It’s true. I’ve been sharing the highlights: the happy moments that are a joy to write about. And I’ve only alluded to some of the more trying moments by including a wry anecdote from time to time. But, to be honest, our day to day life is a little more rocky. Solo parenting is unrelenting, and I honour those solo and single parents who take on this task for the long haul.
Silas has been riding the waves of transition like the surfer’s son that he is. But Delphine, at just three years’ old, is finding it harder. And it’s being reflected in her behaviour. If I were chatting with a friend contemplating a living overseas experience, I’d be honest about the difficulties of doing it with a three-year old. Delphine is regularly reaching the limit of what her three-year old brain can handle. And her reactions are challenging my own reserves of parental patience and ingenuity. Last week’s debacle is a case in point.
Delphine loves gymnastics. So I’d been overjoyed to discover a local gymnastics class for pre-schoolers just down the road. I’d contacted the teacher and she’d welcomed Delphine and Silas to come for a trial class.
I’d had to wake Delphine from her afternoon nap to make it in time. She was distraught. I’d tried to hold her through the rage as she thrashed and screamed “go away!” I coped for a while but I lost it in the end, getting angry and saying all the things parents do when at the end of their tether. I’d felt awful afterwards but we’d managed to make it to the gym just in time for the 4:30pm start.
But it was the wrong day. In French, Tuesday and Wednesday both begin with the same letter and I’d misread the flyer. We stayed to watch the older girls’ class for a while but Delphine was deeply disappointed. She’d been so looking forward to doing gymnastics again. I’d awoken her early and put us both through a horrendous tantrum for nothing.
We watched the class for a while and then wandered despondently back to the car. As we drove back home in the darkening late afternoon, Silas piped up from the backseat.
“Mama, it’s not all been bad. At least we know where the gym is now. And we got to watch a bit of the older children’s class.”
“Thanks Silas.” I said, so grateful that this time he’d said something helpful. “That’s just the right thing to say. It makes me feel a lot better.”
“But I learned that from you: to look for the good things.”
Tears sprang to my eyes. This time for heart-aching joy, not from the shame of parenting gone wrong.
“Oh Silas,” I said through a tight voice “I’m so happy. You’ve reminded me how to be a better person. And now I know you’ve actually been taking in all those conversations we have about living a good life.”
It had been a tough afternoon, and there was more to come: Delphine spilling half a litre of milk all over the kitchen table and floor. But true to the adage, I didn’t cry. Instead, Silas and I made a “beautiful oops” and used the mishap as a chance to finally mop the filthy kitchen floor that I’d been complaining about that morning.
Being here, as a solo parent, is truly parenting in the raw. I experience my children in a more intense way. Sometimes they rub up against me with a friction that’s almost impossible to bear. But then, the moment turns, a shaft of sunlight comes searing through, and they reveal their emerging selves with a clarity that’s breath taking.
I’m not sure I’d feel this with such naked vulnerability were my defences not already lowered by living with unfamiliarity. But here I seem to be wide open. It’s as if the skin separating my own inner world from that of my children’s is finer, and with this closer proximity I’m learning more about them. It’s not always comfortable, but then, that was never the point of this trip.
We often think of travel as exploring new sights and foreign lands. But I’m finding that the path I tread on this journey sometimes leads me to visas where I see anew the two young people by my side.