Today finds me three weeks into a four week break from the university and life is good. The children and I have had a fortnight of adventuring – going to the seaside, visiting friends and family, listening to LOTS of Harry Potter in the car, Alton Towers, bike-riding, outdoor theatre and slobbing about in front of screens for a while. Sounds idyllic doesn’t it and it really has been lovely – the best summer we have ever had together I think. And I am well – my body is generally working properly, and despite the irritation of the daily injection and the mid-afternoon fog of fatigue, I feel better than I have done for months. I even allowed myself one rollercoaster in the week and am happy to report that I could still walk/drive/see afterwards.
This afternoon the children are with their grandmothers and Mr C is away at a festival watching bands I have never heard of so I have a day of pottering and time to think. I’m sure my mind should be pondering the difficulties of the situation in Syria or clever, cutting replies I could make to the rude tweets I have attracted from the EDL and supporters of Page Three recently but instead I keep returning to a comment made to me last week about being a mother.
At a summer activity class an acquaintance of mine sat with me to tell me how brilliant her children are. Now I don’t mind a bit of this – I am guilty of occasional gushing and the tiger mother growls constantly within so I understand the impulse to encourage children to do lots of activities and to be proud of their achievements – but what interested me was the unwillingness to concede that they were ever less than brilliant. I wrote above that I have had the best summer ever with my children, but I have had them with me for TWO weeks. We have had something planned every day, I have spent too much money and made too many sandwiches. I know from past experience that I can’t keep this up for more than a fortnight and when the activities/money/energy runs out I don’t have the reserves to keep positive in the face of complaining, squabbling children. I couldn’t manage six weeks of it and, from talking to other parents, I know the long holidays are challenging for many parents.
So, in the spirit of conversation, I asked my companion whether she was looking forward to her children going back to school. She looked entirely puzzled and then replied “but I love the company of my children – this is what I was born to do. Motherhood makes me who I am.”
I have met women who have said similar before when the children were smaller. At toddler groups you would often find me shell-shocked and virtually mainlining Dr Pepper staring wide-eyed at women who told me they had never been so fulfilled and joyous in their entire lives. Whereas I felt panic on a rainy day with nothing to do with a refluxy baby and headstrong three year old, they would tell me all about the wonderful creative activities that would keep their children entertained for hours. Rainy day craft at our house still involves me getting all the stuff out, them making a mess for precisely three minutes, then me wiping up splashes of paint and glue to a background of “can we please put the tele on NOW?” So for many years I have known that I have lacked the patience, creativity and imagination to be a full-time stay at home parent. Even before having my own family there was a reason why I trained as a secondary teacher rather than primary – small children are exhausting!
But I wonder about the “motherhood makes me” stuff. Becoming a mum has made me a better person – I have to be less selfish, more patient … and I eat a lot better than I used to – but it has also meant that the less attractive characteristics are also closer the surface – I have a short fuse, I shout more than I ever thought I would and I am often bordering on tyrannical about schoolwork. I can categorically say that this was not a role I was “born to do” – frankly, some days I am rubbish at it. I envy those who are calm, nurturing, gentle and always in control.
Yet this woman, exuding calm, will always be an acquaintance rather than a friend. And this is because of the nagging suspicion that, for whatever reason, she just isn’t telling the whole truth.
So now I will go and label new PE kits and choke the cat with the protective spray Clarks have convinced me ALL school shoes need. While I am doing it i will continue to be grateful that I have friends who will always acknowledge that sometimes this mothering lark can be less than entirely fulfilling and joyous…