Having started my day at 5.30am, rescuing B from being stranded on his tummy, wedged sideways in his cot (prompting the thought that it is about bloody time he learned to roll back again, for crying out loud, it’s not as if he’s too busy), the day already threatened to be painful. However, at that point, with my bed hair and half-closed eyes, I just didn’t know how painful, how quickly.
I cajole E into the car to take him to nursery, having already had to threaten him with no television to get his shoes on – not an auspicious start it has to be said – and I try to ignore a sense of unease that today is already not going to plan. There is only one plan in the mornings: get E to nursery without whinging, refusing to comply or crying. It sounds so simple; a plan so straightforward it barely constitutes a plan. But I am a parent. So I know that this plan can be the most ambitious, crazy idea ever to have been formulated, a plan so fiendishly difficult to pull off, only fools and mothers ever attempt it. To be fair to E, we have had a long, long stretch of mornings that have gone without a hitch. He has been weirdly compliant, chirpy and so utterly well behaved that I started to think that the petulance was a phase that he had grown out of. It would have been nice to think that along with his too-short trousers and too-tight tee shirts, we have packed his petulance and stroppiness in a box and popped it in the loft, for his little brother to try on in a couple of year’s time. Alas no.
I park up in the nursery and go round to open his door. I am tired and a bit pissed off from the early morning cajoling that I have been required to undertake to get us this far, but I smile and give him a breezy ‘let’s go,’ whilst holding my breath to see what happens. Shit happens, is what in fact then transpires. He turns away and refuses to get out. I take a deep breath and ask again nicely, a request which is roundly ignored, so I take the toy that he is holding and toss it onto the seat next to him. This, in my son’s book, is the gauntlet being thrown well and truly down. Or a Play Mobil spaceman, to be precise. He starts to howl. I straighten up and quite fancy a howl myself, but at that moment one of E’s classmates and his mother walks by. I smile as if to say: a screaming child? What screaming child?
I half expect to see E frothing at the mouth when next look into the car, such is the ferocity of the crying. He is showing no sign of abatement and I ponder my options. Leave him in the car and walk home appeals, but is not really practical: it’s a bloody long walk. I sort of know what feels like the sensible option. Somewhere in my fatigue-ridden brain is the notion that I should sit in the car, wait patiently for the histrionics to pass – as they inevitably will – and then calmly walk to the building. But this thought, the least stressful strategy and by far the least embarrassing as it keeps my atrociously behaved child out of the gaze of other morally superior parents who have offspring who are not in the throes of a large case of the screaming ab-dabs – is buried beneath a large mountain of barely-contained fury and the insistent and repetitive thought of: get this fucking child into nursery NOW.
So I manhandle him out of the car, hissing threats of losing his new bike through a rictus grin in case anyone is watching. I have an urge to drag him by the ear, but instead torso-lock him and manage to get half way to the door before exhaustion kicks in and I have to stop. He starts walking back to the car. I start to really, really wish I was somewhere else. Anywhere else. We stare at each other for a while. I swear, if there had been more room, we would have circled each other. It’s a sodding stand off at the OK Corral.
Now what? I am too furious to think straight but decide abandonment is the next tactic, so head off to reception. “No!” he wails, “don’t leave meeeeee.” His volume is ear splitting, which is nice, as I think someone nineteen streets away had not been aware of the ruckus until now. Finally, we are in the foyer, but there’s still one more door to negotiate. The girl on reception, who would have seen the whole charade on the car park CCTV, asks him if he wants to hear a story about the fish. God bless her for trying. If I was sitting where she was, I would just be pissing myself laughing at such gross parental ineptitude.
Somehow I finally manage to get him up the stairs. This makes it sound just a tad easier than it actually is. E sits down on every step and wails, heaving his body in slow motion up to the next step with seemingly Herculean effort. His attractive half-cry, half-moan bounces off the cavernous stair well to warn everyone that there is an incompetent mother in the building being bested by her offspring. By now, several people have witnessed our little performance. There is something quite special about having your son’s tantrum and your own ineffectual parenting style exposed to the world. It’s like a little bit of your soul shrivels up and dies. My dignity would also be severely dented, but I have had two children: the last shred of my dignity was mopped up from the hospital floor years ago.
Eventually, about three years after we left the house, we are in pre-school and are calm. Well, E is calm. I am pretending.
Knackered and utterly pissed off, I go back downstairs, passing reception. “Is it time for a glass of wine?” I ask the girl who is still sitting there, probably replaying those CCTV tapes and wetting herself with uncontained mirth.
She laughs, then looks me firmly in the eye, just to make sure I wasn’t being serious.
As I head to the car, I stop momentarily and think. Just to make sure I wasn’t being serious.