Motherhood is the least celebrated of all the hoods and I include Robin in that. It lurches from the saccharine Madonna ideal (the religious one, not the pop diva one) to the benefits hungry ‘single mum’ of myth. Feminists decry it as a career option and you’re to blame in the psychiatrist’s chair. The term ‘stay at home mum’ is spoken in pretty much the same breath as ‘neanderthal man’ and ‘working mum’ hints that there might be a kind that isn’t working. Motherhood, folks, is all work, from the moment they, as my daughter so lovingly put it the other day ‘squeeze out of your Va-jay-jay’.
My experience of motherhood is that is has been THE BEST JOB EVER IN THE UNIVERSE. Yes, yes yes blah di blad di balderdash and all that. I can hear everyone moan at me oh, you’re exhausted, your boobs sag, you’ve got no life. But do you know what you do have? A life. An adventure. A little face asking you questions, because I mean, why IS the sky blue? You have a little hand to hold in yours. Later you have a big hand to pat you on the head as they get older and tower above you and say things like ‘Oh, Mum, you daft twat’ and ‘You are so embarrassing’. As Spike Milligan once said ‘You’ve got real life faeries in front of you’.
My son and daughter have been and despite attaining adulthood, still are, the two suns around which my tiny little planet has been privileged to orbit for the last twenty odd years. Don’t get me wrong in all this. I am aware of the stormy ocean that can swamp the good ship Family Life and all I can say is that it has been a joy and an adventure to sail with this particular crew. I have loved learning tables and cooking teas, I have been exhausted by nightmares and mopping up sick. I’ve worried and fussed and farted about over them. I am terrified for them and delighted for them. I have been mad and bad and sad and read Green Eggs and Ham. I loved making idiotic and mentally scarring costumes for World Book Day. See the note on psychiatrist’s chair above and don’t mention Arrietty or Treebeard. Like. EVER.
It has been an interesting and diverting experience watching them grow and change and become the adults that they are. It gives you a different perspective on your own parents. No child has any notion of the vast atomic weight of love that is pressing down upon them until they head off into the world and have children of their own. I recall my terror when my son was born as I realised that THIS is how my parents had felt about me.
My mum died in 1989, she was only 51 and had been ill for a long time with breast cancer. It is monstrously hard for me to write that sentence. It holds years of grief and terror within it, of the true knowledge of what ‘never’ means.
With Mother’s Day looming once again I am reminded even more of my loss. My mum was as flawed as any of us, she could be snobby but she could be kind and she was generous with her self and her time and her sympathy. Many are the times I have come home from school at lunchtime to find one of her colleagues crying on the sofa, struggling their way through a crisis. My mum would give them a mug of tea, some cheese on toast and a listening ear. They might come once or twice, they might come for a month or two and then they would drift out of their troubles and someone else would come sobbing through the door. She had time for everyone and even if she couldn’t solve your problem she could make you feel better with her kind words and warm friendliness. She cared about people.
No. I mean really cared. Like if you were lying half dead on the street my mum is the kind of person who would not step over you. She would help you however dirty, distressed or otherwise you might be. I’ve been with her when she has helped total strangers caught in a moment of despair or befuddlement in the rat run of the city. She would put you on a bus with the right fare and a bar of chocolate. She’d carry your bags home.
As a primary school teacher in the 70s and 80s she taught classes of 40 pupils and more and was their last teacher before they headed off to secondary school. She was admired by the teaching staff and loved by the kids. Some of them, obviously there were horrible kids that even my mum’s super power kindness could never reach. But she didn’t give up even on those brats. She came home and worried about the strugglers and stragglers, about the boy who was sent to school in his sister’s hand-me-down clothes.
She was a bubbly and vivacious woman, even after she became ill. Only at the very end did the illness stop her doing her own brand of ‘tap dancing’ in her clippy cloppy Scholl sandals on the kitchen floor. She liked to sing in her trilly tralala voice because she had been trained at her convent school by the notable soprano Dame Isobel Baillie. She sang ‘I yai yai yai yai yai Like you Very Much’ the Carmen Miranda favourite whilst wrestling the pressure cooker into two submissions and a hot pot. She baked, she sewed, she knitted. She had beautiful handwriting. She was capable of a huge amount of love.
She was my mum. I miss her every day. So this Mother’s Day make a fuss of yours, because I can’t make a fuss of mine.