MOTHER’S DAY morning, and upstairs in bed, maternal bonds are being marked in time-honoured tradition, with phone calls from absent offspring, and tea and toast — with pot of hyacinths — brought to me by my youngest daughter.
She grabs one of my pillows, falls back into it and then through a mouthful of toast, says, “Is it fun — being a mum?”
I think about fun. Then I think about motherhood; its current incarnation and typical practices, for example:
1. Illogical Cleaning — as on Monday, when I’m warming the cockles of my heart with thoughts of eldest daughter returning from college to a charmingly reconfigured bedroom. I’ve dismantled a kitchen dresser the size of a boat, with a view to putting it in her room, and am completely stuck half way up the stairs, sandwiched between dresser and wall, with t-shirt caught on a nail, exposing one breast squashed painfully flat against dresser back.
2. Giving Help when Help is Due — as on Tuesday, when I receive e-mail from industrious son: please can you just check my English in this personal statement? Three hours later I e-mail son revised statement and receive touching thank-you text. (A week later I ask how the revised statement went down. “Actually I showed it to Tank before I sent it,” my son says, “he said, ‘dumb it down — you’re an engineer and they expect engineers to be shit at English’. So I took your bits out.”)
3. Not Giving Help when it’s Not Due — as on Wednesday — when I receive phone call from eldest daughter asking me to give her essay — a critique of a novel — a “quick once over”. She sounds hung-over. I read essay, phone her back.
“This is an exercise in tautology,” I say.
“Repeating the same thing over and over again, in different ways.”
“Have you read the novel?”
“[Pause], No. [Sigh].”
“Get back to me when you have, love.”
4. Managing Child’s Medical Condition — as throughout Thursday night, when I think for the millionth time, that the business of coping is not a study in quiet, phlegmatic dignity but instead the terrifying business of managing emotions so deep, sharp, visceral and physical that the midwife might as well not have bothered cutting the umbilical cord at all.
5. Seeing Your Child with Sudden Clarity as Grown-up, Autonomous, Happy and Kind — as on Friday, when I have pub -lunch with eldest daughter. I think about the process of raising children to adulthood and feel, in terms of its energy input (prolonged, colossal) and result (grown-up, autonomous) , that the process is like painting the Sistine chapel in order to draw a straight line.
6. Mental Block — as on Friday after school, when my daughter says, “I’m starving,” and I know, after 26 years, that I have finally exhausted pasta, and done chicken all ways.
7. Giving Advice Straight from the Gut — as on Friday night, when watching Lena Dunham’s hit show ‘Girls’ with youngest daughter. On screen, a boy is having sex with his girlfriend in the manner of someone in vindictive mood banging about in a cupboard, looking for a pair of old runners. “When it comes to sex,” I say, “don’t think of yourself as a municipal park, which any old person can trample across. Think of yourself as the total, TOTAL boss of an amazing private estate.”
8. Family Meal in Restaurant — as on Saturday, when I brandish new specs to read menu and all offspring collapse; apparently, in my specs, I look like Edna Mode from The Incredibles (left). I don’t know who Edna Mode is, so my son passes me his iPhone: She is a Eurasian midget with bizarrely outsized head and very upsetting hair.
9. Being Dumbfounded — as on Sunday when my youngest son sends me an invitation via text: Have you heard of Harry Whittaker he is class composer do you want to go to chamber choir thing this Sat?
10. Being Discomfited — as on Sunday night when I find picture on husband’s Facebook page of eldest son and friends with a) condoms stretched over their heads and b) their heads immersed in public fountain.
“It’s an all-in everything-thing,” I say to my daughter, “being a mum is an absolutely all-in everything thing.”
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