As mother rants go it’s pretty spectacular. It starts with a little sentence that can serve no useful end. Even as I begin to form the words I know I should stop. But they tumble out anyway. I have a captive, sleepy-eyed audience. It’s 8.35. The last one has just joined us in the car after an excessive tooth brushing session. We’re later than ever, which is saying something.
‘Do you know what my own mother used to have to do to get me off to school?’ There. It’s out. And I feel better already. Something is released in me, an endorphin or a drop of oxytocin. I’m about to enjoy myself.
‘Nothing’ I say to my unresponsive audience. ‘Nothing at all. I got my uniform ready the night before, organised my lunch, packed my bag, set my alarm’.
‘That’s because…’ someone says but isn’t allowed to continue. I’ve only just begun.
‘In fact the only thing she had to do was sign my homework notebook. And do you think she had to go looking for it, like I do? No, I’d hand it to her, when all the homework was done. She didn’t even need to check’.
‘Do you know what time I get up in the morning to try to get you all to school on time? 6.15. And here we are, late again, after I’ve done everything, every little thing for you’.
‘It’s because you do everything for us…’
‘And I used to get the bus, no-one ferrying me to school…’
‘We’d love to get the bus, if only you’d let us’.
‘You’re too little to get the bus. And I used to always be early for school, early, and here I am now after being up for two and a half hours, late as hell…’
‘That’s because you get us up too late’. Oh yes. The blame game. Now where do they get that from?
‘I get you up late because you’re going to bed too late and I don’t want you falling asleep in school’. They’re onto something, of course, but I can’t let on. I hate waking them in the morning. Always have. Always will. It seems like I’m starting the day with a little act of cruelty when I stand over their snores and then try to cajole them out of their beautiful slumber with pet names. Time to toughen up. Which is exactly what I’m doing now.
‘You need to start doing more for yourselves when it comes to getting ready for school, for your own good, so you can learn independence’.
‘But you’re always doing everything for us, every time I look at you you’re busy doing something for us, but if you just stopped we’d be able to do it for ourselves’. True. Verging on cheeky, but true. I have a saying, get out of their way and let them show you. Which plays out well in all arenas except when it comes to the high rising blood pressure of school. I’m embroiled. Hovering over homework. Scrubbing lunch boxes. Cursing lunches. Laundering uniforms. Producing matching socks, magically, on occasion. Down to the very last detail. I’m up to my martyred neck in it.
Marque 3 and marque 4 are thick as thieves now, backing one another up with their line that if only I’d get out of the way they’d be doing it all for themselves. Marque 5 must be picking up on the hint of a gang up and chimes in, every few seconds, with ‘I love you Mum’. Which works a treat as I then try to turn it all positive. We’re about a minute from the school. I’d better be quick. I compliment marque 4 on how he has everything organised in his bedroom and I bet he’d be able to do some of the stuff for himself for school. I say how marque 5 is always up first and ready, and I bet he’d be able to prepare his clothes and some of his lunch the night before. I screech to a halt. We’re out of time. Marque 3 does not get a positive light shone upon him. Which is a shame as he is naturally the most organised of us all. He always knows where everything is. Always has his homework done without any help at all. He is organised and motivated and happy, but easily bruised by a ranting perfectionistic streaked mother who fails to acknowledge the abundance of good little things in all the chaos. As he walks ahead of us, something he never does, the guilt kicks in. Because the flip side of a rant is always guilt. We usually banter and chat all the way to the school. Today he strides ahead, hood up, even though it’s not raining. Protecting himself. The impulse to run up after him, to dish him a bit of a compliment before he faces into a long day at school is strong in me. But I let him go. Adding a mortification onto what ever he is currently feeling probably wouldn’t help at all. Later, I tell myself. I’ll remember to compliment him later.
I chastise myself all day. I’m very good at it. How could I send them off like that? Why didn’t I just stop myself when the sneaky little comparative voice began to rattle? What could possibly be gained from making them feel bad about themselves before school? That they’re not quite reaching the standards I set for myself as a child? Why didn’t they just go ahead and say ‘well we can’t all be goody two-shoes like you’? I know well that I can’t compare the two situations. Different times. Different constraints. Different challenges. It makes no sense, whatsoever, to say they should be more like I was. I’m so glad that they’re not more like I was.
They emerge from their labours in good form. There’s no trace of rant residue in their little faces. And yet. They do their homework quickly and well without much prompting. By night time marque 5 is down with a chest infection and I’m lying down upstairs with him. Fast breathing, inhaler using sick. He tosses and turns and coughs and wakes. It takes an age before he settles. I’m going back downstairs thinking about all there is to be done to prepare for tomorrow. I’m greeted by marque 4 on the stairs.
‘I’ve made my lunch and packed my bag for tomorrow’ he says. In the hall his luminous green bag lies. Right by the front door, ready. In the sitting room I find marque 3, folding up his uniform for the morning.
‘I just need a tie’ he says ‘oh and I’ve made my lunch’.
In the morning I get up later than usual. There’s not that much for me to do. A full half hour before I’m due to wake them, they emerge. Marque 4, it turns out, has set an alarm. They get dressed straight away without a single word from me. I hover redundantly while they busy themselves with breakfast. At this rate I could sneak back to bed for a bit. It must be a dream I’m having. We arrive at the school so early – 8.30 – that the doors aren’t anywhere near to being open yet. They’ll have to kill time with their friends as they wait to be let in. This has never, ever, happened before. I drive off with marque 5, and on the journey I see the people who are regularly on time for school making their way. We’re going in the opposite direction. It’s a enough of a thrill to last for a while. Even if this is a once-off. As their father said, laughing, before leaving the house this morning ‘be careful what you say to them, they obviously listen’. Indeed. A good old mother rant doesn’t do any harm, it seems, after all.