Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right…


Lately, I’ve been under siege. I’m fire-fighting on multiple fronts. There’s Rosie, with her daily distress (the underpant issue has been replaced by the undershirt one). There’s work – the jokers (aka. our senior managers) have asserted total dominance over our organisation and all we can do is strike to make our points heard. And then there’s Ben who, for the first time in a long time, isn’t really a source of discontent, only mild discomfort.

There’s also my RSI, which has flared up in response to some rather intense pressure at work (when I’m not striking, I’m working ridiculously fast – writing and editing a flurry of texts on anything from military sexual slavery to disappearances in Thailand).

So, this blog has slowed down a bit. Partly because of the multilateral battle I’m waging, partly because of the pain in my hands, and partly because I struggle to find the words to tell this new story in which Rosie and I are pitted against one another like two factions in a wearying war.

All I can say is each day is difficult. Each day is uncertain (will we get to school in time or will she chuck a fit about her vest or t-shirt riding up, causing her to tear off her clothes at the 11th hour and consign us to the late register again?).

Today we managed to get out the door without incident. Tomorrow, we will try to do the same, but there is no guarantee we will succeed. Everything hinges on Rosie’s mood. And how well I manage it.

As for Ben, he moved out of the rehab centre and is now in sheltered accommodation, which means he’s effectively homeless. He’s got a room in a house somewhere in south London. He says it’s ok. His ok is my gross, so I won’t be taking Rosie to visit. I don’t really want her seeing him in those conditions. She will ask why he isn’t here and that will take us into difficult territory.

I asked him how he feels about leaving rehab and he seems relaxed about it. The centre has allowed him to attend their day programme. That lasts until the first week of December. Then he’s on his own. The house he’s staying in is a dry house – no alcohol allowed. And the rehab centre offers permanent aftercare. But what he does with his time once the programme ends, I really don’t know. I wonder how easily he might slip back into drinking. Then I decide there is no point in wondering. As long as he’s not here, I can deal with it.

Ben stayed over this weekend, to observe Rosie’s behaviour and try to talk to her. I’ve found myself turning to him more often than I’d imagined as I’ve tried to cope with her tantrums. Watching him manage her issues with clothing was educational. Ben is calm where I am not. His strategy is to keep calm and keep talking. It worked to some extent. He has a way with her that calms her down. I only seem to wind her up.

There wasn’t much to Ben staying over. Although we complained during our counselling sessions that we don’t get a chance to actually speak, and therefore have no way of evaluating where we are in our “relationship”, we had a whole night in which to do just that – and didn’t.

Instead, we watched The Killing (the original Danish version, of course). When we weren’t watching TV, Ben was on the computer and I was pottering. We said nothing to each other, apart from, “What did she say?” or “What happened while I was in the loo?”

Later, when I went off to bed, I tossed a while, thinking I should be in the other room chatting to Ben. And then I fell asleep and the opportunity slipped away with the night.



“You’re the most beautiful, cleverest girl I know”


Rosie and I are walking to school this morning. She’s chatting away, her words getting eaten up by the traffic roaring beside us. The wind splays her hair in all directions and her eyelashes are like the sun’s rays, beating warmly against her cheeks.

“Do you know?” I say to her. “You’re the most beautiful girl I know.” She looks down with an uncertain smile.

“And you know what else?” She looks at me, eyes round. “You’re the cleverest little girl I know, too.”

She grins, and walks proudly. “Smarter than Leah?” she asks.

“Well, I don’t know Leah,” I say. “But I do know you. And you are clever.”

This is me resisting my usual Tiger mother self (for make no mistake, I am one of those mothers), and deciding that what Rosie needs is a lot of positive reinforcement. I had a meeting with her teacher at school last week, and although she said that Rosie is doing very well, she also said she suffers from low self-esteem and poor self-confidence.

This is not surprising to me. Rosie is 4.5 years old. She can read and do basic mathematics. Yes, I encouraged her to do these things from a very young age. Yes, I was a bit hard on her from time to time. But really, I did these things out of curiosity more than anything else. I experimented on her –  I saw that she picked up her phonics quickly, so I tried her on reading simple words. That was when she was three – and she did it. Naturally, I tried some more.

But much as she excelled at these things, she would not demonstrate her knowledge or ability to anyone. Take headstands. She can do them, wherever, whenever, but she won’t show her friends how to do them. She won’t show them she can do it. She doesn’t believe she can do it.

I put this down to the Tiger mother in me. My parents were of a generation that didn’t believe in praising children too much. I think they were right, to some extent, but I also think that that strategy only works on certain types of children. I realise that Rosie is not one of those types of children. She needs praise – she thrives on it. Most kids do. And given how sad she is right now – how much she misses her dad – praise is the easiest thing I can give her that seems to make a difference to how she sees herself.

I don’t over-do it. If I did that, she would stop believing me. But if she does something good – like folding her clothes by herself – then I give her a star. If she dresses herself without going nuclear, she gets a star. If she reads really well, she gets a star. You get the picture.

We had a few terrible days after my last post, where she set off little mushroom clouds of fury that nearly annihilated me. I have two matching bite marks on my thighs – both executed through my jeans by those sharp little milk teeth. I had a meeting with the school nurse who has referred Rosie to the local children’s mental health service (although how long it will take for her to get an appointment is anyone’s guess – the government has cut these services drastically, so they are floundering like everything else in the UK).

The main thing I did was try to disengage immediately whenever Rosie threatened to kick off. I told her a story at night, about a mummy and little girl who shouted at each other very loudly because they were hurting inside, and who, through the good offices of the moon fairy, managed to overcome their anger and find a way to deal with the little things that bothered them, with patience. I also swapped her clothes out of the wall cupboards which she couldn’t reach, to the lower cupboards that she can reach. This gives her the power to choose her own clothes and feel like she has some control over her things. It’s made a huge difference.

In the end, I relented on the underpants and reverted to the pouffy ones again. That’s just a battle that I’ll have to wage later. One day she’ll grow out of them and the whole thing will start again, but I’ll face that inevitability when it comes. For now, I’m going to try to enjoy the little bit of peace that seems to have crept back into our lives. Tonight, Rosie became my refuge again. Tomorrow, who knows?





“I HATE you, Mummy!”

It’s such a common phrase around the house now, I find I hardly blink when she says it. The other morning, I woke Rosie up for school and the first thing she said to me was: “I hate you.”

Anything can prompt these three little words. I might refuse her a piece of cake before dinner or tell her she has to tidy a mess she’s made or simply try to brush her hair. It makes little difference to her. If she’s unhappy about a situation, those are the first words out of her mouth and they are only ever directed at me.

Let me remind you that she is not yet 4.5 years old.

It isn’t just the I hate you’s either. If she doesn’t get her way, she will go from 0 to 100 in mere seconds. She will scream, throw herself on the floor, launch her little body at me head first, pummel me, punch me, hit me in the face and bite me.

This morning, she did all of the above because I told her she had to wear her underpants. To be fair, she has had an underpant issue for months – nothing seems to fit her, aside from those puffy bloomers usually worn by babies still in nappies.

Still, 28 pairs of underpants and about £50 pounds later, I’ve found a style that does fit her. I have checked them thoroughly, but she is so fussy (she can’t abide creases in her dresses or uniform shirts) that the slightest discomfort (and I do mean slightest) will send her into paroxysms of rage.

So, this morning, I insisted she wear her underpants and not the puffy ones which, let’s face it, won’t fit her soon and then what will we do? No, she has to get used to wearing regular underpants and the ancillary discomforts that come with them.

She didn’t shout, she screamed. On and on and on and on. I didn’t know what to do. I thought the neighbours might ring the police. I threatened to walk out – I wanted to walk out. I stood there and watched her thrashing on the floor and a strange cloud descended over me. I got my coat and thought how easy it would be to walk down the stairs, close the door and just go to work, leaving her behind. For the first time, I felt like I didn’t like my own child. I felt like I didn’t know her.

Ironically, she, too, kept saying that I wasn’t her mummy, that I didn’t look like her mummy, that she didn’t have a mummy any more, and that she was all alone.

I wanted to hug her, but she was so angry, so full of rage that I couldn’t – she would have hit me or worse. The last time she bit me, I had a bruise for up to a week. Right now, I have a bump on my arm that came from somewhere at some point this morning – I can’t remember how.

It is all so disappointing and dispiriting. It is also a source of deep shame. I haven’t written about this until now because I am ashamed. She is only 4. She has seen too many things she should never have seen, has experienced too many upheavals for her little lifetime. Her father is an alcoholic. Her mother is most likely depressed. Why should I be surprised that she is acting out now? I just didn’t do enough to protect her from what was happening at home. I failed.

You see, if I really de-construct what she says: I hate you. Shut up. Go away. If I really listen hard enough, I can hear myself. These are exactly the same phrases I used on Ben. I have shouted at him, hit him, pushed him. I’ve done all of these things in moments of rage, when I found him pissed and witless on the couch or in the doorway. Sometimes, I did them in front of her.

There. I said it. I failed to protect her. I let my own rage take control and now my daughter is damaged goods.

She blames me for “sending Daddy away”. She says: Mummy was mean to Daddy. And Mummy is bad. To some extent, she is right. At the same time, when I scold her for doing something naughty (like flinging her yoghurt around the kitchen this morning), she says: “I’m a bad person. I’m a bad girl. Mummy won’t give me any more stars.” And she weeps.

We are trapped in a dark and despicable cycle. First it was Ben and me. Now it’s Rosie and me. And the common ground in all this is… well… me.

I accept responsibility for where we are, but I also need to find a way to repair  the damage I’ve done. All I want is my child back, snug in my heart. But each day, she seems to recede further and further from me. Each day we crawl into this well-worn trench and battle it out, spitting and raging at each other, ultimately losing hold of one another.