One of the shorts is about mothering. Badly. In my opinion. I thought you might be interested in seeing an excerpt from it. Trigger warning, therefore, on those who might have experienced stringent, routine driven mothering, that involved crying it out and other delightful ideas about How To Train A Child.
‘What is that stench, how can she make such a foul odour?’
Although quiet, and polite, Alma’s husband could hear the repulsion in her tone: could hear her muscles clenching and her body turning to piano wire as she spoke.
‘Don’t speak like that in front of Catherine, she can hear you.’ Acutely aware of his wife’s moods, his own words were muted and light, with an attempt at humour. He smiled down at three week old Catherine, and rubbed her belly with a light tickle.
‘Oh don’t do that, she doesn’t want a poo-ey hand touching her. Haven’t you finished?’
James had indeed finished changing the nappy. Poor Catherine had seemed a little constipated, and had squealed and cried and turned bright red as she howled. He’d come home from work to be greeted by the shrieks from the pram in the outer porch whilst Alma had been finishing making dinner in the kitchen.
Alma liked dinner to be on the table in front of him as he walked in the door at 6.15. The screeching from Catherine had been matched by the icy silence from Alma, as he entered at 5.55. Prior to his daughter’s birth, he’d have hung around at the train station until he could walk in the door at the correct moment. Now, his desire to hold his daughter in his arms, lift her up and cuddle her, and have that bit more time with her before she was sentenced to the bedroom at 7.15, over rode other considerations.
Alma was furious on two counts. One, he’d come home ‘early’ and two, dinner wasn’t nearly ready. Catherine, it transpired, had been an absolute nightmare all day. Crying, refusing to sleep, refusing to swallow all her bottle, and deliberately vomiting up her milk on her nice clean clothes.
‘Honestly James, she is just like you. She never listens and does exactly what she wants.’ Alma had stirred the bolognaise sauce she was working on with such speed it slopped out onto the cooker.
‘Now look what she’s made me do!’ Alma took the saucepan off the ring and washed down the cooker top before putting it back on and continuing the frantic swirling.
James had smiled a smile of consolation and comfort, picked up Catherine and taken her upstairs. Twenty minutes later, with her tummy rubbed and her legs bicycled up and down, she’d finally managed to get rid of the thing that was hurting her, and had stopped crying. James had cleaned her up and was just about to put the new nappy on, when Alma had arrived to comment on the smell, and to state that dinner was on the table. James thanked his wife and carried Catherine back down the stairs. He placed her in the little Moses basket his mother had given them, and watched her look around as he ate his spaghetti.
‘I wish you wouldn’t keep looking at her like that, she’ll get spoiled. She has to learn she’s not the centre of the Universe.’
James smiled and carried on eating, carried on gazing at his beloved Catherine.
The shrieks were ear piercing. James felt his nerve begin to break. He’d been pacing the living room for over an hour, despite Alma’s promises that it wouldn’t go on for more than ten minutes. So far he’d kept to his side of the bargain: not to interfere, not to intrude on her authority as the mother. But the feeling of his skin searing off his body, and fear knotting up his stomach, was becoming impossible to ignore. Every one of Catherine’s screams and wails was killing him. He could feel his heart jumping in response. He gave in to his instincts and went upstairs.
Alma was sitting outside the nursery, reading her Women’s Weekly. She’d put her chair in front of the door, barring the way. She looked up at him as he emerged onto the landing. Her eyes rolled and the magazine was put down with a huff.
‘Oh for goodness sake, James! She’s perfectly all right!’
‘She doesn’t sound all right.’ He’d had to raise his voice to be heard above the cries.
‘She is warm, well fed, safe and comfortable. I double filled her bottle to get her through the night and her nappy is dry. There is nothing wrong with her.’
‘She’s lonely!’ His voice raised until it was almost matching Alma’s extortions.
‘She’s in a TEMPER. You don’t propose to raise a spoilt brat, do you?’
‘She’s six months old, how can she be spoiled?’
‘Easily, with you around. Always picking her up, cuddling her, telling her what a good girl she is. Always rushing to her for the slightest whimper. You’ve caused this!’
James stared at his wife. The schism that existed in their world had never seemed so great, so profound.
‘How can you bear to hear her in pain like this?’
‘She is not in pain. She’s in a temper, and heaven knows, if we don’t control it now, we’ll have worse to come.’ Alma seemed not to hear the pain in James’s voice. ‘She has to learn to sleep, and this is how she’ll do it. Not by being mollycoddled by you.’
Alma picked the magazine back up and purposely stared at the pages. James had been dismissed. Short of physically pushing her out of the chair to get to the nursery, there was nothing he could do. He stormed back down the stairs, pulled his coat off the hook, and left.
‘Another night at the pub whilst I do the hard work.’ Alma spoke out loud, as if addressing the baby through the door.
‘Now see what you have done...’
James opened the door at 6.13. ‘I’m home!’
Alma smiled her greeting, and her thanks, as she placed the dinner out on the table.
‘Smells good!’ said James, as he hung up his coat. ‘I’ll just wash my hands.’ He ducked into the down stairs toilet that Alma had had installed under the stairs. She was immensely pleased with this civilised addition to the house. James would have preferred... well, quite a lot of things, actually, but it was keeping Alma happy.
Alma was settling Catherine into the high chair, as he seated himself. Beef Cobbler was one of his favourites: once again, Alma was showing her thanks for him giving in on the extension.
‘Well, how have my girls been today?’
Frost formed in the air as Alma launched into her tirade of how trying her day had been. James tried to tune it out, and concentrate on Catherine, who was playing with a rattle he’d bought for her, but it was difficult.
‘...And then she spit up all over her new bib. I’d starched it too, when I ironed it, and she got bits in the little embroidery roses. I’ll never get them looking that good again...’
‘Tut,’ said James, quietly. He winked at Catherine. Alma didn’t pause for breath.
‘... so I tried the new banana one, and she spat that out too. I mean, what child doesn’t like mashed banana? It took me an hour to get that jar into her. I was exhausted by the time for her nap, and then she threw up all over her clean bedding, so I had to re-feed her and do the bed linen...’
James spooned down his dinner, trying to juggle his attention between the women in his life. Alma would erupt if she felt she wasn’t getting enough, or that Catherine was getting too much. All he wanted was to beam and smile at Catherine, and talk to her in little whispers and tickle her until she started to hiccup with laughter. He nodded and smiled at Alma enough times to keep her mollified whilst giving Catherine his secret smile and pulling faces that Alma couldn’t see. Catherine giggled. Alma droned on...
‘Claire was round, and she said little Emily never spits out her food, and every scrap is taken from the jar...and heaven knows Emily doesn’t manage to stink out the room every time she breathes...’
Catherine dropped the rattle on the floor as she squealed in laughter.
‘That’s it, that’s the third time today.’ As James had leaned down to pick up the rattle, Alma swooped up Catherine. A sharp slap and a sharper cry rent the air, and James’s heart.
‘Never, never, never, do that again.’ On each ‘never’, Alma slapped the back of Catherine’s hand hard. Catherine’s howls became screams, as Alma whisked her up the stairs. ‘When will you learn?’
James looked at his beef congealing into the gravy, as he heard the uproar upstairs as Catherine was stripped of her clothes, pushed and pulled into a sleep suit, and the door firmly closed on her cries. By the time Alma came back downstairs he was in the pub.
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From Publisher - With Extra Content
From Publisher - With Extra Content