I don’t know where the rage comes from. Or perhaps I do but I don’t want to admit it. It bubbles and seethes, spitting from between my teeth and strikes those I love most. Usually it lurks in the background, waiting for an opportune moment to emerge, slithering and rancid. Brutally honest, too raw, too dangerous.
I know that the rage is most likely aroused from its lazy slumber by the hectic, tiring days of selfless caring for children, at the cost of my own needs. It feeds off my resentment and my lack of connection with my partner, my lack of stimulating conversation, of special time for me. It wonders, in a quiet voice, where the me I know has disappeared to, being replaced by a mother. The mother who is surrounded by incessant talking, questions, pawing, grabbing, ‘I wants’, mess and toys, whining, crying, each child with a need that refuses to be satiated. It wonders how mothers of the past, with nine or more children, survived and stayed sane… or perhaps they didn’t, and most of them died young; exhausted, empty husks whose lives were unlived of and for themselves.
I know the rage erupts when time is stretched into amnesia about the last occasion I had time to write, more than a hazy five or thirty minutes of anxious, muffled keyboard tapping in case it wakes the baby (my ‘office’ is right outside his door). The rage bursts forth when feelings are suppressed, are denied rightful expression through writing, in whatever form. When creative urges are constantly ignored or shelved until I have time to explore them. When time for reading is squeezed into half an hour before bedtime, eyes dry and brain fuzzy from exhaustion. When meaningful conversation with friends disappears, or is crammed into night hours when I have half an eye on the clock because I really should be in bed.
I know the rage sprays forth volcanic human lava when I am consistently woken at four or five in the morning, knowing that my day will start now, that there is no chance of getting the baby (or myself) back to sleep, that he will wake my elder child. That by three in the afternoon my eyelids will be heavy and my limbs and brain slow, but that any form of rest will have to wait until after 8.00pm. Eventually my cheer and goodwill will dwindle and the rage will peep out, shyly at first, shown in a cross voice or a harsh tug.
Self control may suffer. If I allow the rage to overtake me I will be a bad mother. I will be a poor role model. My children will cry and fear me. My partner’s quick temper will ignite, his tiredness and feelings of self-denial matching mine. Life will feel like one bad choice after another, like a trap in which I am hermetically sealed, left tapping on the glass of dreams. It wasn’t meant to be like this.
And then something magical will happen. My child will hug me and whisper I love you, Mummy. Please don’t be cross with me. My baby will suckle with eyes closed and body snuggled against mine. His big blue eyes will open to my soul, innocent beyond compare. I will fold my elder boy into my arms and smell his hair, his velvet skin. The reality of love will sharply overtake me; rage will slip away like the spectre it is. I chose these children, this mothering life. The constant struggle is to save myself and not to be sucked into the quagmire of it. To carve out an island where I can express, indulge and extend the person I am outside of my mothering role. Feel the rage and then expel it, leaving those I love unscathed. Breath and move on.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem