You’re not a (at this point he mouthes) shit mum.
That was The Boy this morning, as we trudged through the rain and mist on our way to school. I hadn’t realised until it was too late, that on Saturday night he’d crept back downstairs and overheard me talking on the phone. As soon as I saw him, I swiped the tears off my face, hugged him and sent him back to bed. But he told me this morning ‘You didn’t know I was there, did you? I heard everything. And you’re not a (mouthing) shit mum. You’re my mum, and I love you.’ And then The Girl piped up 'I love you too, Mummy, bestmummyinthewholewideworldEVAH.' Then she licked my hand and giggled.
Slightly concerned that The Boy has had his vocabulary enlivened by certain choice phrases I was employing during an emotional discussion. I’m certainly not going to be winning any parenting awards any time soon.
I was suicidal. I think I probably still am, a little. But it’s unlikely I’m going to do anything about it. I had planned to do it on Friday. I knew how, where and when. But then The Girl woke up feeling feverish, so she was at home with me all day. And obviously I couldn’t do it over the weekend. I woke up at three on Sunday morning and knew I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. So I sat in the dining room, drinking coffee and wrote this:
Words are and always have been so important to me. From the evening I sat, entranced, reading ‘Five run away together’ on the steps of one of the Nissen huts at Leverington, right up to me, sitting here at six o’clock on a Sunday morning, words have been my lifeblood. Books, poems, song lyrics, conversations. All of them have been part of a design for life.
And now I feel as though my words have been stolen from me.
I can’t write anymore.
Because although words make me whom and what I am, they stop me from being whom and what I should be. I am a mother. My children should come first, not my fountain pen. In my mind, my children do come first. In reality, I have been told, I am a twitter twat, wasting my life and failing my children. From the outside, it appears that I drop my children off at school and then do nothing but tweet until I go to bed. Untrue, but hurtful all the same.
So I’m giving up on words. I feel bereft. And without words, I can’t exist. I can’t be me. I could try to become a Stepford wife, someone who takes deep joy (except they can’t) in a lack of thought and emotion. But that’s not me. It’s what my children deserve. But that’s not me. No alarms and no surprises. But that’s not me. My children deserve better than me.
Without words I am nothing. So that is what I will become.
Fuck me. How selfpitying? I was wallowing in an absolute vat of despair, thinking over and over again about dying. And when Alistair got up, he suggested we go out for the day. As a surprise, he’d bought me the Haim album and put it on in the car. The very first song was one of my favourites, ‘Falling’
I hurl into the moment like I’m standing at the edge (I know)
That no one’s gonna turn me round
Just one more step, I could let go.
Oh, so very appropriate. And Alistair’s beaming at me, expecting me to grin back and say ‘You are the BEST!’ Instead, I slump in my seat, stare out of the window and think how much better his life will be when I’m no longer a part of it.
Him: Darling? What’s wrong? I thought you liked Haim?
Me: [stares moodily out of the window]
Him: What is it? What’s wrong?
Me: [Small tear forms in right eye, throat set to lumpy]
Him: [pleading] Please talk to me, I know something’s wrong. I’m trying to do my best, I’m trying to help. I’m worried about you. I feel really bad for you.
Me: [reflecting that yes, it will be a bit shit for everyone initially, but better no mum than a bad one]
Him: [frustrated] Shall we just turn around and go home then?
Me: [full on savage hissing mode] OH SO THAT’S MY FAULT IS IT THAT YOU FEEL BAD IS IT IS IT THAT MUST BE BECAUSE I AM SO USELESS AND ONLY GOOD AT MAKING THINGS GO WRONG AND I JUST ALWAYS RUIN EVERYTHING AND EVEN A NICE DAY OUT WILL BE TERRIBLE BECAUSE I AM PART OF IT SO WHY DO WE EVEN BOTHER RANTY RANTY RANTING RANTINESS.
So we drove to Sheringham. And I made a resolution to be extra nice to The Blondies, thinking that, if today is going to be their last day with me, then I’d better make sure they have some good memories of their Utterly Shit Mother. And we won loads of tat on the shove 2p machines, which thrilled them beyond measure. Then we had a slightly frenzied drive around north Norfolk, getting lost and trying frantically to find a pub still serving food after three o’clock (Alistair had now adopted my earlier surliness, and was refusing to eat anywhere that meant he couldn’t have a pint). In the end, we went to a pub that we’ve been to many, many times before that has the holy grail of signs outside:
And just around the corner from the pub is a little corner of heaven. It’s Felbrigg, a National Trust estate/stately home. We go there quite often because I love it so much (and I like to pretend that Lucy Benedict lives in one of the cottages on the estate). And there is a little road, signposted ‘Byway to Sustead’, that’s also known as ‘Lion’s Mouth’. In all the times we’ve walked/driven down it, we’ve never seen anyone else there. As we plunged into it, ‘Falling’ came on again. And I don’t know if it was the fun we’d had (maybe), or the beauty of the forest (possibly) or the Bailey’s coffee I’d had as pudding (probably), but something shifted in my mind. And instead of feeling like I was falling into death, I heard the line ‘Never look back, never give up’ and thought ‘You unspeakably atrociously selfish twat. Stop this stupidity. You’ve been here before, remember, and you got better. You can do it all over again.’
So here I am. Slightly sheepish. Feeling a bit silly, like you do when you’ve been a big flouncy flouncer, and then have to return to the scene of the crime, gazing at the floor and twisting your right foot, whilst you mutter an ungracious apology.
I am a lot of things. But I am not a shit mum. I have it on good authority from the only people who matter.