To Assume, Makes an Ass out of U and Me
My kids fight. Not proper punch ups or anything, just normal bickering which sometimes leads to shoving (Martha) or elbow barging (Archie), tapping on the head in a patronising manner (Martha) or tripping up his sisters as he nonchalantly walks past (Archie). Then there’s Mabel, who has not yet learnt to be subtle and discreet in her reactions to being wound up by her loving siblings. Siblings who metaphorically poke and prod her – smiling, beautiful little assassins – until her little self explodes and it’s a wonder no steam actually comes from her ears! Her arms swing wildly, her screams pierce our ear drums and her tears fall with gusto.
If I thought she didn’t give as good as she got, I would have a smidgen of sympathy. But, I don’t. Not really. I have little tolerance for it and very little sympathy for any of them when it inevitably ends in tears.
Of course, I heal wounded pride with a Mummy cuddle and I scold and scream blue murder when appropriate, but I have recently noticed that I have become the mother that sings smugly, “It’ll all end in tears, mark my words!”
I enjoy it. The smugness of knowing the inevitable outcome.
That crept up on me, I didn’t notice me become such a cliche and by the time I realised…. well, it’s too late. I enjoy preaching from high on my pedestal too much now to even attempt reining it in.
They’re also pretty good actors (also read liars) when it comes to being hurt and who has hurt them. This has, in the past led to the wrong kid being blamed and sympathy doled out where it didn’t belong.
No longer. I have learnt my lesson. I have explained to my children about the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. How telling fibs too many times can lead to your downfall. I have enjoyed telling the old fable and watching their wide-eyed horror.
“So, he got eaten?”
“Yes, Martha,” I replied smugly. “No one believed him – they thought he was just kidding again, so they ignored his cries for help.”
“By a wolf?”
“Yes, by a pack of wolves if memory serves me correctly.”
“But, that’s awful!” Archie piped up. “Why didn’t he just run to the town?”
“Because he had to look after his flock of sheep.” Doh!
“But, better to save himself and let a few sheep die than get eaten by the wolves,” he told me, as if I were stupid.
“Well, that’s the story, Arch, and to be honest, I’m not interested in the finer detail, I want you to understand the message. Tell me fibs and try and pull the wool over my eyes,” – I was seriously impressed with my own pun here! – “And, eventually I won’t believe you when you have been hurt. I won’t care.”
“You won’t care?” Mabel asked, looking shocked.
“Well, no., of course, I’ll care. But I might not respond as quickly as I might if I wasn’t thinking you were telling fibs and play-acting about being hurt, because you DO IT ALL THE TIME!” I ended with a dramatic flourish.
I’d like to report they got the message, but nothing changed. Perhaps it’s the way I told it?!
I got a phone call this afternoon, one that would have been half alarming, had we not had several recent calls to alert us that my father’s new epilepsy alert watch was either not “talking” to his new smart phone (this is a whole new world for my father and warrants a whole book being written on the subject!) or that the monitoring centre had received some alarm calls from the watch.
They had three notifications within a minute this afternoon of my father’s possible descent into a violent epileptic fit. Three.
“We have tried both numbers we have for him,” the nice chap at the end of the phone line stated, calmly. “Can you please arrange for someone to check on him?”
Of course I could. I called my big brother. What are brothers for?
My bro was not impressed. He’s had several calls over the past few days, apparently. He is the first contact on the list of emergency contacts for the monitoring centre and so he is the first person they call. Each time over the past few days the reason for the alarm has been because my father has forgotten to take the phone with him when he goes anywhere. Therefore the watch cannot talk to the phone and an alarm goes off. It’s all very complicated, but he basically needs the two items on him at all times, so that should he have a seizure, we can locate him on his phone’s GPS.
Except, my father is not used to having a phone on 24/7, never-mind having it with him at all times. The urge for him to turn it off must be overwhelming. The fear that he is wasting money just having it turned on is very real. We are hoping that the fun of receiving photos of the kids on WhatsApp and being able to FaceTime us all whenever he wants, will counteract the discomfort of having a mobile phone actually turned on.
So, my while brother rang the neighbour to ask him to go round and check on my father, I tried to call Dad. Half of me expecting him to answer, the other half on high alert, swallowing down a rising panic that this call centre had already tried to call him on both the home phone and his posh new mobile and he’d not answered. Why had he not answered?
He answered to me.
“Dad! You okay?”
“Yes, I’ve been baking.”
“We’ve had a call, Dad. Your alarm has gone off. They’ve tried to call you a few times.”
“Yes, I couldn’t see the green button to answer it. Only the red one was on the screen so I pressed that.”
“And, you’re okay?”
“Oh yes, I’ve been baking and this silly watch slipped up over my jumper sleeve a few times. Half pound biscuits – Mum’s old recipe.”
I didn’t attempt to re-tell the old “Boy Who Cried Wolf” fable to my dad. There’s not much he can do about his sleeve and getting used to having to carry a phone around with him, will of course take time.
I just hope that if the wolves decide to go hunting, we won’t simply assume.
My mum was always a bit dramatic. Or at least, that’s what we assumed.
The year or so leading up to her dementia diagnosis, so around 2014 / 2015 she was diagnosed with depression. It had displayed itself through a lack of confidence and odd, acerbic behaviour towards people at random moments.
Mum had a bit of a history of emotional behaviour and episodes of being quite low over the years, so we put it down to that. It was just Mum being Mum – “her and her low self esteem! FFS!” – roll of the eyes, shrug of the shoulders, a half smile to each other to acknowledge our clear understanding of our overly emotional mother.
She always had the potential to be high maintenance, but it never really got to that. She was too normal, too self-deprecating and assured of herself to succumb to her confidence issues, but they were always lying in wait – under the surface, ready to make her feel unworthy and not good enough. And, that’s all it was – a need to feel needed and good enough.
She was needed.
She was more than good enough.
But then, a year or two before the hell started, she began to swoon. She would get up out of a chair, or we’d be waiting for her to get her shoes on so we could go out and she’d stand against the kitchen counter, holding on to the cabinet door as if for dear life and she’d sway and swoon, like she was riding a ship on a choppy sea.
My sister and I thought it was a form of attention seeking. We thought she was being dramatic. She had been displaying sometimes odd behaviours; snappiness, acerbic comments and unnecessary meanness out of nowhere. She complained of bad headaches and then the weird swooning started. We assumed it was all attention-seeking nonsense. She’d been tested for this and that, blood tests that showed she was normal, scans that showed nothing out of the ordinary. She was even sent to a tropical disease clinic in London to check she’d not picked anything strange up on a holiday to Egypt that might have caused her bad heads and strange dizziness.
After all the tests, we assumed that she needed to get a grip. We were feeling strong. We weren’t going to fall for it and pander to her emotional neediness. It was depression. The doctors had told us so. She needed to pull herself together. I even had a hard word with her one day, after she’d been mean to me for no reason. I sat down and had an emotional chat with her about how her behaviour was upsetting for us all. How we would support her in getting help and getting better. How she was worthy of everything and how we all loved her and wanted her to be well.
She said she would try harder.
She meant it.
A while later, when the hell started, I read somewhere that depression and accentuated odd behaviours can often be the start of dementia.
The wolves had circled, snarling, frothing at the mouth, ready to pounce and we’d ignored them. They’d growled loudly, unashamed and unembarrassed about their impending attack and what did I do?
I turned away.
I blamed. I judged. I preached.
I bloody preached! From high up on my f**king pedestal.
And I assumed.
If I could, I would tell her I was sorry. I wasn’t good enough. She’d deserved better.
And, if one of my children cries out in pain tomorrow morning whilst scuffling with a sibling, I will shrug off the urge to assume it is a false alarm. Instead, I will jump down from on high and run so bloody fast and scoop them up into my arms and somehow make it all better.
I didn’t do it for my mother, I couldn’t have made it better, even if I’d tried. I know that now. But the bloody sad and poignant point is?….
I didn’t try.
I will try for for my children.
I miss you, Mum x