I never gave much thought to what life would be like with children. My life as a thirty-something professional woman was so far removed from the life I live now, that the breadth and depth of the transformation would have been unfathomable.
Back then, when I realised a baby was calling me and felt that primal urge in my bones, I focused on what now seems like tiny steps: One – lose weight, cleanse my body and take Folate. Two – have as much sex as my husband and I could fit into our schedules. Three – wait. Getting pregnant was ridiculously easy for me. I am forever grateful that our wait was only one cycle, which put me in the five per cent category for my age. Four – a longer wait, with growing evidence that a baby really was inside, and making his presence known. Five – face up to the bald truth; too scary to contemplate for long, but antenatal classes and the books I diligently devoured forced me to accept that the baby had to come out somehow!
Life beyond the birth was a hazy concept. I didn’t really know anyone with young children, had never changed a nappy and despite reading a couple of books about ‘life on the other side’, motherhood remained a misty unreality, its secrets concealed but quietly anticipated.
I’d heard the phrase ‘rollercoaster of emotions’ but that didn’t deter me. I’ve always sought to know and feel life in all its guts and glory; I’d suffered from depression on and off for more than a decade before giving birth, so plumbing the depths was second nature.
But nothing would have prepared me for my lived reality as a mother that encompasses soaring highs, desolate lows and every possible shade of the spectrum in between. Caring for two boys under the age of six can be chaotic, loud and draining, balanced by hilarious, busy and deeply fulfilling.
Red is the surging anger I feel when my six-year-old is deliberately destructive or aggressive, or when I feel incompetent, ignored and powerless. But red is also the intense passion I feel when I hold my child close against me and breathe in his intoxicating smell, his radiating warmth and his delicious softness, wanting to prolong the moment into eternity.
Orange is the warm glow I feel when our days hum along harmoniously and I feel able to handle with grace and fortitude whatever life deals me. But orange is also the anxiety I feel when I know that things are getting out of control, my internal warning signal that, in my role as the keeper of order, I need to come up with a solution to the bickering and fighting, fast. I’m not always successful.
Yellow are the simple joys of the everyday – private moments that signify a special bond: my three-year old’s chubby hand reaching for mine; my elder son making his secret ‘I love you’ sign through the car window or the fierce adoration with which he whispers at night, ‘you’re bolted to me’; little eyes locked together with mine with no fear or hesitation; rosebud lips searching out my neck; two children riding my back horsey-style; singing nursery rhymes in the car; rib-racking laughter ... so very many moments. Sometimes I feel that my cup is full, gloriously overflowing.
But inevitably green tinges some days – envy at how seemingly easy some other children are (not like my fiery wild boy!), frustration at not being able to sail though this motherhood job blithely and unscarred, and frustration at not knowing all the answers. (And not being perfect). Green is also my new appreciation of silence. The peace I gain from rare windows of solitude, from being immersed in nature.
Blue brings a cavernous despair as I realise that for every moment of exhilaration gained, one is lost. My children are growing up, I can’t capture anything for keeps – it slips though my fingers like cool seawater. Blue are the tears as I cry for their sadness, their hurts; the times my child says ‘Mummy, no one would play with me today’; the ragged fear that something terrible might happen to my babies; the lurking spectre of death. But blue is also the feeling of contentedness when I fall asleep with my child’s arm loosely resting across my body; his soft snores and warm breath against my neck.
Indigo is the selfless devotion our job of parenting demands – the hours spent tending a sick child, calming a crying baby, listening to an angry tirade. Indigo are the soaring moments of pure adoration, when I look at my child and say ‘I love you’, feeling it with every cell in my body. Indigo is for plumbing, not the depths of our souls, but the well of creativity, patience and forgiveness.
And violet is for hope and pride. I want the best for my children, a future full of promises fulfilled and magic enacted.
So now I feel as if I really do understand motherhood. It’s not a margarine commercial chock full of effortless, buttery smiles. As well as the blissful times, the fun times, motherhood is about struggle, heartache, resilience, frustration, rage, unrelenting hard work and a love so deep and complex that nothing else can touch it.
Each day is a blessing that, like a dazzling rainbow, I would never want to miss.
“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