“Mummy, when I grow up, can I be a mermaid?” Rosie is wearing one of her princess costumes – a pink velour tabard with tulle tutu. (It’s a hand-me-down from her cousin. I’m against all things pink and princessy, but I’ve given in for now, hoping it’s a passing phase.) She’s twirling about on the landing while I prepare our dinner.

“Yes,” I say, and she does a few quick skips. I then wonder whether I shouldn’t inject some realism into this discussion. What if she’s crushed by the disappointment of not becoming a mermaid later in life? I think, rather irrationally.

“Actually,” I say, “I think you have to be born a mermaid. You can’t become one.”

Rosie looks at me with serious eyes. “Why?”

I immediately regret my candour. “Well, actually, I don’t know. Maybe you can. Let’s see.”

“Ok!” And she leaps off, lost in a world of glitter and roses.

I’m amazed at how resilient she has proven to be. She “loves big school” – for now – and seems to have settled into her new routine quite quickly. My child minder asked me the other day whether I have to pry the smile off her face when she’s sleeping (actually, she’s pretty sour-faced in slumber). I wonder whether it is obvious to anyone that she is the child of an alcoholic dad, and a mum who has been battling rage for so long that shouting has been, until recently, her default volume. In the face of all this, Rosie’s ability to adapt and carry on is admirable, remarkable even.

But beneath all the mirth and general silliness (she says “poo” at least 30 times a day) beats a bruised and sensitive heart. As we were walking through the park today, she collected some maple seeds (“aeroplanes”, she calls them). “When Daddy comes back from the doctor, I can show them to him,” she said. Later, she told him about them on the phone. “I hid them in a special place, Daddy,” she said. “I’m not going to tell you. It’s a surprise.”

As we get ready for bed, I remind her that we won’t be going to see Ben this weekend. “Why?” she asks.

“Because you have music and then ballet, and Mummy’s tired,” I say. “Is that ok? Will you be ok?”

“I’ll be ok, Mummy,” she replies. “But poor Daddy.”

And then, as she is dropping off to sleep, we talk about the future. “Mummy might have to work every school day,” I say (at the moment, I work four days/week). “But maybe by then, Daddy will be better and he will be able to collect you from school. So it won’t be so bad.”

Rosie is quiet for a bit. Then she says: “But maybe Daddy will start drinking coffee again.” (Somewhere along the way, Rosie has confused coffee with beer, and I’ve not bothered to clear up the confusion.)

“Are you scared he will drink coffee again?” I ask.

“Yes. Are you?”

There are many answers I could give to this question. I could pretend and say something reassuring. But we’re not talking about mermaids any more.

“Yes,” I say, and give her a big cuddle and kiss goodnight.

Within minutes, she is asleep.



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11 thoughts on “Rosie

  1. I think children/kids know a lot more than we, adults, give them credit for. Even as a child I knew and understood more than my parents thought I did. My mother stayed with my father longer than she should have. He didn’t love her and he cheated on her more than once. I always sensed that my father wasn’t all that interested in us (me, my brothers, and my mother) so when he left us 16 years ago I wasn’t really surprised. It didn’t make it any easier, but it wasn’t a shock. This is why it’s so important that you think of Rosie first, yourself second, and Ben last. She’s eventually going to reach an age where she’ll be able to make the distinction between “coffee” and “alcohol”.

    You’re headed in the right direction. You’re looking out for you and Rosie. Right now, that’s what’s most important.

  2. It’s amazing how much that they understand. You are doing a great job. Try not to feel guilty about working or the changes in her life. (I struggle with guilt daily.) Children really are resilient and they recognize when a parent is doing things for the right reasons (like working after school). I am amazed every day by my boys.

  3. Hi. I certainly could relate to this post! When my parents were going through a rough time in their marriage (an ongoing issue for years and years and years) and were trying to keep it from their kids …I used to ask my mom, “are you and dad fighting”. She would reply, “No, everything is just fine! Why would you think that?” I KNEW it wasn’t fine and felt angry that I wasn’t being told the truth. I could feel the stress and tension in the air! It was confusing as a child to ‘feel’ one thing and to be told another. I am glad that you replied, “Yes,” when Rosie asked you if you were afraid her dad would start drinking ‘coffee’ again? She KNOWS that you are going through a rough time, and to not deny this fact, will help her to trust her feelings/intuition. It’s such a fine line between being honest, and protecting our kids from the truth. A balancing act made so difficult by not knowing what to say and what such a little one can handle hearing and processing! Too much information, Too little information. Information not presented in the right way, or at the right time. Jeepers….it’s so hard. As much as we truly want to, we just can’t protect our children from the terrible realities of life. It is part of living…there are hurts and there is sadness. It’s just so hard to break this to little ones who are so beautifully innocent. Our instinct is to protect them. You are doing a good job. Take care.

    • Thanks, Shelley. I’m really glad you said this. I try to be honest with her. I’ve been there before (tough family life growing up), and having grown up with too many lies, I’ve decided that honesty is really the only way forward. I may be economical with that truth from time to time, to spare the little one’s feelings, but at the end of the day, she needs the truth – as you say – so she can make sense of what she’s feeling. tx

  4. I’ve recently discovered your blog. I’ve been catching up, especially from the point your husband went to rehab. I’ve been struck by so many similarities in our experiences, but especially the detail of your daughter’s comment about coffee. In our house, my husband’s “going out for coffee” really meant going out to drink. One day my at the time 10 year old son asked me, “Why does Daddy fall asleep after going out for coffee? I thought coffee wakes you up.” I told him that his dad wasn’t really drinking coffee when he went out. “Is it alcohol?” my son whispered, with tears in his eyes.
    I wish you strength and courage on your journey.

    • That is heart-breaking, weeping oak, and I admire you for being honest with your son. Is your husband seeking treatment now? Or is he still sneaking out for “coffee” and passing out on the couch? My daughter’s abiding memory of her father is of him passed out on the sofa. Sometimes I wonder whether we will ever get past it all. Thank you for visiting and reading my posts. I hope they offer some solace or advice.

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