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.