My friend Miranda has told me that I am the greatest example of maternal fortitude she has ever seen, because once she walked in to see me sleeping on the couch with my two-year-old lying on top of me, repeatedly kicking me in the head, and I refused to wake up.
Well, yeah. I needed that nap. I wasn’t getting up for anything.
It’s something they don’t mention to prospective mothers much, if at all. You get warnings and lots of jovial comments about ‘oh, you’re going to be so tired!’ because sleep deprivation isn’t a form of torture or anything. You get plenty of warnings about labour, like, way more warnings than you ever wanted because no new mother needs to know exactly how many things can go hideously wrong, she’s freaked out enough. Tantrums, baby illnesses, yep, all covered.
You know what nobody ever, ever mentioned to me?
You spend the first few years of your child’s life with them beating you up.
Seriously. First with the babies it’s eye-gouging, hair-yanking and getting that soft little skull slammed into your face repeatedly. (It’s not that soft. Really.) Then they get bigger and learn to punch and kick and flail and bite and all sorts of super fun stuff that you can’t stop them from doing no matter how much you say ‘no’ because they’re toddlers and they have no impulse control and will hit you without thinking it through.
I’ve been kicked and smacked in the face, the teeth, the boob, the stomach, and all sorts of other places. She’s bludgeoned my husband’s testicles so often that we’re starting to wonder if she’s trying to say she doesn’t want a baby sister. And while it’s been on purpose a few times, much more often it’s just a by-product of Random Angry Flailing or attempts to get my attention by someone who doesn’t yet understand the difference between a gentle poke and a ringing slap.
So two things –
One: If you are writing a small child, like two to four, and you’ve never had to handle one? They’re not as helpless as you think. They wriggle like eels, kick like tiny mules, scream like air-raid sirens and are almost as accomplished as cats at escape-artistry. If you want to hold onto a toddler who’s really fighting hard, you want to wrap them in a blanket or put them in a bag or something because suddenly they’ll have eight limbs and no spine and… well, take a very large cat and try to stuff it into a pillow-case. Like that, but with fewer claws and a much stronger punch. And it hurts when they hit you – remember, they’re much stronger for their size than you are!
Two: If you ever wonder why mothers take so much crap from their kids, remember this. I have taken more physical abuse from my daughter in nearly three years than I did during the entirety of a bullying-heavy school experience, and I still adore her and would do anything for her. I suspect some kind of evolutionary fail-safe is involved to the tune of ‘offspring = love, do not murder’ that completely overrides any sense of self-preservation, and I have no reason to believe that it’s going to shut off when she becomes a sullen teenager. Mothers get pretty inured to this stuff is my point, I guess. It’s not any kind of impulse to martyrdom, it really does stop bothering you after a while. So any mother of one or more children (assuming she’s been caring for them herself, not passing them off to a nanny or something) probably isn’t going to collapse sobbing if she gets hit because OMG physical violence is so completely outside her experience.
It’s not. It’s really, really, really not. She can of course collapse sobbing because she got hit really hard in the stomach or because she is being attacked by a scary person or whatever, there are a ton of valid reasons, but she is not a fragile flower who’s never been struck before. So be aware of that.