Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Other Mother

It was car crash TV at its best.  Had Super Nanny, Jo Frost, been on the sidelines, she would have had a field day!  Social services would have been very interested indeed in the scene that was unfolding but funnily enough, several passers had no interest.
It was a rainy Tuesday afternoon in early October. A mother and her two small children were in town.  The baby was safely strapped into his buggy, watching everything the way only a nine month old can; with great interest.   The two and a half year old was dawdling behind the buggy, stopping to look into the shop windows, shouting with delight at the Halloween decorations.  He held in his hand, a packet of paints just minutes before purchased in the pound shop.  Earlier on that day, he had helped paint a pumpkin and a witch on the windows in crèche and his mother reckoned it would be a nice treat for him to do the same at home. 
She was wondering now, however, how she would deal with the inevitable mess and was it such a good idea.  Maybe she should wait until he had gone to bed and do it herself, that way he’d have his window decorations when he woke up the following morning.  But on second thoughts, if that night was to be anything like the previous night when the baby, who had an ear infection, was up hourly, she would be fit for nothing except bed herself at 9 o’clock.   Ah, she’d wait and see, she decided.  You never knew with him these days, he could change his mind as soon as he got in the door and want to watch a DVD instead.  Say nothing for the moment.
She slowed the buggy for the twentieth time in order to chivvy him along.  God, but he could spend a lifetime looking at the same paper decorations. 
The rain was getting heavier, the baby would need his tea shortly and it was heading into rush hour traffic, at this rate they wouldn’t get home for at least another half hour.  And she needed to get milk.  Why didn’t she think of that when she was in the Supermarket? 
“Come on!” she called again, loudly, pausing to shush the baby who was beginning to complain.  “Hold my hand, we’re going to cross the road now.”
The toddler was very definite in his response, which was no and upped his pace, but only to overtake the buggy.  His mother called him back and he turned his head to grin at her and walked a little bit faster.  They were approaching a roundabout in the middle of the town and no amount of calling him was having any effect.  She was afraid that if she made a dash for him, he’d break into a run and step off the footpath.  She pushed the buggy a bit faster and the toddler matched her speed.  He was looking at his paints and not paying any attention to the direction in which he was walking.  His mother shouted at him again to stop, wait but he paid no heed.  He turned the corner and she lost sight of him. 
Dragging the buggy to the wall and leaving the baby where she would not be able to see him, she put on the brake and broke into a run.  It was only ten seconds but it felt like ten minutes before she caught up with her errant boy, and with the pressures of the last few days plus the tiredness of the weekend catching up with her, she dropped to her knees and grabbed him by the upper arms.  Her son threw back his head in laughter at this great new game but his merriment quickly changed to shouts of anger and resistance as his mother began to voice her frustration.  Her face was twisted in anger as she shook him a little to get her point across.  This wasn’t the voice of reassurance that he was used to.  This wasn’t his mother laughing with affection, her eyes crinkling up at the corners, at his usual shenanigans.  The hands that normally caressed his head as she passed, were holding on to his arms just that little bit too tightly for his liking.   The mouth that usually kissed him with such affection and praised him so often was now being used to scream at him so loudly.  This wasn’t the mother he was used to. This was some other woman saying these horrible things to him, threatening to kill him if he didn’t listen.  Telling him he would be killed stone dead if he walked out in front of a car and how bold he was for not listening. 
This was someone who looked like his mother but did not sound like her.  He screamed back at her in retaliation as people walked past and this stranger got to her feet, and yanked him by the arm, back to where his little brother was left abandoned in the rain.
It was a long walk for the toddler, across the road and through a busy car park, into a hallway where the car ticket had to be paid and then up a moving stairs to the second level where the car was parked.  The grip on his arm hadn’t eased up and his screams hadn’t either. 
This “other mother” was now putting him into his car seat, none to gently and strapping him in very firmly.  Wham!  The “other mother” shut the car door.  The baby was put in his seat and that door slammed too.  Another slam as the boot was closed on the buggy. 
The lady got into her seat and the toddler watched as she put her face in her hands and took a few deep, shuddery breaths, willing tears not to come.  His screams subsided as he sat back and watched her carefully. He waited until she took her hands down.   She looked like his mother again but when she turned around to look at him, he wasn’t so sure.  She looked like the “other mother” again for a second as she glared at him.   But this time she didn’t say anything.  She turned back and started the car.     There was silence for the journey home.  Nobody said anything.  Even the baby was silent.  The toddler kept a wary eye on his mother who, every now and again, stole a quick glance at him in the rear view mirror.   
The red hot anger had abated and guilt was stealing in to take its place.  That should not have happened.  He was only a baby.  What was he thinking now? 
She could have handled the situation so much better.  She should never have spoken to him that way.  It was unnecessary and there would be no lesson learned, except maybe to fear her.
An afternoon that was supposed to be enjoyable, ending with a treat, was ruined because she lost her temper. 
She had turned into someone who lost control of the situation and let things get out of hand. 
The car pulled into the driveway and she turned off the ignition.  In the couple of seconds it took to remove the keys, a little voice piped up.
His mother answered immediately, her voice much softer. It was the voice he was used to only there was still something different about it.  He didn’t realise it but it was the voice of guilt and remorse.
“What is it, Con Shine?” his mother asked, using her pet name for him.
“I a good boy, mammy?” he asked, looking for confirmation.
Her heart almost broke.  “Yes, Con.”  She told him.  “You’re the best boy in the whole world.”  
  Con is my son.  And I am the “other mother.”

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