I was driving my youngest (11) back from school today, when he asked whether he was going to his Dad's the following day.
No, I said, you're coming to mine.
Then there was silence.
At which point, the evil gremlin inside me started to mither: he's silent because he's wishing he's going to his Dad's. He likes his Dad's house better than mine. His Dad is more fun than me. He loves his Dad more than me.
I have these inner dialogues often and they chew me up. Even when I was married, happily married, I was anxious that I was never as good a parent as their father. I was always the practical one; I would cook, clean, wash up, clean their clothes, iron, do the school runs, attend parents' evening, food and clothes shop - a typical female role.
Their Dad was always the one who played with them, who seriously enjoyed their company. I used to blame the fact that I was always busy for not being able to devote much time to them, but if I'm honest, I was bored by their games and lost patience easily when they started to grump. I felt - feel - extremely guilty about this. I can honestly say that I love my boys with an intensity that is beyond words, and yet sometimes, spending more than half an hour with them in a block can send me round the twist and reaching for the valium.
So today, the silence in the car set off all my guilt alarms. I then did a bad thing. I probed deeper.
"So," I said, "Do you mind coming to mine tomorrow night?"
"No", he said, "You've got an Xbox."
Never has a four letter word given me such delight. Getting that Xbox a few months ago cleaned me out, but boy, if that scores me a few points, then it was worth Every. Single. Penny.
(I am a bad person.)
But I didn't let it end there. I let out a little cough. "Ahem. And...um... what else do you like about staying here?"
"Well - your teas are much better. And I've got a double bed. And a cat."
Now, this is where I should have stopped. This is when I should have said to myself, that's great, he loves me, he gets fed well with me and he loves his cat. Stop.
But bugger me, the gremlin wasn't having any of that. He wanted to know all sort of other things. So before I knew what was happening, I'd already spurted out,
"So what's better at your Dad's house, then?"
WHAT THE FECK DID I SAY THAT FOR?
And, wishing I hadn't asked the honest question, I listened to the honest reply.
"Dad gives us more treats." (Mental note - that's why they're getting fat.) "He's also a bit kinder." (WHAT?) "He gets me a drink when I ask, rather than me having to get it myself." (Oh. Ok.) "He's got a bigger garden." (That's true.) "And he also spends more time with us."
Oh. Guilt. Shame. I am a shit mother.
The only way I could handle this was to tell my son that he was completely right, that his Dad does spend more time with them, and that he is very good at that. I did not have any excuse for my own behaviour, for how I feel when I play boardgames with them; how I am not interested in the Xbox in any way.
I deeply wish I was a better, kinder, more patient person. I am going to try harder.
I am going to suggest a board game. Right now. And when I suggest it, I shall smile and pretend it's what I really, really want to do. And I will continue to smile right the way through it, even if it's Risk and lasts for a hundred years. And my smile will not turn into a grimace. And I will be gracious when I lose horribly.
Because I want to try to be the best mum I could possibly be.
Even if it sends me completely nuts.