I sometimes feel as though my life is an extended episode of Thank God You’re Here. I rarely know where I am, who I am, or what I am supposed to be doing. I also don’t know who, or sometimes what, my children are. This is not because I suffer from some debilitating dissociative disorder (apart from the one known as parenthood), but because of my children. Yes, it’s just as Chloe, my 7 year old, has long suspected – I believe that everything is her fault.
Well, perhaps not everything. But certainly my children delight in changing the game plan without notifying their parents. As evidence, I offer you this snippet of my life, which repeats on a more-than-daily basis (you’d think I’d learn, wouldn’t you?).
My 3 year old, Jane, calls out “Muuuuuum!”
I respond in some way, perhaps with a “yes?” or an “I’m over here, Jane.”
Jane says “Not you! Chloe’s my mum!” Often with an “I’m not Jane, I’m Jasmine” thrown in, just for good measure.
Sometimes Jane, I mean Jasmine, is a cat, a dog, or a penguin. Sometimes Chloe wants to be a dog, but Jasmine, I mean Jane, would prefer her to be a snow leopard – “Because dogs are scary”. I am sometimes Grandma, Mum, or Mrs A (their teacher), but I don’t get told in advance, of course – that would be too easy. Instead I am expected to slot into the game, and respond to the relevant name without any hints in advance.
To complicate things, Chloe and Jane are also sometimes Grandma and Mrs A. Either of them can be mum, and sometimes I am a vet. My goodness, I lead a full and varied life.
In some strange way, though, this is all starting to work for me. You see, if I’m not me, then Chloe screaming in my face when she has a tantrum can’t be personal. It’s not nearly so traumatic if she’s screaming at someone else. For maximum points, it should be someone who doesn’t really exist, like “the Wicked Witch”. I have often speculated somewhat despairingly over the ease with which she pushes my buttons – if she’s this good when she’s 7 at making me go BOOM (usually without so much as a warning “tick tick”), how on earth is the world going to survive her teenage years?
It’s all too easy to take shouting personally. We are psychologically geared to mirror the emotions we see around us – which has great advantages when the emotions are “Argh! Run from the sabre toothed tiger!”, but isn’t so wonderful when they’re more along the lines of “Argh! I’ve lost my (insert indispensable toy of the moment here) , what did you do with it???” Being someone else for a moment and letting it all wash over me could be the secret to keeping my cool.
After all, in my rational moments I know it’s not really about me. It’s about Chloe being tired, or hungry, or just having a crabby moment. I used to think that she was running around with a cigarette lighter, deliberately lighting my fuse. But now I realize that the truth is much more random, and in some ways a lot scarier than that. In actual fact, Chloe is walking around with a huge, flaming torch, rather like the ones jugglers use for juggling fire. But she’s not threatening anyone with it – at least not consciously.
She’s just whirling through life, aimlessly swinging her fire stick, completely oblivious to what it might come into contact with. Sure, the carpet often winds up on fire, bushfires start unexpectedly, and the explosives that are wired to my chest suddenly go off with a shockingly loud BOOM, but she genuinely has no idea why or how this happens.
She’s just ambling about, twirling her fire stick. It’s nothing to do with her, and it’s certainly nothing to do with Grandma or Mrs A. The important thing is to make sure that whoever I am today is really good with a fire extinguisher.