While driving home, my body was as wound up as my hands. They were gripped so tightly to the steering wheel, my knuckles had turned white. Betrayed by a blink of my eyes, the tears I was desperately trying to suppress streamed down my face. I heaved in a huge sob, which got stuck mid-throat making it sound louder than it should have and my belly, laden with seven months of my third child, kicked furiously.
“What’s wrong?” my husband asked. He’d only just noticed my private meltdown.
“Nothing” I mumbled with a shake of my head, because that’s all I could muster. How could I possibly begin to explain? I furiously wiped away the tears. I felt ridiculous. A neighbouring car, stopped at the traffic lights looked in and saw my family, silent and miserable. How could I explain it to a stranger if they asked what the matter was?
My eldest sulked in the back seat. She wasn’t feeling well, so we’d left the party early. Once again. It would have been nice to stay a little longer but if she was sick, that was my first priority.
But it’s never that simple. I found and told our three-year-old it was time to go. She crossed her brow, her smile gone, shook her head and bolted in the opposite direction, clacking away in dress-up shoes, clutching three toys in her arms and calling back at me, “Not yet!”
I didn’t blame her, but I sighed at the chase I had to endure, the wrestling of toys from little hands and the ‘attitude’ on the drive home.
The big one whimpered by my side, complaining about something using that voice. The voice that all mothers don’t dare to admit to, but would secretly like to rip out of their child’s larynx. She tugged at me and I tried my best to remain calm while I snapped her hand off my clothes, which were tight and uncomfortable enough, and asked her to go call Dad. The same voice was muffled by my clothes as it whimpered something along the lines of “Yoooouuuuu get him!” and “Mummy, it huuuurrrrtttttttsssss”.
I rolled my eyes. “Calm down,” I grumbled.
This type of stuff happens to us all the time. There’s always ‘something’ wrong with one of my kids. There are always tears, coupled with ‘that’ voice. Somebody isn’t playing with someone, or I can’t do the cartwheel, or I fell over and now it’s the end of the world. So while there are (literally) 20 other kids happily playing together with everyone, I have my cling-on, fastened tightly to me.
I can’t remember the last event when I haven’t had to deal with one of my kids’ ‘situations’. I just can’t understand, with all that I do for my kids, with the abundant life they lead, why they constantly run me ragged with their over-sensitive emotions. Up and then down all day long.
That night, I was so cross with my daughter that I couldn’t think straight to diffuse her growing anxiety or even just to calm myself down and show her some sympathy. I’d run out of it! I knew she’d be fine by the time we got home. My frustration kicked into overdrive. I was thinking, how have I raised my kids any differently from all the other happy ones? I want to snap, It’s just not fair!
Then I saw him. Jumping on the trampoline, little arms and legs splayed in mid-air, laughing with sweat gleaming off his hairless head. Bubbled in pure delight. Last week he was hooked up to a machine pumping his body full of drugs. Vomiting into buckets and unable to get out of bed. His third round of Chemo. Only a couple weeks younger than my ‘sick’ child clinging to my leg, I’ve watched him grow each year side by side with my own. But now, I wonder how much longer we have with him.
I wind my fingers through my own child’s and lead her out of the door. I feel sick and disgusted with myself. I avoid his parents because I can’t begin to understand how they feel. Facing the unknown, the sadness. I feel shame in my own selfishness. My healthy child just needs some extra attention. It’s going to be like that for a while, maybe a few years.
And how lucky am I? It’s what a parent does, what we endure. Some more than others.
I knew I was crying on the drive home because I felt guilty for having felt those earlier emotions. I cried because I was truly sorry for feeling that way. How dare I be mad at my child who knows no different, when someone else’s child is dying?
So I took a deep breath. We’ll start again tomorrow, I thought, because we can. Because I know there is a tomorrow for my child. That we’ll get through this. They won’t always be like this. We’ll look back and not remember these times and we’ll be thankful that we can look back at all, because that means we lived.
“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