Mother’s Day, Round 2, I actually had a bit of flesh and bone to show for my trouble, it was this very small infant boy called Alex.
Round 3 and I was taken out to lunch to a lovely Chinese restaurant. The tables were decorated with bamboo plants. Alex was fascinated by them so after lunch and before I went to work that night as a waitress we stopped at the garden centre next door and bought him his own bamboo plant for his bedroom. He said “bamboooooohhh” with an exuberant “ooh” at the end. Despite the best attempts of our youngest and most badly behaved cat, that bamboo plant is still alive and almost well.
Round 4 was only last year but I don’t remember it; I’m sure it was lovely. And here we are at Mama’s Day, Round 5! Which seems impossible since Alex is only 3, but he will be 4 this year and I am of course counting the year of his percolation.
When Alex was a baby Matthew and I referred to me as his Mummy, as you do. When he began to speak for himself he only ever called me Mama. I was of course grateful that he was calling me anything at all. After a while, all of my friend’s babies were moving on to the standard Mummy and my admittedly odd little boy was still adamantly refusing to acknowledge me by any other name than Mama. I was very insecure in my mothering, and for some reason I felt it was important to teach him to say Mummy. Looking back on this I really cannot fathom why but… well as I said, insecure and a bit stupid described much of my first eighteen months of parenting.
Alex refused to say Mummy and became angry if ever I tried to coach him. Thankfully it wasn’t long before I threw the towel in. From the moment he was born Alex’s will has been frighteningly strong and this clearly was a very low priority. He was such a queer little thing, right from the very beginning. Always with his own definite way of doing things, always so prickly and always all consuming; like a blanket of molasses spread thickly all over me.
Going from an autonomous human being to a constant nurturer for an often unfathomable person was not the relatively smooth ride that I naively believed it would be. I found early on that a wonderful coping mechanism is to pretend your baby or child has been beamed in from outer space. We all know children are round the twist; no adult could get away with hysterics because a drawing of a stickman on the pavement didn’t return your greeting when you walked past. When your toddler goes through a phase of eating only bright orange food, or your preschooler refuses to eat dinner unless you agree that it’s actually cat food, it’s much easier to be sympathetic to the poor dears if you visualise ET. Imagine they’ve just crashed and hatched, and have only you to guide them through the maze of humanity. What a sobering thought.
Long after I’d come to my senses and realised that the way he said Mama was absolutely darling, came a day when I was on the phone with a friend. He toddled over to me and said “Mummy?” with an expectant smile. I was shocked – it sounded so foreign coming from his mouth. My friend had heard him say it and, before she had a chance to filter her words from her thoughts she said “Oh my god, ‘Mummy!’ he sounds so normal saying that!”
I knew what she meant. It wasn’t that Alex usually sounded abnormal. It was just that he often sounded so ancient for such a bonny babe. Suddenly I felt a pang for my confused, old and new little boy-little man, and I never wanted to hear him say Mummy again. Or rather, I never wanted to hear him say anything against his own heart with the sole aim to please me, again. I nuzzled him and kissed him and said “It’s ok you can call me Mama.” Weirdly enough he never used Mummy again until recently when he’s realised it has the potential to wind me up.
The way he says Mama is like a caress, it’s his own expression of love for me. Many children call their Mothers Mama; I know it isn’t unique to us. But, he insisted on it, despite my absurd opposition. When he says it now, even though he is a proud 3½ I am grateful that his will was stronger than my postnatal herd instinct. I feel loved and loving every time I hear my given name.
I often battle with guilt because while I love my son more than anything I absolutely require an abundant amount of adult time for my mental health. If it were within my power to choose I think I would have been surrounded by a whole flock of children and animals, content within the domestic sphere. However the way I am made is simply not compatible with that picture. Like immeasurable other men and women I am trying to find and maintain the balance between personal satisfaction and personal sacrifice.
Most people agree that Mother’s Day is the perfect time for us to show the Mothers in our life our love for them. My message to those Mothers is to take a moment to reflect on the joy, wisdom and strength that you gain from giving your love. I have no saintly claim to patiently inspired mothering, but for me Mother’s Day is two parts breakfast in bed and two parts humble, overwhelming gratitude that this creature loves me, and is mine to love. I am very lucky.
Like buses, my blogs come one on top of the other. Another, less personal blog on Mother’s Day soon to follow.