I was cleaning Belle’s teeth the other night when she started to cry. Partly I’m sure due to the fact that I was feeling a bit cross and my vigorous brushing was making her gums bleed, but partly just because she was tired at nearly the end of a long week, and when she’s tired she likes to come up with a little something to feel sad about.
“It’s going to hurt even more you know if you’re sobbing,” I tell her, full of sympathy as always, “because your head keeps bobbing about.”
“It’s not that!” she wailed, pausing to spit blood into the sink, “I’m sad for another reason.”
Of course she is.
I blame Jacqueline Wilson. Ever since she started reading those books it’s like she’s aspiring to be some kind of damaged child in a care home, wrestling with divorce or the death of a much-loved cat.
I sigh heavily and try to look concerned, despite being pretty tired myself and a little cry seeming quite tempting.
“Whenever I draw you a picture,” she explains, the ‘I’ll never get over the loss of Whiskers’ look in her eye, “and I give them to you, the next day, they are always in the recycling.” I shift uncomfortably. “You tell me they get there by mistake but I’m not sure I believe you.” She breaks down dramatically, looking mournfully to the ceiling and then bringing her face to rest in her hands.
I feel a bit bad because she’s right, I do chuck most of her ‘art’ away. Let’s be honest, children just aren’t that good at drawing are they? I tend to think I could do better most of the time and really, I can’t be doing with having the house cluttered up with badly drawn pictures of sad looking children copied out of Jacqueline Wilson books, it’s hardly inspiring is it? In my defence, I do try and hide things at the bottom of the recycling box so she won’t notice.
“Well,” I begin cautiously, as she lifts her face to look at me, her eyes the perfect guilt-inducing mix of sorrow and accusation, “sometimes they do get in there by mistake, sometimes I just have to throw them away. If I kept everything you ever drew the house would be full of paper and we’d have to sleep on the floor in little paper beds.”
This is probably a slight exaggeration, but she does draw a lot of pictures.
It doesn’t matter though, she’s thought of something else to be sad about.
“AND,” her sobbing takes on a new force, “there is a picnic at school and ALL the other mums and dads are going to be there APART FROM YOU.”
“Now hang on a minute…” I begin, because this is actually the first time I’ve heard about the picnic, and despite my faults I do try to read letters home. Apart from the in-service training incident of course. I don’t know what happened there. Personally I think the school didn’t tell me on purpose to make me look bad.
“And I’ll be the only one there on my own, because you have to go to work,” she adds tearfully, driving home the ‘neglected child of a working mum’ card.
“But I didn’t even know about the picnic!” I’m feeling a bit miffed, being made to feel bad about something I didn’t even know about. The drawings thing sure, I probably should feel some guilt over that one, especially as she is yet to notice that I went round her bedroom with a black bag earlier in the day throwing away her toys…
“I didn’t show you the letter,” she says, “because I knew you wouldn’t be able to come.” I see, just to make sure she can be sad, she has made sure I can’t come by not telling me about it. This feels a bit sneaky.
“Well that doesn’t seem very fair,” I say, “to be upset with me for something you haven’t told me about in the first place. I’m allowed to take time off work you know if it is something important and I have some notice. When is the picnic?”
“Right, well I can’t take time off tomorrow can I?” She has clearly thought this through.
“See?” she says, not crying anymore, upset replaced temporarily with triumph, “I knew you wouldn’t come.”