Friday was definitely one of those days that I should consign to the hopeless-parenting dustbin. I guess you know the kind of day I mean. I start with hopes of having a chilled, child-led day at home, and by the end of it I feel that ALL I have done is nag, raise my voice, and feel regret. We did manage to make our advent calendar together, based on some of the great ideas I’ve picked up from reading crafty-leaning blogs. But not without me feeling absolute despair for significant periods, and my daughter, probably, wondering why her mother can’t just relax. So what if she didn’t want to do it all in one go? So what if she wants to stop to smack her – admittedly into everything – little brother on the head for the umpteenth time as he tries to mess with her stuff? And why does her mum care so much about her keeping her slippers on? (In my defence it is bleepin’ cold in the house we are currently renting, and she’s already got a snuffly nose).
The day before, my grandfather had died (stay with me, there is a link). Now, don’t go thinking, ‘well, there you go, no wonder you were on a short fuse – cut yourself some slack, Leoarna’. I was not close to my grandfather. Not at all. I didn’t even meet him until I was 17. I visited a few times around that time, and then lost touch. 18, no 19 years later, my mum and I drive over to Hampshire for the funeral of her Uncle, my Grandfather’s youngest brother. My mum and I are standing in the street outside the home of her Uncle, when an elderly man hobbles over to us and asks where the Wake is, as he’s realised he’s missed the service itself. I recognised him, and so did my mum – but he didn’t recognise us. Later, in the pub, I pointed out the sadness of our disconnection to him in pretty clear terms. On the way home my mum commends me for having been so straight talking with him, and in doing so betrays much of her own fear of confronting him. It was easy for me to be uncompromising with him precisely because I felt no familial attachment to him. But my mum, despite all he had put her through and all that he hadn’t done for her, was still thinking of him in terms of that stern, cold and distant soul who’d lived in the same house with her until she was nine.
Gerry never earned the label ‘father’, or ‘grandfather’, not even in his last few, more mellow, years. Mum and I did go on to visit him periodically after that funeral, for the best part of a decade, right up until his death this week. In fact, mum has done quite a lot of talking to medical professionals and social workers, sorting out his belongings, and taking things in to hospital for him, over the last few months. In short, she’s done the things decent adult sons and daughters do when the end is nigh for their aging parent. It really put her through the wringer to do it, as he continued to be uncommunicative, unappreciative and frankly, undeserving. And now he’s gone, it is hard to know how she really feels; relief? Closure? Nothing much at all?
I did think over Gerry’s death on and off during Friday. It even brought me a little perverse pleasure to recognise that my gut response to the event was to want to blog, so wedded to this outlet am I, after only a relatively short period of time. But I always want the blog to say something that approximates meaningful about parenting, and I pondered the angles for a while, uncertain how to proceed. And then, after feeling exasperation rise within me in response to my beautiful but feisty little girl for the zillionth time that day, it struck me. You have to earn your parenting stripes. I have to earn mine, and I am just as likely to fail as Gerry did, should I give up trying on the days that feel tough, like this one.
The most honest thing I can tell you is that I sometimes feel so stuck in a moment with my darling daughter; we are as a needle jumping on scratched vinyl, endlessly repeating unproductive exchanges, failing to proceed with our song. I worry a lot that I am somehow impairing our relationship for the long-term by never finding the way off this particular roundabout; that we’ll always be a bit, well, spiky, with each other. But Gerry’s death, and the thought of all that he didn’t do for my mum, had me re-realise what I do do for my girl. I keep on trying to get it right. I don’t give up. I say sorry when I’ve shouted or nagged too much. I try to break the tension with cuddles, giggles or silliness. I always end her day with a declaration of my feelings for her, in those snuggly moments just before I say ‘night night’. I soul-search with my hubby for solutions, I read, discuss, and try to be honest with myself. Gerry did none of this throughout his 61 years as a father. I know that I will strive every day, forever, to be the best, most humble mum my child could ever wish for. There will be many more days like Friday where I feel I have got it wrong with a capital w. For all his shortcomings, and although he’ll never know it, Gerry will now be one of the best teachers I will ever have. His mistakes are my guides and, bizarre as it may seem, I am grateful to him for the reminder of how horribly wrong it can go, if you give up trying to get it right for your kids.
(And if the blogging-parents community has shown me anything in the last month or so, it is that there is a great deal of comforting shared experience between us all. Please feel free to share how you’re getting on with earning your stripes…)