This morning again the first thing my older daughter said after waking and coming downstairs was: “I don’t want to go to school.” I nodded and tried to look sympathetic. Then carried on with what I was doing. We’ve had this before – last week after her first day at her new school when she sobbed and sobbed and pleaded to be taken back to her old school. Then on Sunday night she talked quite calmly about how the work is harder at her new school and how she doesn’t want to have to change for PE because she has to wear a tie at this new school and she doesn’t know how to tie a tie. Nor does she want to be shown how to loosen it, lift it over her head and then put it back on again after PE. Nor will she accept that she could just leave the tie off after PE until a teacher asks her why she isn’t wearing one. She doesn’t want to talk to the teacher about how to tie and tie. She doesn’t want me to talk to the teacher to say she’s finding the adjustment to a new school difficult.
When we get to school, she is mildly aggressive given we’re standing in a playground with 270 other kids and their parents and neither of us wants a scene. She shoves her book bag into me, then when it’s time for the kids to line up she says, “Go away.” She shoves me away. When I look back as I’m leaving I can’t catch her eye.
Over breakfast this morning she asked me in a high-pitched voice to help her, help her with a puzzle in her Puffin Post magazine. Could I just do all the puzzles on this page? Stupidly I didn’t say it’s breakfast time, I’ve only been awake half an hour and I’ve already made sandwiches and put out breakfast things, I don’t want to do puzzles at this time of day. I started doing the puzzle while eating cereal, writing the answers to missing Christmas song lyrics into a tiny space with a pencil. My older daughter complained that she couldn’t read my writing at which point I said I didn’t want to do the puzzle just then and it was hard to fit the answer into the space available. She said again that she doesn’t want to go to school.
My younger daughter meanwhile had been upstairs writing a story since she woke up. When I went upstairs to bring their uniforms and underwear down so they can dress in the sitting room in front of the telly as is their wont I told my younger daughter it was breakfast time and asked her to come downstairs. “No,” she replied. She says no to everything I ask at the moment. Sometimes, when I don’t have a blank piece of paper to give her or won’t give her a biscuit just before tea time, she just screams instead of saying no and jumps up and down on the spot. She is almost seven.
Today, when it was time to leave the house I suggested my younger daughter put on a winter coat rather than a mac as the weather is getting colder. She said she doesn’t like her winter coat so I said OK, wear the mac. Then she said she wanted to wear her Gap zip up cardigan instead. I said no, that is not for school, it’s for the weekends. She started screaming and threw her mac on the floor saying she wouldn’t wear it. I picked it up and asked her to put it on, trying to stay calm. She refused. I asked her twice more. She refused twice more. I snapped and cuffed her on the arm.
I’m not proud of it but I feel cross very quickly at the moment. Last night before tea my younger daughter was screaming about something and I slapped the table so hard the palm of my hand stung. I get so instantly frustrated with her defiance, against a backdrop of being generally wound up by either one of them whingeing and because I feel under pressure to “get things right”, to get to school on time rather than after the whistle has gone in the school playground, to get both girls to eat a decent supper, to get to sleep at a decent time so we’re all a bit less stressed out. Never mind getting a new house sorted out or doing some paid work.
“Don’t boss me about,” my younger daughter keeps saying to me. “I’m the grown up,” I say. And anyway, asking her to brush her teeth or get out of the way of an oncoming bicycle are not instances, in my mind, of bossing her about but of an adult supervising a child as they grow in the world. My younger daughter obviously sees it all as control. And when I think I’m giving them freedom to watch DVDs before breakfast and while they’re getting dressed, or to watch telly in the evening before and after tea or when I leave the computer out for them to use or offer to read them a story they either take it for granted that they should be allowed to do these things or they don’t want whatever is being offered.
One of my pressure points, or resentments if you like, is that I feel I’m doing everything I can to ease the transition to a new home and a new school. Plus I am doing all the things I usually do for them: taking them to school each day, picking them up from school so they can come home and relax, ensuring they’ve got the right, clean uniform, shining their shoes, helping them with homework without doing it for them then putting it in their bookbags on the right day, helping them with spellings and reading books, remembering an instrument, remembering the school forms that need returning, cooking what I consider to be a decent meal every night with vegetables that they don’t want, making a packed lunch that is filling but has a chocolate treat in it, and so on and so on. When they are either defiant in my younger daughter’s case or aggressive or moaning in my older daughter’s case I can feel a bit petty. I can think, “I’m not going to make you a packed lunch tomorrow.” Or, “I’m not going to cook a meal tomorrow, see how you like that.” Or even, “I might just get on a train somewhere and leave you to sort things out with daddy, who isn’t even in the house between 7.30am and 7.30pm three days a week. See how you all get on.”
I know it’s pathetic and unrealistic. I am the adult. I should be able to hold things together and not lose my temper. I should see that we are all over-wrought and we don’t need to be. We don’t have to “get things right”. We just have to be good enough at what we’re doing, to get by and be happy and healthy.
Every day I think today I won’t shout, I won’t rise to the bait if either of the children is challenging. I will lead by example, speaking calmly and quietly. And every day I fail. Today I made one of those posters that says: “Keep calm and carry on.” I’ve put one up in the kitchen. Let’s see if it helps when they’re home later this afternoon.
What’s more, I am lowering my standards so we can all feel under a bit less pressure.