Mrs G and her 18 year old : ‘What I have learnt about Motherhood’
This Sunday sees my 18th Mother’s Day as a mother and my 47th as a daughter, and before you ask, no I won’t be washing my feet in soda water.
What I will be doing though is no doubt ubiquitous to mothers and daughters (and sons for that matter) across the land: which is shedding a sentimental tear over a flimsy card containing my daughter’s rounded scrawl that is as familiar to me as the smell of her forehead, which will no doubt express some heartfelt daughterly missive accompanied by startled daffodil on a breakfast tray, the sum total of which will leave my emotions in tatters and my mascara running…again.
I’m 18 years into this lark, and she still never fails to move me, on any day of the year.
I had my baby at 28 and now I am 47. At the time, it hardly put me in the ‘young mum’ category but as I approach 50, and she is within spitting distance of leaving home to go to university, to quote Benny and Bjorn it really does feel like my kid, and motherhood itself in the mummyish practical sense of the word, is indeed ‘slipping through my fingers’.
To say that this is leaving me feeling a little bereft is an understatement.
You don’t need to call the police or anything, but there is a primary school across the road from where I live, and some days when I am working from home, the exuberant sound of screaming and whooping from the playground at break times draws me from my desk to the window, where I stand, somewhat forlornly staring at the kids playing, reminiscing how it only seemed like yesterday that my now almost-woman-child was scuffing her shoes, peeing her pants and playing kiss chase, and quite often from the state of her school uniform, on some days, doing all three at once.
And now, as she eases herself into adulthood and I am left crying on the inside about the physical loss of her, whilst simultaneously cheering her on from the sidelines, all of this maternal reflective soul searching has led me to the following conclusions about what it is, or what it has been, for me, to be a mum:
1.Love is a battlefield.
Motherhood is noisy, messy, punctuated by the rapid fire of childhood milestones, and like life in the trenches features a lot of blood, puke and brown sticky stuff. Much of the rough and tumble of mother-daughter combat will also leave you scarred and emotionally traumatised. It’s visceral, it’s constant and as primal a love affair as there is. And there has never been any doubt in my mind since the second she was pulled so violently from my womb 18 years ago, that, for her, I would kill.
2. If men are from Mars, and women are from Venus, kids must be from deep space.
I have DNA, my husband has his DNA. Our kid has both of our DNAs…but that doesn’t mean anything. ‘She’s got my nose and your legs’ we mused when we caught our first pixelated sight of her at our 16 week scan. That may well have turned out to be true, but one’s ‘character’ and how and why it is formed and what makes us ‘us’ is another thing altogether. And that peculiar cocktail of life, nature, nurture and the environment that we grow up in, that makes us what we each are, also means that our kids are not and never can be, neat amalgamations of each of their parents. Her character, her talents, her peccadillos are all entirely her own. And at times all of them seem entirely and joyously antithetical to mine. When we are watching University Challenge and Paxman asks some obscure question about particle physics and she shouts out the (correct) answer, that’s when I really know she is from a planet alien to mine, and that is a beautiful thing.
3.Time doesn’t fly
It races at the speed of light. Smiling older folks have a habit of saying to new parents ‘Enjoy every moment because before you know it…’ and I can, as a parent to a now adult child, categorically say this is true. To all the mums of younger kids, I say ‘suck it up!’. In all its snotty, whining, ear infected glory, for soon the house will be as empty as the laundry basket (and your bank account) and you will be waving them off to start their own independent life with a boot full of Dunelm cutlery, their first ironing board and some scourers. Turns out Einstein was right when he said ‘Time is relative; it’s only worth depends upon what we do as it is passing’’.
4.It is surprisingly easy to talk about sex.
And once you know they are actually doing it, it gets even easier. I admit it was hard during the primary school and early secondary years. I seemed forever to be trying to find the right word that didn’t terrify her whilst trying to be honest enough to give her the terminology to describe what is after all entirely natural. (‘Fandango’ became our word of choice for lady parts). I once collapsed into giggles when she brought home a biology homework that required her to label the anatomical parts of male genitalia. She walked away in disgust at my immaturity, she was 12, I was 41. But as they hit 14, 15, 16 you realise that the sexual health of the person you love most is no laughing matter, in fact their lives might literally depend on it, and so it requires a grown up attitude, frank and supportive conversations and a whole heap of anatomically correct lingo.
5.Love is a losing game
Two hundred miles north of my own breakfast tray, this Sunday, my mum will be opening her own Mother’s Day card from me, which features, this year, a simple red love heart more akin to a Valentine’s card if I am honest, that says, (a little plaintively I think), ‘Love you, Mum’. Last year, my mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and somehow this card seems to communicate all I need to say for now.
Love is most often at its most exquisite when it is balanced by the threat of loss and so, as a daughter, and a mother, this year, Mother’s Day will be bitter sweet.
Mrs Mac and her 6 year old : Snot, Sass and Sparkles
Today my 6 year old daughter asked me what she could be when she was a ‘Grown Up’. Sensing my opportunity to (not so) subtly push the ‘Girls can Rule the World’ mantra, I began my spiel about ‘how she was going to have these amazing adventures and be whoever, whatever she wanted to be’.
“Maybe an astronaut” I suggest “ Or a lawyer? an engineer, a teacher or . . .“ She shook her head and interjected “or a Rainbow Sparkle Fairy?”
A Rainbow Sparkle Fairy. Abso-feakin-lutely. Who the hell in their right mind would choose to be anything else giving the choice?
I loved the certainty in her voice and the brilliantly, bat shit crazy world she inhabits, where this and pretty much anything and everything else is a possibility.
At 46, it’s easy to become a little bit jaded by life, especially in the current climate, but at the risk of sounding #Blessed, watching Lola’s wonderment while I explain why trees are amazing or her mind being blown that we can turn corn kernels into popcorn, and you remember ‘y’know what –the world is a pretty awesome place’.
Having a small child keeps you very much grounded in the moment whereas middle age can be a time of reflection; looking to the past and dissecting the choices we’ve made or contemplating the future, the uncertainty of what happens next. The exhausting reality of dealing with a 6 year old bundle of snot, sass and silliness negates some of this hand wringing. I often feel I should be having some sort of mid life crisis but I am too busy Googling ‘how to do ‘The Floss’ or building a ‘Café/Disco/Sleepover Hotel out of Lego.
Don’t get me wrong it’s not all unicorns and glitter, there are times when I wistfully recall my carefree ‘London’ days when I wore heels and drank white wine on sunny Saturday afternoons. I also sometimes look enviously look at my friends who are either childfree or with grown up kids, as they plan their long weekends away or float about their (immaculate) homes lighting diptyque candles in cashmere pyjamas.
Worst are the dark moments when I allow myself to think about the distant future. I am 4 decades older than Lola, she is an only child. I don’t want her to be lonely or on her own. Ever. I fret over becoming frail or ill. I don’t want her to shoulder any burden of an aged parent. Ever.
But for now, to Lola, age is literally a (birthday) badge of honour and time is a concept she hasn’t yet grasped. You are either a ‘child’, a ‘grown up’ or a ‘wrinkly’. I currently reside in a subcategory of adult, ‘mum’.
She delights in counting my wrinkles “You haven’t got that many, except these really, really big ones near your eyes’ *sigh* and describes my ageing boobs as ‘long’ and ‘flat’ *sob*
But just when my self esteem is face down on the deck, she’ll make me a card where she draws me with yellow hair and fabulous earrings and writes underneath ‘To mummy, you are the bestest, most beautiful queen” *melt*.
These visceral emotional highs and lows are part and parcel of motherhood. Each morning you buckle up ready to withstand the emotional turbulence of the day ahead; Lola has the capacity to make my chest constrict with absolute love in one moment and then clench my knuckles with abject rage and frustration the next.
I never know if my tolerance levels and erratic moods are due to my hormones or just a by-product of being a parent. I expect we will find out when menopause and puberty collide in a few year time (my husband is booking in his own midlife melt down for around the same time!). But for the here and now this yellow haired mummy queen is embracing every transient moment of this sparkly rainbow roller coaster ride.