I was on my way home longing to put my feet up and ready for a cuppa. Browsing at the local shopping complex really takes it out on me these days. Opposite me on the bus sat a woman and her two children. She was perched at the edge of her seat ready to spring into action like the proverbial jack-in-the-box. A two year old girl was in a pram and her brother who looked three or four, an energetic bundle, was busy making mischief. He grabbed his sister’s drink bottle and she shrieked till she got it back; he poked her, she shrieked some more, then he tried to free himself from his mother’s grasp so he could run down the other end of the bus. She threatened to take away privileges, he ignored her.
The two were stuck in that vicious cycle that mums who have more than one child under school age often find themselves. The little boy had misbehaved to get her attention and his frazzled mum gave it to him as he instinctively knew she would. The fact that it was the wrong kind of attention didn’t seem to matter to him. He’d had his mum all to himself for at least two years and now he was forced to share it with a puny, useless little thing who couldn’t talk, couldn’t play games and for some reason he wasn’t able to comprehend, got things her own way all the time. Unfair!
And threats were never going to work on him. At his age he couldn’t conceive as far ahead as the next day or even the same afternoon. ‘You’re going to your room as soon as we get home if you don’t behave’ got that mother nowhere.
An elderly woman sitting next to me implied that if it would all be different if she were in charge. ‘If I had you for two weeks, you’d know what’s what,’ she said. ‘I’m not known as the dragon lady for nothing.’ I visualised a large wooden spoon in this lady’s past and shuddered. The boy ignored her and the mother, at whom it seemed aimed, didn’t respond but I could tell that she felt shamed.
So, what should the mum have done? The answers, never simple, are sure to come to her thick and fast when the children are all grown up, or at least old enough to go to school and give her a break and a chance to think. I usually mind my own business but the poor mum looked so done in I wanted to help.
When my grandchildren and I are out and about I bring along some distractions: a favourite book, colouring book and pencils and the trusty notebook I always carry with me. The latter is used for playing hangman which, for those who haven’t experienced it in their youth, is a game that requires you to think and to know how to spell. Even before she could read, my granddaughter Rachel loved to play ‘I Spy.’ She was most enthusiastic about the game even if she usually got the words wrong. ‘Book doesn’t begin with ‘D’, it begins with ‘B’, Rachel, but good try.’ I made up stories that involved my granddaughters. They weren’t good stories but I don’t think they noticed, children love being the central characters whether in real life or in a story.
I whipped out my notebook book and a biro. ‘Would you like to draw something for mummy?’ I asked. The little boy stopped mid-rampage. I held the notebook out. He looked at his mother who nodded and he slowly took it from my hand. Peace reigned for the five minutes he was on the bus.
I don’t think my actions turned that little boy’s life around or his mother’s for that matter. Dealing with the young and the boisterous is too complex a matter for simple solutions. It’s just that as I watched this young mum going under I was overcome with an intense a feeling of déjà-vu. I knew then that whether past, present or future, thousands of mothers have been, are, or will experience the same sort of distress. I imagined this mum sitting on a bus one future day; watching a similar scene playing itself out and nodding knowingly. Perhaps then, she will do as I did and be one mum offering another a lifeline.