Wednesday, August 08, 2007


I've been thinking a lot about motherhood, and what it means to me for quite some time now, and trying to best work out how I feel and then to put it into words. It's been a post in the making for a long long time, now, but over the last three days something has become abundantly clear to me how far I've come.

We've all (Me, Mr T and Patrick) got a particularly nasty cold- I'm tempted to call it 'flu because I have arthralgia and haven't felt this crappy since I last had mastitis. It did occur to me over the course of my pregnancy how people said things about 'this is the end of your independance' and things to that effect. It wasn't really until we all got this cold that I realised just how far that goes. Mr T came down with it first, then me, and now, poor little Patrick (although
it has to be said, he's still bouncing in the Jolly Jumper ok- I think Patrick would have to be bloody sick before he would stop bouncing, God love him). When Mr T was sick I looked after Patrick all day - even took him down to Sydney for a day (to Birkenhead Point) so that he could rest. Now I'm unwell, and Mr T is working night shifts- so despite the fact that I only got a few hours' sleep last night (five feeds plus a hacking cough and pan-allodynia- 'everything hurts') I am still number three in the ranking order of needing to get some rest. I've put myself last. Also, before Patrick was born, when we loafed on the couch in the evenings, I would huddle up to MrT or put my feet on him, and the cat would sit on his lap. Now everyone sits on top of 'mummy'; I'm literally the bottom of the heap.

I'm sure I've said before how this whole process has changed how I see my mother. Most especially, that I must admit I never really saw my mum as making choices before: she grew up in the fifties and sixties, became a nurse (because that's a 'naice' job for a 'naice' catholic lass) and married my dad- a 'naice' catholic lawyer. She had 4 children in reasonably quick time. We followed dad's job around the country, mum working because we had a large mortgage. All of those things I used to think were, to some degree, pre-ordained: nice girls do nice jobs and marry nice boys and have nice families. But at some stage she must have chosen to do all of those things (except maybe for my sister who was born 12 months after my brother- one of those 'breastfeeding accidents'). She could have done teaching- another 'nice girls' job like her sisters, she could have married 'the boyfriend who drove the MG', she could have decided to stop at one or three children (oh, yes, my mum will burn in hell for taking the pill), she could have given up her job. But, growing up, you (well, I) didn't ever really think that mum would ever do anything that she wasn't meant to. Well, she just wouldn't. It's like there was a script to our lives and mum played the leading role. She just did the things she was 'supposed' to do, it seemed to me, and all our lives seemed as inalienably 'right' as they were.

Afew years ago, when my (maternal) grandmother died, my aunts (there were only girls in my mum's family, only boys in dad's) were cleaning out the flat they came across a box of my granfather's old super8 movies (my grandfather died when I was 3 days old) including reels of three girls' weddings (there were actually 4 girls in mum's family- the eldest, who I never met or even heard about until I was in my twenties, had Downs Syndrome, and my grandmother was advised to 'put her in a home'- it was the 1930's after all) plus a few of the cousins. My Aunt P had the films made into a video. It was interesting viewing, (not least for Aunty J's bridesmaids' wearing purple and green flared pant suits), especially for me, a moment when mum realises she's on camera, and pulls a silly face. Exactly the sort of face I'd pull.

For as long as I could remember, I've been compared to my mum- we both look very similar (except she has brown eyes, mine are blue), we speak very similarly, we both have a similar sense of humour, and similar interests. But, there watching this film, I first became aware of my mum as a young woman- a woman with her future ahead of her, a woman with choices, a woman like me.

Now I wonder what Patrick will make of me. What he already makes of me. He's obviously very fond of me- as much as babies can be- when he fell out of bed in Fiji, he wasn't consolable until he was in my arms. Now, nice as that seems, I'm somewhat suspicious that this is more that I'm the only mummy he's ever known, and it's not me so much as any woman with boobs and open arms. A bit like Harry Harlow's experiment with baby monkeys- the surrogate mother experiment. I'm sure to a certain extent it is: after all, Patrick can't even get it together with rice cereal let alone think about what his mamma means to him. But when he's older, will he look at my eyes and marvel that they are the same colour as mine, as I do every time he looks at me? Will he wonder why Mamma left it 'til she was 35 before he was born? Will he see me as a real person, a person who made choices, and not 'just mum'?

I expect he will, but it may take his own experience of parenthood for him to do that. Or maybe he'll see my wedding video and watch me pull a face at the camera and it will dawn on him.

Is this just a 'mother' thing? Or is it parenting in general? I never really saw my dad as not making choices- he seemed to decide what car we bought, what colour the house would be painted, all that sort of thing. Not that my mum was at all brow-beaten or 'kept' in any way: my mum was (and still is) a very intelligent woman who is not afraid to speak up to anyone, least of all my dad, but it always seemed to be dad who made the choices. I'm sure this was just my perception, because as I've come to know mum as an adult, I know she's just as in control of the house as dad is. If not more. But that's my point: was mum that way, or was it just my perception? Is this unique to me? Is it how all children see their mums? Is it a female thing to let yourself become the person who is always there, who always knows, who 'always gets the burnt chop' (or vege sausage)?

And if it is, what about rainbow families? What about single parents? What about parents with a disability? What about transgender mums?

Maybe it is just me, and the drugs I'm taking to fight this cold and stay awake. So I can put out the washing, bring it in, clean the house, organise childcare, look after the baby, breastfeed, amuse the cat, do the shopping, edge the lawn and empty the dishwasher.

[and yes, I've discovered the 'link' tool and I'm-a gunna use it. I can't believe I overlooked it all that while. Like right now. Handbag heaven]


Blogger jen said...

I'm sure it's very bad form to comment on your own blog, but I just realised how many of those handbags I own. 8 from the current collection, plus a few that no longer appear on the website. Oh. Dear.

8/8/07 22:37  
Anonymous J-Le said...

i've had two of those moments where i've suddenly seen my mum through different eyes.

the first one was like your super8 moment, when i was looking at some old slides of me as a baby, just before my 21st, and there was this photo of mum carrying the baby (me) and for a moment i thought it was me carrying a baby. she had her hair in pigtails the way i do, was wearing a bright yellow jumper like i would, and was (like your mum) pulling a silly face like i would. i had to look at that slide over and over to make sense of it. (thinking about it is making me want to get my antique slide projector out tonight...)

the other moment was a lot more serious. my brother Conor died when i was 4, so my grief as a child and as a teenager was for the loss of a sibling, a playmate. as i grew into an adult woman and contemplated myself as a potential mother it suddenly occurred to me how painful it must have been for her to lose a child and it makes me understand her just a little better. (not totally - we are still emotional strangers to each other in many ways - but it was still a great revelation)

9/8/07 00:37  

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