Writing about happiness… and transformation

leap of faith

This week I went back to the writers group I mentioned previously. As you know, just getting out the door requires military precision. Monday is like most nights for my busy family, with the unfortunate exception that it happens to be a Monday. While the piano teacher is here for the girls, I draft tomorrow night’s Yoga lesson plan and try to make dinner. I set the table and get everything ready so that, as soon as the teacher leaves, we can sit down to eat. While clearing the table, my husband and I have our first conversation of the day. Then it’s time for the youngest to go to bed. Although our custom is that I put him to bed, it turns out that he’s ok if his dad does that once in a while. I’m more likely to be on time if I give myself 45 minutes’ lead time for the 20 minute journey. (I’ll always leave a lot later than planned.)

When my children were younger than they are now, I never thought I’d get out for an evening again. As my family grew, my desire to go out waned because I was too exhausted for conversation and I could hardly bear to wear my contact lenses past six o’clock. A night on the sofa with a glass of wine and nobody demanding anything of me felt like an exquisite treat.

Although going to the group initially felt like stepping outside my comfort zone, there is also an element of it that feels like stepping back into a comfortable pair of shoes. After all, before having children I engaged in discourse. I read copious amounts of books and discussed them at length. I wore ripped jeans, cardigans with holes in the elbows and had little idea of what a nursing bra was for. I stayed in the library til nearly midnight, then had drinks with friends. I went to the cinema. Not just the movies. The cinema.  Nothing I watched was rated G or U. It might even have had subtitles.

Back then, I read poetry and newspapers. I talked to other people about abstract ideas and quoted intelligently from various sources.

Oh, how insufferable I must have been at times. But gosh, I had a brain that occupied itself more with the contents of the Opinion page than the contents of my kids’ breakfast cereal.

As readers of this blog will undoubtedly know, motherhood has been a transformative experience for me. It has been the catalyst to my mothermorphosis. What writers group is helping me to remember is that the thing that I was before I was a mother had merit as well. I’d been so wrapped up in who I am now, I’d kind of forgotten who I used to be. A lot of the old me is still there, and I’m glad.

Here’s what I wrote. The task was to write in a non-cliché way about what brings us happiness. We exchanged prompts. Mine came from someone five seats away and was “trust.” Incidentally, in spite of the above realisations, my writing is still about transformation.

 

“I’m frightened,” he whimpers.

“It’ll be ok. Just go ahead,” I say.

“But there might be spiders.”

“There aren’t any spiders. I killed them all last week.”

“I don’t like the dark stairs.”

“Oh, ok. I’ll take you,” I finally relent.

Five a.m. and this boy, also five, needs a wee. I, matronly in my brushed cotton floral nightie, still draped in the heaviness of sleep, would rather not stir from my pillow and the still-sealed envelope of my bed.

But he’s desperate and he needs me. “Give me a huggle,” I say. “It’ll give me energy.”

“Ok, just one,” he says grudgingly. After all, he’s been holding it all night. He throws warm legs and arms across me, half-sized hands wrap around my shoulders and his fingertips rest on my neck. Two small lips, pressed together, meet mine, and for a moment he is my life’s love. This feather light heavyweight of a boy, the child who came last in my life: every day his presence reminds me that life passes as quickly as this broken night.

He releases me and pleads, “Come ON!”

I let my legs drop alongside the bed, my bleary head rising as I stand. I pad along the hallway, impervious to the dark dangers of a five year old’s imagination. He reaches for my hand. I enclose his hand in mine. There is no one else who can stand up against the spiders and monsters. No one except me. And I don’t mind. Because his trust in me makes me braver than I am.

©Lisa Hassan Scott 2015.

Questions and Answers

This piece was originally published in the LLLGB Members’ Magazine, Breastfeeding Matters, for which I have been writing a bi-monthly column since 2008. To find out more about how to receive this magazine, click here.

 “So how long are you going to breastfeed her?”

After having three children, I can’t count the number of times a friend, family member or even a perfect stranger has asked me this question. With my first child, I’d had so many struggles—oversupply, poor latch, blocked ducts and mastitis—it took us several months to get breastfeeding right. It seemed that I’d only just relaxed into breastfeeding, and when I eventually lifted my eyes from my baby everyone wanted to know when I’d be stopping.

As time went on, my inquisitors grew more insistent: why carry on when I didn’t have to? Didn’t I want a night out, or to let my husband get involved with the feeding? After all, I’d done my bit—why carry on? Some friends even alleged that I was only carrying on breastfeeding for my own pleasure or vindication. Some said my baby would sleep better if I gave up.

small one

But weaning had never crossed my mind. I’d say, “Oh, probably around a year.” As my daughter’s first birthday approached my answers became less specific: “Well, she seems to enjoy it so much and it’s easy for me now, so I’m not sure.” My baby enjoyed breastfeeding so much—smiling, laughing excitedly if she was about to have milk, dropping off to milk-dreamy sleeps—and she was often feverish and ill with teething—it didn’t seem to make much sense to take away something that was evidently doing her so much good.

Gradually, I grew less comfortable answering questions about our breastfeeding relationship.  When people asked when we’d be stopping, I’d look at my daughter and say, “Oh who knows? I’m sure she’ll decide to stop soon. I know she won’t be doing it when she’s at University!” and I’d laugh and bounce her on my knee. I didn’t know how to answer their questions except through avoidance, and I dreaded being put on the spot about it.

Eleven years (and the weaning of two children) later I have come to the simple realisation that I do not have to satisfy anybody’s curiosity about matters that are personal to me. Sure, they might ask. But I am free to give whatever answers I like: vague or specific.

Unexpectedly, I have also developed some sympathy for my former inquisitors. Not because I want to know when you’re going to stop breastfeeding, but because I’m a fellow mother and I want to find out about you, engage you in conversation, connect with you somehow, and I’m not sure how to do it. Perhaps, I now wonder, their questions were about something else entirely.

Recently my children stared at a mother and her crying baby sitting next to us in a café. She tried to soothe her baby as he lay in his pushchair. She rocked the pushchair handle back and forth and she shushed him. She looked around nervously as his cries became louder. Eventually she picked him up, lifted her top and fed him. She made eye contact with me as his cries disappeared and my inquisitive children lost interest.

To her I was just another person in a coffee shop. She might have registered that there were three children with me, but she probably hadn’t considered that they were once babies too. Like me at that stage, she was wrapped up in her life, her sleepless nights, her baby’s cries and needs. I wanted to connect with her somehow. I wanted her to know that I’ve been there too, that I know the dark and lonely nights. I know the desperation of just wishing I could go back to sleep. I lived through those piercing cries that I could not soothe. I recall the helplessness of not knowing how to mother my baby, surrounded by criticisers, commentators, well-meaners.  I too know the surprise of seeing my baby’s face for the first time, the heart-burst of holding his warm skin against my chest, the choked throat when I saw his first smile and felt his fat hand caress my cheek. I know the trials and ultimate satisfaction of being a mother.

I smiled at her, wanting her to feel comfortable about meeting her baby’s needs. “Your baby is gorgeous. How old is he?” I asked. But I might have asked, “how are your nights?” or “how are you finding things?” And a similarly well-meaning person (probably of another generation) might ask, “Is he in a routine yet?” or “Is he good?”

Of course there are some people who have an agenda when they ask questions. But there are also people who simply want to talk about babies and motherhood and the connection we share by being parents of children in this world. Sadly we lack a language for talking of these matters, and though we are mothers in public, the experience is so internally meaningful and personal that talking about motherhood is like revealing the dark inner reaches of the soul. Instead we fall to the nuts and bolts of childcare and ask silly questions about sleep and nappies.

I used to get so cross when someone asked me whether my baby was good. But now I wonder what they hoped to achieve by engaging me in conversation.  Lately I’ve wondered how different my outlook might have been if I’d assumed that they were kind people who were simply seeking connection with me; maybe they just wanted to hear me talk about my experience of being a mother. Maybe they wanted to talk about theirs. Maybe they just wanted me to know that they too had walked the path of the mother.

©Lisa Hassan Scott 2014.

 

On friendship

shell friendship

Part of the problem with becoming a new mother was that I didn’t have any friends. That’s not to say that I was Billy No-Mates. I had many friends, but they were either at work or at my old University or left behind in America. I didn’t have any local friends, and the ones I had didn’t have any children. Consequently, when I had my first baby I felt utterly lost for adult company.

I was fortunate that it was easy to meet other mothers in my area. I went to groups run by health care practitioners, aimed at mothers and babies; I went along to toddler groups; I struck up conversations with other mothers at the library or the swimming pool. I met a lot of people.

And yet I felt so lonely.

In hindsight, I know that the missing link was connection. I had plenty of pleasant conversations with other mothers, but I’d usually get home feeling like I’d eaten a doughnut for dinner: somehow emptier than I was before I’d left the house that morning. The conversations I had with my newfound friends touched upon the practicalities of life with a baby, but skated over everything else. Sometimes the conversations felt competitive or judgmental: I didn’t parent in a mainstream way, which seemed to leave me open to criticism. Sometimes my meet-ups would take the form of an interview: me asking all the questions, doing all the listening, but never having a chance to share about myself in return.

It took a while before I met friends who were really interested in getting to know me. And I don’t mean learning about where I came from and what I did for work and what my favourite colour was. I mean authentic friends who actually wanted to know the me that is inside of me: the eternal me. Those friends were willing to connect about our parenting similarities and learn from each other, in spite of our different choices. They were willing to take the time to listen to me from their hearts to find out what lay in mine.

When I’d had a particularly bad day recently, one such friend phoned and asked whether she could pop in for a few minutes before collecting her child from school. She sat on the sofa with her cup of tea and listened as I vented about my day. At the end of our discussion, I felt calmer and more centred, like I was back to being my true, authentic self. As she left, I thought, “When a friend listens to you with her whole heart, it helps you to listen to your whole heart.” I wrote that sentence down and stuck it to the inside of my cupboard. Never again would I forget the value of wholehearted listening. Connection is the master key.

I have had many friends, but only a handful with whom I have truly, meaningfully, intimately connected. They know me, and I them. Last year I chose the word “connection” as my focus for 2014. This year I chose “joy.” Somehow I don’t think they are all that different.

©Lisa Hassan Scott 2015.

The collector

painting a house

This week a friend invited me to a group for writers. I’d previously considered attending a writers’ group, but never got up the gumption to go. It takes so much effort to go out in the evenings– apart from the one evening a week when I teach Yoga classes, which is now part of the family’s ingrained routines. Cue the detailed logistical acrobatics required when mama wants an evening out.

On Monday night I changed into my pajamas and lay down beside my youngest child to help him drop off to sleep. Once he was safely snoozing, I changed back into my clothes. If my little one had known that I was going out, the process of getting him off to sleep would have taken hours longer. I once made the mistake of lying down with him while wearing a necklace and earrings. He figured out pretty quickly that I would be going out: “Mummy, why are you wearing earrings?” That was the night I ran up the steps at the opera house, like Cinderella in reverse, racing to get into the hall before they hermetically sealed the doors, never to be opened again until the interval. I just about got there and got a workout.

Turns out writers’ group was worth the effort. It lasted about two hours and during the twenty minute writing session I jotted the following poem into my journal. Our theme was collection/obsession. I even read the poem to the 20 or so assembled people there, without being sick all over my shoes. Go me.

I hope it resonates with you. I might even go back to the group.

The collector

I am running out of places to keep it.

The locks of hair

jagged white teeth

impossibly small bracelets

leather shoes with footprints on the soles

Bits of paper with drawings:

faces with arms for ears and stick legs that poke out from the chin

triangles atop squares; a scribble that means home.

The accumulated detritus of being.

As if memories could be stored, flattened and catalogued,

arranged neatly within Swedish furniture,

or, usually, not-so-neatly in dust-covered boxes beneath the bed.

 

One day, someday, on an archaeological dig,

they will chip away the dirt,

brush away the dust

and find this.

This… what?

 

Evidence of the mundane

the profane

the arcane.

Physical evidence of a normal life,

the sum total of my motherhood, as defined by me.

 

I  hoard every memory:

first word/swear word

first step/misstep

The minutae of a family’s life, captured and hidden,

collected,

put away,

forgotten.

Til one day, little hands uncover the hoard.

(Not Roman coins, but treasure nonetheless.)

She asks, “What’s this?”

And like a criminal caught in the act, I mumble,

“It’s mine.”

 

©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott

Parenting- a review

Teika's book 002

Picking up a pen, sitting down at a computer, taking time to write: it’s a discipline. Some might call it a theft. Because it takes. It’s taking time away from all the other things I “should” be doing: the washing, the cooking, the reading of stories to little people on laps, the clapping of hands to nursery rhymes, the wiping of noses and bottoms, the scrubbing of toilets, the preparation of food, the devising of lesson plans for my paid work. Taking the time to write means that something else doesn’t get done.

Nevertheless, writing is top of my to-do list. I schedule it in and don’t allow my eyelids to close, however heavy, until I have put pen to paper… copying out quotations… listing gratitudes… jotting down an account of our day… pouring out my feelings… making lists.

Letting the mind’s ink seep down through my arm, into the hand, out the nib of my pen feels like a quest completed. When I am done, there is a release, a catharsis, the sensation that a necessary deed has been done.

If you came to my house for a meal and offered to set the table, when searching for plates you would find a curled and weathered piece of newsprint blu-tacked to the inside of the cupboard. It’s Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “Stephen Lawrence,” a poem about motherhood and loss and justice, a poem that acknowledges that Doreen Lawrence never gave up her search for justice for her son’s murder. It is a poem to read, to savour, to arrest you when emptying the dishwasher as plate after plate returns to its place on the shelf.

I like poems because they are usually short, intense morsels of thought-provoking goodness. Sometimes that’s all the reading I have time for in a day. But I love the thinking time. I want a poem that demands a re-read, a ponder, another sip of tea. My brain wants something to chew on while hanging socks on the fireguard or wiping the table or stripping sheets off a wetted bed.

Teika Bellamy asked me to review a new book published by her independent press, Mother’s Milk Books. The book is a compilation of the winning and commended prose and poetry pieces from the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize 2013. In terms of poetry and prose to chew on, I got plenty of fodder here. Though I couldn’t read the whole book in one sitting, even though it is a trim and slender volume, there were some phrases that returned to me again and again.

“I look down/and treasure/the wavy parting of her hair,/the wispy plaits/the toes that point as they step/the wistful half-smile/of her secret thoughts.”

— Alison Parkes, The Ballet Lesson

 

“a cuckoo memory/of him as a baby/sleeping like a Y”

–Jan Dean, Accident

 

“…though as I surrender to this absorption of myself into “us”, I already morn its passing, and see that he will naturally grow away from this– as I turn in, pouring myself into this dyad, he is taking what he needs from so it so that he can move on.”

–Helen Lloyd, Intimacy

Each time I read a piece I found myself turning to the author bios. Who is this woman? What is her story? How does it end? These mothers, writing these morsels of thought, distilling their mind’s ink onto the back of an envelope or a coffee-stained napkin, have chosen to put writing on the top of their to-do lists too. They have done us a great service. The washing and cooking and cleaning can wait for a few more minutes.

©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott

Disclosure: Teika sent me a free review copy of the book. I received no other payment.

Seeing and being seen

pollen

Shortly after I had my first baby a friend from work visited me. She spent plenty of time cooing over the new baby, but she got right to the heart of the matter when she asked, “So, how’s it going? How are you feeling about it all?”

Because she was a good friend, I knew I could tell her. But I hesitated a little because what I had to say seemed so unusual, even preposterous, that I wondered what her reaction might be. “It’s strange, but I sort of feel like she just knows me. I look into her eyes, and she looks back, and it’s like she’s reading my soul, and I hers. Does that sound crazy to you?”

I was surprised and relieved to see her nod in recognition. She was a mother too, and I had just verbalised a little-discussed experience for many (possibly all) mothers. Our babies, though possibly strangers to this world when they are first born, actually have a familiarity with us that we might never have expected. Here is a new person in the world, and she looks into my eyes and she sees me for who I really am. And I see her. We connect on the deepest possible level. We love each other.

Lately I have been re-reading my shelves and shelves of Yoga books, getting a fresh perspective on old (sometimes ancient) material. This week’s book, Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi revealed this little gem as I stood at the cooker stirring the risotto last night:

“We long to have someone, somewhere, even for a moment, really see us. When someone sees the ‘us’ that is our essence, we say that we feel loved. My teacher taught that the primary thing to learn is how to be this loving, accepting presence.” (2004: 179)

I immediately thought of my first experiences as a mother and the sensation that my child could see right to my very soul. I realised that even as a tiny newborn, my daughter was able to really see me. It was the first time I can remember being so completely understood by another human being. No explaining required, no words uttered, I stared into her amber-flecked eyes and felt I’d been seen.

My remembrance of this feeling, and my gratitude for it, made me wonder what it would be like to practise seeing another person’s essence. While I was running late yesterday, the librarian went on and on in her well-meaning yet somewhat droning way, and I nodded absently, conspicuously checking the clock and muttering about being late.  Taking a deep breath, I drew myself up short. I looked at her, I mean really looked. I watched her face as she spoke, I looked into her eyes, and I asked myself to see her as a human being. Another person connected to me, and to the rest of us. Someone with value. In a moment I had to rush off, but really looking at her made me listen to her and take her seriously, and most important, to hold her in my mind and heart with compassion.

At 7 this morning I wished that I had thought to do this with one of my children, who I found surreptitiously stuffing chocolate chips into her pockets and mouth. I was unhappy with the tricksy behaviour, and certainly not impressed with a chocolate breakfast. What if I had seen past the behaviour to her essence? What if I had been able to put aside what she had done, and had taken a really good look at who she is? I wonder how the very unpleasant interaction that followed might have been transformed.

Sadly, I didn’t remember to look, so it’s all subjunctive tense. (I’ll try again tomorrow.)

One more story. When I was at University, a good friend sat with her chin resting on her hand and stared at me with a contented smile on her face. “Why are you looking at me that way?” I asked her, slightly unsettled. “I’m contemplating you,” she said. What on earth did that mean, I asked. “I mean, I’m trying to see you as God sees you.”

My friend believes in an all-loving, gently benevolent God. She attempted to put on God’s spectacles, and to see me for who I really am. She was trying to see past the secondary projections and to see right to my soul. She wanted to know me, and what’s more, she wanted to love me. Even now, I marvel and think, what a friend.

How many of my daily interactions with others could be transformed by trying to see, really see past the secondary projections of personality, appearance, emotions, assumptions, education, social status, nationality, language spoken, and more? When we peel away the layers that sit atop a person’s true essence, we might be startled. Surprisingly, and wonderfully, what we see is very much like what we are.

©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott

The transience of the moment

teasel

These warm autumn days have been perfect for our morning walk. We leave the house, the five year old springing down the road like a jubilant Spaniel let off the lead. We look for the helicopters of the Sycamore, throwing them with all our might and watching them twirl to the ground. The green of leaves seeps away, replaced with red, yellow, orange, brown. Acorns and beech masts crunch beneath our feet; we stretch into the hedgerows for the last of the season’s blackberries and toss a few into our mouths.

Time is passing. I want to bottle these moments.  If I could, I’d uncap the bottle later, wave it beneath my nostrils, inhale deeply and experience them again and again and again.

I would close my eyes and smell washing hanging on the line, autumn breezes lifting the scent of leaves and cones, the top of my son’s warm head. I would remember the cool, slim fingers of my eldest child’s hand resting within mine. I would remember the gratitude in my heart that she still wants to hold my hand, and my worry that today might be the last time she willingly does.  I would remember the little ponytail at the back of my daughter’s head, how the soft, downy baby hairs beneath it curl at the nape of her neck. I would remember the slap-slap-slapping sound of my son’s feet as he runs gleefully ahead of me.

Last night I lay beside my youngest child and listened to the sound of his breath as he dropped off to sleep. He mewed a contented sound, one that only he can make. A sound that only I have heard. His dusty lashes flickered against his freckled cheek. I recalled the day he was born, when he lay his cheek against my chest and slept contentedly as I watched him. I didn’t sleep that first night. I was too busy memorising him, falling in love with him. After spending nine months carefully folded within me, like a tight bud, that night he gradually unfurled himself in my arms.

I’ve started writing down the little things the children say and do, so that one day I can go back and remember what it was like. But I rarely, if ever, write down the mundane stuff that comprises our everyday life. Those are the things I want to remember the most, but I lack the words to describe the little things. I want to hold on to what it feels like to be here in this present moment.

It came to me, the day before my son’s birthday, that I would never again be the mother of a four-year-old. The realisation was as poignant and uncomfortable as a stitch in my side. Even now, though I continue on with each day, that stitch, of knowing that these children are growing up, remains with me.  I want to put it all in a bottle, stow it in my pocket, and in quiet moments retrieve it to take a secret, quiet sniff.

But then I wonder, while I’m doing that, what would I be missing? Eyes fixed on that bottle, fussing with the lid, what little things would evade my notice? To spend too much time thinking of what I’m missing, I’d be missing what I’ve already got. No. The only way is to remain in the present moment, to cherish each whiff of the now, to inhale deeply of every moment of family life. The memories will always be there, but this moment is passing quickly away. And it is too vast, too expansive, too rich to be confined within a bottle.

©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott.

Thank you to Amanda at Writealm for providing the prompt for this post, “flicker.”

Moments and moments

shoreline

My daughter and I have started playing a new game in the swimming pool. The opponents face each other and each person crosses their forearms and grabs the others’ wrists. While treading water, the players wrestle in a bid to tap their opponent on the head. It’s hard! And it makes us laugh, dunk under and spray water like dolphins. She loves it and she’s good at it.

There are moments in parenting that feel like this game. These moments lack the fun, laughter and silly antics of the pool game. Instead, it just feels as though I am treading water and wrestling needlessly with my children. That I am losing and sinking… or giving up the fight in exasperation and exhaustion.

Sometimes we argue about the most ridiculous things. Like when the children were playing tug-o-war in the pool changing rooms and I lost it because the loud noise in the echoey confined space was too much for me on the day the kettle broke (i.e., no coffee). Or when I came into the kitchen and a fresh loaf of bread had been hacked to bits leaving an Armageddon of crumbs and unusable bread hunks all over the work surface and floor. I turned into one of those cartoon characters with smoke coming out of my ears and red flowing up to my face like a thermometer rising.

In those moments I want to scream and shout, make an about-face and stamp out of the room to play with my toys all – by – myself.

Then there are other moments that are wonderful (and often the hard moments and the great moments are within, well, moments of each other). Like today, when I suggested that we cycle to our local nature reserve for a picnic, some nature journaling and time in the play park.  Yes, they wanted to go! And please, could they help make the picnic? And shall I get your bike panier down, mummy? And shall I open the garage so we can start getting the bikes out? And what do you want on your sandwich, mummy? And, (this is my favourite one) “I love it when we do these things together!”

I do too. When we are cheerfully pulling together to do the same thing, it feels as though we are a river flowing steadily and easily downstream. When we are both enthusiastic and engaged, it feels as though we are working together as one, like a key in a lock, like fitting the last piece in a puzzle and discovering the sense it makes. We all feel good when we are in flow together. The wrestling and wrangling that took place in the last half hour seems a memory away.

For me, the important thing to remember is that these moments come and go. In general, we have more flow moments than wrangling moments. But sometimes the wrangling moments are so distressing and unpleasant, it’s easy to forget that most of the time we flow.  I have to remind myself that there are big important loving feelings that underpin this family, in spite of the petty (and not-so-petty) squabbles we have every day. Sometimes it’s worth remembering that when we stop treading water or get tired of the struggle, the pool isn’t really that deep. There’s a firm floor beneath our feet, from which we can kick off and try again.

I’m reminded of my newly-five-year-old son’s bedtime unhappiness last week. He was hanging tired, hardly able to keep his eyes open, in the midst of an angry tantrum. In a bid to gentle him to my side I said, “But you’re my special boy, and I want to snuggle you.” Between angry screams he shouted, “Well you’re my special girl. But I don’t like you anymore!”

That pretty much sums it up.

©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott.

Maybe the Trolls Were Right

sunset

Several years ago I wrote this post about toddlers and sharing. It is my most popular post by far, still getting several hundred hits every month.  To me, some of the angry comments at the end of that post (including some of the incredibly insulting, trollish ones I didn’t approve) are evidence of how anger, dogma and blind retribution often prevails over empathy and connection. When it comes to dealing with our children, our most treasured and unique gifts in life, it strikes me as very sad. I shake my head and continue on my own path of as-gentle-as-my-human-limitations-and-upbringing-let-me-be parenting, and I worry very little about what other people say.

Those are the good days. And they are in the majority.

Then there are the days when my children are having a screaming match with all the windows open, thumping up the stairs in a rage, slamming doors, shouting, “I HATE you, you ignorant little twerp!” (Thank you JK Rowling for introducing that particular phrase to my household.) There are the days when I haven’t spoken to another adult all day and am trying to transact a single piece of business (buying a stamp at the post office) and my children are tugging at my threadbare cardigan, talking at the same time as the post office clerk, begging plaintively for little packets of balloons or loom bands. There are the days when they speak rudely, ask repeatedly, ignore me, hit each other and pretty much show off the worst sides of their personalities.

On those days, a little voice inside me says, “Maybe those trolls were right.” Maybe the people who said that I was raising a little tyrant had insight. Maybe when they said that my children would grow up unable to socialise, those commenters had heretofore unknown clairvoyant skills. Maybe they could tell the future, and the future is now!

This is the point when I drop my face into my hands and have a little cry and wonder where I’ve gone wrong.

But that little voice inside is really rather little, in fact. It is so tiny (and I have worked hard to reduce its size over the years) that the bigger, stronger voices within me know that this is only catastrophizing, hyperbole… and plain ridiculous.

None of us is perfect. When I was a kid, I remember thumping up the stairs, slamming doors and calling my brother names. Even now, there are days when I scream and shout and stamp my feet in anger, frustration or disappointment.  When I was a kid I interrupted my parents all the time, wanted every toy in every shop and forgot my manners rather a lot. It took me time to learn. Even now, I get so wrapped up in my own enthusiasm that I interrupt people. We are all learning, all of the time. And if my children can’t express their less-than-publicly-palatable feelings at home, where can they?

I know that I am not the only traveller in the land of parenting self-doubt. It is at these times that I have to take myself by the shoulders and give myself a little shake. I have to turn my woeful gaze from my own personal pity party and look at my children, really look at them, and enumerate to myself all of the ways they are wonderful.

In The Hobbit, the curious thing that Bilbo discovers about the Mountain Trolls is that they turn to stone when the sun rises. Sometimes when we take the things those critics in the dark say about us (or our children), pick the lint off and lay them on the table, they look different. The fact of the matter is, when looked at in the light of day, those trolls turn to stone. They don’t know me, and they don’t know my children. I’m doing my best, staying true to my heart, and these kids are coming out just fine.

In fact, better than fine.

©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott.