Sunday, 6 March 2011

Ticks and Crosses

What I love most about motherhood is thinking back to me pre-mum days and remembering the things I said I would never do. I like pausing, just for a moment, to revel in what a bloody good mother I was before I had kids, sighing at my maternal genius and then thumping back to reality, where the Lola list of ' things I will never not never NOT EVER DO' looks thus:
Sniffing a be-nappied bum in public.
Going out with a baby without doing teeth/hair/changing out of sick covered clothes (mine).
Going out with a baby without doing teeth/hair/changing out of sick covered clothes (his).
Bribing.
Bribing with chocolate.
Not immediately wiping a snotty nose or dribbly chin.
Co-sleeping.
Buying traditionally 'gender' toys.
Take the last one. Damn we've wasted a lot of money on gender neutral wooden toys. Spider-boy loves his kitchen and buggy and menagerie of stuffed animals, but boy does he usually prefer cars.

Perhaps the most crucial time for parental shit lists is when you have your first tiny one. Despite the little sleep there is still time for reflection and planning. You can count out your days, TS Eliot-like, on coffee spoons (or in my case teeny tiny toenail moons, which fall like crescent miracles when I dare to tackle them). Time collapses in the face of both the drudgery of newborn days and their heart-melting delights. Not least as you have all the responsibility of parenthood, but only a few areas to judge yourself on. They are BIG ONES, yes, but few (feeding, holding, sleeping, safe keeping). And for some (I mean me here, many are wiser I'm sure) not the brain space or imagination to realise motherhood is a marathon long term endeavour, a lifelong test for which there are, actually, not many right answers. *Luckily* at that time we can take comfort in (and rage against) the tidal wave of advice, pick our parental choices (and anxieties) and hold tight to them through the storm of uncertainty.

And in the moments where we can reflect, we see our future in the form of model toddlers which rise above those marauding, chatting, cheek-giving, seemingly undisciplined, scruffy, furniture climbing, dirty shoed HUGE ones we see around. Beautiful sticky monsters with seemingly grotesque levels of energy and unmanageable alien attitudes will not be what our babes become.

I get a kick of nostalgia when my son is tearing round a museum or shouting in a supermarket and I get a look, not even of judgement, but of benign pity from a Mum with a pip of a lad in blue marino. I don't think 'you'll get yours', I think 'ah, enjoy it'. Because it is an amazing time, when they are teeny, and you still believe, are overawed even, by a feeling that you have a lot of control over how they will turn out.

What I think is most interesting though, isn't the contents of our lists or the detail of our expectations, but that nasty trick of the light which stops us seeing them clearly for what they are. It doesn't cast a pinprick of illumination on the successes, the positive ambitions or even the brilliant surprises that make up our mothering. It astonishes me the way the shadows of our *failings* obscure our sense of ourselves, and how reluctant so many of us are to give ourselves a break.

In my case, I found it very hard to see that any ideal mum, is no more than a simple ideal, infused with all the Nigellaness of all female expectations these days. Whichever one you picked, be she lip glossed and well turned out, confident, carefree, ordered, cheerfully chaotic, endlessly patient, spontaneous and kiddish, possessing of raucous social machines or dainty well behaved 50s kids, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, slinging, pushing a large pram, a maclaren or a bugaboo, smiling, baby chatting, singing rock or show tunes, attending coffee mornings or hosting dinner parties, it is hard but necessary to judge her with the clarity you'd judge any ideal anything you'd like to be. She's not so different.

If I compared the chasm between me and my ideal Mother, to say the chasm between me and the ideal adult I'd like to be (witty, bright, friendly, clever, tidy, with good taste, attractive, hilarious, beloved, successful career gal, great cook, top lover, creative genius etc) I'd at least see the error of my high expectations if not, on a good day, a couple of ticks in the ruthless world of crossings out.

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