She sits, peering at herself in the car mirror, locked in her own thoughts. She grimaces and stretches her mouth, trying to work out how to smile.
It’s a strange concept, but how do you naturally just smile?
She can do it, I’m not suggesting that she can’t, but it’s only when it happens spontaneously. Recalling from muscle memory is a different process. She opens her mouth and studies it with every piece of concentration her body can forfeit. Her lips wobble and she struggles to express her emotions.
Her brain tells her the message just smile.
A smile works a thousand wonders, it connects her to the rest of humanity. A simple concept that she just cannot do.
How many times when she is having a photo taken do we say ‘just smile’. Say cheese! Her teeth chatter and her eyes twitch with pain, “how long do I have to paste this on my face for?” Another demand that is forced and feels alien to her.
Why, as a parent, do I feel the need to capture a moment that is not really existing? Come on my darling, pretend you are having fun. Let’s show everyone we fit in. Let’s conceal the distress you really feel. In other words stop being who you really are!
I am watching her in the car wing mirror and she preoccupies herself with this game repetitively for the entire journey home. She gets angry with herself and lashes out at me as we get out of the car having reached our final destination.
I smile at her reassuringly and stroke her back where she likes to be tickled. I wonder if that rubs it in further, here is mummy with a smug smile, adding to her failure to comply with a simple social conformity. She slaps me in the face and the sting lingers, I say ‘ouch’ and she laughs at me. The laughter hurts more than the assault. My face crumbles and she throws herself around me, telling me she loves me, that she is so, so sorry.
I begin to daydream and reflect over the past. I can see the words in her early years report clear in my mind, ‘a child who rarely smiles’. I start to think about the things that make her happy, about the slapstick humour that makes her belly laugh so loud and the impromptu silly dancing we do around the living room. I picture her smile and it is the most beautiful thing I can describe. It tinges my thoughts with sadness at the fact that she must feel so unhappy so much of the time.
I have to snap out of it and think some happy thoughts for else it consumes me. I begin to realise that I become so bogged down by behaviour daily that I forget to smile myself. She looks to me for guidance and I fail at the first hurdle. There was a time before she started school when I used to enjoy doing everything with her. Play dates, baby groups, holidays, first trips to the swimming pool or the library. Holding her hand when she took her first few steps or singing nursery rhymes over and over recording it on my phone, desperate to not miss a thing.
How did I get so trapped and lose sight of enjoying the simple things with her? Experiencing life together like we did before. If I think of doing any of these things now then I talk myself out of them. Better not, maybe another time.
Why can’t I just enjoy her now? What’s stopping me? She still laughs, she still smiles (when it happens naturally!)
It’s the violent meltdowns that I can’t control that have taken their grip on me. I have lost the ability to feel and in the process of that I have ignored my own ability to smile. I’ve forgotten to relish in the milestones like I used to love to do. She’s still the same person, it’s me that’s changed.
I need to enjoy being with her again and not being consumed by the flash points which happen in the day. The emotional overloads that do not stop her being my funny, witty, artistic little girl. They will affect me, they shouldn’t control me. Life goes on.
I’m going to leave you with the lyrics of the song Smile and hope that to anyone reading this that they can find the energy to smile again, just like I intend to do:
Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking.
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by.
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
Light up your face with gladness,
Hide every trace of sadness.
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying.
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
If you just smile.