Today I managed to take Squidge on a trip out of the house on my own. It may not sound like much but the Northern One has been working long, antisocial shifts and so I’ve spent a lot of time looking after Squidge by myself. For the past few weeks just getting us both washed, dressed and fed has been exhausting for me so feeling motivated enough to go out felt like quite and achievement.
The trip was hardly exciting; just a drive to Waitrose so that I could stock up on some food items and then peruse the goodies in their homeware section. Squidge is still young enough that an opportunity to ride in a trolley is exciting as is the possibility of a mini gingerbread man from the bakery section (while mummy eyes up all the other goodies). We sauntered up and down the aisles, me enjoying the colourful displays of Christmas produce , Squidge happily kicking his legs in his trolley seat and attempting to pilfer random items from the shelves if I was foolish enough to let him get within arms reach.
As I was loading the shopping onto the conveyer belt I turned and noticed that Squidge was playing peekaboo with the lady queuing at the next till. He hid his little face behind his chubby hands before shouting ‘Boo!’ accompanied with giggles and a beautiful cheeky smile. The lady was thrilled, playing along and making out that she couldn’t see Squidge every time he hid then pretending to be surprised every time he reappeared. They both seemed to be having a lovely time and it lifted my heart to see Squidge so happy with something so simple as a game of peekaboo with someone friendly.
“He’s beautifully behaved” the lady said, after asking Squidge’s name and how he was, “My granddaughter is two and there’s no way she’d sit in the trolley so nicely and behave so well, and what a gorgeous smile he has.”
I leaned over and kissed Squidge on the top of his head, taking a second to breathe in the scent of his hair before thanking the lady for saying such lovely things about my little boy, who continued to beam at the lady until she’d paid for her shopping and walked away. He then proceeded to flash his winning little smile at the checkout worker who rewarded him with his very own token to drop into the charity box of his choice (the middle one, obviously). He was so pleased with his little green token, bouncing in excitement as I lifted him out of the trolley and held him up so that he could reach to push his token into the slot.
Somehow, Squidge has grown from a tiny helpless newborn into a happy, sociable, inquisitive toddler and I have no idea how.
I don’t mean in the sense of time passing quickly (although it has) but because I feel like I’m such a rubbish mother that I honestly don’t understand how he’s developing as well as he is. I don’t say this to be self depreciating or to fish for compliments about my parenting skills but because I know that the mother that I am and the mother that I should be are very different.
The days Squidge and I spend together tend to consist of me sitting on the sofa while he potters about with his toys and occasionally asks to sit on my lap for a cuddle. If he has a morning nap then I try to have a shower and get dressed but otherwise we spend the day in the house while I do my utmost to stave off panic attacks and not fall asleep on the sofa. I tend to put Classic FM for some background noise and I try and avoid having the television on but there is at least an hour every day where Squidge happily sits on the floor watching CBeebies while I scroll through Twitter and Instagram, trying to keep my thoughts under control until the Northern One gets home.
On particularly good days when I manage to get showered and dressed I try my best to get us out of the house, although any trips are usually to the supermarket or the garden centre. There was a period where we made it to sensory time at our local children’s centre most weeks but that came to an abrupt end when Squidge decided to spend the session attempting to squash one of the smaller children and I was too afraid to go back. There are plenty of playgroups that we could go to but they’re all in the morning and it takes me at least until lunchtime to feel able to leave the house, if at all.
I am not a creative mother; I don’t make coloured rice for sensory play, make themed meals with sandwiches shaped like fish or invent games to encourage Squidge to develop his language and motor skills. To be honest I feel like I’m having a fairly good day if I manage to sit on the floor with Squidge so that we can play with his Megablocks. His current goal is to use every single brick to build a tower that it taller than he is, although he hasn’t quite worked that it’s physically impossible unless he stands on the sofa.
I worry that I don’t talk to him enough, that I shout too much and don’t have enough patience.
I worry that I’m not helping him to develop his imagination, that I find it difficult to sing nursery rhymes and by the end of the day I’m usually too worn out for a bedtime story because I’m so desperate for him to go to bed.
I worry that he’s going to turn into a shy, unhappy child with no friends and that he will blame me.
Yet despite these worries and unstimulating days at home, every time I pick him up from nursery his key worker tells me what a lovely day he’s had, how well he’s behaved and how he’s such a little ray of sunshine. They tell me how inquisitive he is, how nicely he plays with the other children and how interested he is in the world around him. Nursery is so full of praise for Squidge and all I can do is wonder how he’s turned out like this while being eternally thankful that so far my unstable mental health does not seem to be having a negative impact upon him.
I do my best to shield Squidge from the worst of my depression although I am under no illusion that he is completely oblivious to the fact that something isn’t right. I try to keep my mood relatively stable but he has seen me dissolve into floods of tear, snap at the slightest provocation and sit in the same corner of the sofa for hours because I am certain that if I move something dreadful will happen.
On more than one occason I have begged him to leave me alone for just a few minutes because I just cannot cope.
I truly feel as though my heart might break when he snuggles into my lap and traces the scars that I’ve made on my own wrist, a slightly puzzled expression on his sweet little face. It hammers home the fact that one day he will ask what made those marks and I will have to decide between telling him the truth or trying to hide the truth from him.
Right now Squidge is contented and happy, full of wonder at the world and delighted by the smallest things. But I can’t escape the feeling that one day the shortfalls in my parenting will start to be reflected in him and that my sunny little boy will disappear. This fear is the thing that keeps me fighting, through doctors appointments and counselling sessions and new medication regimes even though there are so many days when I just want to give up, to lie down and go to sleep and never wake up.
But I don’t, I carry on through each day no matter how difficult and painful it is.
All so that the sunshine in his smile never goes away.