I am not the sort of mother I thought I would be. I can hear the cry of “Haha! Nobody is,” careening at me. Yes, it’s an absolute motherhood rite of passage to laugh at yourself and denounce all of the things you were 100 percent never going to do as a mother. You tutted at those eating a quiet lunch while their children watched random people opening Kinder Eggs on Youtube, and felt sorry for the children of the mum who was begging them in a deranged hiss to “Please just stop bloody fighting” and offering them a lifetime’s supply of Haribo if they did so. Yes, I’ve been there and done that with the rest of you – nothing new there.
What I’m talking about runs a lot deeper than that. I’d gotten to the point where the only days I enjoyed were the days my children were at nursery school. On those days, I’d feel a prickle of dread when I had to go and collect them at the end of the day. I’d scramble around on the days in-between, desperately trying to get my mum, my brother, my dad, anyone, to come over so that I didn’t have to be alone with them. I’d feel a white hot fury if my mum took them to the park for “a couple of hours,” and came back after one.
I wondered how I’d gotten to the point where I woke up dreading each day. I wasn’t sure how I would get through it. I questioned how I’d so fantastically failed in the one job in life I was sure I’d succeed at. Did my children start every day moaning, screaming, and being difficult (and manage to keep this up for an entire day) because I’d done something so very badly wrong? I even started to wonder if I was actually innately evil, and this had somehow been missed throughout my previous life, manifesting only now in motherhood, because absolutely nobody should feel like that about their children. Should they?
A lot of my questions were answered when both of the children had health scares. After a series of doctor visits, the littlest was eventually referred to the children’s hospital. Nobody was really sure what was wrong with him. On the days leading up to the appointment, I couldn’t sleep, of course, going through every worst-case scenario in my head. I felt sick as he skipped down the hospital corridors, no care in the world, with no clue as to why he was there.
It turns out the consultant put her finger on what was wrong with him immediately, and it was nothing that a short course of medication wouldn’t fix. I cried with relief. No sooner did we have that out of the way then, at a friend’s birthday party, my husband thrust the eldest in my face, telling me to do something. My child was gray and waxy, and his lips a strange shade of cyanosed. The horrified gasps of the people around us were audible and, as the ex-nurse present, everyone was looking right at me. I just stood there. At that point all I could think was that I wasn’t sure if I remembered how to do pediatric life support. I wasn’t really aware that the fact I was thinking this meant that my child, right there in front of me, might actually need it.
Again, a simple explanation was offered to us as to why this had happened. Nothing to do with the cardiac dysfunction I’d talked myself into believing was the diagnosis. In the days afterwards, I checked him hourly overnight, sleeping fitfully in-between. I wondered if, five minutes after I’d checked him, he might have another episode, and how could I contemplate existing if anything should happen to him.
It was in that moment that I realized that I wasn’t the terrible, evil person I’d convinced myself I was. I’m not the mother I thought I’d be, but raising children is also nothing like I thought it would be. Sometimes (99 percent of the time for us at the moment) children will be assholes. Sometimes no amount of expert advice or raiding the internet and your local “what’s on for kids” directory for new ideas will change that. Sometimes, you will wish that your children could go to boarding school and you could have an extended break from them. When they’re in bed, you might announce, “those f***ers hate me” to your husband (by you, I mean me, but it might be you too). But I’m also the mother who barely slept for checking on my children. Although sometimes I wake up wondering how I’ll get through the day, I still go out of my way to make the day fun and entertaining, even through the screaming.
I am the mother who gets a prickle of dread when going to collect the children from nursery school, knowing that the coming bedtime debacle might give me a nervous breakdown. I may have nicknamed the days they aren’t at nursery school Twatface Tuesdays, Wank Wednesdays, and Thank F**k It’s Nursery Again Tomorrow Thursdays, but I’ll still hug and squeeze their faces when I collect them like I’ve missed them with every inch of my being.
The fact that I care about why the children’s behavior is so bad at the moment and about the pain that I sometimes feel when I don’t want to spend time with them, defines the whole situation. Because if I didn’t care, I’d just stick my feet up, turn on “The Walking Dead,” tell my children Negan is coming to get them, and let them fight to the death. I care about changing things. I realized that sometimes everything being bollocks doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t die for my children. They don’t need the mother I thought I’d be. I’m sure they’re more than happy with the one they’ve got.