I had expected the first month or so to be hard, but I hadn’t really anticipated how that ‘hard’ would manifest itself.
P. has been going into school relatively easily* which I know must be a good sign. It is how he has come out that has flummoxed me. On his first full day – and these are long days from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm – I had dinner totally ready, in anticipation of hunger. That was one thing I managed to do right, luckily. For P. came out ‘arrabbiato’ in the extreme: from the moment we left school, he shouted at me and squabbled with anyone who responded to him. The mood did not subside on feeding. I managed to remain calm.
Operation Proceed to Bed ensued. We struggled through bath time. It didn’t help that La Principessa chose that moment to feel thoroughly justified in indulging her rather horrible cold. Thank goodness for a fortuitously well timed visit from Nonna: responsibility for S.’s bedtime, which promised to be anything but tranquil, was devolved forthwith.
I snuggled into bed with P. who insisted on having milk ‘like S.’, something he dropped many moons ago. I indulged.
We chose our stories. At the end of several Greek Myths (a current favourite of his; after visits to Rome and Pompeii we are apparently off to Mount Olympus to sacrifice something at the altar of the ancient Greek Gods), he insisted on just one more. Despite the whiney voice, I indulged.
I snuggled him down and kissed him goodnight. A few minutes later another plaintive call: he was hungry, apparently. This ‘hungry at bedtime’ thing quite frustrates me: while clearly a procrastination technique, I can see that, when little people are busy all day and eat tea early at 5 pm, they might feel a bit nibblish by bed time. I reason that one cracker or plain biscuit is worth it both to satiate any potential hunger and to sidestep potential conflagration. A biscuit and a drink of water were therefore duly doled out.
Five minutes later, P. called out again, this time asking to sleep in my bed. At this point I wondered how many more demands were going to be made. My instinct was to say no. So I said it. Bother. How many times, as mamma, have I said no on instinct and then realised that really, really, I should follow through on my words. It might well be the teacher in me, but I reckon that setting out boundaries and sticking to them is not a bad place to start as a parent. In retrospect (and ever wise after the event), I might have thought before bed time about what my boundaries were going to be. Did it really matter if he slept in my bed? Probably not. Unfortunately I had said no and initially I tried to follow through on it. Following through on it was not particularly pleasant. This is an honest blog, so honestly, I will write that the next hour was horrible**. P.’s behaviour was thoroughly unpleasant. He ‘hated me’ and ‘hated me’, he kicked at me and threw teddies and pillows at me. I tried shutting his bedroom door and leaving him to it, but he pulled it open and jeered at me. At one point I stood him outside for some thinking time and immediately felt bad while waiting for him to come in, standing helpless against a background of S.’s protestations. Cries to the left of me, screams to the right, H., stuck in the middle, thankfully choosing that evening to be calmly writing and drawing.
What surprised, shocked and troubled me about this rage was the jeering and taunting that came with the anger, so unlike anything I have experienced from any of my children. I have had them angry, tired, needing to let off steam after a hard day at school, but that night, P.’s behaviour seemed deliberately mean. Can he be deliberately mean? I’m not sure he can, but he wanted me to be properly upset; he wanted me to cry. I realised this as I sat on the floor in his room, both properly upset and crying. I think that, subconsciously, P. wanted me to feel overwhelmed and out of control, just as he feels at school. Both struggling to operate in another language and, as the oldest in the scuola materna but not old enough to go into scuola primaria, he is neither betwixt nor between. P feels at sea, and he wanted me to be at sea too.
Finally he climbed into my lap. At last he let me cuddle him. He sobbed his little heart out. He was sad, he said, because the day was so long; he wanted to see me and be close to me and couldn’t. At night, he didn’t want to wake up and not know where I was.
Ah, those bitter sorrows of childhood: they may not be so new and strange to us as adults, but their pain for me is ever more acute when felt through little arms curled round me. And so the day ended with me thinking a little more about being a child and learning a bit more about being a mamma. Parenting: no qualifications required; training on the job; start at the deep end and see how you fare. Anyone a taker for one of the hardest jobs around?
*Relatively, relative to H., on whom more anon.
** It’s an honest blog, but it’s also abbreviated. Suffice to say that this was not an isolated incident. We had the same behaviour the next morning. And the next bedtime. And I think we will see it again, despite the boundaries I try to set for myself and for them.