Parenting can sometimes bring you face to face with truths about yourself that aren’t easy to swallow. Last week was a classic example of the huge extremes I often feel as a mum: intense pride, contentment and happiness versus exasperation, anger and – at times – heartbreaking disappointment. It was also a reminder that I’m sometimes guilty of projecting those emotions onto my kids.
Frog had her nativity play last week and was one of the narrators. I’m not just saying this because I’m her mum (honest) but she was brilliant. Her voice sang right to the back of the audience and she remembered every single line. In fact, she was so great that she won the coveted class trophy for her performance. It was one of those proud mum moments that leave you a mushy mess. I’m not exaggerating when I say I had sunbeams of joy radiating from every crease of my face on Friday.
And then came Saturday.
The NLM’s parents had come to visit for the weekend – a special occurrence as they live so far away we don’t get to see a huge amount of them. Months ago, I booked tickets to a local farm which puts on a sell-out interactive nativity play in the barn every year. It includes real animals and the kids can dress up and get involved in the action. It’s festive with a capital F.
Frog was SO excited. In fact, we all were. As she skipped into the farm she wondered aloud if she’d get to be the Angel Gabriel – the part she’d been coveting in her own school play. Careful to manage her expectations, I warned her that she would probably just end up being an angel or a shepherd. I wasn’t sure if the main parts were already taken or not.
Anyway, when we went into the barn it turned out Frog was the first child in the queue for costumes. “Would you like to be Mary?” the lady asked her. Frog confidently told her she wanted the role of Angel Gabriel. As she was dressed up in her angel costume – complete with glittery gold halo – I thought my heart might burst again. This was EXACTLY what I’d pictured when I’d shelled out the money on these precious tickets.
Frog managed the first part of the performance like a true pro. She didn’t hesitate once, getting up on stage and joining in with a smile on her face. And then, I watched in slow motion as her face fell.
Aside from Disney Collectors on YouTube, Frog’s second favourite thing in life is riding horses and donkeys. So imagine her disappointment when she saw the little girl who had happily taken on the role of Mary be placed on the back of a real life donkey. Mary was then paraded proudly around the barn while the audience sang Little Donkey and the other parents beamed.
Meanwhile, Frog was beside herself.
I had to pass Baby Girl to the NLM and edge my way through the seated crowd. Public tantrums are bad enough but when your child is quite literally on stage it’s something else entirely.
Of course I could completely relate to how she was feeling. She was cross with herself that she’d turned down the part of Mary, cross with me for not knowing that Mary would get to ride a real donkey, and cross with the lady for not letting her change her mind halfway into the performance. Her five year old brain couldn’t compute it all.
I went through a kaleidoscope of parental techniques, from gentle persuasion to downright exasperation. In the end I had to take her out of the barn in the hope she’d calm down, but her fixation on that bloody donkey just got worse. As we stood outside in the pouring rain, while all the other families had a cracking time inside, I felt every feeling going. I was cross with my child, disappointed on her behalf, upset for myself and furious with that sodding donkey.
Being drenched in the middle of a muddy farm while my child had a full-on meltdown is not what I’d envisaged when I’d booked the tickets, or when we’d entered the soft, cosy glow of the barn. And those emotions couldn’t have been further from the elation I’d felt less than 24 hours earlier, when my girl was recognised for her fantastic achievement at school.
Looking back, I can now see that episode was one of those lessons that my daughter had to learn in life. But I also learned something from it as a mum: don’t have false expectations; you can never predict any situation that involves children; stop striving for a perfect ideal that isn’t always real (life isn’t a John Lewis ad) and always, under any circumstance, encourage your child to accept the role of Mary.
After an exhausting half hour of tears Frog finally perked up and we got on with the job of having a nice time. I had mulled wine to soften the pain of my own disappointment and Frog had a present from Father Christmas to distract her from hers.
And we avoided the donkeys for the rest of the day.
What tough parenting lessons have you learned recently?