It’s 7.35 pm and thunder is echoing across the dark and cheerless M5. Rain is hammering down and all I can make out in front of me are the angry water-colour spots of the lights of the cars in front. Melancholy country music is spilling into my car from Radio 2, and I am crying.
I am not crying because the Parents’ Evening overran and now I have missed bedtime – I knew that would happen. I am not crying because I won’t have seen my children properly for two full days -though the dull ache in my gut will serve as a constant reminder until they are in my arms again. I am not crying because it is late and I am bone tired and I hate driving and I just want to be home again – though all that is true.
I am crying because yesterday was different. Yesterday, the sun shone. Yesterday, I had my babies all day long – their cheeks were mine to kiss, their giggles mine to enjoy.
And I wasted it. I didn’t realise I was wasting it, at the time. I was caught up in my own thoughts. Only now – with the rain and the brake-lights and the soft twang of guitars and Southern voices – has the realisation hit. I had lessons to plan, posts to promote, messages to answer. I spent too long staring at screens and answering tweets.
My boy had a difficult day and I was not patient. Everything was wrong for him – his sandwiches too small, the bands on the sleeves of his t-shirt too short, too tight. His bottom lip quivered and huge eyes spilled over because mummy did not say that this was a picture of what the inside of Jupiter would look like – Mummy was looking at her emails and said Saturn instead.
And when he was distraught, I did not comfort him in the way I know I should. I did not say that of course it was Jupiter and mummy is sorry. Everything is ok gorgeous boy. Everything is fine. It is Jupiter. It is Jupiter
It is Jupiter.
I said for goodness’ sake! It’s a picture! Why do you have to get so upset over a picture? Mummy is trying to do something important!
Important. It wasn’t important. It was the least important thing in the world.
My little boy cried and cried. I tore myself away from the screen and comforted him. But I resented his autism. I resented that his reactions are so severe, that he needs me so much, that I couldn’t answer an email for just a few seconds – though I was kidding myself that it was so brief a time.
My little girl was desperate to sit on my lap, but I had so many windows open on the tablet – PowerPoints and Twitter and Pinterest boards – and the bright colours were exciting to bat. And again I was frustrated, irritable. I needed – no wanted – to get things done and she wouldn’t let me.
Parents of children with special needs are often told “I don’t know how you do it” or “you must be so brave.” Parents with two or more very small children close in age might hear “You must have your hands full!” and “I couldn’t cope!” Working mothers will hear “You must be so organised” and “It’s amazing that you can juggle so much.”
I often get such buoying and considerate comments on my posts; people tell me that I am obviously a wonderful mother, that my love for my children shines through my words. I suppose it does – but the comments always make me feel a little bit fraudulent. Sometimes I am a wonderful mother, sometimes not. Like most mothers – most human beings – I am flawed.
I love my children as much as it is possible for a person to love anything – but I am a human being and I get things wrong. Sometimes? Often? More than I would like.
I do not feel brave or organised or even like I am coping, a lot of the time. I think no one does? I have days I wish were a practice run, days I wish I could have again – because I know I could do them better, if I just had an undo button.
But I get through. I pick myself up. I recognise when I have been less than I should be, like all who feel they have let down the ones they love. I don’t feel like a special needs parent – I am just the best parent I know how to be. Anyone would be the same, anyone who loves.
We are all our imperfect selves but, sometimes, if we are lucky, love can make us perfect for a short time.
I have to wait until next week for another day off with just us – mummy and her gorgeous boy and beautiful little bean. But we’re going to go out and eat gingerbread and walk in the sunshine. Mummy will say she can see Jupiter and Saturn and Mars, and all the stars in the Milky Way, just right. And that is the most important thing in the world.