Tag Archives: mothering

The Lies of Mothers

Us Mothers…I have to say, we’re terrible liars.  All of us. I remember after my first daughter was born, I was furious with my aunts and my own mum.  ‘You didn’t tell me it would be THAT bad!’ I railed.  ‘Why didn’t you WARN me?’  They shrugged it off and told me that if women shared the actual truth about childbirth, babies would never get born.

And as I’ve got older, I’ve been complicit in this big secret-keeping thing we all do.  How often have I stood around admiring the bump of a heavily pregnant first-time mother and found myself saying in a soothing voice,  ‘You’ll be fine.  Once you’re in the zone, it’ll fly by.’  Lies.  Lies. Lies.  You’ll feel like you’ve been in a motorway pile-up.

Or with a new mother. ‘It gets easier.’  Hmmm…no. It doesn’t.  Not for months.  Not until you’ve experienced the ravages of sleep-deprivation that they reserve for hardened soldiers in the torture scenes of 18-rated movies.

I thought the childbirth and new mother complicity thing were the only ones we mothers do.  But oh no, no, no.  There’s another one.  A big one.  One that I didn’t find out about until Monday, when my eldest daughter went off on her Year Six camp to Dorset.

And Bam!  Out of the blue.  There it was. Something I was totally unprepared for.  Because nobody had told me that watching my baby going away for the first time would make me feel that level of blind panic.  And just plain, outright heartbreak.

I managed to just about hold it together waving her off.  But as the doors closed, I watched my little girl’s face crumple on the other side of the tinted coach window and my heart felt like it was being torn out and stamped on the patch of grass that the school-run dogs wee on.

Some of the other mothers went for a group support breakfast. Another one said in a choked voice, ‘well, that’s it.  Only seven more years and they really will be gone for good.’

I couldn’t even reply, too busy staggering to the car in order to wail in privacy.

Gone.  For a week.  No communication.  The longest time I have ever spent away from her.  Ever.

Of course, as a novel writer, I write about heartbreak all the time.  Weeping, the clutching of pillows, looking at photos in the middle of the night all with a tear-jerk imaginary soundtrack are my standard fare.  Emotional bread and butter.  Those kind of moments pay the mortgage.

But this week, they’re very real.   Because not since Whitney Huston was number one in the charts have I ever been remotely like this.  I’m like a heartbroken teenager.  I can’t really eat (which is not actually such a bad thing, but just a bit alarming for me).  I can’t sleep (which is just plain odd.  I always sleep).  And yesterday, I even broke down in Waitrose on the poor guitar teacher, a childless twenty-something, who innocently asked me in the queue how my eldest – his pupil – was getting on, and I totally lost it. The poor guy.  He didn’t know what to do.  And I couldn’t stop crying, even though I was mortally embarrassed and the cashiers were making eyes at each other.

So there we are.  Another one of those mothering moments, where I’ve discovered that we all are complicit in not telling each other a fundamental truth:  That saying goodbye to your child is worse than anything else you’ll ever feel.

Friends rang me up and sympathized and Mum was very supportive.  They’ve all been through it.  They just hadn’t told me.  Stoicism.  That’s what we all have.  The unbelievable capacity of a mother to bear pain.

And I feel terrible, because I know that so many worse things happen in the world.  And I want my darling girl to grow up and live her own life.  But that doesn’t alter the fact that I’m still an emotional wreck, even though I know that by time the coach got out of Brighton, she’d probably found all the sweets I’d hidden for her and was having a wail of a time.  And I also know that when she comes back, once again I’ll be complicit in the mothering lies.  Because when she asks me whether I was OK without her, I know I won’t tell her the truth.




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Birthday Pressure

I have to admit it, I’ve been a bit rubbish on the birthday front recently.  I’m usually right on it, as far as all things birthday are concerned, but I’ve reached a plateau of birthday ennui about everyone else.  And now that Emlyn’s big four-oh is looming round the corner, I’m frozen in the headlights of Birthday Pressure.  What the hell am I going to get him?

But it’s not just family.  There’s lots of birthdays to remember at this time of year. Not to mention the children. The children!  There’s suddenly squidillions of them to remember – mine and everyone else’s.

It doesn’t help that time seems to have sped up this decade.  A year lasts about a month in old time.  So much so, that I’m thinking of instigating a leap year rule.  The rule shall state that you are entitled to remember a person’s birthday once every four years and still qualify as a good friend/relation/godparent.  But I know it won’t wash.

I’ve always  been susceptible to Birthday Pressure, as my own children will testify.  The need to create a wonderful, all-singing, all-dancing birthday celebration is my default setting.  And that, coupled with my conviction that I’m not a real mother unless I’ve baked and iced a jaw-dropping, photo-worthy slab of yummy cake, is a recipe for disaster.

Because I can’t bake.  As in, totally don’t get the fact that it’s scientific and you have to follow instructions.  I just can’t help myself going off-piste, so all of my efforts are a colossal disaster.   And I take baking failure very personally.  There’s always tears.

It’s particularly galling as I don’t really like cake in the first place – I’m more of an olive and salami kind of girl.  And I can’t see the point of spending all that money and effort icing a cake, when it’s just going to get covered in slobber from the candle-blowing out bit.  But can I readily admit to this and go all-out to embrace the shop-bought birthday cake?  Hmm.  Well I can…but with difficulty.  And even then, I lie, attempting to pass it off as my own.

This year, I came up with an ingenious plan and delegated the cake-making part of the Little One’s birthday on Saturday to my parents, using being ‘in transit’ as a brilliant excuse.  But it backfired, when Dad produced a huge and splendid cake and the children were so impressed, it rather reinforced my sense of being a rubbish mother.  If Grandad can do it, why can’t you?

I also kept schtum about the concept of hosting a party for the nursery kids, whipping the family off to a day at the zoo and an evening of bowling instead.  So the Little One came back from school yesterday and stood with her hands on her hips, indignant. ‘Why didn’t I have a birthday party, Mummy?’  And I said, ‘because you didn’t want one.’  And she said, ‘but I didn’t know I could have one.’  So I said, ‘You can.  Next year.’  But she still looked upset.

I also forgot a friend’s birthday at the beginning of last week, although she was on my mind.  Then to compound the error, I sent her a breezy text saying I hadn’t heard from her for a while.  When I listened to her return message, mentioning that she’d been to a spa for her birthday with another (clearly better) friend, my blood ran cold. Doh!

But Birthday Pressure is a problem for the busy working person.  Because even if you do remember the birthday the day before and throw money at the situation, I’m wondering whether sending a present from an online store direct to a friend, really counts as having made the appropriate present-choosing effort.  It may be efficient, but does it really show that you care?  Enough?

Amazon have given a nod to the problem by providing a gift wrapping service, but it costs a fortune, and it still doesn’t address the issue, that one hasn’t gone out to a local bookshop, chosen a book, written in it, wrapped it, packaged it up, queued at the post office and actually sent it.  In time for the actual birthday.

Annoyingly, we all have friends who get it right all of the time.  They’re usually a bit posh and have birthday calendars and reminders on their swanky iPhones.  They always send thoughtfully chosen cards to the children on time.  I’m always amazed and just a little bit jealous.

But we all pile on the Birthday Pressure, despite the new-fangled ways of getting round it.  Ecards  for example.  Great idea, but they just don’t cut it in the real world.  A friend’s step-mother recently went nuts because she’d sent her an ecard attached to an email on her birthday.  My friend thought it was an eco-friendly gesture, but certainly wasn’t interpreted that way the other end.

It all makes me think that what I really need is a wife.  A decent, proper wife, who can shop for natty little presents and funny cards and bake cakes and throw lovely parties for the kids.  And she could clean and tidy up in between.  Oh, and water the garden.  And maybe go on a diet for me. Wouldn’t that be heaven?

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