It’s a fine line isn’t it? Between wrapping your little ones in cotton wool and protecting them from anything that might upset them and trying to give them the skills to work through difficult times. You want to do the former but somehow have got to do the latter.
When I asked their father to move out of our family home, the guilt I felt for them was unimaginable but I had decided (after years of agonising) that I could not be the very best parent I could be without being happy and free.
And, I have been working hard ever since to explain and soothe and placate their pain. Whilst they might forever wish mummy and daddy were together, I am progressing their understanding of what happened and, I hope, helping them to cope and live happier and more freely too.
Some problems you just can’t fix.
Pickle was asked, unwittingly, to do the same exercise at school and at Rainbows. School came first. It was their EMT – Early Morning Task – a bit of a warm up that parents can start with their children as the teacher is arriving. It was the first day back at school in the New Year. She was asked to say what her three wishes for the new year were. So Pickle being your typical little girl, won’t surprise you with
1. To see a fairy. (Luckily for me she has a good imagination)
2. To get a new Teddy Bear. (She has so many already she would hardly notice another addition)
3. To wear mummy clip clops lots. (She is forever raiding my shoe cupboard as you already know!)
Roll on three days and the same sheet appears in Rainbows. This time something has changed. Pickle clearly has had time to think about what she really wants from this bright and shiny new year.
1. I wish I could do paper masha. (I assume its paper mache and not some more violent form of the gluey newspaper craft!)
2. I wish I went to Legoland. (She has been. So I assume she hasn’t forgotten and would like to go again… the joy)
3. I wish my dog came back. (Oh dear. )
Our lovely chocolate brown Labrador, Errol (that’s right, Errol Brown from Hot Chocolate!) was our gorgeous best friend who had to be put to sleep over three years ago. He was nine. In fact it happened just after the girl’s dad and I split up and I asked him to move out of our family home. I have always assumed that they have linked the two events as two such huge holes were left in their lives at the same time. Of course I wasn’t to know he was ill at all but the guilt is there of course. Some things you just can’t orchestrate because if you could it wouldn’t have happened like that.
Pickle was only three so her little heart must have really broken to be still missing him today. It was also their first experience of death in the family and I will never really know if I could have handled it better.
But what can you do? I was totally unprepared for his death. He had been ill but he was young and appeared to be fit too, until he very quickly got poorly and needed to go to the vets and finally in for exploratory surgery. So when the vet called to say they had found an aggressive tumour and didn’t want to bring him around, it was a huge shock. I was suddenly sobbing on the phone and the girls were desperate to know what had happened. They were three and five and I had done no ground work, no build up. I don’t even know what I believe if I am honest.
So I said what I think many of us do or might say; “Errol was poorly and had to have a big sleep and go to doggie heaven. He is with Nana’s dog in a big special doggie heaven park now having lots of fun and he doesn’t feel ill anymore.” Of course they were upset. Yes, heartbroken. I was heartbroken too but more so for them because I couldn’t take their pain away.
Errol was a funny, lovely, trusting part of our family. He was a dustbin on legs and often broke in to the fridge, so much so that we had to put a child lock on it after an especially fortuitous (for him!) Christmas raid. He was also very embarrassing. He once managed to wee all over a man’s jumper being used as a goalpost in our local park. Mercifully the man was a dog lover and laughed it off. There are so many stories I often thought it would make a great book: What it is really like to own a dog! A book that Mums and Dads can read with their children, when being nagged about getting a dog, or more probably a puppy, as a pet. A warts and all tale/tail! Not that I would change a thing. Errol was a brilliant part of our lives and we loved him.
Clearly he is missed. And I am unable to put it right for Pickle, or Petal, who has his photo next to her bed. However, we can recount those funny stories. And we can make some paper masha/mache and I suppose I could galvanise my spirits and go back to Legoland again…couldn’t I?
This week I bought my first bunch of daffodils of the year. I always think this is momentous. Pickle spent some pocket money on flowers for her room. Both purchases have brought us smiles. Petal is saving her money but she is equally happy.
Petal has started rehearsing a new production; Fame. I’m sure I need to get in the spirit of things and wear my leg warmers too… any excuse? And, yes, I do have some… now, where are they…?
(New book club book is FingerSmith by Sarah Waters)