The other day I was sitting in a play café watching my son happily and ritualistically dismantle every single toy in the room whilst dressed as a green fairy, when another small boy, a few months younger, walked up to an infant girl and clobbered her around the head with a slice of wooden toast. It clearly hurt, the girl started screaming, and the boy looked around for someone else to smack.
The boy’s mum rushed, horrified, across the room to mitigate any further acts of violence. The boy promptly launched into a tantrum of epic, unprecedented proportions.
The mum lifted her eyes in a sort of helpless, ‘I’m sorry, I’m doing my best’ plea to the other mums and dads in the room. And every single one of us gave her that special, knowing look back that passes between parents sometimes. It’s called the ‘I know’ look, and it is one of those tiny, subtle little signs of support that keep you going on really tough days.
This is not one of those dreadful, exclusive, ‘I’m a parent, look at this sad private little club I’m in!’ posts. It’s just meant to be a message of solidarity. Neither is it a plea for concern. Sometimes, sugar-coated versions of parenting life are just not that palatable. The good comes with bad.
And I get it now, I really do. No longer do I do that thing where I look across at the parent of a child who is being truly hideous, acting out, screaming, crying, throwing things, lying on the floor in paroxysm of rage, and judge them. I just smile and give them the kindest eyes I can, because I’ve been there. I understand.
I understand the special little lopsided half-smile every parent seems to have when watching their kids from afar.
I understand the greasy hair, the snot-stained clothes, the mismatched shoes, the bags under the eyes.
I understand when you don’t text back for days.
I understand when the tiniest cut or scrape has you worried out of your mind.
I understand if you sometimes find social situations without children in them a bit daunting, or overwhelming.
I understand why the phrase ‘It’s just a phase, enjoy it while they are young!’ just inspires feelings of pure unadulterated fury.
I understand when you can’t finish a single sentence during any conversation.
I understand the desire to punch any other kid that bullies your own squarely in the nose.
I understand when you haven’t noticed your skirt is tucked in your knickers, nor do you particularly care.
I understand when you look hungrily at the bottle of wine on the shelf at 10.30 in the morning.
I understand when you talk to me like I’m a two year old, because that’s the age group you’ve been around all day.
I understand the last minute fancy dress failure (my son’s Easter Bonnet is likely to be a pair of tights with some eggshell selotaped on).
I understand the pride that comes with a finger painting, collage, glitter picture or anything really your kid has made for you.
I understand the joy in teaching them something new, and watching them fly with it.
I understand exhaustion. More than anything, I truly understand what it is to be so tired all the time you sort of shuffle about like a zombie until the weekend, when you then all shuffle about en masse.
I understand that life can now, sometimes, be a bit of a scary, daunting place, full of worry.
I also understand that you have a new found purpose that seems to make everything else in your life meaningful.
I understand all of this because I’ve now felt it, been there, got the t-shirt and the matching bra and knickers. At night, I sometimes creep into my son’s bedroom and watch him sleep, celebrating all the little successes we’ve had and reeling from the multiple catastrophes. Growing a baby is hard. Growing a person is even harder.
You’re all doing a brilliant job. I mean it.