My first born daughter, Miss Rose, and I are tight. Really tight. For a long time it was us against the world. It was she and me in our little house in our little town. We cuddled to sleep every night and we cuddled awake every morning. I’d sit quietly with her, reading for as long as she needed, waiting as long as it took. At some point in the night she’d creep into my room and slide into my bed and we’d snuggle down together until morning, curled up together. During the day we went swimming, we did art, we went for walks around town chasing pigeons and feeding ducks. We went on pilgrimages to the library, we collected sticks and we built houses with blocks. Our home and our lives were quiet. Me and my girl. It was our safety. It was our peace and our calm.
When we moved in with The Boy and Z things changed. We moved away from our safe space and into a home shared with boys. We adjusted. Then I started working again and my first book came out, so our time together changed again. We adjusted. Then I got pregnant, and that was a bigger adjustment. I was ill, I was away from her in hospital, I couldn’t carry her around and I couldn’t do the things she liked to do. We adjusted again, it was harder this time, but we did it.
Now things are even more different.
My second book came out. The baby arrived. I took on more work with a daily podcast.
We aren’t adjusted yet…
It used to be that Miss Rose was my main focus in life. I blogged regularly, and I loved it, and I was working on my novel in the evenings, but during the day she was everything. Everything. I had no pressures beyond looking after a little house with just two people in and one little girl, and a very, very limited budget. I had time for her. I had energy for her. I had patience for her.
Now I am short on all of them. And it’s not her fault.
I don’t have time, I’ve got a pressure of work in the evenings that needs doing and I don’t have time to spend hours upstairs reading to her.
I don’t have energy, I’ve got a newborn that has me up all night, children that get me up first thing, a bigger house filled with more people and more stuff and more laundry and more mess and a job that is rapidly becoming the equivalent of full time work but crammed in between everything else.
I don’t have patience. I use it up. I need a break and I need space and I use it all on surviving the day with the people and the mess and the work and the life I sometimes feel like I’m caving underneath. Some of it is spent dealing with her, but in honesty, she is one of the lowest drains on my patience there is… but by the time she needs me to exercise it with her I’ve already spent my resources on everyone and everything else.
And it’s not her fault.
I’ll use this evening as an example because it’s fresh guilt in my head.
I don’t spend as long as she needs to fall asleep in her own time anymore. I should. I don’t. I’ve become strict.
“Lie down. Close your eyes. Don’t fidget. Don’t talk.”
She needs a wind down before bed. She used to get it. She had a warm bath, then a quiet play in her bedroom with me, then we’d choose a story and get her into her pyjamas and she’d settle down in bed. Usually she’d be asleep in moments with warm milk and the quiet, calm of mummy being close, reading and stroking her hair, cuddling if she needed it. Sometimes it’d take longer but I’d just wait it out. Because she needed it. Because she deserved it.
She got no wind down tonight. Z and his mother were here until right before bed time and there was a lot going on. I knew I had a lot to do tonight. Three podcasts to process and release, a blog to write, a kitchen to clean up, a book to work on, and a baby who would need several breast feeds throughout.
I should have waited. I should have prioritised her needs and I didn’t. I was tired, I was stressed, and I was focussed on work and other things. So we went straight up.
She wasn’t ready.
She was good, she brushed her teeth, she got into bed, she asked me to lie down and cuddle her. I couldn’t. I breast feed the baby during her story now. She doesn’t understand but I want to tell her it’s because that way the baby is happy and quiet and I can focus my energy on reading to her and settling her to sleep without a screaming baby disturbing us that I have to keep bobbing in and out to. I can just sit in the bed with her. But she needed a cuddle. She didn’t get one.
She wasn’t ready to sleep. She was too wired from the evening’s goings on. A cuddle might have helped but it might not. But I didn’t find out.
She kept opening her eyes to watch me read. She kept fideting around trying to find a position to sleep in. I kept telling her to lie still. To close her eyes.
She’d ask me for a cuddle again and I’d again refuse. I’d tell her to stop talking. It’s story time, we don’t talk during story time we just listen.
Usually making sure she lies still and has her eyes closed has her asleep in moments. She’s tired, it’s the end of the day and she’s ready. She usually needs bit of scolding for mischief, and reminding to settle quietly, but as soon as she agrees she’s asleep. I sit with her, I read a few pages of the story, and she’s out.
Not this time. She wasn’t ready.
Instead of understanding that she wasn’t ready, that it was my fault for rushing her to bed, that she needed more time to wind down, I got cross. I snapped at her. I shouted “ROSE!” at her when she peered at me out of her eyes and asked again for a cuddle.
She burst into tears and begged me to get her nanny.
I want to cry writing this. I’m in pieces over it.
I took the baby straight downstairs. The Boy was home from his run and I handed her over, told him she’d had a big feed and should be fine, then headed straight back up.
I lay down with my little girl in her bed and held her. I kissed her. I sang to her and stroked her hair.
She choked an apology for opening her eyes as she held them tightly shut and I apologised through tears for shouting at her, I told her I loved her, I told her she’s a good girl and it was mummy’s fault for being grumpy. She said “It’s okay mummy, I love you.”
I cried more.
I thought she’d fallen asleep and got up to move but she turned to me and opened her huge grey eyes, still full of tears, and begged me not to leave.
I lay back down, stroked her hair some more and kept singing and within moments she was out.
Downstairs the baby had started crying and needed yet another breast feed, The Boy had text me asking if he could bring her up. I said no and I was coming down. But for a moment I sat beside my sleeping daughter and watched her. I whispered another apology and kissed her face.
I want to go and crawl in beside her. I want to tell her I’m sorry. That none of this is her fault. I want to try and explain that the pressure from home, and life, and work and the people who need me to do and be at all times is so intense that I am failing at all of them in some way, but that failing her is the one thing I always swore I would never do. That when I fantasise about running away it always includes taking her with me.
I am sorry, my little Rose. I am sorry that when you come into my bed in the mornings that I’m not there to cuddle you. That Z and The Boy have one side, whilst Baby B having a feed from me are on the other side. That you feel you can’t squish between us and even if you did there would be no arm to put around you because they’re already dedicated to other children. I am sorry that you curl up at my feet and hold my legs and kiss my knees. I am sorry that where you used to cuddle up with me and fall back to sleep you now can’t because you’re not cuddled up you’re alone and uncomfy, so you wake up properly and then I get annoyed with you for getting me up early. When all you need is a cuddle. When all you need is to be held.
I am sorry.
I am so sorry that I am not strong enough to handle everything I am supposed to be coping with better, and that at three years old you’re shouldering so much of that burden for me.
I am sorry.
I will try to be better. Everyday I will try to be better. Every day I will try not to be the reason you cry.