Sunday, March 31, 2019

Reflections on Mother's Day

I wake just before six, the tiniest prick of discomfort behind my eyes. A little too much to drink last night, perhaps. I know what day it is, I know I should feel happy and hopeful, and yet anxiety prevails. The kids are up already, playing and pottering in their rooms. Soon they will peek around the door, and the day ahead will unfold. But for now I exist in a state of dreamlike detachment; floating without purpose; a blink away from sleep. Existential preoccupations creep into my semi-conscious mind, filling the ethereal void. It is here that the least welcome thoughts present themselves, rudely demanding to be addressed. Wearily, I brush them aside, to be replaced with more practical, domestic concerns. Time passes and I drift in and out of sleep.

Now it is seven o’clock and I hear the shuffle of small feet on the landing, the opening of my bedroom door. Here is my son; daughter close behind. It is Mother’s Day and they excitedly present me with a home made card, which both have signed. A year ago the youngest would have struggled to write his own name; I reflect on his progress with some quiet satisfaction. On the surface, the mood is a happy one, and their expressions of love and gratitude sincere, and yet an unspoken tension is building. Invisibly it clings to us, its jagged edge perforating the expected simplicity of the moment. While hugs are exchanged, and downstairs tea is being brewed, this silent emotional onslaught continues to swell.

I wonder whether to say out loud what I know is on all our minds, to expose the elephant in the room. After a while, and a few sips of tea, I do. Although I am without question their mum, I did not give birth to these two; there was another mother before me who is still out there somewhere, and today she is more present than usual in our lives. I reassure them that it’s OK to be thinking about her, and that I understand it must be a difficult day for them. But my validation is awkwardly dismissed. They don’t want to be reminded. I understand that, too.

Breakfast is next: bagels and chocolate spread. The morning skitters along in a muddle of feelings as we do our best to embrace the occasion. No plans have been made; it is down to me to decide. I contemplate an adventure - something out of the ordinary - but check myself. On days like this, simple and familiar is best.

We go to Michelham Priory, where everyone is usually at ease. And the familiarity does seem to bring temporary relief from the pressures of expectation which have so far tainted the day. We laugh at the ‘dead daffodil festival’ (nature won’t be tied to a marketing calendar, it seems), eat a hearty lunch, buy some books from the second hand shelves in the cafe, bump into friends, and wander through the house and grounds.

While the children play in the playground, my thoughts wander back to a time before them. At some point I decided to become a mother, but I never fully appreciated the extent of what that would actually entail until now. Here I am, tied to these two dependent beings, carrying all their baggage and filling plenty of my own along the way. But there is love, too, and fun, and happiness and affection. In spite of the angst and the tension and the sometimes seemingly relentless conflict, my heart is full. If only that were enough to keep us all afloat.

A quick stop in Alfriston to buy a book for my own mum, and then home. The confines of the house seem to re-ignite earlier frictions. The kids are getting weary, and my late night is catching up on me. We scramble to get dinner ready, and I send the eldest on an errand to Waitrose for supplies. She comes back in tears because it was closing and she couldn’t find all the things in time. My fault for sending her against the clock. Pangs of guilt (oh, motherhood) as I attempt to assuage the upset. Then back to the cooking.

5pm. My mum arrives and I hug her for longer than usual. I need it. Need to feel connected and safe. Her presence brings comfort to all, and dissipates some of the lingering unease. The kids’ relationship with Nana is less complicated, and they happily relax into being with her, glad of the distraction. As bedtime approaches, the weight of today begins to lift from our collective shoulders. Stories and kisses and cuddles, and lights out by eight.

10pm and a door opens upstairs. I go up to see who is awake. It is the youngest, apparently disturbed by mysterious shapes in his room, made by the glow stars. As I go to lift him up and take him back to bed, he sighs sleepily “I love my mummy”, and my heart explodes into a thousand sparkling fragments. This is motherhood; not the cards or the flowers or the breakfast in bed. This sleepy gift of a little boy’s love, unceremonious and indubitable. This is all I need to know that I am a Mother.