Becoming a Mother
There is one thing almost every woman promises herself when she finds out she is going to have a baby.
No, it’s not to be the best mum in the world (we all KNOW we’re going to be the best mum in the world, obviously… until we realise how hard it is, and actually we’ll be just fine with 113th best, thank you) or to feed our children home-cooked organic vegetables every day (because we will of course have the time for this) or to get our pre-baby bodies back within six weeks, like all normal people do. Six months (or years) will do just fine.
No. These are not the things we promise ourselves. These things are details.
What we swear above all else that we will never ever ever do, where motherhood is concerned, is turn into our own mothers. Never!
One of the great joys of being a parent is being able to do things differently to our parents. To do all the things we wish our parents had done with us, and not do all the things we wish they hadn’t.
Spitting on the edge of a tissue and wiping it around our mouths to get some dried biscuit off; talking so loudly in the playground you can hear it from the next village; enforcing a strict bed time; turning up at school in some horrendous get-up of mis-matched, devastatingly un-cool clothing that made us want to leap into a huge hole in the ground and never come out for fear of social annihilation; wearing too much old perfume; serving peas with every meal; asking us to come home before midnight; not letting us smoke in our bedrooms; caring about us all the time.
‘Not me!’ we cry, as our newborns are handed to us in the delivery room.
‘You, my child, are the lucky one. You will have a Super Cool Mum. You will never be embarrassed by me in the playground. I will never wear purple velour dungarees and clogs when I come to pick you up from a party. Want to pierce your septum and dye your hair green? No problem! Want to smoke in your room? Sure, go right ahead. Want to stay up until midnight? Go for it. I am Super Cool, Easy, Liberal, Anything Goes, Everyone-Wants-A-Mum-Like-This Mum.’
But then, somewhere between leaving said delivery room and our child’s first birthday, we start to realise that, actually, some of the things our parents did were really… not all that silly after all. And probably, very sensible.
Little things like… having a bedtime routine. It works. It means we can actually get more than 2 hours of sleep per night, and our children aren’t permanently grumpy and ill.
Things like trying to feed our kids vegetables so that they don’t get scurvy.
Realising we are too exhausted to do the laundry, so we’re happy to throw on any old item of clothing we find lying in a heap on the floor and throw it on, even if it’s made of velour and covered in dried baby sick and cat hair. And we don’t even have a cat.
And… is that some tomato sauce pasted around you mouth, darling? Here, let me just spit on this piece of tissue, and… aarrgh! What did I just DO??!
And lol, before we know it… we have turned into our mothers.
The face-wiping thing is just the start. The thin edge of a giant maternal wedge that WILL drive itself between the mother we thought we would be, and the one that practicality, habit, common sense, love and exhaustion turns us into.
I’ve caught myself saying things to my children that make me want to wash my mouth out with paint stripper, I sound so much like my mother.
“You can’t get down until you’ve had another three carrots…”
“Is that what you call a made bed?”
“You really can’t go out dressed like that…”
“What time do you call this..?”
and so on and on. The phrase-book of the Concerned, Caring Parent, used by generation after generation, without any of us meaning to.
There are new phrases for every generation, of course, which my children have already come to hate and have no doubt promised themselves they will never use on their kids:
“Switch the i-pad off!”, “you’ve been on that computer for FAR too long!”, “stop face-timing at the table!”.
I’m not sure if dads have the equivalent ‘not turning into my dad’ thing. I suppose it depends on the dads in question. But certainly, most of us have a pretty clear idea about what kind of parents we want to be, and set out to be, with grand intentions of grooviness and chill, but we end up being sucked into a reality that turns us, slowly, stealthily but surely, into a mini-me of many aspects of our own parents.
That thing, probably, is just called Good Parenting. Caring. Doing the best for our children. And unfortunately for us – and them – that involves being rather dull and boring and organized much of the time.
And wiping bits of dry tomato juice off their beautiful little faces. It’s OK. They’ll be doing exactly the same to their children one day… and you can watch it happen, and smile.