To be a Mum

This shot was taken for Granny on Mother's Day, until we realised what Joe's T shirt said!

This shot was taken for Granny on Mother’s Day, until we realised what Joe’s T shirt said!

Apologies for the short interlude. We have had something of A Family Moment and I have been occupied with Child One – the twins’ 19 year old Eric the Viking lookalike brother. I will spare his blushes and remain enigmatic about the nature of said crisis, but it looks like all will be well, so I am slowly exhaling the breath that has been held for 3 weeks.

It all got me thinking, what with Mother’s Day at the weekend as well, what it is to be a Mum. Because whether they’re 19 years or 19 days, it’s still basically cuddles/food/ mopping up pooh. Just for the 19 year olds the pooh is more likely to be of the figurative variety. Usually.

I make no apology for the inherent sexism in this. Daddies are sometimes much better Mummies than Mummies. But there is something different about motherhood which stems from the fact that, to my knowledge, no father’s rib has ever been broken by his child FROM THE INSIDE.

So here is my definition of motherhood:

Coca Cola’s mission is for everyone to be within an arm’s reach of a Coke; a mother is never more than a grab away from a wet wipe.

The ability, despite a triple dose of Night Nurse, and them being two closed doors and a corridor away, to waken at a baby’s Tinkerbell cough (it might be pneumonia, or a psychopath with a frog in his throat).  In fact, let’s be honest, motherhood is saying goodbye to proper, nourishing, deep sleep FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Because even when you’re apart, your body clock doesn’t change, and you have one ear cocked. And if the monitor is silent, well, that’s probably because they’re not breathing. So you have to check. I bet when Hilary Clinton is President she doesn’t moan about lack of sleep. She’ll cruise it.

Getting incredibly excited when they add an extra verse to the Night Night song on CBeebies. Sod Devolution; this was real Change!

Not having a name any more. I am Mum. As you are Mum. We are all the same. At least when you get married you get to keep your own first name. But I remember being at a Parents’ Evening for Joe and being given a name badge which didn’t even say ‘Joe’s Mum’. It just said Joe. So actually I’m not even Mum. I am merely the chromosomes that went into forming him. I am semi-Joe.

Which, height-wise, I practically am. But he’s still 4 and naked and wrapped in a leopard skin, with diamond earrings pretending to be Julius Caesar (don’t ask). I consistently cried every time that P&G ad came on during the Olympics which showed parents watching tiny children on the starting blocks surrounded by giants, or teetering on the edge of the 10m diving board, before it revealed they were all our GB athletes seen through their Mum’s eyes.

Talking of crying…at everything. I’d probably even cry if Underdog finally got out of his plaster cast. I cried at how sweet it was that Joe accidentally got me a Mother’s Day card that said Happy Birthday. I cried at his ‘you’re not perfect, but neither am I, and that’s why the twins will be raised well’ message because the double-handed compliment showed it was genuine and HE LOVES ME. I cry at anything and everything that features a child and their mother. I was in floods during Black Mirror when I thought she was searching for her lost girl and then felt utterly violated when it transpired she was a child killer. I even got a bit moist seeing the sun set over the Albert Docks yesterday. Swan Lake is formed by Odette’s mother’s cries for her bewitched child; if we harvested all the mother’s tears in the world we’d eradicate water poverty in a sob.

Forget Derren Brown and his memory tricks; motherhood is the ability to hold mental to do lists which, if written down, would stretch to multiple sheets of A4.

Yet despite that, and not sitting down for a moment all day, your mind going blank when faced with your partner’s evening question ‘so what have you been up to today?’ Er…Charlotte did FOUR poos!

Also thinking ‘Charlotte did FOUR poos!’ is a suitable conversation starter on Date Night.

Taking infinitely more pride in your children’s appearance than your own. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I bought clothes for myself; the girls were dressed in their best Footballers’ Babies cream fur jackets for playgroup today. Styling it out…

Daytime subsistence on baby’s leftovers.

The fact that it never leaves you. In my own mother’s case, dropping everything, including shortening a rare romantic break, when her daughter and her family needed her. No decision making process; it’s just what you do. In the case of her own mother, my Granny, sitting up till 3am in her dressing gown to wait for her then 50 year old daughter to return from a night out.

The huge high from being thanked. When a present is described as ‘genuinely awesome’. When a favourite dish cooked for their return is met with ‘wow’. King Lear rails ‘how sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child’. He was the Fool. The reason you get a rush from being thanked is Mums simply don’t expect it. We’re just doing what we do.

Morbid fantasies. Actually, I even have these about Fred the Cat (whom I call Joe all the time, go figure). A whole procession of ‘what if’s in the small hours which end up with you sat in the front pew beside a tiny coffin.

Decision making rendered ruthlessly easy. Because there is always a trump factor – them. We’re househunting at the moment and would gladly live in a cave if it was next to an Ofsted-rated ‘outstanding’ school. And said cave came with a beautiful doll’s house.

You are never ill. Well, you are, but you can’t be. You can never go to bed or take it easy or slump in front of the telly with Lemsip. Hospitalisable conditions aside, you just get on with it. Motherhood is one big old lesson in the power of PMA.

But, ah, if THEY are…trying to crawl inside your baby’s mind to understand what’s sore and to explain to them that it WILL go away, it will, not to be scared, and your heart breaking every time a brave little smile shines through the blotches. And for bigger kids that guilty, secret pleasure of them regressing a decade and actually wanting a snuggle.

There is nothing – NOTHING – that they could do that would make you love them any less. You may shout, you may cry, but it’s anger and disappointment that they have sold themselves short. And of course your post partum brain wastes cells working this through to its logical conclusion. Would you love a murderer? Every part of you would be sick. But yes. And it would be your fault. Naturally.

E may well not equal MC squared. This world may not exist. But the one absolute certainty in the universe is that your child is BRILLIANT, and woe betide the idiot who does not recognise it. I remember the years of frustration with Joe’s primary school who, amongst other things, kept not casting him in musical roles. He was a chorister at Southwark blooming cathedral! Snarl. And then in his final year he sang the Tin Man in Oz (a song all about wishing he could love and GOD try to be a mother and bite your lip to stop the tears during that) and got a standing ovation and the Headmistress came up to me and said ‘I never knew’ and I turned my back on her. Again, snarl.

Because that’s what we do, isn’t it. We’re lionesses. All quiet and feminine and serene and then someone wrongs our cub and ROAR. The years of fighting – bureaucracy, the medical establishment, schools, jeez I’d take on the UN if I had to. When you’re confronted by  a 17 stage answering system to book an appointment for yourself, you give up. But if it’s for your children, never. You find this hidden strength, sometimes literally. I remember being on Etna when Joe was 8 and hearing a rumble and thinking the obvious, and I scooped up this large child and ran across lava boulders. Your arms only ache afterwards. And your pride a little bit when you realise it was just thunder…

That’s how you can tell Life of Pi was written by a bloke; if that really was his mother, the cook would’ve been swimming with the fishes before the sinking ship was out of sight.

You would sit your child’s exams for them if you could get away with it. And it takes Olympian willpower not to write their UCAS statement too…

That weird internal tussle between wanting your baby to get to the next stage of development (obviously much earlier than average) and wanting to freeze them, just as they are, a portrait of the perfect doll in the locket of your heart.

Thinking how tasty your baby’s bottom would be. Thinking, actually, if you ate them all, they’d be back inside you, where they belong.

Automatically siding with your child on everything. No matter how much you disagree with them and agree with the other person. Quite often that other person being your partner…

The serenity that comes with its sheer rightness. I imagine men get an inkling of this when they fuss over a barbecue. We are fulfilling our primary purpose. The sun shines, the rain rains, and a mother mothers. As ‘mother’ is both noun and verb, it is our doing, and our very being.

Loving purely, selflessly, primitively. It is the only properly altruistic love. Because what do you get back? An empty pickled onion Monster Munch packet and a milky posset on your best jumper. I was at a discussion group the other night and someone started talking about our inherent selfishness, that we never loved freely, never did a good turn without, deep down, expecting something back. He quoted some rabbi saying that man came from soil, and in our journey from baseness to fulfilment we need to understand that there is an ‘I’ in soil, but ‘u’ in soul. After I was a little bit sick in my mouth… I looked at all the men nodding, and I thought, I have no I, and what is motherhood if not turning your whole life into one good, undemanding turn?

So endeth my musings for the day.

Onto the infinitely more profound. In events which sent a shockwave through Twinland and no one could have predicted, it turned out the girls’ first taste of cake – Joe’s birthday cake to be precise – went down rather better than the day’s other first taste, Marmite. Bizarre.

Most excitingly of all, Charlotte actually went FORWARDS today. About 10cm. See, I told you – my children are BRILLIANT.

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