‘He hates me.’
‘Of course he doesn’t,’ Mary told her daughter.
Tears shone brightly in Anna’s eyes. ‘It’s true, Mum. He’s so different with Mike. He adores him.’
‘Mike is a great dad,’ Mary conceded,’ but it’s not a competition, love. Joe will always love you both but in different ways.’
‘No, he definitely prefers Mike. You know, he turns away from me when I try to kiss him? And if Mike’s in the room it’s like I’m invisible’
Mary patted her daughter’s hand. ‘Did I ever tell you about the time Jerry ran away?’
Anna’s eyes widened. Her brother had run away? ‘When did he do that?’
‘He was five at the time – had only just started school. He said I didn’t love him anymore. He also said that he hated me.’ Mary shook her head. ‘That was like a knife through the heart, I can tell you, even though I knew he didn’t mean it.’
‘But why did he do it?’
Mary smiled. ‘He had just found out that he had a baby sister and he was afraid we didn’t want him anymore.’
‘Me,’ Anna realised.
‘You. He was fine with your dad but he was furious with me and he hated you. I suppose it was because he’d had all of my attention before but once you came along, I didn’t have as much time for him and when I did talk to the poor lad, I always seemed to be scolding him.’
‘Don’t do this, don’t do that, you’ll wake the baby,’ Anna said.
Mary nodded. ‘I suppose it’s tough on any child when a second baby comes along.’
‘So what happened?’
Mary laughed. ‘He was about to walk out the gate when he met you r gran. She suggested that he come to her house for tea before he left and he went off with her, pleased as punch to be getting away from the two of us. By the time he got back he seemed to have forgotten about the whole thing.’
Anna smiled. ‘Typical man; always distracted by his stomach.’
‘And your son’s no different, Anna.’
‘I don’t know about that, Mum. I just don’t think I’m a very good mother. God, I went to college for years to learn how to become an architect but I didn’t even get a crash-course in parenting!’
Mary smiled. ‘It’s on the job training, I’m afraid.’ Mary reached over to hug her miserable daughter. ‘Oh, come on, love, I know it’s a tough job but the rewards in the end far outweigh the bad times.’
‘Yes, yes they do! Have you talked to Mike about all of this?’
Anna rolled her eyes. ‘He thinks I’m making a mountain out of a molehill but it’s easy for him to say that. He plays the role of the doting daddy when he gets in from work. He doesn’t know how hard it is for me.’
Mary studied her in silence for a moment. ‘I think you need a break.’
Anna’s mouth set in a stubborn line. ‘I don’t have time. Right now, I think Joe and I need to spend time together and work things out.’
‘I had a word Mike, but I’m afraid it didn’t help,’ Mary told to her son-in-law.
Mike shook his head sadly. ‘I don’t know what else I can do, Mary. There’s no getting through to her.’
‘Maybe she needs to talk to someone, outside of the family. What about your GP?’
Mike nodded thoughtfully. ‘She’s a nice woman – easy to talk to.’
‘Persuading Anna to go and see her won’t be easy though.’
‘Tell her that she needs to for Joe’s sake.’
Mike smiled slowly. ‘Yes. Yes, I think that might work.’
‘I was going to bring Joe along,’ Anna told Fiona Doyle, ‘but Mike said I shouldn’t.’
The doctor smiled easily and gestured to a chair. ‘I love seeing Joe, of course, but maybe its better if we have a chat – just the two of us.’
Anna smiled nervously as Fiona took the chair beside her.
‘So, how have you been?’
‘Tired,’ Anna admitted, ‘and anxious and sad.’
‘Do you know why?’ Fiona said calmly.
Anna swallowed hard. ‘It’s Joe.’
‘Is he ill?’
‘No.’ Anna frowned. God, maybe he was and she was such a lousy mother, she hadn’t even noticed. ‘I knew I should have brought him with me.’
‘I’m sure he’s fine but if you’re concerned, you know where I am.’
Anna smiled gratefully.
‘So why are you sad?’
‘Joe doesn’t love me,’ Anna said and tears ran down her face, unchecked. ‘He wouldn’t care if he never saw me again. He’s much happier with his gran or his dad. He worships his dad,’ she added and was ashamed of the bitterness in her voice.
Fiona nodded. ‘That must make you feel left out.’
‘Yes, yes it does!’
‘Usually it’s the father that gets excluded.’
‘Is it?’ Anna dabbed at her eyes.
‘It changes as they go through life. There will always be times where one parent is more important than the other.’
‘But I’m his mother!’
‘Can I come and visit you?’ Fiona said suddenly. ‘I could drop by tomorrow afternoon after surgery and then I could check Joe out and set your mind at rest on that score at least.’
Anna looked relieved. ‘Oh, yes, that would be great, if it’s not too much trouble.’
The doctor shook her head and stood up. ‘No trouble at all.’
‘He’s absolutely fine,’ Fiona told her after she’d they’d left Joe and returned to the kitchen.
‘Oh, thank God. That’s something, at least.’
Fiona took the cup Anna handed to her and sat down at the table. ‘You know, I think you’re great with him.’
Anna looked surprised. ‘You do?’
‘Yes, I do. Don’t be so hard on yourself.’
‘I’m not, it’s just -’ Anna broke off when she heard a cry from the other room. She jumped to her feet and was through the door before Fiona even realised what was happening.
‘Sorry about that.’ Anna smiled apologetically as she returned with a little bundle in her arms. ‘He’s just got a little pain, haven’t you Joe? Its okay, Mummy will rub your back and make it go away. Its okay, Joe, its okay.’ She looked helplessly over his head at Fiona. ‘He gets such bad colic and only Mike seems to be able to soothe him.’
‘He’s six weeks old now, isn’t he? It can be a tough time for some babies, poor little mite.’ Joe’s cries had turned to moans and his eyes were closing. Fiona chuckled quietly. ‘For a child that’s supposed to hate you, he looks quite content to me.’
Anna closed her eyes and buried her nose in the soft down on her baby’s head. ‘Oh, Fiona, I love him so much. It kills me when I can’t make his pains go away.’
‘Get used to it,’ Fiona said wisely. ‘That’s what motherhood is all about. And that’s what partners are for; to help rub the tummies and kiss bruises. You’re in this together.’
Joe let out a loud burp, nestled into his mother’s neck and started to snore gently. Anna smiled nervously and hugged his little body closer to her. ‘Yes, I suppose we are.’
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