As a parent you become accustomed to judgement.
Personally I’m aware that professionals look at my file and make assumptions. That is their job after all, risk assessment. Social workers are not an unknown phenomenon in this house.
I make myself seem like the villain in this piece and that is not the case. As far as I know my kids aren’t on any register. We’ve only had a few cursory visits. Cups of tea and friendly chats with thoughtful eyes cast over our books, the state of the kitchen floor and the fruit bowl.
My mind wanders while talking and I consider the possible tick boxes. Half filled fruitbowl, slightly manky bananas (good -five a day, obviously not newly bought for visit) Kitchen clean but not pristine (tick) children’s books in evidence (tick) children’s work on walls (tick) reward chart on pinboard (tick) Offer of various teas, earl grey option (double tick) last weekends Guardian under coffee table ( hmmm) They recycle…. All seems good so far but consider the mothers file. (Questionable)
Yes, I know I sound off the paranoia scale and if you read the Daily Mail you’ll be doubting The Man’s capabilities to put together information from the past to this extent. Until you’re in the lens though you can keep your thoughts to yourself. Why is it as a victim I feel so guilty?
Crying in bed after a bad news day Steve and I talk softly. It’s just after some headlines, how can you not consider sterilisation as a sentencing option? Smoothing my hair he idly suggests licensing parents. From here I can see the sweep of long eyelash shadows cast on her cheek by the bedside light. I try to imagine my hands shutting the microwave door, pressing the buttons. It seems inconceivable. I roll over pressing my face into the pillow, squeezing my eyelids closed until the blood fireworks blossom. They can’t cover my mental picture of my hands doing something equally heinous with lighter fluid and a kitchen knife.
Sobs choke me and I shudder – “Why is it stupid to believe in redemption and hope..” the words bubble up jagged, beaded with blood. I’m struggling to breathe. His hand stays heavy on my back. ” Take a breath Laura, hold it, breathe out.. and another… and another. Calms word tether my hysterical heart. Gently he reels me in till reason regains the steering wheel.
After another minutes gentler crying I choke out, ” They’d never have licensed me.” He turns onto his back and looks at the ceiling. Wiping my face with the back of my hand I flop inelegantly over and put my face on his shoulder. It’s raining outside and we lie in the yellow cave made by the bedside light listening to our breathing. He knows better than to turn off the light tonight. Ida’ll press the switch with glee when she arrives in our bed for a cuddle in the morning when clean white light streams in past our flimsy curtains.
I know I need to stop this. Flinging myself on these tabloid staples like a kamikaze ship wrecking myself. Breaching my hull on the gaping jaws of headline rocks. I silently reiterate my lectures to Zeph about statistics, about news having something to sell – same as anything else. About the draw of an out of the ordinary, extreme, hardly-ever-happens event. About the global village and the modern stream of information we have to learn to erect boundaries for ourselves against.
My stint in the bookshop covers the rise of the white-jacketed misery memoir. The scattered few eventually coalesced into its own couple of bays of weeping children peering out pleadingly. Believe me, I’m no champion of the genre but was startled one lunchtime when my manager launched a diatribe over her salad about how they were all made up. “Hardly all of them” I offered diffidently and didn’t know how to reply when she snorted scornfully. “Things like that don’t really happen” she declared and gesturing with her fork she elaborated on financial rewards and publishers leaping on bandwagons.
Looking at her, my face stiff, one hand rubbing a finger over the foam spilling from the split in the battered coffee-stained sofa I think about how to put the wasps in my head into words.
I’m here to say that those things do happen. As a statistical anomaly, though I doubt that’s a comfort to the flesh under the hand, strap, chain or malice.
I’m also here to say that that’s not the end of the story. Of course on bad days I feel like it is. I say that people sit in judgement. The hardest judge, the harshest words, the most implacable gavel all come from me.
On the bad days I find myself wanting.
On good days I remember the lessons I’ve learnt. I treasure my beautiful things, notice the moment I’m in and think the best of everyone, including myself. I understand we all have back stories, that I’m the only person in my race, I can even value my past but that’s what it is, behind me, a fraction of the whole.
On bad days I wonder how badly I will infect the most precious things in my life. I was diagnosed with post natal depression after Zeph was born. It was very expected. It’s hard moving surely under the pressure of every single person you know waiting for you to fall.
At the time I remember thinking it was hard to see the distinction between plain old depression except the extra agonising, excruciating layer of feeling I was infecting the best thing, Zeph, with the worst. Me.
After Ida I saw a different psychiatrist. After she’d read my millstone file she offered a different diagnosis of Post traumatic stress disorder. Different label, slightly different drugs, same old scramble out of the hole. The therapist I saw then talked a lot to me about this year. The year Zeph is eight. I really didn’t want to listen.
Now I am relieved someone said it out loud to me. It’s partly why I’m up late rambling at the electronic page. I love writing this blog. I’m genuinely thrilled and warmed and sustained by people reading it but I don’t think I’m writing for an audience. It’s not properly mummy or crafty or gardening or cooking although I mother, craft, garden and eat.
I’m writing to please myself and as I said previously I’m casting out thread into the world. This thought moves my fingers to ramble on. About the relief of saying-writing it out loud. In case someone else hears-reads it and feels less alone.
This summer Zeph has been eight. Every day I look at him and see me. Lazy, book reading, chore-dodging, imaginary game playing, messy, affectionate and ornery. I look at him and my heart swells with love and pride in his remarkable self.
And eight year old Laura hammers her furious fists on the tissue thin walls of my stunted heart. She is wild with rage and jealousy. When he is difficult or stubborn or ungrateful or as wilful as any other eight year old boy she leaves welts with her nails and hisses about how he doesn’t know how lucky he is.. is she wishing her pain on him? When my mother fondly defends him and chides my mothering she lodges in my throat like a poisonous toad spitefully croaking. My jaw aches from keeping her bitter hurtful words behind my teeth. About keeping your own damn children safe.
Slowly I have come to see that the biggest damage she inflicts is the suffocating urge to keep her a secret. Like a pus filled boil she needs to be lanced. I need to pull the curtains and let the clean light in. Jealousy I need to speak your name. It’s not shameful, it’s just an aspect of me, part of my intricate, complicated, colourful psyche.
Some of the best advice I ever had came from a friend. Standing in my mum’s kitchen, her bicycle in the garden, holding a mug of roobos tea she eyed me with compassion. Further along the path her gaze held empathy and understanding. “It’s okay to be angry you know..”
and it is. My love is forged and tempered like the finest steel. It is beaten by doubt, rage, hate and falability and is all the stronger for that.
Today I am handing down the sentence of the rest of my lovely life whatever it may hold and, wielding my gavel elegantly, I’m handing it out to you as well.