining the rules. Ivy is cackling at them hysterically, thinking they are hilarous. I’m annoyed and angry.
This afternoon it was my turn for Kinder duty. I roped in my Mum to help out with Ivy and Hudson, thinking it would help if I subbed them in and out, rather than trying to solo the lot. It turned out that they would be the least of my worries.
I’m not sure why this happens, but whenever I volunteer to help out in a group of kids in which Eli is present, it turns into a disaster. His face becomes shadowed with surliness and the darkness consumes him. For the most part he just did naughty things right in front of me, skipping to the front of the library line and refusing to wait like everyone else, stepping purposefully into the ‘Staff Only’ section, stomping around after me while I was cleaning, trying to hit me, and saying ‘No!’ loudly, every time I admonished him. There were no clear options for sending him to ‘Time Out’ and I wasn’t even sure if I should be disciplining him in the midst of the Kinder structure. Suffice to say, it was a disaster.
In the midst of it all, Hudson was helping himself lavishly to sunscreen, and de-robing his upper half, and I barely managed to clean up one table before deciding it was high time to escape early with a shred of dignity (barely) attached. Dave ducked down to herd us all to the car, though even with his help, and our brother-in-law Ivan ushering us to the carpark, it was still a sorry sight of Eli’s tears, screaming and barely suppressed anger. Seriously, how can it be that even OUTNUMBERING the kids, we still lost!? To make matters worse, Ivy was overtired and wailing in Mum’s arms and when all limbs were finally buckled in, the entire 25 minute trip home was accompanied by a constant, ear piercing banshee shriek. The heightened atmosphere did not lend itself to peaceful, nap-inclined children when the garage door clanged shut.
It would be so nice if my children would cooperate with my subconscious desire to be seen as a ‘capable mum’. At home, parenting is more of a known quantity. There are rules, routines, activities and expectations that, on the whole, seem to be adhered to. Whenever I have to straddle the experience of parenting in an external space, however, I fluctuate wildly between wanting to make sure I’m ‘seen’ to be doing a good job as a mum, and actually ‘being’ a good mum for my kids. Often the actions attached to those desires are poles apart, depending on the particular pairs of eyes surveying the drama. Even in family gatherings I’ve gone home simmering when (well-meaning) Aunties and Uncles feel it is their duty to step in and ‘tame’ our kids, despite my presence a mere two feet away.
Even today, it probably didn’t help that I went into ‘capable mum’ mode, helping children find their library bags and tuck their books inside, sweeping sand off floors and washing brushes. Eli’s expectations for my visit were clearly slightly different to my enacted reality. The invisible strings were pulling me too tight in either direction and I ended up dangling helplessly in the middle somewhere.
The kind of mother I’d like to be is calm, fun, carefree, creative, patient, spontaneous and one who laughs easily. The reality is often more like tightly wound, controlling, easily upset, frustrated and too busy ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’. I’d really like to get better at that second quality.
Man, this mum thing is such a brutal and constant lesson in examining and processing your most vulnerable fears and insecurities. Lucky it seems that the kids are too young to fully realise the depth of my emotional wrestles. At the moment the boys are playing outside on the wet trampoline, shrieking with glee, probably stark naked again. Ahh well. At least they will have some happy memories from today.