Something made me a little sad this morning.
Apparently, almost half of us won't be celebrating Mother’s Day.
I get it. We are all busy. There are more things to do, places to go, people to see – greater distances to travel, not enough hours in the day.
Between work and play and all the life stuff that seems to crop up daily – dealing with the dishwasher breaking for the sixth time due to that damn wayward fork, that bill that proactively made it to the fridge door but wasn’t actually paid, making the doctor’s appointment, then cancelling the hairdresser because you double-booked...and then forgetting to schedule the WOF.
Then it’s thinking about your friends lives and their friends lives and your career and your partner’s worrying sudden affinity for sweater vests, fitting in plays and the art gallery opening and Avengers (because everyone is talking about it and what the hell is a Thor, anyway), and then trying to find five minutes just to chill out from your life and everyone else’s...Well. If you’re anything like me, by the time it gets to Sunday, I’m pretty much up for a sleep in, some general domestic movements around vacuuming and washing, and then a few hours spent watching Xena re runs in a semi-vegetative state.
Any visits out to see my Mum, while they are a given, are usually planned weeks in advance with military style-precision with my siblings, so we can a) all coordinate schedules, and b) plan the weekend so that everything else on the Life List fits in.
This morning’s article made me think, though. I am not a parent. I’m not in the least maternal at this stage of my life – to my utter horror I did relate to that guy on The GC (yes, I watched it – morbid curiosity) when he said he was scared of pregnant women.
I am scared of pregnant women. This is probably mostly due to the fact I’m always certain they are going to spontaneously go into labour on the spot or that somehow I’m going to walk into their stomach and then they are going to go into labour on the spot. It’s possibly an irrational fear.
Kids younger than four also terrify me – this is because I generally have no idea what they are saying/what they want and therefore I can’t fix it if something goes wrong. Older kids I’m cool with, in a if-you’re-in-the-same-room-as-me-I-won’t-hyperventilate kind of way. People keep telling me my biological clock will start ticking sooner or later. I have a feeling I may not have been born with a clock, given how strong the urge is to run when prams, bottles and diapers are in my orbit.
The exception here is two of my friends' kids. Don’t get me wrong, I was terrified of them too, but they kind of grew on me. You can tell how like their mothers they are as they are getting older, and they have their own personalities – one is sunny, laid back and intensely curious; the other runs through life at full-throttle and is one smart cookie. I have somehow become an honorary Aunty (an actual Aunty, not a GC one), which suits me because I’ve somehow become quite committed to being there for Mia and Xavier – and it’s a life-long kind of commitment.
I have watched my friends, both wonderful, awesome Mums, raise their kids – and not always with the kind of support and back-up they needed. It’s hard enough when two of you are there – if you are on your own I am certain at times parenting becomes a sort of waking nightmare. These women are both strong, intelligent, hardworking, lovely, amazing women – and I have seen both of them close to breaking point.
Being a mother is Hard Work. It is, from the word go, a 24/7 gig. It’s waking up umpteen times a night when your baby won’t settle. It’s not being able to take a break, not even for five minutes some days, because your child is sick. It’s worrying, constantly, how they are, if you’re doing it all right, if you’re hurting them somehow, if you aren’t doing enough. Never, ever, if you’re doing too much.
It’s reading twelve baby books that all tell you different things, it’s getting conflicting advice from Nana, the Mother-in-Law, your Mum, strangers on the street who feel the need to tell you You’re Doing That Wrong, when you're already constantly on the edge of a full-scale panic that You Can't Do This. It’s trying to mesh what you and your partner both believe is right for your child. It’s paying for a never-ending supply of nappies, clothes, food. It’s doctor’s bills and trying to fit new shoes on a screaming toddler, trying to figure out what school/playgroup/sports team is best. It’s trying to teach patience, sharing, colours, words, shapes. It’s showing them a world that, increasingly, you can’t filter for them.
It’s desperately trying to diagnose, with limited prior experience – that rash, that colour, that look. It’s trying to figure out what that cry means, why this calming method isn’t working when it did the last twelve times, if they aren’t eating because they’re full or because they’re sick. It’s getting up at 3 am just to watch them sleep, and marvel that this creature, this tiny human being, came from you.
It’s expression on their face when they wake up in the morning and see you. It’s the random hugs, the giggles, the made-up stories. It’s the first word, the first step – the journeys you make together – the time you spend apart. It's missing them even when they are there with you, because you love them so much. It’s watching them and seeing parts of yourself. It’s watching them and seeing someone entirely new and yet wholly familiar develop in front of you.
Motherhood, at this stage, is not for me. But seeing the absolute, absolute joy and the absolute pain and agony (which, thank God, they are frank and honest about) my friends have gone through has given me a new appreciation for my own Mum.
Mums don’t always get it right. They make mistakes, they screw it up. They get tired, sick, over it. Sometimes they feel an ache for the life they had before they had kids. Sometimes they wish they can get up and leave - run away to Waiheke Island and pretend to be a starving artist and never have to hear "He's just teething" again.
They walk uphill, every day, mostly without a break, mostly without thanks. They might have chosen to have children –but what no one tells you about the bond most mothers form with their kids is that, once formed, a mother will do anything- walk over coals, fight to the death, give blood, tears, everything that makes them up as a person – for their children. And they’ll tell you this casually. Like one of the most sacred, personal, emotional connections and commitments a person can make in their lifetime is a given.
So I think of my Mum, who I can’t join today and will be going to see next weekend, who when I told her I couldn’t come out, said she it was no problem, and she’d see me when I could come out. And that she loved me.
She does deserve a day. One day, out of 365, where 26 years of hugs, comfort, band-aids, tears, arguments, weekly gymnastics, karate, Girl Guides, math class ferrying amongst three kids, parent-teacher meetings, sick days, sorting fights with the neighbourhood kids, cooking dinner for three after working all day, teaching us about kindness, about compassion, and thousands of countless small and large sacrifices, gifts, moments in our lives ... boils down to a thank you and a nice gift. My Mum is the person who made Christmas and birthdays special, who proudly displayed certificates all over the house. Who still has, to this day a box of indecipherable drawings and stories from all three of us that she absolutely refuses to throw out. Who accepts and loves me for who I am, even when I may not be particularly lovable (the Hair-Cutting Incident of ’89, for example.)
If I’m tired at the end of the week when it’s just me – I have absolutely no idea what strength my Mum has hidden away that means she dealt (and still deals) with three of us every day, as well as her own life. I think that strength is something to celebrate.
Thank you, Mum. Happy Mother’s Day.
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