It is early morning and I am in bed, my impressive third-trimester bulk resting on a carefully constructed scaffold of pregnancy pillows. An electric fan is trained on the soles of my feet – my only respite from the prickly burn of restless leg syndrome – while the rest of me slumbers beneath the duvet.
I am dreaming. It is not a pleasant dream. I am dreaming that my son, my sweet, defenceless two-year-old, is being pursued some malign, shambling monster. A mummy, in fact. “Oh no!” my son shrieks, weeping hysterically. “No, Mummy! No, Mummy!”
My son’s cries grow louder until – with a thump – I wake up, and he’s actually there, sprawled across me, screaming, “No, Mummy!” in my face. After a few seconds, I realise that a) this is no longer a dream, b) my husband has chucked our son on to our bed, then disappeared – cackling – into the bathroom, and c) I am the mummy my son is objecting to.
“NARGH, MARMMARGH,” he is sobbing now, with tears and everything. “Mummy, bye-bye? Hello, Daddy?”
“Mummy no bye-bye,” I find myself telling him nonsensically. “No Daddy hello. Daddy in the shower. Herbie and Mummy together.” I try to gather him into a hug, but he is inconsolable. “Daddy,” he whimpers to himself, rocking back and forth for all the world as though my husband has abandoned him in a fairy-tale forest, until I’m finally able to distract him with a toy fire truck and my glasses.
The rejection is always short-lived. And the thing is, with a new baby on the horizon, my son is going to be spending more time with his father than me, so he should be getting used to it
A sea change is afoot. Time was, I was my son’s favourite. I gave birth to him, he slept in the crook of my arm at night (mostly because it was a nightmare to put him down anywhere else) and fed from my breast. He loved his father, of course, more than almost anything – he lit up whenever his father came into the room – but it was to me primarily that he came for comfort and food and quiet and rest. Sometimes I couldn’t tell where I ended and my son began. I had no luck with expressing milk and I was often the only one who could get my son back to sleep at night, which left my husband ringing his hands and feeling useless while I ran myself ragged through the early hours with a baby who barely slept and was always hungry.
How different things are now. Breastfeeding is over; my son sleeps in his own room. Although he still wakes in the night, my husband and I can now take it in shifts to get him to sleep again. My growing pregnancy is sapping the fun out of my half of the parenting – at first I was forever locked away in the toilet, throwing up; now I’m a useless lump on the sofa – unable to get down on the floor to play, or throw my son over my shoulder the way his father does.
“Mummy go upstairs?” Herbie suggested one day while the three of us were playing together. “Bye-bye, Mummy?” “Do you want to come upstairs with Mummy?” I asked, to clarify. The reply was crystal clear: “No. Mummy, bye-bye. Mummy upstairs. Herbie play Daddy.”
This happens at least once every two days, now. I have cried about it, even whispered, “Fine, fuck you” under my breath. My husband laughs at me: “When he says it to me, I feel relief and I go and listen to a podcast!” But my son rarely tells my husband to go away. Whereas he’s made up an entire song about me going away:
I realise that toddlers play favourites all the time. I know I’m being melodramatic when I howl “Why doesn’t he luhuv me?” at my husband (especially when he shrugs in exasperation and replies, “I dunno, maybe it’s your personality?”). But it feels like such a rejection. My son is my favourite person and, every time he turns me down, I flash back to the day my childhood best friend quit me for the more popular girls; every time I wasn’t picked for a sports team; every romantic entanglement that went wrong.
But it’s better now. The rejection is always short-lived. I always get an enthusiastic hug at some point. I concentrate on the things we can do together (going for walks, reading, colouring in) and he seems happier in my company. “Bye-bye, Mummy” is just a weekly phenomenon now. And the thing is, with a new baby on the horizon, my son is going to be spending more time with his father than me, so he should be getting used to it.
And now the third trimester is in its full, swollen-footed, totally exhausted swing, I’m taking a leaf out of my husband’s book. Every time I’m rejected, I punch the air and go for a nap. It’s almost enough to make me wish for my son to dismiss me. Almost.