They were tired. I’ve been pushing them (maybe) too far over the line between wearing them out so they sleep and wearing them out so they’re a mess. Too many long walks, too much excitement over the holidays and a 4th birthday, too much excitement over me being at home for a week, too much of giving in because there’s no nursery run to rush for or train to catch to work.
Anyway, they were tired. And instead of being their cushion, their comfort, their open arms to fall into, I was snappy and harsh and stern. Little things like them refusing to get their coats on, or them spilling their dinners over the floor while messing around—these were the things that got to me. My responses weren’t measured. My shouts were too loud; my words were too cross for silly accidents.
I watched them break down in tantrums over equally little things, and again, I didn’t scoop them up. I was annoyed, by their tiredness, by their silliness, by things which shouldn’t have mattered. They are just children. I snapped, grumbled, raised my voice, and got angry. I put them to bed early and sat quietly beside them, hoping they would fall asleep soon. When they did, I pulled their duvets around them, tucked feet back inside cot bars, and kissed their so-soft cheeks good night.
Downstairs, I poured myself a gin and knew I hadn’t been pretty. I hadn’t been particularly kind or fair. I hadn’t been particularly good at being a mother. My children needed me to be gentle and nice. But I wasn’t. It wasn’t my shining moment in motherhood. And I didn’t feel bad about it.
It’s taken me years to get here, but I know now that sometimes it’s OK to have a break from being the one who stays calm, who makes it all OK, who is there to soak up the drama, the tears, the tantrums, the over-tiredness, and the hungry-toddler fury. Sometimes it’s OK to be too fatigued to keep your words level when they spill their milk all over the bed because they’re playing. Sometimes it’s OK to be annoyed that you have to dress them even though they’re old enough to do it themselves, and you’re running late and you asked 17 times already. Sometimes it’s OK to be cross that another meal has gone in the bin, that they’re fighting over that toy again, that they won’t hold your hand while crossing the road. Sometimes it’s OK to let them, or anyone else, see that it gets to you.
Because we’re just human, aren’t we? We’re all just mothers trying to be the ones who have all the magic kisses, who don’t swear when we stand on a Lego, who don’t mind tidying away plastic for an hour each night. We’re all just mothers trying to be the ones who are always smiling when they run to us in tears, who have all the answers to all the “why” questions, and who manage to get everyone out of the door on time no matter what mood they’re in and whether they’re listening or not. We’re the ones trying to make precious the moments when we’re not at work, who are constantly trying too hard to make up for all those hours we miss. We’re all just trying to do our best.
I’m not going to feel bad though, not anymore, about not being able to get it all right, all the time, every day. I’m not saying sorry. I’m not feeling regret. There will always be days when it’s too hard, too much, too exhausting, too frustrating. There will always be days you know just need to be over, and days which you won’t be proud of—but they are the days that are so rare and, perhaps, needed.
I wasn’t pretty. When I was tired, when they were tired, when we all needed to stop and give ourselves a break—I didn’t let us. I kept us going. Maybe next time I’ll go easier on us all. I’ll let up the pace. But if I don’t, and that’s because we are too used to keeping it all running, all the time, that sometimes it’s hard to stop.
Almost all of the time, I am their one. Sometimes though, just sometimes, I can’t be. And that’s OK. I wasn’t pretty. But the day is done. And we’re all OK.
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