On one of those London summer
nights, when the light lingers way into the night, I guiltily played with a
two-year-old in a back garden picking tiny tomatoes, popping sour home-grown
raspberries into her mouth, getting her to pose for me in pictures.
Her parents were expecting their second child.
The due date had already passed. The heavily-pregnant mother had that
unearthly, airbrushed look some women get when they are pregnant—moist,
clear, skin, like a still lake reflecting an early evening sunshine.
She was passing us the cutlery, having gone
through the effort of making pasta and a light sauce made of home-grown
herbs worthy of Martha Stewart.
She was switching from English to German while
chiding her daughter, making her mind her manners and allowing the bilingual
child to touch her stomach, to feel her sibling move. Perfect mother.
Such perfect mothering is enough to make you
want to take a drag of a cigarette from someone, put in the earplugs when
your children quarrel and dig into some serious tiramisu.
Although we are in a similar age group to our
expecting friends, I don’t remember how to hold a baby anymore, and I have,
sadly, not brought up my children to be bilingual.
While my friends awaited theirs, I began to
get a taste of what it would feel like to no longer have a child, but an
Our teenaged “child” looms over both his
father and myself. He pats us on the head. He laughs dryly at our antics.
Our 12-year-old girl calls ME a “cute baby” as she shows me how to use an
It was entirely my fault. From the time my
children were born, the first thought that popped into my brain was:
“Thank You, God, for giving me this child on
LOAN.” I KNOW that my job as a parent is to make this child independent, a
contributor, not a taker.
My job was to make myself redundant as a
parent. I have deliberately set about doing this. It means I have not been
there to tie every shoelace.
As soon as they were old enough, they have
sorted out their breakfasts and school lunches.
I have pointed out poor children and made them
give away stuff at Christmas, instead of expecting.
I have sent them, heart sinking, (occasionally
sobbing) on journeys with their grandparents since they were ten years old
for weeks at a time.
This year I sent them away, on their own, to
stay with families, so they could learn to live with strangers, learn to
pull their weight about in a home where selfishness or untidiness is not
forgiven, learn that mistakes come with consequences.
Miss a bus and you walk miles in the dark, get
careless and your pocket gets picked.
What I didn’t reckon on was how hard it is to
move from being a full-time mother to temporarily unemployed mother looking
at full-time retirement as a mother straight in the eye.
“Wait,” you want to say, I still have stuff to
teach you. But you know they are not listening.
Just as I feel a sharp sense of loss
(unexpected), they come back. Arms around you. Soft cheeks against yours.
Because they want to. Not, hopefully, out of guilt.
The moments don’t last long (maybe ten
minutes). I think of my parents, how they have been almost fully employed as
parents all these years.
I love being around them. Perhaps, my children
can also be independent without giving me the sack. Or, have I let one crazy
post-natal thought go too far?
There is no “mothering” metre. It’s a blind
art, and every day I lower my expectations, and underrate my job
Now I think “once they don’t turn into axe
murderers I did okay.”