Mother Hearts

 

baby feet, mother heart
Source: Foundation for Biomedical Research

“When were you ready for babies?” one of our babysitters once asked me.
She was in her late teens, a natural with our kids.  I wondered if she was beginning to notice that yearning within herself, that quiet mother-clucking, the sound that might grow to a hormonal crescendo by her forties. Was she wondering what it would be like to soothe her own babies to sleep instead of other people’s? I used to. I notice with interest these days, that it’s no longer fashionable to say you would love to have babies.  Not until you are at least in your thirties.  Why do we act like wanting babies is a timetabled urge?  Switched on by suitable circumstances?  I will always be grateful my circumstances brought my babies to me at a time when I was old enough to provide for them properly… but then I think, if they had come earlier in life, I’d have not been this unwell.  I don’t know why things happen the way they do.  Life is a peculiar thing. And it is good to remember, that for some, platitudes around motherhood like all in good time, or it will happen if it is meant to are painful, useless things to say.

“…about four years old I think”, I answered, truthfully.  When I was four, I already had a ‘baby’ of my own.  She was my special Sheila Carter (er, yes, that was her name, I named her in honour of a retired missionary we knew) and I clucked over her and loved her with fierce mother attentions. I loved the feel of her body in the curve of my arm and the way, if you bent her legs outwards, she could sit on my hip. She was the focus of all my games.  Where we lived, out in the back garden, we had a playhouse made from a packing case.  It had a fake shingle roof and tiny windows.  Outside the windows, within the reach of my eager little hands, was a grape vine, supplying great green orbs of sour sweetness for our playhouse meals.  There were daisies in the garden for gathering into chubby-handed bunches and mini furniture inside made from apple crates and hand-me-down cushions.

 

The original Sheila Carter
The original Sheila Carter

The boys, mercifully, spent most of their time up at the boy fort on the boundary of the yard.  But the playhouse. It was the sweet domain of the girls, untainted by rapid machine gun fire or cowboy-and-indian war cries.  We ‘cooked’ green grape stew, played house, and I tucked my Sheila Carter into the cot with purple paisley sheets.  She ate sitting up in her little high chair with the duck decal on the back.  I was in little Mummy heaven. One of these sunny evenings, my own Mum called us in for dinner.  But Sheila Carter was just so tired and she was still sleeping.  So I patted her tummy and ran inside.

I knew; the rule in our house was that you never leave your toys outside.  You certainly should never leave your baby outside.  But I realised too late that the rule meant I couldn’t go back to retrieve her. I wasn’t allowed.  My punishment that night was to sleep without my baby in my arms.  I cried my little four year old mother heart out.  I had let Sheila Carter down and I missed the curve of her little plastic body against mine.  Eventually too exhausted from tears, I fell into a nightscape of bad dreams.  
The next morning, as soon as the grey light filtered into my bedroom, I raced out to the playhouse to find Sheila Carter.

But she was gone.

Nobody has ever been able to tell me what happened to her.  Maybe the local dogs carried her off, or some kids decided to cause some havoc.  But she was gone and that was that.  I think my Mum was horrified.  She hadn’t meant my lesson to be quite so harsh as that!  They tried to console me by taking me to Wellington on my birthday, to choose a new baby at a big department store.  My new baby was a ‘Baby-This-n-That’ and could wave at me.  We called her Katie (a much better name for a doll, they said). She had silky blonde hair and big blue eyes.  She was cute.  I loved her and I still have her, but my little Mummy heart has always grieved for Sheila Carter, my first sweet baby.  She was the reason I could answer that babysitter with confidence.  I have been ready for babies since I first knew the joy, and the pain, of mothering. It’s what I was born to do.

I have many friends who, like me, were “born” mothers.  But they are mothers without babies.  For some, their babies passed away.  For others, their babies were gone before they arrived.  For still others, life circumstances have rendered their mother hearts empty, simply for lack of a daddy, or the years and endless cycles of IVF have not brought them what they hoped for.  Their arms; missing the curve of a baby who is all theirs.  A baby they have dreamt of and not been able to hold on to.  My heart breaks for them, for their mother heart’s grief.  For the longing that must surely be difficult to manage in the absence of the busy-ness of babies. In the presence of other people’s joy.  I know it is old fashioned and whimsical, but I so wish I could grant them baby wishes.  Supply them with the warm bundles of love to cherish and nurture.  I’m not saying that every woman needs a baby.  No.  But everyone of my girl friends who is without children, longs for them.  It is an ache that is so hard for them to bear.

So today, this post is in honour of my beautiful friends. The one’s whose arms are empty and hearts are longing to give love to little babies of their own.  You battle every day, to smile in the face of the losses you suffer, one moon after another.  You are strong and worthy and wonderful.  Any baby would be lucky to call you Mama.  I wish I could make the heavens do my bidding.  If I could, your mother love would have a place to go, and no one and nothing would ever carry that away from you.  I honour you for your loving hearts and the ways you give to others, sometimes without return or kinship.  I honour you for keeping on.  I honour you because you stay strong.

And my mother heart wishes I could just make it all better.

 


This beautiful song took me right back to that playhouse and my girlhood dreams.

 

Second-Chance Me.

25899_413283735814_2554940_n Second Chance Me

I wish I’d had the chance to do that.

Have you ever played this record in your conversations with your kids? Er, yep! Like so many parents we strive, sacrifice and stress out about the extra-curricular lessons.  About making sure our babies are keeping up with the full gamut of opportunities.  “Who knows what their ‘thing’ will be?  They certainly won’t be left behind their peers, let’s try them all!”

In our particular parenting story, it began with swimming at 8mths old.  I had read somewhere that the earlier lessons for swimming begin, the better for the child.  So she began.  We’d rock up to our sauna of an indoor swimming complex with all the bells and whistles to make the lesson thing run smoothly.  Towels and nappies and spare bum-cream and a bottle for after and a snack just in case, organic baby wash for the showers, a fresh set of clothes for after, the pram, water and a snack for us.  Seriously, we were prepared!  The whole palaver took three hours.

Baby gym was next, because according to my sources, without the right/left brain coordination she would never develop correctly.  We ran around the obstacle course lifting, flying, chanting “Good!  Aaaaand, left leg UP, good girl!”  By the end of each session she was sound asleep in the car seat and I was ready to curl up with a blankie and a dummy myself.  And yet we pushed on. No way my girl was going to have my coordination issues, my fear of water, my mediocre ballet career….

Ballet.  Shoes, tights, leotard, videoing on my phone so we could practise the steps at home.  Mums all peering through the studio windows, desperate to see their babies dancing, anxiously comparing, heads nodding with the beat, toes flexing in their shoes, hands occasionally fluttering away from their sides.  Aaaaand, breeeeathe.

Netball Mums, yelling from the sidelines “SHOOT!  FIND A SPACE!  !!!REF!!!  C’MON!”  quiet conferences between Mums and sideways glances, passive aggressive conversations with coach.  Pep talks on the way home from practise, try harder, use your head, toughen up, listen to your coach, mark your opposition!

Gymnastics, Tennis, Hip hop, Art class, Trampolining, Ukulele, Theatre Arts, Mind Lab, Digital Music Composition.  Oh goodness.  I list them all and I am ashamed.  How many hoops has my baby jumped through to satisfy my vicarious ambitions?  So many. Too many.  How many dollars have we funnelled into the accomplishments of our daughter?  How many times have I berated her, and behooved her to make more effort? I try not to, but I confess, often I see her as second-chance-me.  She can have the opportunities I lacked, try the things I wasn’t brave enough to try, be the girl I wanted to be.

But what does she want to do?
Only one thing.
The only one thing that she has ever wanted to do.
The only one thing I know nothing about (ouch.  ….any wonder why?!)
The only one thing she has ever enjoyed, out of all of them.  My girl will do anything to be near a horse, to ride a horse, to scoop the poop of a horse and pick the hoof of a horse.  At first I didn’t encourage her, isn’t horse riding for the elite?  That’s just not us, sweetie.  She persistently begged me from four years old.  Horse themed birthday parties were as far as I went.  But her innate passion wouldn’t give up its grip on her.  She is a horsey girl through and through.  And so, I let go of my other ambitions, I had to.  Horse riding isn’t fiscally friendly!  She has proven across the years that this horse thing is no passing phase.

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So there she goes.  Taking a chance, that is nothing to do with what I didn’t get to do.  We were forecast for a tropical cyclone today.  I woke to the sound of the wind whipping around the house in the dark of early morning.  I hoped that maybe, she’d say “Let’s give it a miss today, Mum”. But no, she was already up, already in her gear and chomping at the bit (pardon the pun).  I watched her circling the arena in the rain, her little face peeping out from under her riding helmet and raincoat, wreathed in smiles.  It makes me laugh at myself.  She’s found her bliss.  If only I had listened to her a little earlier I might have discovered my own.  Because there is no joy like watching your child do something they love to do.  Even in a storm.  

My girl enjoys jumping over hoops more than jumping through them, and at last, I understand what she is teaching me.  “Let me be who I am Mum, not who you wanted to be”.

Guess I am a slow learner!

Photographed by Beverley Couper

Baby powder, Burqas and Bikinis

Summer has just begun to slip off the seasonal dial.  It’s been a hot one and getting to a pool or a beach has been a prime objective most days.  I’ve seen countless little ones splashing through rock pools or creating sandy kingdoms, hollering to their friends in the water.  Pre teen girls running along the beach and squealing at the waves and each other.  The sun is high and the swimmers are mostly on, though it seems the younger the child the less likely you’ll find them wearing a one piece, or even two pieces of their cossie. I have an adorable photo of my daughter looking out to the horizon, her little bare butt cheeks dusted with golden sand.

Speaking of sand and butts, have you discovered that fab little trick with baby powder?  Who knew? Baby powder is the most efficient way to remove sand from feet after a trip to the beach.  Works a treat for butts too!  But I digress.

Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 5.43.49 pm

The thing that bothers me, is that we are so acutely aware of the dangers within our society, that we can’t relax about nudity.  Pedophilia has frozen our reason, so that it is difficult to see the innocent sweetness of little nudie sweethearts without being hit by a bolt of anxiety.
Are they safe?
Is some predator watching them?
Can I prevent harm by covering them up?
Can you even buy baby Burqas?
Am I doing the wrong thing as a parent by letting my child run nude, or wear an itsy bitsy bikini?

I faced similar anxiety watching my son in his first dance concert.  Groups of heavily made up girls wearing cropped lycra confections and eyelash extensions took to the stage for the act before his.  They gyrated their way through a raunchy rendition of ‘Trouble’.  The crowd went wild.  I cringed, thinking of my young lad looking on from the wings. Then gave myself an internal face slap.  They are just kids, it is me that is interpreting these things through a sexual filter. What does my son see? Colour, rhythm, fun. I hope…. the dilemma.

I’ve read the forums about the sexualisation of young girls, the distress about the increase in products like padded bras, g strings, high heels and bikinis for pre teens.  I sympathise with both sides of the argument and I suspect that like many of the things on this parenting journey, we have less control than we think we do.  Girls have dressed up and emulated older females since the beginning of time.  Child fashion reflects adult fashion.  Girls will change away from home to wear the latest fashion, even if Mum and Dad don’t approve.  Didn’t you?

The media delivers skinny, minimally curved  women clad in little; bronzed brown and perfectly fashioned for the male aesthetic.  Young women everywhere depilate all the hair that shows they are, in fact, women. It’s a disappointment that, after all,  the predominant media image of women has not yet been revolutionised by the women’s movement.  Music videos add their controversial spin on what being a woman should look like.  The adult world is sending out the archetype of womanliness. And we wonder why young women go out with their backside creases showing.

It’s very difficult to see all that(!) and not wrap another layer around your daughter. But the thing is, I really, really want my girl to feel proud of and comfortable in her body, regardless of whether it is covered or not.  I want her to have the power of body-freedom.  Not the self limiting fears over what isn’t ‘perfect’ about her image.  I want her to think, “This is me.  Just as I am”.  I don’t want her to feel that there are parts of her body she should feel ashamed of.

She should grow up considering all her parts, private or otherwise as equally important, special and beautiful in their own right. I don’t want her to cower under the possibility that some freak somewhere is getting their jollies because she is wearing something that highlights her female-ness.  I certainly don’t want her to ever believe the lie that it is possible to ‘ask for it’ by what you wear, or don’t wear.  Rape and sexual abuse occur because there are people who make disgusting choices to overrule the personal freedom of another.  They do these things because of their own mental illness, because of hideous social norms, because humans do bad things to other humans.

I want to teach her to be as safe as she can be; within the understanding that she is a glorious and beautiful person.

I guess I want her to learn make good choices herself.  Not because she is afraid of the power of sexual predators, but because she values herself.  Is this something that you do by encouraging  chaste clothing? Or is it about encouraging safe behaviours, open communications, informed choices?  I know that this topic is something we will not shy away from talking about as my girl grows up.  I can’t change the world as it is.  The media, the pedophiles, the GenY fashion situation.  But I can build up my daughter to know that her worth is far deeper than what she does or doesn’t wear.  When she was a tiny toddler, looking out to that horizon from the beach, she couldn’t know all the issues that would face her as a female in this society, but she did know that she was awesome, just as she was.  I’ll do everything I can to help it stay that way.

There is a popular story that has been doing the rounds about Mohamed Ali.  It is told by his daughter Hana in her book about her life growing up with her Dad.  She recounts a visit to her father:
My father took a good look at us. Then he sat me down on his lap and said something that I will never forget. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Hana, everything that God made valuable in the world is covered and hard to get to. Where do you find diamonds? Deep down in the ground, covered and protected. Where do you find pearls? Deep down at the bottom of the ocean, covered up and protected in a beautiful shell. Where do you find gold? Way down in the mine, covered over with layers and layers of rock. You’ve got to work hard to get to them.”
He looked at me with serious eyes. “Your body is sacred. You’re far more precious than diamonds and pearls, and you should be covered too.” 
Source: Taken from the book: More Than A Hero: Muhammad Ali’s Life Lessons Through His Daughter’s Eyes.

Except that it isn’t true.

Everything valuable in the world is not covered and hard to get to.  The beauty of nature, the abundance of the earth, the joy of relating to other human beings from a place of confidence and peace.  Value is not about rarity and market dictations, I choose to have a different value system.

What do I value most in my daughter?  Her unique self. Sandy bottomed, hip hop happy, free, innocent and unfettered by all this grown up anxiety.  Long may it last!

What do you think?   Do you have daughters and worry about what they wear? How do you address the issues of body-shaming vs. over sexualistion?  Does it bother you?