Motherload

 

It’s equal parts love and loss, hope and fear, exasperation and care.

It’s heavy, this load mothers carry.

At first, it’s a gently moving tiny thing in your belly. A flutter of foetal fondness, the quiet beginnings of a whole new world. There might be a portent of things to come, as you grip the toilet bowl and heave into it. Maybe at some soul level it is a recognition, and the shock of it makes you suddenly sick. There might be an inkling that things are going to change in a big way as you find yourself asleep on the sofa before dinner, too tired to manage adult conversation. Your partner is suddenly solitary, watching their own shows, doing their own thing. Perhaps neither of you thought pregnancy would be like this.  Maybe at some emotional level it, too is a recognition. You are going on a journey that even they can’t take with you; the slow drip of anaesthetic starts early, numbing the sadness of all the ways becoming parents can change a relationship.

And the moment after the birth, when you gaze over the precipice into your baby’s eyes, there is a knowing made broad by the pain of labour, a realisation that something has begun, something unmappable, unfathomable. Something that will probably take all of you, more even than birthing this baby did.  In that moment it is clear that there is no pathway back to the land of before-motherhood. So you step back from the edge, sure that if there was such a thing as a life’s purpose, yours has been decided. You are a mother: you lift that feather-light load into your arms, and balance the responsibility on your shoulders, squaring them to the future.

I could bleat on about what they don’t tell you about motherhood, but it wouldn’t change anything. The truth of the matter is that motherhood, for me, and for millions of women like me, didn’t come naturally. I didn’t take to it like a duck to water. I couldn’t smile beatifically with baby on hip whilst I simultaneously slid a tray of buns out of the oven. The early years were jaw setting, teeth gritting, mind numbing tedium. I tried so hard to do it well. It mattered so much to me for it all to be just perfect. But I confess, I was a mess.

And all the while I’ve been mothering, trying hard to keep my ducks in a row; my career was stagnating, seeping into the nether. My body, altered for ever. That’s okay, you and your sisters-in-arms tell yourselves, because you recognise that mothering is an Important Thing. The type of humans you are unleashing on the world is an enormous responsibility. So you think deeply about what that means, and make detailed observations about character development, values, ethics… chore lists. You try, every dinner time, to incorporate conversations that go beyond the staples of mashed vs. smashed potatoes. Your greatest goals are for consistency and citizenship.  You are a serious mother. You heave another layer of significance onto your burden. You won’t let society down, no sir. Your kids will be a gift to their world.

Sometimes, after dinner, scraping the food you only just put onto the plates, off the plates; your inner self crouches at the clifftop, eyes drawn deep down into the abyss. And when you are applying the toilet brush again, to poo skids that aren’t your own, or scraping up vomit, or fielding a phone call from a teacher about behaviour issues, or discussing playground politics, or staring at a pile of washing that seems to be stuck on a universal glitch, repeating ad infinitum… in those times, there is a yawning emptiness that tears apart the space time continuum. Threatening to pull you in. You can see something on the other side of the abyss. It seems nicer than where you are. And you know you need to resist it, the same way you need to do everything else.

Because if you don’t, who will?

In those times, the leaden weight of what you have taken on threatens to topple you.  Your well meaning single friends will tell you to take a load off. Leave it to them! They say.  They’ll manage!  Take time for you! And you nod and tell them they are right, but your inner self is shaking her head and scoffing at you. Sure. Uh-huh.  And when you return after they’ve been left to do it for themselves, who cleans it all up? Who makes it possible for the routines that keep things functioning?  Who mops up the tears and has the conversations that need to be had? No, there is no respite from this choice you made. It isn’t a part time job. It’s equal parts love and loss, hope and fear, exasperation and care.

You carry it with you.  It is you. It’s not simply what you do, it is who you are. It’s the motherload.  Sometimes, the heaviness is not joyful and I do not feel grateful for it. I know I probably should. There are so many people I know who yearn for this. Or they think they do. I wonder if they would if they knew both sides of this blissful burden?

I write this in open honesty. I write it because I know there are other mummas out there dealing with this heaviness of heart. I don’t write it because I dislike my children, no, my love for them is fierce, my whole life is an example of what I would do for them, because I do it.  They know my heart, by heart. I write it because I need to acknowledge that it is hard. I guess I just want to say that.  In this world of carefully curated images of motherhood. My own is messy. I do my best. I hope it will be good enough, in the end. That my contribution to the world will be worth all the sacrifice, soul searching and sheer grit.  But it’s a heavy load alright.

What are your thoughts on this?

Inheritance

“…comme-ci, comme-ca”  my son’s small hand wavers horizontally in the manner of telling me he’s feeling, well, middling.  Not this, not that. He’s into language, currently French.  Much easier to comprehend than some of the made up languages he used to speak in! I have to say, I concur with his sentiments, but for different reasons. Today is Christmas day and he’s been gorging on christmas stocking treats, so faced with the prospect of Christmas dinner, he’s non committal. But my middling feelings are not about food. No. I’m feeling middling about Christmas itself. A holiday I have always loved is so much more complex now.  I don’t think I can explain it to him, and anyway, he bounds off to do something busy. I’m left to myself to prepare the salad, left to my own middling thoughts, my own sweet and sour, light and shade. My own shadow dance.

This time of year is reminiscing time, and I try really hard every year not to fall into the murky depths of melancholy. I think a LOT about my mum. About my childhood. And about how I wish I could just tell her that I get it.  All the stuff I didn’t get when I was a clueless kid, an angst-ridden teen and a self-absorbed young woman. All the stuff about being a Mum, and the efforts that go unnoticed. All the stuff about the importance of having family traditions, how crucial manners and generosity are. How hard you have to work to help the family with that stuff. I want to look her deep in the eyes and make sure she knows that I finally get it, and I am so thankful to her. If she were here, she’d probably shrug me off, in her trademark bluster. But I’d put my hands back on her shoulders and say “MUM! I get it!” and she might laugh and tell me there is still waaay more for me to get. I’m a long way off knowing it all.

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Grief reaches across the years, never really releasing me. And it’s not just because of the aching chasm that exists where her love used to be. But because of the lost opportunity to love her back. She’s gone. No more chances to let her know that I appreciated all of that self sacrifice and hard graft. With every decoration I hung on my tree this year, my heart keened for her like it was her last day all over again. I can’t have Christmas without memories of her that ghost through every song, every ritual, all the ways we do things. For me, there is no joy to all men without sadness for one woman.

I just miss my Mumma… you know?

The tsunami of feeling inundated me mid-morning. The hubster was having a nap. The kids were playing amongst the drifts of wrapping paper on the living room carpet.  I decided it would be good to take my tears out into the wind and I strapped on my helmet and climbed on my bike. Even with my legs burning and the rush of air against my face, the sadness enveloped me. Chased me around the quiet streets. Followed me through the park. Settled in my chest where I knew it would weigh on me for the rest of Christmas Day.

It occurs to me that the only way I can love my Mum without her here, is to pour the love I have for her into my kids. Her grandbabies. She would probably have liked that.  I look at my girl, lying next to the cat in a sunny patch of the floor, so young-old it hurts. I hear my little guy, shadow fighting an imaginary opponent with his light sabre, he’s bound to be victorious any moment now.  I will love these kids with all the love that belongs to you Mumma.

An extra serve straight from my mother heart, the one I inherited from you. x

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PS.  We watched Inkheart tonight. Tom Baxter’s song ‘My Declaration’ is the theme song. I loved it and thought I’d share it here. It’s a good anthem for carrying on, for doing your best.

Sweet Home

The lights of home are a warm yellow.  There’s no strip light cold hard fluorescence blinking into life; here.  They are a soft light; home light.  Benevolent. Outside the wind is howling, it is a perfect day for turning on the lights before dark has even come. I pull all the curtains and blinds closed against the weather and tuck myself into bed.  We have a thing for flannelette sheets.  Warm snuggly cosiness. I wiggle my toes down through the sheets, they are still warm from before I got up to light the rooms and close the windows. I’m hunkering down and pulling the heavy covers over me.  Safe and secure, in my own bed.

I got myself out of hospital last night by telling a bit of a lie.
I exaggerated my progress and the house officer signed me out.  I couldn’t bear one more moment there. A lonely weekend, the frustrations of not being in control of my own treatment.  Home here, where the light is warm and the bed is mine.  This is where I can help myself. Better. But I see that I have been a little ambitious.

Healthy people are speedy people.  Have you noticed that?  They move at what seems the speed of light, whizzing around the place, flitting from one thing to another.  Barely stopping at all.  It’s exhausting to watch.  It makes you feel like you need to be rushing about, too.  So I did, for a bit. I hung out some washing.  I put some more in the machine. I climbed the stairs and made a bed.  Then my body flicked over in to ‘NO’ mode.  I felt internally shaky, weak and so tired.  The contrast between me and the speedy ones so stark. I felt like one of those figures in the midst of a time lapse scene, the world blurring past me as I sat motionless.  
I lay down.  I watched the wind out the window whip the trees and push debris up the road.  The rain slanted down on my washing; turning the reflections of the traffic lights at the top of the street into watercoloured puddles.

So I slept. The speedsters kept speeding through the day and eventually I got up again. I called my little guy over to work on some homework.  We got out the watercolours.  And got absorbed by them.  Long after he’d finished his poster, I was still playing with them.  What a beautiful distraction from the feelings in my body. I focused on the colour, bleeding out from the brush onto the paper. Filling the spaces with colour and light.  I thought about the strokes, the shapes, the way colours moved together.  I thought about my Mumma, her artsy legacy spreading out across her children and her grandchildren.  She’d like to see me there, playing with paints.  Filling my mind with colours to push out the pain, the ache, the things at stake.  I thought about her cup, the one she cradled in her hands every time she had a ‘miley’. Her cup.  Her hands.

I remembered my Dad, last week, standing there in the kitchen, holding it out to me.  That small moment when my breath caught in my throat and I realised the treasure he was giving me.  Her cup. His tears, my tears.  We could fill that cup with our bereft sadnesses. But she is not here to drink from it.  I placed it on my shelf of treasures.  I thought about that cup with the paint brush in my hand.  I painted a picture with the paints.  And packed them all away.

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I slowly make my way back to bed.  To stretch down into the benevolent yellow light.  The comfort of home. I will sleep some more and join the fast ones later.  Together in a circle of light cast onto the table from the pendant above. Food, family… home.
Sweet Home.