I have a confession to make. I know you all think I have two children but actually that's not strictly true.
I have a third child.
This child, like the other children in our family, is female. She lives with us. She sleeps in our bed. She comes around with Cherry, Violet and I every day. She's a fully functioning part of our family.
But quite often I overlook her. I generally ignore her. In fact, sometimes I forget about her altogether.
Unlike her two rambunctious sisters, my third child is a quiet little thing. She is not this way by nature. In fact she's ferocious.
But because she's usually overlooked and often downright ignored, she is very quiet. She has learned the hard way not to expect anything at all from me.
The fact is I am busy. I have my hands full with her two demanding sisters and there are only so many hours in the day. I work so hard making sure that Cherry and Violet are fed, watered, content and occupied. I make sure their voices are heard and their preferences are listened to and where possible, acted upon. Truth be told I don't have time to take into consideration the needs, wants and wishes of my third child too.
It's just easier to expect her to wait. To tell her I'll get to her when I can, when I get a moment, when I have the energy. She rarely makes a fuss. She knows she has to wait, and she's so good at waiting.
She's my dependable one. She's the one who will always shift her needs to make way for everybody else's. I count on her to stay quiet and stay overlooked, while I attend to the rest of our family.
Not only that but I rely on her for support. I expect her to be there for me, with a sympathetic ear and a gesture of comfort, when I am feeling tired and bottomed-out. I expect her to keep going, physically, mentally and emotionally, even when she is clearly in desperate need of a break.
And if I am really, really honest I don't want to have to look after her. I don't want the responsibility of making sure her needs are met too. I don't want to risk the potential confrontation and upset of backing her and speaking out for her needs. It's too much effort to fight her corner.
I want somebody else to do it. I want somebody else to take responsibility for her. That way, I can just blame them when she feels upset or overlooked or neglected. I can make it - make her - somebody else's problem.
'You deal with her. I don't have the time. I have enough on my plate.'
My third child is certainly extremely patient and very considerate, but she's only human.
After a while she gets fed up of waiting. She doesn't want to be overlooked. She resents being ignored. And then she gets really angry, justifiably angry, about the way I treat her.
She insists that she needs to be heard. She demands my attention RIGHT NOW.
But because I am not a very good mother to this child, because I am so busy trying to be a good mother to my other children, I tend to get cross with her. I round upon her and I yell and shame. All the things I try so hard not to do with my other two children, I pile onto her.
'How dare you', I shout. 'Who do you think you are? What makes you so special? What makes you think you deserve special treatment?' (That's the really silly bit because she's not asking for special treatment. She's not asking for anything other than her voice to be heard and her needs and feelings to be taken into account. She's just asking for the same as the rest of us. Nothing more, nothing less.)
'It's your fault,' I will continue. 'You're not good enough. You're not good enough with Cherry and Violet. You're not good enough to Noel. You need to try harder. You need to change.'
And then, the final blow. 'And you're fat.'
I treat her shockingly.
And she continues to try. To be more patient, to be more thoughtful, to wait longer, to suppress her needs even more. She turns herself in knots. She bends over backwards. Trying to be more. To do more.
Enough is enough. I can no longer treat my precious third child this way.
I have started to realise that she has the most important role of all to play in our family. How vital it is that she is heard, how essential for all of us that her needs are met.
Despite her quietness she is in fact the epicentre of our family.
She is the beating heart, the life and soul. She is the party.
It is only through being a caring and nurturing mother to her that I can care for and nurture Cherry and Violet. It is only through watching me attend to her needs compassionately, empathetically and lovingly that they will truly learn how to be compassionate, empathetic and loving.
In respecting and loving my third child I will teach my children possibly the most important life lesson of all. To respect and love themselves.
I hope when they are grown they would never entertain treating somebody the way I treat my poor, overlooked, neglected third child.
My third child. Me.