Old Mother Hubbard lives in a cupboard in my three-and-a-half year old daughter’s bedroom.
And rather than being a figure of kindly benevolence, she has become a terrifying spectre who has caused many an evening of tears, pleas and broken promises.
How Old Mother Hubbard, not generally known for the sinister characteristics for which she has become known in our home, came to be ensconced in our little girl’s bedroom and why she will not leave, I do not know. Nor do I have any idea how this seemingly innocent and sweet old lady came to be joined by the host of scary, child-eating monsters and hungry crocodiles who swirl around in my little girl’s imagination – threatening to steal her away and gobble her up the moment she closes her eyes.
All I know is that here we lie, my husband and I, with the warm, curled-up little body of our eldest daughter between us, listening to her snoring softly as she peacefully slumbers, all thoughts of that lurking old lady gone from her head.
Of course we love her little body so close, the sound of her breath in our ears and the quiet sighs she utters as she sleeps. Admittedly we do not love the kicking feet, flailing arms, sleep talking, and general lack of adherence to the usual laws of personal space. But, on the whole, she is not an unwelcome presence in our bed.
Most of time we are accepting of our fate – the quivering lip and sheer look of terror on her face when we try to enforce a strict ‘in your own bed’ regime is enough to break even the most steadfast of resolves. But, that is not to say we have not tried. Our list of tactics, tricks and enticements is growing longer by the day, and each one seems to be a more spectacular failure than the one before.
We have moved her onto a mattress in our bedroom and then, eventually, moved the mattress back into her bedroom. This worked for a few months before, during a late night crying episode where our logic went out the window and the desire for sleep overrode all other concerns, she was back.
Placing presents on her pillow as a reward for sleeping in her own bed worked too. Until her younger sister was born and was ensconced in a bassinette in our room. This time the green-eyed monster brought big sister back, as she reclaimed what she believed to be rightfully hers.
Months later she did again move back into her own bed – this time when her little sister moved out of our room into a cot.
But then Mother Hubbard’s insidious presence took up residence in her cupboard. And nothing seems to be enticing her back. Not the lure of a brand, new, shiny bed nor the promise of any number of gifts and treats – from camping trips in the backyard with Daddy to extra cash for her money box.
A pink pig night light was at one point something she felt would conquer her fears. But the carefully sourced light was apparently “not big enough” to take on the might of that mean old Mrs Hubbard. Nor was the accompanying torch bright enough to light up the darkest corners of her monster-filled room.
“I can’t sleep here,” she says.
“I just want to sleep with you,” she desperately begs, her tears raining down on the teddies and toys we have piled in her bed as part of an effort to make her feel safe and secure.
Once our little girl has managed to wrangle a return to our bed and is snuggled up under our doona– she settles down to sleep contentedly, her demeanour more like the relaxed, happy-go-lucky child we know by day.
So, we are preparing to admit defeat. We are ready to give up on the ploys and promises and join her in waiting for Old Mother Hubbard to leave of her own volition. We are hoping that she will eventually realise that she has better things to do than skulk in a little girl’s cupboard and wreak havoc in a family’s previously comfortable bedtime rituals and routines.
And, as we wait, my husband and I tell ourselves and each other that we should enjoy this while it lasts. Once day, hopefully in the distant future, our daughter will no longer need the comfort that sleeping with us provides. She will find friends and partners who will replace us as her main source of consolation and reassurance. Of course, we hope, we will still have a pivotal role to play but it will never be the same as it is now.
Because, as of this moment, we are our daughter’s world. Our very presence can frighten off the most awful of scary monsters and tame the most horrible of hungry crocodiles. And that nasty Old Mother Hubbard, well, she is just no match for Mummy and Daddy.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem