‘Can you put this in the bin?’ I asked my seven year old daughter, holding out a wet wipe her sister had just used to eradicate the half bottle of tomato sauce covering her face.
She wrinkled her face up and motioned at her younger sister. ‘Why can’t she do it?’
I shrugged. My hands were full of shopping bags. ‘You have to put your rubbish in the bin, can’t you put this in too?’
Who else has had a conversation like this? A seemingly reasonable request, in my eyes at least, that ends up being the catalyst for a string of events that ends up with public announcements over Radio Lollypop and almost being accused of shoplifting. Yes, that comes later.
I had taken the three girls to a local fete. They had been on a few rides each, harassed some bunnies in the petting zoo, chosen various knickknacks that I was now lugging around and they’d eaten their way through icecreams, donuts and hot dogs. It was a good day.
Asking my middle child to put some rubbish that didn’t belong to her in the bin though, clearly, was unacceptable. She refused. I got angry and turned my back. There’s nothing more fun than having a screaming match with a child in a public space, so I was channelling as many mindfulness meditations and as much bloody rainbow breathing that I could muster. I didn’t need to lose my bundle in front of the seniors a Capella choir who were all watching intently as they did their warm-ups nearby.
And then she was gone.
In a fete with hundreds, maybe thousands of people, my seven year disappeared. It’s her way of protest. ‘You don’t love me,’ she will cry. ‘I’m going to find a new family who will love me.’ Then she will grab her little purple bike and strap on her kitty helmet with the fuzzy pink Mohawk and ride around the block till she calms down enough to come home.
But we weren’t at home. She was swallowed up by the crowd and I could no longer see her. I wasn’t afraid. Not yet. Even when she’s angry she won’t go too far, as though a long piece of elastic keeps her attached to me. But I couldn’t see her curly head and fuzzy tutu. So I marched right up to the Radio Lollypop van, who were hosting a range of performers and made announcements throughout the fete.
‘I have lost my child,’ I told the lady. ‘Well,’ I admitted. ‘She’s run off.’
The lady looked at me kindly. ‘Middle child?’ she asked. How did she know?
Having someone make a lost child announcement with hundreds of eyes on you, judging you for losing something so precious, is never fun. But neither is being that small child, slinking back through the crowd after hearing her name called out over the speakers. It would have mortified her completely, being as private as she is. She curled into my arms.
The Lollypop Radio lady then took her aside for a chat. She had lost children before. She had been a lost child herself. She knew how both of us were feeling, and with a kind word for me, and an activity pack for each of the girls, we headed towards the car in disgraced silence. But then…
‘I really want fairy floss,’ the eldest whined as we neared the edge of the fete.
‘The machine was broken hon, I’m sorry. Besides you just had a hot dog and icecream.’
‘But they had hotdog and icecream and something else as well. I want three things too. It’s not fair…’
One day she will read this and her stomach will clench at how petulant she sounded. I know I was a grotty kid, but I didn’t realise this until I was an adult and it was too late. But at that point in time all she could see was the scales of justice tipping in favour of her younger sisters, and she wanted them corrected.
I knew I was going to stop at the shop to buy a birthday gift for a friend so I said she could buy something at the bakery while I stopped at the florist. [At this point if you are shaking your head, admonishing me for being such a suck as a parent and letting them get away with too much crap – you’re absolutely right. I clearly suck at this.]
The middle child, still seething with resentment, refused to get out of the car. I flicked the lock and walked with my youngest into the shop [I already said I suck at this]. I was standing in the queue with a bunch of sunflowers in hand when a car alarm sounded.
My gut clenched. I knew exactly whose car that was. I could see the headlights flashing as the alarm wailed. Girlish shrieks pierced the gaps. Flowers in hand I began running towards the door. I could see the register attendants reaching towards me as I shoplifted a $17 bunch of flowers. I could also see the top of my eldest daughter’s head as she pulled on the door handle of the car, clearly not cluing into the fact that the doors were locked. I dropped the flowers onto the register as I ran through the doors into the carpark.
I shouted at my youngest to ‘wait there’ pointing to the fellow selling the Big Issue [I KNOW!] and I ran across the carpark in front of cars while everyone stared at me and the ten year old trying to break into a car and a seven year old inside wailing even louder than the car alarm.
What a bloody nightmare.
Can I use a stronger word here? It was a fucking nightmare.
I turned off the alarm and unlocked the car.
I don’t think I even used words to tell my eldest to get in the car. It was more of a guttural cry so deep and primal I think blood started dripping from my eyes and butterflies fell out of sky, dead, for miles around.
I stomped back across the carpark, muttered thanks to the Big Issue guy and grabbed my youngest’s hand. Back in the car, the silence was so thick it was almost smothering. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to cry or scream. I tried a bit of both. Nothing helped.
We were only minutes from home. I let the kids run into the house, to tell Dad how beastly their mum was (isn’t beastly a great word, we should use it more). I slunk in and went straight to my office, shutting the door like a sulky teenager, and proceeded to write.
One thing the Radio Lollypop lady had told me was that I needed to acknowledge my daughter’s anger, that I couldn’t shut it down, even if we were in the middle of a public space. She’s right. But what about my anger? What about my exasperation and embarrassment? What about my frustration? My fear?
I could tell by the faces of people around me that I clearly wasn’t allowed to express how I was feeling. I’ve seen other mums who lose their shit with their kids. While a large part of me understands and empathises, the rest of me recoils at the ugliness of a mum unable to control her anger at her kids.
And that’s how I’m feeling right now. Ugly.
But at least I have this space to share how I am feeling. I never got anything so right as the name for this blog. Relentless. Parenting is relentless.
And now I have had my whinge I will open the door and rejoin the world.
Thanks for listening.