Thursday, June 21, 2012

You can't win

Today I had an encounter of the weird kind. Quite upsetting actually, although I'm forcing myself to laugh. Laugh in the face of nutters, right?
There I am, bubbled in the babble of morning mayhem - striding up the road to school, three kids in tow, ten minutes late and dealing with the normal emotional meltdowns that cover young girls like an invisible aura. Poppy was whining and whinging and lagging behind. She stayed awake last night longer than is required for happy family life, and was making sure everyone knew about it.  I did the only thing one can to survive a day of endless crying and hysteria - I ignored her.  I strode on ahead and she scooted about 4 feet behind,crying and shouting. At some point, I turned round and told her to grow up and hurry up. So far, so normal.  (Just to point out, there are plenty of mornings - when the required amount of sleep is had, that we all skip to school singing songs and chatting our heads off).

Suddenly a young man walked past me and as he did he turned to me angrily and snarled, "It's hard being a child. How dare you treat her like that. You're one of those angry mothers you see everywhere!"
Once I'd picked my chin off my shoes, I spluttered out an incoherent retort along the lines of 'How dare you!  How dare you comment on something you know nothing about. You know nothing about me or what I'm going through!"  Did he walk away? Did he apologise?  No!  He stopped, turned and shouted at me in front of my three girls. In a furious attempt to just get rid of him, I told him to 'clear off!" Honestly - no stronger.  Where I found the self-restraint not to swear I don't know - probably the look of horror on poor Daisy's face. Suddenly another school mum appeared, saw what was happening, and literally chased him away up the street.  I hid my upset from the girls and carried on to school. But I was bruised. He might as well have slapped me. A complete stranger called me a bad mother in front of my children. His words pressed down on me all day, like a large thumb crushing my head. Every insecurity, every pore of guilt that I have ever felt came gushing through me.
And then I had coffee with my friend. She has three daughters too. And last week she was on her way to the shops with them. Like mine, she had one in a pram and two were scooting a bit ahead of her.  Suddenly a man approached her and said (and I quote, lest you think I'm joking) "If you let those girls go ahead of you like that, they'll get lifted by a paedophile!" My friend spluttered some shocked reply, and he retorted, "you need to let a roar out of you and control those kids!"
So there we have it. One week, one road, two men giving us mums some advice. I'm a bad mother for shouting at my child, and my friend is a bad mother for not shouting enough.
We can't win, can we?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The map of motherhood

Do you ever read something and it resonates so much with your moment in time and space that the words leap off the page and slap you in the face?  Or maybe it's a lyric that rings in your ears long after the song has stopped? I read this last night, and it nearly stopped my heart:
A mother draws a map for her child and places herself at the centre of it. Her death wipes that map clean. She leaves you knowing that you must redraw it to survive, and yet not knowing where to start.
My mum didn't die but the map was wiped clean when she had her stroke. Those three lines sum up how I've felt over the last two years, and how I have struggled not only to redraw the map, but to figure our how or where to even start.
Grief is more than an emotion. It becomes a physical part of you - like shrapnel embedded in your flesh - as real, and permanent as your arm and leg. It is always there, although we might seem to heal and live with the scars, it is hidden in your muscles and your bones, your brain and your heart.
Every day I mourn the loss of all that could be, as much as what was. People say time is a healer, but it is also the blunt knife that cuts deeper. Sure, time softens the pain and the heart-stoppping terror, leaving behind a low-level ache. But the knife of time also cuts deeper, reminding us over and over again that as life is moving on, we are leaving someone behind.
My mum lies in suspended animation, a still frame in a world of moving pictures. Poppy turned five last month, and danced in her first ballet show. Daisy is writing stories and singing songs, and Ruby is full of wonder. We have adventures, we make plans, we live our days, and my mum is missing it all. But worse, we are missing her.
I know that over the last year, no-one would have devoted more time to sitting on the sofa hearing Daisy read than her. I know she would have started to write letters to Daisy, and get replies, just like mum and me wrote to each other all our lives. I know she would have been measuring every centimeter Poppy has grown this last year as her gluten-free diet kicks in, and listened avidly as Poppy regales tales of her imaginary friend, Heart. I know Ruby would be wearing little dresses ("I just couldn't help myself") that mum would bring down, and my mum would be bending the ears of everyone she knew with Ruby's minxy antics.
I know that, because my mum was the centre of my map and those are the roads that lay ahead of us. Now I stumble down new tracks, unmapped areas and try to mark my way. All I can do is take the navigation tools she taught me and hope I find my way.