At any time, one or the other of my sons feels the need to be in near physical contact with me. I love and hate it in – no, not equal measures. I love it more than I hate it, but I do get “touched out” and feel the need for the ability to move without having to consider the physical presence of another, and to go about getting a task done without the interruption of “help”, answering “why” questions and balancing the potential hurt feelings of twins who are often a little in competition with each other for my attention.

As I write, one of them has climbed up next to me and is pressing his little body into my thigh and arm, somewhat restricting my ability to type comfortably. He’s getting to chill with some iPad time while I take my writing time. The other is on the seat just across the way with his iPad, and I’ve got Nina Simone blasting out on Spotify in order to drown out  the sounds of their cartoons. The guy across from me is bouncing with excitement from the Korean cartoon that is his current favourite (Miniforce if anyone wants to know!) and occasionally hitting my feet with his.

I’ve just made the mistake of interacting with them, and so lost five minutes to continued interruption. I often feel guilty when I deny them the attention they so frequently crave. But they are like emotional drills; they will drink my milkshake and drain me dry. They won’t even mean to, they are too young to realise that I need to hold something back for myself. Actually, who ever realises that about other people? I’m possibly just as leech-like when it comes to those from whom I need emotional support. I’ve learned that expected behaviour is not to be excessively demanding and to give people space, but I’ve no instinct that they need that space, or that their own well might be getting on the low side.

Humans are pretty bad at instinctive empathy. I mean, I think we all have great innate ability to connect with each other (unless we’ve been damaged); If I see stories on the news about people in tragedy or difficulty; if I read an immersive book about the trials and tribulations of a well-developed character; if I listen to conversations at work about what’s going on in other’s lives: I feel like it’s really easy to have sympathy, really easy to imagine the horror and pain of being in those situations myself. But – all of those situations are at a remove. I have no direct responsibility for any of them.

When it comes up against our own needs, then we really have to work at putting ourselves in another’s shoes rather than expecting them to put themselves in ours – and then feeling hard done by when they don’t. And at times there’s an inclination to treat it as a zero-sum game. When I’m giving, I’m not receiving, and when I’ve spent the whole day deleting my ego in the face of my children’s needs, I can definitely slip into “need, deserve, it’s my turn now!” selfish mode. Add in any little bit of physical discomfort or unwellness and that gets multiplied tenfold – no, infinite fold. Coz in my brain, being sick elevates you straight to the top of the “receiving” queue.

Maybe if I handled things a little better during the day I wouldn’t reach five o’clock feeling so drained of everything. And there could potentially be the added benefit of having taught my children about balance and how their mother is a human being as well. I do ask for “five minutes space” or whatever at times, but they are really bad at respecting that. I get about a minute’s space and then they’re in with demands or hurts or needs, and I feel that I can’t turn them away in that moment – in fact, in the moment, it usually takes more out of me to reinforce the boundary of the space I’ve requested rather than just solve the immediate problem. And then my well runs closer to dry and I get sharper and less expansively loving. Then they feel that and want to cling even tighter, until it ends with my slamming a door, shouting at my husband that I’m drained and I never get any space or time to myself and can people please stop fucking touching me or requesting brain from me for 10 fucking minutes!

My perceptions are pretty off by that point, of course, but that’s how it feels in the moment.

So, today, I will try again. I’ll try to set up a better structure and allow space for all our needs in this family.