The late summer tempests of my H.-girl, have passed, for now, at least. I’m not sure that the fire has blazed fully since week 2, when, missing that precious ‘getting to bed’ slot, over-exhausted, over-whelmed and over-wrought we found ourselves in a pretty state. H. was beside herself. I was beside myself. Tom would have been beside himself, but, 600 miles away, he remote-parented in, proving to be a rational, calm voice, removed from the emotions (and no doubt hormones) of two thirds of this family’s female contingent.
The next morning, H. experienced that which – I admit it – I know only too well. The churning stomach. The quivering lip. The welling eyes. The knowledge that there is no stopping it: those tears will come.
The call came at 10.40 am, from the caring Maestra B.: ‘piange, piange, piange… non so perché.’ Ah-ha. I knew only too well why H. ‘was crying, crying crying’. Poor little girl, sleep deprived and removed from the security of home, she was feeling bad about her outburst, her tantrum, our argument of the night before. It’s that feeling which, at seven years old might be hard to name, and at 37 years old, might be hard to admit. Guilt. It was our argument: she had provoked and I had allowed myself to be provoked. We had both shouted. I didn’t feel as though I’d been the adult taking responsibility for her anxiety and helping her through it. While she had been crying in school, I had been struggling myself, running errands with la principessa cuddled up safely in the sling, my mind turning over The Argument and how to manage my oldest girl, so alike me in temperament that the call from school had come as no surprise. So alike me in temperament that her fires are the hardest to manage even while they are the easiest for me to understand.
And so it is that I can also understand her behaviour since. Mollified since this outburst, she is now officially in Worry Mode. Worrying about me when I am not with her. Worrying about whether she will cry at school. Worrying in the evening about saying goodbye. Then worried when she says goodbye. All this worry, worry, worry. I can almost see the worry lines on her forehead grow to imitate mine. Philip Larkin, I’m not sure I am quite so cynical, but you have a point. As I hear her worry that I am going ‘all the way to G. to drive Daddy to the station’, I see eight year old Amy, standing at my brother’s window late at night, worrying about my parents while waiting for them to come home from an evening out, my mind a fever of calamities and ‘what-ifs’.
I want to scoop up all H.’s worries and push them back into the box, to tell her that the worries are safe with me. I want to tell her that it is all right, that I will be all right, that we will be all right. But it’s shaky ground, isn’t it? Her worries may well be disproportionate and we hope that they will always prove to be unfounded, but they are legitimate, albeit extreme, worries. I am no psychologist, but I feel that she has entered a new stage of childhood. Her awareness has shifted: she has started to fathom beyond our household, both physically and emotionally; she is better able to perceive a realm of possibilities.
How strange for me to observe that we have brought our children here to give them a sliver of what might be possible: to open their eyes to others’ lives as well as to their own; to allow them to experience that things don’t have to be ‘thus’; to show them that choices can be made to do things differently. And these aspirations are being realised – either tangibly or subliminally. For me, the incongruity is not that other, unsought possibilities inevitably run in tandem, but rather that plunging ourselves into this experience has brought into sharp contrast the dichotomy. Choices, possibilities, potentials. They are wonderful, life enriching and I am only too aware, particularly in writing this, that we are so very fortunate to be able to make those choices, to push on the open doors … But for a small girl, with an open heart, their inverse is proving to be a thought provoking step forward in her own journey. I looked at H. tonight before I wrote this and I saw in her face something of the H. I might see in ten years’ time. The way we are talking to each other has changed. I have a feeling that were we not here, it might have passed me by, ‘imperceptibly as … Summer lapsed away’*. But for H., the slipping away of summer proved a catapult into the unknown. For that reason I am grateful, even for the tantrums that came before, because I want to remember this transient moment ‘into the beautiful’. To me, this is the essence of being ‘mamma’.
*Emily Dickinson’s lovely words. Don’t feel obliged, but it’s here if you like it:
As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away—
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy—
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
The Dusk drew earlier in—
The Morning foreign shone—
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone—
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)