Here is a little story of a winter's day in 2006.
At the time, I was too all-over-the-place and, if I'm honest, appalled at myself to write it down. Just now I read Wife in the North's desperately honest account of a truly bad day - which reminded me of my own.
Wife, I humbly dedicate this story to you, and to anyone else who has lost it, the plot, and themselves of late, in that highest pursuit of all, child-raising:
So two-and-a-half-year-old Anna-mouse had just discovered several important things.
One, that she could shout 'No!' really rather loudly, quite alot of times, and that it had a startling impact on her mother. Two, how to do that incredible body arching thing which made getting her into the buggy well nigh impossible. And, three, that the effect of doing the opposite to what was required of her was far, far more interesting than complying. Oh, and she was teething - those last, thumping great behemoths, the back molars.
Something propelled me out of the house that day. It was cold, child and I were at war, I was frantic, and hot flushing, and anxious beyond all measure at the recent, sudden, ante-upping in previously angelic child, but rather than put on C-Beebies and hide, I thought -what? That the fresh air might do us good, I suppose.
A few hundreds yards and thirty minutes of toddler-dawdling later, I decided to bite the bullet and get her back into the pram. The wind was whipping us about and I was desperate to get to wherever we were going. After what felt like decades of kneeling, weeping child thrashing her little hands into the pavement, wailing 'No, Mummy, no!', and alot of just-what-kind-of-mother-are-you glances from a number of passers-by who had clearly never in their lives had sole charge of a goldfish, let alone a tantrum-ing child, I picked Anna-mouse up and by a series of rather physical manoeuvres I vaguely remembered seeing on The House of Tiny Tearaways, buckled her into the buggy.
A couple of minutes further down the road, as I raced us maniacally into the oncoming wind, I saw a man coming towards us. As he passed me he waved his two hands in my face, pointed at Anna-mouse and said 'Gloves!'
Reader, I lost it.
PISS OFF! I heard myself yell. He was clearly surprised, though not half as suprised as I was - really quite a polite, well-mannered person in the normal run of things. He stopped dead and, fair play to him, engaged in a kind of conversation.
I'm sorry, he said, I only thought that if my hands are cold, hers must be too...
DO YOU THINK, I continued to rant, IF I COULD GET GLOVES ON HER, SHE WOULDN'T BE WEARING THEM?!
Oh, he said. Right, he said. Yes. But I hadn't finished yet. This probably rather nice man had unleased a demon and nothing was going to make it stop.
I HAVE HAD A NIGHTMARE OF A DAY, I HAVE HAD IT UP TO HERE (dramatic indication of line above head) WITH TWO-YEAR-OLD TODDLER - DON'T YOU THINK THE LAST THING I NEED IS A STRANGER TELLING ME WHAT TO DO!
I'm sorry, he was saying. I'm sorry, he said again. And all of a sudden, as suddenly as it had come, the beast left me, and I was sorry, too.
No. No, I'm sorry, I began to babble. Again, I think he was surprised, but by God he was hanging on in there. A lesser person might have got very angry back, or walked off swearing by now.
I'm just so tired, I confessed in a very small voice, near tears. I've had a terrible day, and I really didn't need this, I said.
We continued the contest to see who could apologise more for a little while longer, then I wished him well and we continued on our separate ways. My hands shook for several hours. Anna-mouse, who had been meek throughout, was hugely cheered and clearly thrilled by the whole encounter. She behaved herself for the rest of the day.
On reflection, I thank God for that kindly stranger who allowed me to shout at him until I had emptied myself of the strains which had been building up for so long. I think that I had come to a line that day, and that man helped me not to cross it, to have a little glimpse of what was over it, turn around and come home. To my child, and to myself.
It's not nice to reach the line. I got there with one child. Wife, you have more. I salute you.