I am the perfect parent. Okay, I may have to qualify that. I have the perfect parent, inside my head. I would like to think it is dying to get out, but I fear it may just be dying. Little by little, as I stumble across the obstacle course that is bringing up two children, slightly out of breath and a tad fearful that I may not quite make it across the next wall, trying to brush rusk crumbs from my eyebrows with one hand whilst trying to stop my youngest eating the mud, my perfect parent slowly crumbles. In the face of such mediocrity, confronted by snot-smeared jumpers and eye bags that seem to touch my jaw bone, there is little room left for perfection.
I know, for instance, that my perfect parent would not shout. Because we all know that shouting is just you admitting that you have lost. Both the argument and the plot. But hey, that doesn’t stop me. I sometimes use the excuse for E playing me up at bedtime that he is tired after a busy day: so can I now play that card too? The other evening, I was putting E to bed. All was going just fine and dandy and I was feeling pretty relaxed. Right there is the first sign that this was not going to end well. We put the book down that we had been reading and I asked him to get into bed. I could see his leg twitch, and then he decided not to comply. Oh good.
“Come on, into bed please. Now.” I keep my tone as light as my irritation will allow, trying hard to convince myself that this is not going to end badly and that under utterly no circumstances am I going to lose my temper. Shouting? Not today, thank you. I will be calm personified. I momentarily close my eyes and channel Supernanny. I can do this.
E makes no attempt to move. I put my hand on his back, giving him a gentle nudge in the right direction, just in case he has forgotten where the bed is, seeing as it is all of three foot away and directly in his line of sight. There is no movement.
“You will lose television tomorrow if you don’t get into bed right away,” I inform him. This is the worst punishment I can inflict…. on me. I have no idea why I use it as a bargaining tool, it is much more painful for me to have a child without television, as it is the only thing that keeps him from getting every toy he owns off the shelves whilst simultaneously playing marbles right in front of B, who simply thinks he’s in one of those restaurants where the food rotates past you and you can help yourself.
E and I stare at each other and I can feel my blood start to simmer nicely in my veins. “Last chance.”
He knows we are at the end of negotiations and he moves his left foot forward about two centimetres. I open my mouth to reprimand him, and he moves his right foot forward two centimetres. The tiny, tiny steps continue, each one racheting up my blood pressure incrementally. Now I am in a quandary, because he is technically doing as I ask, but is at the same time, managing to make me want to chop his feet off. I fear my head might explode with barely contained irritation if he doesn’t get into bed soon, but mindful of my promise to myself not to shout, I pass the time by sinking my fingernails so deep into my palms, they poke out the back of my hand. Finally, he reaches the bed, but remains sitting up.
“Lie down please,” I order. He does not move. Then I shout at him. The perfect parent inside sniffs with disgust.
And I am damn sure the perfect parent answers every question asked with a full, patient and educational answer. I certainly vowed that this is what I would do. And then I had kids, and one of them reached the age where everything, from a leaf on the floor to a fluffy cloud, from a pea on his plate to a TV advert, provokes a barrage of questions.
“How does the earth stay in space?” I bloody knew I should never have bought him a book about space. You give them an inch to learn, they want to know about the whole bloody mile.
“It’s a thing called gravity that keeps it there, and keeps everything stuck to the earth.”
“I’m not stuck to the earth,” he helpfully points out, waggling one foot in the air. Okay, deep breath.
“Well, we all are, sort of.”
“Why?” Here we go.
“Because… ” I peer into the black hole that is my knowledge of all things space related.
“…otherwise we would all float away.”
“Well, it is gravity that keeps us all here.”
Now at this juncture, the perfect parent would persist, and gladly offer further explanation. (Mind you, the perfect parent might bloody well know what she was talking about, which would be a sodding help). I, however, saddled with general ignorance and long term sleep deprivation, wave the parental white flag: “Just because.” The perfect parent inside tuts loudly and turns away with an air of resigned disappointment.
The perfect parent would also take their children on a range of exciting, educational and inspiring activities when they are all together for the day. Me, I choose the local soft play area every week. Because a) I get a sit down, b) with a coffee c) with friends and d) E runs off with his friend and leaves us in peace for a bit. This is only slightly spoiled by having to now sit in the baby area with B, meaning I have to pretend to be delighted by the presence of other people’s children crawling over my feet and throwing plastic balls at my head.
I think we all probably have the perfect parent inside of us, the parent we dream of being when we are first expecting a child, when the delights of dealing with your offspring have yet to be made a reality and you can see no earthly reason why you would not always be consistent with your discipline and can confidently vow never use confectionery as a legitimate way to get your child to get into the bloody car right now. It’s just that some perfect parents are better hidden than others. Mine is currently lying under a pile of rubble, so deeply buried no one can hear her scream. Certainly not above my bloody shouting, they can’t.