Oh hello. I have something to say. Today’s the day, I am going to make it. A motherhood statement. A broad sweeping claim, like arms wrapped around you. An encompassing statement, a forgiving, welcoming reassuring statement. A motherhood statement.
I whisper into the silence of the house my children have deserted. They have flown the coop, escaped, but only as far as the local school so they will be back, cooped up with me, soon enough. Wrapped in my protective embrace, shrugged of in a self-conscious flick. Getoffmum. Yes they will be here soon filling the house with sounds. All sounds. Sounds that hammer into my head, sounds that drip like a tap in my brain so I loop over and over the same thought over and over and over.
They have ruined my life these beautiful terrible beings with their tireless demands for more food, toys, stories, hugs, talk, food… I can’t keep up. Running to stand still. Standing still to go backwards. Sitting in the silence of my house marking time before starting the school run, the fetch and carry, the hunting and gathering, the mothering.
Where did my motherhood statement go? I know I had it here. Who has taken it? What have you done with it? You had no right to take that statement, it was mine and now it’s gone. No wait a moment I don’t think I had actually got that far. Sorry. I am sorry. I have hurt you and I am so sorry. I see that small line of pain creased beside their eyes. I have hurt them again as only I can do, as only a mother will do, can do, has to do. Some days I brush it off, they will be at counselling when they grow up telling some stranger how awful I was. I am. Other days I sink to the floor and wrap myself in a ball holding tight to my legs, feeling the ache seep through me, pierce me and push its way out, through my eyes and mouth, in great big raking sobs. Horrid, noisy, wet, thick sobs for everything I cannot be and everything I am.
But where was I? Oh yes, A motherhood statement. But oh… there was something else. My beautiful beautiful children, whose sleeping faces I stand and watch, whose bodies I cover at four in the morning to keep the creeping cold of dawn at bay. They have ruined my life.
Sometimes I wake at two or thereabouts, and the terror of it all overtakes me. The feeling that their lives are in my hands is so strong that I tremble and leak in fear and fright. For their smallness, for their open faces greeting each day with a smile, for their precarious hold on a life so full of traps and ups and downs and toxins and poisons and electricity and lead paint and cars travelling too fast through a school zone and asbestos sheeting disintegrating on the roof of the garage next door and the coffee I drank while breast feeding, the 245T in my milk, the Ranger mine up north, the agent orange buried in WA, the run-off of fertiliser, the residue from BHP, the war in Afghanistan, the fall out, the land fill… I ease myself back to sleep with the thought that I will be no good to anybody if I don’t get some rest.
Then it is lunches. And breakfast. And a drink. And some more toast. And television off please. Get dressed. Television off please! And some more water. Teeth clothes hat bag turn that television off now water shoes keys. Keys. KEYS.
Not always in that order.
I find it so easy to slip on the stereotype of mother. They are big shoes to fill. Too big for my feet. I slip and slide around like a penguin on the ice flows of the south. I trip over the ends of my feet. I don’t know maybe my feet are wrong, maybe the heels are too high. All too often I end up flat on my face. Face down. Some mornings I just can’t face.
Hey, hands up who believed in 1980s feminism? You know the idea that women can do everything. Yeah I know! But I believed. I really did. Thought that if I studied hard enough, dreamed long enough, aimed for the goal post, the finish line, pushed through the glass ceiling that I could have a career and children and leisure and holidays and read the paper in bed on Saturday mornings, and have friends over and eat well and…
Maternity. Maternity clothes. Maternity bras. Maternity pads. Maternity leave. Yeah guess that would have been really helpful for someone like me. Except that I only had casual work. And I stopped two weeks before the end of the contract. Because I was going to have my baby. So I lost a fortnight’s pay. And now they are full up with employees. Coming out of their ears. Out of the woodwork. You would not believe how many highly qualified women there are out there just looking to pick up a bit of work there or here or whatever. Between the hours of nine and three, after seven, overnight. Your mum could pick up the kids. If she lived close enough. Delivering pamphlets.
Working from home.
I suppose if I put my mind to it, I could get back to work. Stop being a stay at home mum. Looking around an empty house full with clothes dropped on the floor and pushed under the bed, plates on the table, toys and crumbs and dust. What is that sticky patch just there? Become a working mum. There are so many childcare options nowadays. So many options. You can trade your sick leave to look after someone else. Can you imagine that? After school care, long term day care. Somebody else to look after the kids everyday for the rest of your working life care. Wow. I suppose you have to pick them up sometime though. Have to squeeze all that love and hate and need and rejection into the darkening sky. And cook dinner. Shit I forgot to pick up eggs on the way home. We’ll have to have fish’n chips, Hamburgers, Macca’s, Burger King…If you can get the days you need it is great. Places are a bit hard to find though. I hear the university centres are full. What do you do if you are a student? If you are working? If you are a mother? Spare clothes, shoes, sun screen, insect repellent, emergency contact numbers. Packed lunches. Coughs and colds and contagious diseases.
And tears. For a while. Until you learn to lock them up inside and throw-away the key. There are many choices nowadays.
I suppose I have got it easy siting here in the silence. In an empty house. Tossing up whether to clean the toilet and the shower today or tomorrow, what to eat, whether to do this or that or something. Oh God it’s raining. I’ll just bring in the washing.
I suppose it is an attitude thing. I just don’t know when I’ve got it good. I want what I can’t have. The grass is always greener. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. After all income will only really be a problem if I get divorced. He could always put payments into my super account, when we earn enough, when we’ve paid off those debts, when we’re in the black. So I’ll have my own little nest egg. Just for being a stay at home mum. Not bad for a non-working mother.
I am sorry. You are about to go and I haven’t made it yet, my Motherhood Statement. I can’t think straight today, dithering, going on a bit. Oh I am sorry, I can’t remember what I was saying. Where was I? Where am I? Yeah, kids, husbands, gotta love ‘em.
You never really stop being a mum.
Once the dance of conception is over it begins. And it never ends. Even after you die. Or they do. The unthinkable, the un-name-able pulsing, burning bile of misery of seeing your own child Pass Away. My great grandmother had seven children and two husbands. She buried them both. Her eldest son could do no wrong, her pride and joy. Except that he ran out of puff after fathering and grand-fathering and taking the boat out and farming, and gave up the ghost and lay down and died. She was heart-broken, she could no longer breathe, she crumbled, ceased to exist.
She was 92.
They ruin your life, children.
Sorry, sorry, I have to go. Is it still raining? I’ll have to take the car. I know I know greenhouse gases, I am degrading my children’s futures just so I can pick them up from school in the car, because it is raining, again. I like the walk too. Get a bit of fresh air. The calm winding down of the walking with the sun on your back or warming your face. Like springs uncoiling from the contained focus of the day, the children over flow with stories and he saids and she saids and I said. It is too, it is not. And Mrs P doesn’t and Mr B does. And on and on and on until they wind down and take my hand and kick at stones with their feet and say ‘why mum?’ And it doesn’t matter because we are in the park and we are going home and I don’t have to watch the traffic, and I don’t have to just drop in here, and shut up, I am trying to drive!
Here they are. They run to me. Bury their faces in me. Pull me, tug and press me. And eat me up with their small sharp teeth, nip by nip. Kiss me. Lick me. Throw their arms around my neck and softly, gently smooth the hair off my forehead. And I would give them everything, anything. Do it all again tomorrow. Give my life for them.
I’ll see you next week, hey? And I’ll get this motherhood statement thingy worked out then, promise. Gotta go.
“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