I think it was Sylvia Plath* who lamented, whilst writhing with a boa constrictor, “I know I may be young, but I have feelings too.”
Such has been the message from the five year old these past few weeks, since finding out that we are relocating to Amsterdam at the end of the school year. Of course, as a five year old, she is unable to immediately articulate the source of her dissatisfaction, and so this message is being conveyed primarily through a dedicated campaign that rapid-fires crying, complaining and unsolicited demands with a stamina hitherto unseen. She used to have The Worst Day Of Her Life about once a week. Now it’s every other day.
She doesn’t want to leave her teacher. Her teacher is like a real life Miss Honey from Matilda. I hasten to add that my daughter is not a real life Matilda.
“You’re not leaving her, “ I try to explain on the walk home from school. It is not an easy conversation, mainly because she is clutching my leg and hiding under my coat, whilst I push the buggy. No-one will believe this when I write it on the blog, I think, and so I take a photo as evidence:
Say what you want about my parenting, but my pursuit of an accurate portrayal of it cannot be questioned.
“We are going in the summer holidays,” I continue, limping the buggy forward with my troubled middle child clamped onto my leg like a frisky terrier. “You’d have had a different teacher in year two anyway.”
“Year Two? The Year Two teachers are scary!” she exclaims tearfully.
“Great! They won’t teach you! Because we’ll have gone by then!”
This settles her momentarily.
The seven year old then chimes in with some badly-timed optimism: “I can’t wait for Christmas in the Netherlands.”
And the five year old is off again: “We’re going to be there at CHRISTMAS?!”
My Lawyer is naturally curious as to why I have a bruised imprint of a five year old on my leg, and so I relay the exchange. He immediately has a solution. Immediate Solutions seem to come so easily to those who aren’t the primary care-giver.
“She needs more attention,” he says.
“Not humanly possible,” I say.
“Yes, it’s simple; she just needs more one on one time with you.”
“You’re wrong,” I shake my head emphatically. “I think it’s the goldfish.”
“It’s not the bloody goldfish.”
Long-time readers of this now five-post blog will know that we currently have one goldfish, belonging to the seven year old, which is presenting some practical issues in terms of animal relocation. This time last year, there were two goldfish, hastily bought when I read something online about children grieving more healthily about people dying if they’ve ever lost a pet. Goldfish don’t live very long, so basically I bought them a goldfish each so we could watch them die after the allotted six months and my kids wouldn’t grow up to be psychopaths. Lara’s goldfish died almost immediately and she was devastated. RESULT, I thought. That’s her grief mechanism sorted. That is London Wanker Parenting Level One.
But. What if it worked too well? Did I over-sensitize her to forthcoming loss? Or perhaps she is responding normally. Could it be that the seven year old, whose goldfish just WON’T FUCKING DIE, is displaying a sociopathic level of acceptance and blind optimism about the move?
In desperation I turn once again to my pal Dr Genevieve Von Lob, whose forthcoming book on mindful parenting, Five Deep Breaths, can’t come soon enough. She tells me that the five year old is in a transition age between being “reactive”, i.e. waiting for things to happen and then reacting to the situation, and being proactive, i.e. being able to anticipate future events and be ready with a suitable response to it. The seven year old has now developed these abilities, and has a greater understanding of timeframes.
“So – not the goldfish?” I check.
“Not the goldfish,” confirms Gen. “Young kids are like fine tuning forks, picking up on the feelings of adults around them. It’s not so much what you say to her as to how she feels when she’s around you.”
Things get worse. The girls of the house get sick with chest infections. The five year old’s meltdowns are now punctuated by consumptive coughing fits, and I lose my voice for a full week. The Fog Horn and The Mute. My Lawyer and the two boys are seemingly immune. There they are, doing lego, speaking in their normal voices, not coughing up phlegm or giving a general shit.
I pick up the five year old from school at the end of our stricken week. Her teacher meets me to say that the five year old has had the mother of all meltdowns about the move. She says they talked about different ways that she could stay in touch with her friends; the school blog, Skype, good old fashioned letters. As the teacher talks to me, the five year old stumbles out of the classroom, looking puffy-eyed and bewildered. And all I can do is nod, partly because I have lost my voice, and partly because if I say anything, I will cry too. Both the five year old and I find great comfort in our local friends. We do not want to leave them.
My Lawyer has gone out for the evening, so whilst the kids watch some telly, I text him to convey this terrible tale from the classroom. He replies quickly: “This is AWFUL.” I feel a little better. “Have a nice eve!” I reply, as I run the kids’ bath.
Later that evening, the five year old loiters in the bath whilst the other two indulge in some more carefree lego.
“I was sad today, mama,” she confides.
“I know,” I wheeze. Actually, my hoarse whisper sounds very sincere and this feels like it could be an intimate and important conversation between us. The five year old is looking at me more intently than usual, and so I dare to continue. “I am sad that I will miss my friends, too. But it will be exciting to tell them all about our new adventure, don’t you think?”
She continues to stare back thoughtfully, and then reaches a hand out towards my face. I think, this is one of those watershed moments. We will both remember this forever. I lean forward so she can stroke my face.
She puts her finger up my nose. “I’m trying to feel your brain.”
A special moment.
*Yes fine, it’s Britney’s Slave 4 U. The Britney back catalogue seems to offer a quote for every five year old meltdown imaginable. Make of that what you will.