Tuesday, May 1, 2012

On mothers

Today is my mother's birthday. A MayDay baby, she's often gifted with cool, windy birthdays, like today.

The kids and I rang her to wish good birthday things this morning, an exercise somewhat marred by the fight between the 8 and 7 year olds over who would lead the singing of Happy Birthday. The 8 year old was stuck in a loop of unreason - a common enough state for her 6 months ago, but becoming less frequent now, as she learns and practises techniques for managing her emotions. She began her maddening, impossible, impregnable repetitions; wailing over and over, without pause or surcease, "I want to do it! I want to! She can't! I want to!" Her tantrums are rarer, but much more severe, now than when she was a toddler / preschooler. It's like she is blind and deaf to anything I say or do at these times; being firm doesn't help her, being kind / sympathetic doesn't help her, screaming (which I admit I have done sometimes, although I regretted it straight away) certainly doesn't help her. The only approach that speeds these storms to calmer waters is to ignore her almost completely (but remain available to respond quietly if and when she's ready to interact), remove whatever the catalyst was (in this case, I had to take the phone from her and hang it up) and keep her sisters, particularly the 7 year old who is excellent at pouring oil on the flames, away from her.

As we were walking to school later, we talked about what had happened and why she had reacted as she did. As I suspected, there was an unexpressed anxiety about the day ahead behind it - apparently there is a new innovation at school in which her grade level has to participate in a "footy club", an extra sports session run by external trainers. A doesn't like ball sports, doesn't like rough games, and doesn't like this extra session at all. She's not especially sporty, but has always quite liked school PE and certainly likes her PE teacher. Reading between the lines, I wonder if the external coaches are engaging in some competitive / shaming techniques; A seemed embarrassed, worried about what might be said to her.

Mother-bear-like, my first instinct was to march up to the school office and demand to know:
a) why external coaches were being used and parents had not been informed;
b) why the kids were losing a literacy session each week to add in football training, when they already do PE, daily walking club, and sports carnivals; and
c) why they were not allowed to opt out of it, when the philosophy of the school is meant to incorporate "the right to pass".

I squashed this urge, however, knowing it wouldn't help A to deal with what her day held in store. Instead we talked a little more about how to handle these situations, and how to manage the stress they can make you feel. A sighed, seeming relieved but still pensive.

"You are a different Mummy than you were when I was 3," she remarked.

I stopped, surprised. "Oh?" I said. "How?"

She chewed on her lip. "You ... walk faster," she concluded finally.

I knew instantly that she wasn't talking just about my lengthening stride, matched now to the scooting pace of the two big kids. She meant that life is more crowded now, days more full, my attention more divided, the race faster and with less rest stops along the way. She's quite right, of course; I am a different mummy now, and I will be different again in another 5 years, just as she will be at a different stage, with new needs and new challenges, as she enters her teens.

I am also a different person - I have grown, changed, developed in the 5 years since she was three. I have goals and ambitions now that are different, or more developed, than they were then. My life is different. My heart is not the same.

It made me think about my own mother, and all the changes she saw us through. I think I have felt closer to my mum - certainly I've understood her more - since I've had my own children. And I've forgiven her for the mistakes she made, as I bumble along making many worse ones of my own; I have let go of that towering arrogance of my early adulthood, in which I saw all my mother's actions, decisions and conversation as being about meeeeeee. Now I know that my mother not only did the best she could; objectively, she did good. She loves us all unstintingly and unceasingly, and she cared for our needs when we were children, and remains available to us now. She is a human being, a person with thoughts and aspirations and interests and hopes outside of her identity as My Mother. And that is a great thing, a marvellous thing, to realise and embrace.

So here is a multi-verse seasonal birthday haiku, for my mum, and for me too.

in the spring, you
held my infant form
encircled in warmth and ease.

summer brought fire and storming;
self slipping the knot from source
a woman in making.

now as leaves fall
soft into your silvering life
new buds are flowering.

I do not love the winter; silence
of snows on beloved souls
the absence of voices.

Perhaps this autumn will be long;
enough for you to bend in kindness
to smooth my path.

In loving you, I learn
to love myself; then I teach
beloved blossoms to love in turn.


  1. Very nice :) Happy birthday to your mum!

  2. Gorgeous post. My daughter is a MayDay girl too. A special birthday! Love your reflections on being a mum, and your daughter's "you walk faster". I feel this too, and think it is hard for my youngest who never really had the benefit of me as the slower walking mother.