F***ing Friday Failure

1pm ( awake in night, woke at 3am and got up at 7am)

I need to write about failure, a mothers failure. This feels like a confessional. I fail. I fail on a daily basis. Its impossible not to fail, but its harder to admit to failing, to describe those failures.

I will try to best to describe an incident of failure. Failure to care in a considered way. Failure to be patient and kind. I worry about writing this. I worry about how you might judge me. I do feel judged. Some people are kind others just judge, they don’t know about the complexities of a situation, how challenging things can be for me and my children, what else is going on in my families life. I worry that I am breaking rules, that someone will read this and think she isn’t a good enough mother, she can’t cope, maybe even report me to social services.

Perhaps they do not judge, maybe I am just paranoid and overcome by troublesome feelings of doubt in my own parenting. I am not writing this so that you feel sorry for me. I just feel that I have to record it, once the words are written it is done, I can forgive myself, move on. Oh mothers guilt, mothers guilt.

For goodness sake stop pussy footing around the subject, spit it out woman, say what you mean to say. See, I struggle, I struggle. My little boy really did not want to go to school today, this has been an emerging pattern over the last few weeks or so. He is very determined and stubborn. He is so slow in the morning, he sits at the table with his snuffly sheet shrouded over him. Slowly waking up. Eventually he will eat, drink, but its so slow, so painfully slow. I shift from being totally patient, to fed up and bursting over with frustration and panic. I can be so calm, I can be, but the clock ticks fast in the morning. I cannot be late again. I cannot. Its not gone unnoticed, its more normal that I am late than on time right now, like yesterday when I delivered him to school mid assembly.

He basically had a massive tantrum this morning. He knew why he didn’t want to go to school, he was too tired, too tired from all the fun that he had yesterday at him and his friends joint birthday party. I am too tired I want to stay at home with you, I am not going to school today, he declared. The day before he told me I am not going to school today, it is raining, I will get wet. 

But today was worse. I did manage to get food down him,  I did manage to get him to drink his milk, and even to colour in the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust wellington boot picture. Its Wellington Boot day at school today. I look, this picture now and it is just so so sweet and lovely and adorable. Two little mice and lovely rich wedges of colouring in felt pen. And he writes I like wildlife kus it is kyoot (cause it is cute).


I didn’t manage to get him to brush his teeth, or his hair, or put on his jumper. Today was horrid because he sat on the sofa and wrapped snuffly, his king sized duvet sheet around and around his arms and body. He wrapped himself up so tight that the cotton material began to form ropes around his wrists and hands and arms. He was wrapping himself in, and keeping me out. What a protest.

I kept unwrapping him, it just felt like a fight, it was almost a fight, maybe it was a fight. I was just trying to separate him from the comforter, so that I could get him out the door, get him to school. I would have been tripping over the sheet if I had attempted to take that too. He also decided to take off his wellington boots that I had already put back on twice. He took them off and threw them across the room. I stuffed the boots, his coat, his jumper and his tooth paste and brush into a plastic carrier bag. I would try and brush his teeth at school, get out the door, get dressed on the way to school, there are plenty of benches, places to sit and get him dressed en route.

Before I am able to scoop him up, I still need to separate him from the sheet. I start trying to unpick the twisted sheet from around his hands and arms, as quick as I undo, he twists the sheet back up. The sheet is twisting and twisting. I unpick and unpick. I push my fingers under the cloth where it meets his hands. He shrieks, but its not clear if he is just making a fuss or I have really hurt him. It is not my intention to hurt him at all, this is the last resort. I was stern, I did ask him to let go of the sheet, he would not, and the clock was ticking, time always moves on, always moves forward, it never waits. I eventually manage to part him from the sheet. He is crying. He is distressed and upset and its partly my fault, I haven’t kept my cool. I do hope that things change when we leave the house, close the door.

Things seem to get worse, but I am so glad to be out in the fresh air. Outside Naoise decides to run down the stone pavement of the street, he only has socks on. He runs about fifty yards away from me, not far, everyone has gone to work, no cars, its not dangerous, its a dead end of a street. He runs away and I follow him, but before I reach him he decides to take off his socks. So I now have a barefooted child running loose around outside. I scoop him up, cross the road. I speak to my neighbour who has just returned from the school run in her car, she can see that I am distressed. She is kind and listens and tries to suggest that Naoise should put on his socks. I explain what has happened. Oh Naoise your feet must be cold. She reminds him that its friday it will be the weekend, you can have a rest.

I stop by the wall and try to put on his socks, his jumper, his coat and boots, he still refuses to do so. I notice that one of his hands has a little cut on it, just a nick. He must have caught the top of my finger nail when I was removing him from the the sheet. Its bleeding, its a tiny cut, but its bleeding. I cusp his hand in mine, I look at the cut, I feel bad, I say sorry that I hurt him. I am sorry, so sorry. I feel sad. I put him on my shoulders. We walk to school, I cannot remember what we said to each other, maybe nothing. I felt bad about his little hand, ,he is so tiny, so elfin like. I hadn’t meant to hurt him.

Just before we reach the school, he tells me he will put on his clothes. We sit on a bench, I sit him on my knee. His feet are cold and red and hurting him. I rub them warm, put the socks on quick, he still refuses to put on the jumper, I put on his coat, his boots. He still won’t walk, I carry him until we reach the gates. We are so so late. So ridiculously late.

I ring the bell, the catch lets me in. I pass a couple of teaching assistants in the corridor, although my eyes meet theirs, they ignore me, they don’t even smile, or say hello to me or Naoise. In the classroom are three kind teaching assistants. I explain that we have had a hard morning, that its a miracle that we even got here, that he is tired, that he has been refusing to come to school. Its PE, he has to change for PE. I help him into his shorts, hang up his coat on the peg. I reiterate that he is very tired, please remember, please remember. I even admit to having his tooth brush with me, I get it out show them it, there is not point, there won’t be a chance to brush his teeth, I place it back in the carrier bag. His hair is also a mess all tangle bed hair. I stroke his head, I kiss him goodbye. He smiles, he is a different child now, not wild anymore. School makes him comply. Thats good, school is good. I need a rest. I do.

I go for a walk, I notice that some primroses have come out, that the birds are getting more active. I notice a clump of moss that has almost broken off  a dry stone wall, I pull it off, place it in a carrier bag, I imagine doing something with it. The moss becoming a scarf, or a sheet around my body, my comfort blanket.

I stop at the supermarket, I buy some things that my eldest son needs for hi strip to Paris. Medicine, food, tissues, yes I am stressed, its a big thing your son going abroad on his own. I am stressed. I need to make sure that he has everything that he needs. Back home I start drying jeans and clothes on the radiator. I try to rewrite a proposal about this project for a conference. The title of my presentation is Failure and maternal imperfection. I have to edit out 150 words from my proposal, I have to get it down to 400. Its now two, I need to eat, Ive been writing for far too long.

Forgive me for I have failed.


1 comment

  • christina

    That was a lovely piece of writing, it is hard (brave) to be so honest. It is so sad that somehow we feel unable to voice the feelings that you express and to lay bare those tough moments. There is lots I feel I could say, but don’t have space (I mean time as space) to formulate. And there is a connection there with time and how that sense of time slipping away during the resisting slowness of Naoise was the trigger. Ahhh how I remember those moments, whether on the long walk to school, or when trying to leave for work. And the erupting frustration. I love the way you have paused to dwell on the physical and material unfolding that was taking place – the sheet, the toothbrush, the picture from the day before, all part of the event. I am reminded of events that have echo back, and how these occasionally slipped into anger rather than slow resistance. And how in some of my tussles with my children, anger erupting and in the heat of the moment pushes and shouts that while were not ‘intended’ in any rational sense were never the less produced in anger. I noticed that someone responded to your piece by saying one should draw a line and move on. And yes I do think that the older I have got and more experience of sharing these moments with children is that changing direction is an important strategy. I recognise that talking things out, not letting go of them, trying to rationalise may not necessarily help to “move on”. But I also think it is important to be able to hold and share these moments. Shutting them in a draw makes them shameful, and that we have failed. The image of you at school with the toothbrush and the pervading sense of disapproval and judgement is produced by placing these moments into shut draws. I always found playgroups the wierdest places as they never seemed place that you could describe what you just described so vividly, and yet as a group of parents so many in that group must have been experiencing these moments. I also remember days feeling as if I had aged 5 years between leaving my house and arriving at school with children, but that this was an absurd feeling to voice. Now when children come into my classroom room late I often tell the harassed parent how I felt like this, how sometimes it can be the hardest thing. One thing that I would change if I could put the clock back would be that I would try to talk to my children more about being “brave”. This is a complete surprise to me as I always rather hated bravery as a quality to nurture, as I associated it with macho war talk and stiff upper lip. But I listened to a mother trying to encourage her reluctant son to say goodbye to her when he was settling into my nursery class, and she told him to be brave. These were words that kept spinning in my head and that I came back to. The more I thought about them they made me think differently. I thought that when I was a child bravery would have been a good resource in my tool kit. I have started to talk about being brave more with little children. I wonder that we worry so much about them not being happy, and how we feel bad when they have to do things they don’t want to. I have to lots of things that I might not really feel like doing, but they need to be done, and when doing them they might not be so bad as I thought. We don’t need to think that we are fascists if we try to cultivate a certain resilience to getting things done that we don’t feel like. Perhaps we need to be more prepared to talk to children more honestly about this, and feel beat our selves up less when we are in the role of getting them to do things they don’t feel like doing. And as for schools: if they could spend just a little more time reflecting as honestly as you do, and become more open and less self-righteous, then they might become places that we did not drag our feet, so, ever so, slowly to get to.

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