Dear boy: you can be unpretty here

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Some clichés about life with children just turn out to be true. It’s almost disappointing how predictable you are. That hilarious obsession with your first child’s milestones, followed by a wry detached affection for the progression of your second? Tick that box. The fact that you will get fat on leftover pizza crusts if you’re not careful, and one day catch yourself eating a chocolate chip cookie crumb straight from your toddler’s thigh? Yes, sorry. For that one I’m sorry to myself most of all.

Here’s our latest living-the-cliché moment: that four-year-olds spend their first weeks in September behaving impeccably at school, and like screechy rage demons at home.

‘I know he’s tired, and unsettled, and going through a huge transition’, I said to Tim the other night, wearily. ‘I know that. He has good reason. It will pass. But I’m still bearing the brunt of his meltdowns, and it’s awful’.

It really is. What I didn’t expect is that H starting school has been hard for me too. Is that a stupid thing to say? That’s how it feels. Quite apart from the new stresses of buying and labelling uniform, making sense of a bewildering forest of forms, incorporating an extra six miles of school run into the day, remembering to order school dinners and send in his PE kit, and trying to make a good impression with new people while soaked to the skin in a cycle helmet, I miss him. He’s gone most of the day, and when he comes back he spends a lot of it flinging himself into the deep end over taking his shoes off. We circle warily around each other, bumping against our respective pressure points until I snap, or else sit down on the floor, sigh out all my breath and say ‘shall we have another break for a hug?’.

He always does come in for a hug, regardless of how angry he is. I think that’s something.

What it has reminded me is that I am the safe place for all his crap. At school he is politely making sense of new people and routines: self-conscious, on edge, trying to fit in and impress. Then he comes home and hurls all his less-pretty parts at me. It’s the most backhanded of compliments, but compliment it is.

Because I am his constant, the backdrop to his universe. The messy labour of his day-to-day is mostly mine; I am his normality, for better and worse. When I’m reminding him to stop answering back, buttoning up his pyjamas while he tries to jump out of reach, or holding on to the kind-but-firm tone by the very skin of my teeth during his fourth time-out, it can just feel like work, bloody and unedifying. I sometimes wish he’d stand on ceremony for me too, just a little.

But he needs somewhere he can be unpretty. A place he can throw out his worst parts and have them gathered kindly in. Someone who has his back, in public and private. Hard as it is, I think I can do that. I think that has to be me. There’s something sacred in it, after all, being someone’s first line of defence. Even though in the moment it feels like being skinned alive by scream.

Come on then, you exhausted little rager. Let me have it. Here’s your punching bag. Here’s the bucket for your assorted crap. Here stands your safe place, letting you know when your behaviour’s out of line, loving you and your messy parts even through gritted teeth, making yet more lasagne you’re too tired to eat.

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43 thoughts on “Dear boy: you can be unpretty here

  1. Beautifully articulated. I experienced this phase and made it out the other side, so I can relate to your every word, except I truly wish I’d had your wisdom at the time. Good luck with the rest of your first school year, and yes it is tough for you too.

    • Thanks Claire! Great to hear you can come out the other side with your sanity intact. I am better at writing advice to myself than taking it, incidentally 🙂 x

  2. And this too will pass – and you will ache for its return – and your future mind will have airbrushed out the worst bits and enhanced the best – and you will have fine well ajusted, self assured sons. You are doing a great job for your boys XxxxX

  3. Oh I needed to read this today! Thank you for the reminder, the empathy, the amazing perspective on this growing pain of starting school. Thank you!!

    • It really is a growing pain, isn’t it? It’s gradually getting better here – hope it does for you too. Thanks for reading. x

    • Sorry for the weep! I’ve been doing that a bit this week myself 🙂 Nice to know other people have this too! x

  4. It doesnt get any easier be it their first day at school or their first week at college. They will take it out on you when they get home. They have to control themselves during the day and schooling no matter what age is tiring, absorbing all that information. They will still agrue about hanging their coats up or putting their shoes away. You are their rock as I know from that unexpected hug I get from my 17 year old sons.
    Things change but stay the same .You are Mum

    • Lovely advice, thank you. You’re so right that the pressures are always there even if they change as they get older! Hope I’ll get hugs from my boys when they’re seventeen too 🙂 x

  5. From the mother of a major melt down queen, I am so glad to read that we are the special ones. Our little ones choose us to explode in front of while behaving like absolute angels for the rest of their world. We are the chosen ones!
    School holidays are less than a month away. You will not believe how quick they come. And did you know it’s Xmas in 99 days!

  6. I love this!
    You’re so right to describe the act of receiving someone’s dark side as something sacred – absolutely. I think it’s the bedrock of marriage too – to love in the face of your partners ugliness and (your word) unprettiness.
    Keep blogging – love them!

    • YES, absolutely. Just as applicable to marriage – any family relationship, really! While I think it’s good to be aware of how much you might be heaping on your partner – awareness you don’t have, as a child – it’s still a sacred thing to be someone’s safe place. Thanks for reading x

  7. A beautiful post that so echoes my experience of my eldest starting school a few years ago. It was such a difficult time at home for all of us and I even blogged my way through it (‘my angry five year old’). I’ll never forget being exasperated saying to he, why are you so good at school and so hard at home? She turned and said matter of factly, Mummy I save all my naughtiness up until I get home. What can you say to that?! Haha xxx

    • Ha, sounds like she had it sussed out! It’s so hard at the time, isn’t it? I’m going now to look up your posts! Love your blog. Thanks for reading Morgana 🙂 x

    • Ha! At the moment we always have leftover lasagne – I’m tempted just to give them cereal for dinner till he’s not so exhausted 🙂 So glad you liked it! x

  8. Fantastic post. This is exactly what I’m enduring day after day. My 5 year old was an angel through most of the holiday and now he is back at school,he has tantrums every day withing half an hour of arriving back through the door. This has articulated exactly how I feel…only now I feel better about taking the verbal bashings. Just on my way to pick him up now. Bring it on! X

    • Oh, us too! This exactly. He had a pretty good summer and I was all hopeful about him becoming older and more mature 🙂 Good luck for the rest of the term x

    • Mothers of demon children unite! Seriously – it is so rough. But it really helps me to know that lots of us are in the same situation. Hope your daughter settles soon. x

  9. Oh my. I needed to read this. My 7yo has just done his first week in Y3 at a new school and we had the mother of all tantrums last night and you have articulated exactly what we are both experiencing. Thank you.

    • Lots of mums have been saying their older children are doing exactly the same! A new school too, oh, bless him. It does take it out of them, doesn’t it? Hope he settles well x

  10. You just described my life in a nutshell, with our 5 year old son who just started year one. Plus a soon-to-be three year old boy who is pushing every boundary and button. Every. Last. One. And a 7-month old baby who had just started screaming the moment I’m out of her eyeline. Exhausted barely covers it, but grateful for each phase nonetheless.

    • Oh wow – you’ve got loads going on! Hang in there, mama. And I am a great believer in getting a babysitter for the sole purpose of taking a nap 🙂 x

  11. This was so beautifully written – just cried my eyes out.

    Reading it after my sons second week at reception – perfect reading after a pretty tricky fortnight.

    Thank you x

    • So glad you enjoyed it – it has been so lovely finding so many other parents in exactly the same boat! We can do it! x

  12. You’re not alone, I feel my sons pain too. My boy has major wobbles before school and I just give him hugs and try and reassure that he had a brilliant day the day before.
    Thanks for writing this post as we really aren’t alone in this!

  13. My toddler is going through a phase of hiting, bting or pulling my hair. Her nursery key worker said the other day it was because she loved me and I laughed! Reading your post now though I can understand better what she means. Hang in there, just like my toddlers will, I’m sure your son will settle in to school soon.

  14. Thank you for this. We have been going through a similar transition with our nearly 4 year old. I am thousands of miles from home so don’t have my support network to explain this is normal. Apparently he is doing a fantastic job at school so I will just grit my teeth and enjoy those hug breaks.

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