My mum and I have always been close, but often with such closeness come brutal honesty and friction, so our relationship has been a tumultuous and tender mixture over the years. The odd shouting match and slamming down of phones are not unheard of. But there are also lots of hugs and chats, and always, ‘I love you’s’.
The morning after my emergency caesarean at the birth of my first child, mum arrived into my hospital room with a hug and a pot of home-made blackberry jelly jam. Amid the euphoria and sheer happiness I felt at finally meeting my daughter, I was also aching and fragile and afraid to move too much. Contemplating getting out of bed to wash, never mind pulling off and on clothes over my stitched and sore body was too awful to consider. However, after we’d stared in wonder at the precious new addition to our family, naturally claiming her to be the most beautiful in the world, mum coaxed me to take a shower.
She helped me take the tentative steps to the bathroom, and supported my weight as I stepped over the bath and under the shower. She gently hosed me over with the soothing warm water and reverently sponged the soap around my bruised body. Then, after helping me out, she rubbed the towel over my legs and back, and softly patted dry my wound and dressing.
At 72, my mother was still caring for her baby. At 36, I was just learning how to take care of mine. At that moment I realised that the journey I had embarked on with my new daughter would never end. It was for my life, just as my mum’s mothering of me was for hers. I’d spent nine months preparing to be a mother, but with Daisy’s birth, two things happened simultaneously. I became a mother, and I became a daughter all over again. The unbreakable bond I formed with my beautiful new baby shone a light on the one with my beautiful old mum.
Realising now the relentless tough slog that motherhood is, I have renewed respect for how hard my mum must have worked to bring my brother and me up, and how thankless a job it must have been at times. Unlike today’s modern men, my father’s generation paid little heed to the business of babies, and all the upbringing and housework fell squarely on her shoulders. Nor did she have all those modern amenities that make my workload barely tolerable – sterilisers, tumble dryers, disposable nappies and microwaves. I know we have different pressures on our 21st century lives, but I can’t help feel we’re ‘softer’ today, having lost some of that robust ‘get on with it’ attitude of our parent’s post-war generation. I can just about keep my head above water as it is – how would I have coped without a washing machine?
Up until I had my daughter, I only remember my mum as a mother to a stroppy child, a wilful teenager, and a wild twenty-something. Now, as I see her tenderly care for her grand-daughter, I appreciate how she must have been a mother to me as a baby. As she radiates love for my daughter, singing sweet songs, stroking her tiny face and making her giggle, it makes me feel loved all over again as I must have been back then.
My mum had an annoying habit when I was growing up of always saying “you wait, you’ll understand when you have kids of your own!” As I stropped out of the house in an adolescent huff, or threw a teenage tantrum, I’d raise my eyes to the heavens and bemoan the endless words of caution, beratings, and instructions on how to behave. I smile ruefully now as I look at my own babe in arms, and realise I will probably say every one of those warnings and lessons to her too, because behind them all is love. And now of course I do have a child of my own, I do understand. I understand how my wilful personality must have broken her spirit at times, just as Daisy stretches mine to its limit when she refuses to eat, or ignores my feeble attempts at discipline.
Having lived through many phases of life, from toddler to schoolgirl, from student to traveller, from career queen to party girl and wife, I now enter a new phase – motherhood. And I realise that the cycle in our relationship has turned again. When I was born, I was dependent on my mum for everything and as I grew up she was my carer and teacher. As I became independent our relationship changed to one of equality and friendship. But as we both grew older and my life separated from hers, the balance shifted again as I began to take a greater role of caring for her needs as she aged. And now it has come full circle again as my reliance on her returns.
Those first frightening days with Daisy were made easier with the knowledge that my mum was by my side. She helps me out when I can’t find the time or energy to cope. She listens sympathetically on the end of the phone as I wail at my own incompetence, and cheers alongside when I get something right. She makes me a cup of tea and tells me to sit down – the best bit of advice anyone can give a mum!
Of course when she comes to stay we still argue, and I still throw my eyes up to the heavens. But at the end of a long day when I’ve put my baby to sleep, I can come down the stairs to hear my mum fussing in a newly cleaned kitchen knowing that for a few hours this evening, I’ll be fed, and hugged and probably berated. And that’s ok, because while learning to be a mother, I still very much needed to be mothered.
(Published in Modern Mum, Spring 2007 issue)
(c) AKG 2008