When I collected my daughter from After School Club, they said she’d been a bit upset after her and Bethany had mixed up their mummies. I didn’t quite understand: Bethany’s mum is about four inches taller and four stone lighter than me. It was only when I was handed a bandaged-up Pringle tube that I twigged it was Halloween decorations they were talking about.
My girl had dried her eyes, but they were still a little red. There was an almost audible buzz of anxiety around her. It was electrical. It hummed and fizzled throughout tea, and then it short-circuited at bedtime.
“I don’t know if that’s my mummy!” was the first wire to go kaput. A second strand came loose: “I don’t want to walk to secondary site, I’m too tired.” Another wire pinged: “I think it’s my sleeping mask, I don’t think I’m sleeping so well when I wear it.”
I could see what was going to happen and I could do nothing to stop it. The delicate cable ties holding the bulging bundle of worry wires running through her head had snapped, and that whooshing sound was her hot tears hissing on the escaping sparks of anxiety. I hopped into bed with her, squidged in tight, and wrapped my arms around her as she sobbed into my shoulder.
“I don’t want to be Catherine’s friend she says wants to be mine but I’m not her best friend she wants to go to a different school next year will I go to a different school I want to go with her but I don’t want to my back hurts Mummy I get tired when it’s PE and swimming I want you to put the sleep mask in the bin cut it up but I want to keep it in my drawer I want to wear it I don’t want to wear it I’m not sure about the sleepover next week I don’t know whether I’ll be too tired to go but I want to go I haven't done my thank you letters yet can I do trampolining we’re going to do trampolining but what about my back I really don’t think that’s my mummy I want to wear the mask Bethany does can you ask her mum to tell her not to wear it because I don’t want to wear it that my mummy I can’t remember who bought me the till for Christmas was it the year before last why is it broken can you find out about Sportszone I want to go on the bus to After School Club on a Monday not walk did I sleep well I’m not tired I am a bit tired I’m hungry Mummy.”
I made soothing noises, tried to address each jumbled up worry, and then gave up. Nothing was registering. She needed to cry. I had to let her. I had to wait. Half an hour later she had cried herself to sleep. I felt like doing the same.
This morning, I walked into her bedroom and pulled back the curtains. She sat up, swung her legs round and planted her feet on the floor, rubbing her eyes, sleepily. “Good morning, Mummy!” We smiled at eachother. There was no sound of humming, or buzzing, or crackling. A good night’s sleep had reset her trip switch. And mine.