Bedtime, neggie Nelly
The first pearl of wisdom my mother forgot to roll my way was that my inner child would live on inside me like a needy miniature doppelganger, and that I would have to continue parenting her when our darling mum vacated this earth. I call her neggie Nelly – and no one can accuse me of neglect. I’ve spent decades soothing her, playing with her and taking her with me to therapy.
Sorry for herself
When I picture Nelly, she stands forlornly on grimy bare feet – we grew up in Africa and hardly wore shoes – disproportionately small in an imposing doorway, framed by a foreboding mustardy light. She is drowning in a tatty, high-necked nightdress from Victorian times, and clutches a raggedy doll with a bendy neck that points dejectedly downwards. She has a sometimes bewildered, sometimes tearful, mostly resentful, screwed-up expression. She is wronged.
I nurture her, because she deserves it, and no one knows her like I do. I tell her that she was an innocent passenger and that nothing that happened in childhood was her fault. But she can be a drain; she is irrational, insecure and so effing negative, she can conjure cumulonimbus out of rainbows! She does not feel worthy of love and happiness and worries about loss and abandonment. I have not managed to change her belief that the smorgasbord of life will leave her hungry.
Grown-up me, the more enlightened one, knows the power of positivity, but grumpy Nelly tries to elbow me off stage with her bony little arm, and she is surprisingly forceful. Her fear manifests as chronic self-doubt – well hidden, because no one can know we are that vulnerable – and absurd pessimism because ‘laughter comes before tears!’ (thanks, Mum). Her self-pitying hisses threaten to scupper my relationships and harpoon my ambitions.
In the past, adult me might have shrunk to her level, pushing people away with volatile outbursts or ruining my chances of success with self-defeating behaviour. But I’ve evolved. I can see that Nelly needs comfort, and that courage and faith will get us through. When she wants to throw a tantrum, I lay a finger over my lips, telling her to wait, watch and let life play out without putting a spoke in her own tricycle just to prove herself right.
A place for us
Mothering neggie Nelly out of martyrdom is an investment of time, patience and self-love: routine strolls under the trees, just the two of us, letting the breeze blow away her anger and fear and clear space for my more measured responses. The medicine of laughter lightens her mood and bounces her back into playfulness, before comforting bedtime tales for peaceful rest. Stephen Fry is our surrogate father and he is reading us a story, like the radio plays she used to anticipate with glee. I have invited her into bed for a cuddle – on the proviso that she washes her feet and changes into clean, optimistic and open-minded pyjamas. And, when I put it that way, she giggles, just like the old days.
Vee Sey is production editor, chief sub-editor, features writer and columnist at Psychologies magazine
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