There’s this moment where I’m standing in Hiccup’s* classroom and a part of me suddenly wakes up and says “Tiff, you’ve got to go”.
Something’s gone wrong. Something’s going wrong. It’s been a long, hard morning, a battle of wills, following on from a couple of hard weeks and somehow I’ve found myself standing over Hiccup, allegedly helping him with his morning school routine – but what am I actually doing? I think maybe I’m barking. I’m snapping, and my tone of voice is fed up and short-tempered. This isn’t an act of love, it’s an act of utter pissed-off-ness and I’m angry to the verge of tears. I’ve got to get out of here before I start making things worse than they already are. I manage an “I love you”, we share our “kissing hand” ritual and I go.
I head across the road for coffee with school parents and yet again I am so thankful for these fabulous people who keep me grounded and sane. “Agh!” I tell them “Today Hiccup has pressed all my buttons!”. One rubs me on the shoulder; another shares a story of her child’s own histrionics. I begin to tune back to my breath. I begin to remember there’s a child there I love – that Hiccup is only so young. I think about the words I tell the parents that come to see me. That we are the “growed ups”; that it’s our job to be bigger, stronger, wiser and kind (thank you Circle of Security); that we can connect with our values on how to be loving even when we are not feeling it. My “bad mum” story attempts a look in, but I’ve refocused now. It’s time to work on a repair attempt.
I head down to the pool where my son’s doing school swimming. He doesn’t know I’m coming, and he smiles across the distance when he sees me. My son, whom I’ve fought with all morning – there he is, his face lighting up because I’ve walked in the room. Who is it that’s bigger? Wiser? I want to be able to forgive like a child.
He’s too far away to talk to, but I make do with a few moments of pulling faces at each other. I have to go before it’s a distraction for him. I sign ‘I love you”, and he signs back. I send a quiet work of thanks to my sister for introducing us to Auslan, for giving us this subtle way to communicate our private words to each other.
Later in the day, a parent gives me the most beautiful gift. He says “Why don’t I take Toothless after school, and you can have some time alone with Hiccup”. I don’t know if he’s thinking about the rough time we were having that morning, or if he’s just being generous anyway, but it’s a lifeline, and I take it.
Hiccup is delighted to see me, and I tell him we’re having a date. We go across the road and I order him a milkshake and we get cake to share. He asks what a date is, and I tell him it’s sacred time between two people who love each other. Gently, we talk about the little things. Slowly, we start to talk about the bigger things. “Mummy,” he says, “It’s just, I’m a puzzle [pause]. And there’s a piece missing [pause]. So I can’t put it together.” How my heart aches. This is what it is to be mum – I hurt with all I have, and I open myself to it because I love with all I have too. We’re both reaching across the booth and holding hands. I’m wondering why it’s so rare for us to create this space together. “Hiccup,” I say, “It feels like we’ve been on different teams. I think I kinda forgot that I’m supposed to be on yours’. I’m back on your team now.”
It’s been a few weeks now since then. We’re doing okay, Hiccup, Toothless, Stoic and me. Hiccup suggested we move our mindfulness practice to the very start of the day, and that’s helped no end with his morning focus. Me? I think a lot about what the AA folks go on about with “one day at a time”. Each moment is another chance to meet with the present, to be connected to the sensory feast of life and the children Stoic and I am raising. All four of us have been conscientiously spending more time on the same team, plotting our course forward together. We’re not perfect – but we are totally human in this together.