Since I became a mother, I have been faced with concerns, questions and even judgements from various people… These have come in various forms, from direct questions, to looks, and sometimes quite virulent statements. All have been well meaning. All have been quick to judge. Almost none have taken the time to talk to me about their concerns.
What worries people so much about me? Well, it’s very simple, and I understand that a casual look at my life and the way in which I spend my time and energy can lead to this conclusion…
She lives through and for her children. This is not healthy either for her or for them. What will she do when the children leave home? How will the children ever detach from such a powerful, overwhelming mother.
It’s hard to hear that. Harder when you see all of this and more in the eyes of someone sat across from you, and who often clearly cares for you. When they are more distant emotionally it’s a little easier, but more frustrating. So much so, in fact, that I needed to get those few sentences in a different colour as soon as I had typed them.
In therapy this week, this topic came up. My wonderful therapist has clearly been worried about me, as our sessions have revolved around my frustration and heartache in trying to help the children, and it was quite right that she should bring this issue up. I hope that I was able to more clearly show her all of me, and reassure her. The thing is that in therapy, I tend to bring the hard stuff. And this year, this school year, the children are so vulnerable and struggling so much that this is the hard stuff.
When a baby makes it presence known, I suspect most mothers become enveloped in the need to nurture that little life. Pregnancy is a funny old thing, but during this time, it becomes quite difficult to think of yourself as anything other than a mother… someone responsible for a whole other being. And when that baby is born, the feeling intensifies. For more than a year, that little person is utterly dependent on you for food, cleanliness, warmth, touch, happiness, love.
Even at this early stage, I was often told that I was “pushing” my baby. The truth is that I was trying desperately to keep up… Eldest, in particular, craved information, stimulation and entertainment. I was more than happy to sit back and enjoy those first few years for what they were: fleeting, and a great opportunity to watch and relish each little milestone. Eldest had other plans. He was quite desperate to move, and was pulling himself up to standing by five months, walking at ten months and climbing up to the highest slide at the park before he was one. By the time he was two, he was counting forward and backward to 20, could read and write simple words and was doing simple addition and subtraction. In both French and English. I don’t believe for a minute that I could have “made” that happen. He was extremely demanding, but when kept busy was a lovely, interesting and delightful little boy.
Oh… it might be worthwhile noting that from the time Eldest made his presence known, until he was two years old, I continued to teach the piano and oboe. For three hours a day from the time he was a week old, I taught. If he was hungry, I fed him. Other than that, he was either in my arms or led/sat at my feet while I taught. As he grew older, he sometimes played in his room, but in any case, he knew that he could not have my full attention during this time. I also conducted a local children’s orchestra once a week. Eldest either came with me (with a later bedtime which he did not like), or had a babysitter (which he did not like either). The fact that he was less than impressed with these arrangements that failed to put him at the centre of my world was something I felt important… both for him and me. (Oh look!!! I am me!)
Sweet Girl was very different. Where Eldest had needed to be busy all the time, Sweet Girl was largely unresponsive to any external stimuli. Certainly not positive! She hated being engaged in any way, and was only interested in her big brother. So as Eldest went to a local school in France where we were based, life became extremely quiet in the mornings. The afternoons hustled us into the mad, busy, cluttered world of Eldest’s mind as I was thrown back into keeping him busy enough to avoid awe inspiring meltdowns and tantrums.
Was I giving in to him?, they say under their breaths.
It’s easy with hindsight to explain that Eldest is autistic. That his special needs make understanding the world an extremely difficult thing for him to do. That as a little boy he was simply trying to make sense of all that was around him, and that his intellect allows him to take in phenomenal amounts of data and analyse it. But deprive him of his “laboratory” or of his “subjects and materials”, and you force him back into the chaos that is his first experience of life. Wouldn’t you melt down? Would you be able to understand that in order to give Mummy a little peace, you are expected to live in that darkness, that chaos which leaves you feeling terrified and confused?
And then, in the midst of a happy, but tiring life with two very small children, arrived Little Man. Quite unexpectedly!!
Within ten weeks we were hurled into the world of hospitals and the realisation that life is a very fragile thing. It’s a bit important to remember that at this point, I was mother to three children, all under the age of four. One of whom was fighting for his life in hospital. The other two of whom had just begun to adjust to a new baby, only to see him whisked away, with Mummy and Daddy reeling with shock and fear. All three of them were incredibly vulnerable, and I was, I am their mother. For quite a while, I would have to be Mummy. “Me” would have to be protected, but would also have to be put to one side for a while. Not because that is what I wanted, but because we each have a limited amount of hours in the day, and we each have a limited amount of energy both physical and emotional.
I am me.
And for the last nine and a half years, I have primarily been Mummy. Because unlike most children, mine have not been able to go into school at the age of five and build their little lives gradually, happily, “normally”. I have a (nearly) thirteen year old, a (nearly) eleven year old and a nine year old. I am hoping that in another twelve months, all three of them will be happily ensconsed in a school that can meet their individual needs without the need for me to be on call at any time of the day.
I have to make choices, as do we all. I could hand over Sweet Girl to her school in the morning and fetch her in the afternoon. By doing that, I would be putting her mental health at tremendous risk (I know, simply because that’s exactly what I did last year). By doing that, I would certainly be putting the school in an increasingly difficult situation as she becomes less stable. Last year, there were several occasions when the school asked me to take her home. The reality I live is that if it is in any way possible for me to keep her well both physically and mentally, I must surely do what is needed… None of what I write here is over dramatised.
Little Man must be taken to his various therapy and medical appointments in order to keep him as well as possible. These things are not optional. If I treated them as such, I would be facing charges of neglect and bad parenting. From well meaning folk, but also from medical professionals and social workers.
So I am me. And a large part of me is being Mummy. It’s hard, it’s tiring, and it’s also rewarding and lovely.
I’ve been looking forward to rediscovering the rest of me for a while now… probably about three years. Slowly, quietly I’ve been allowing my experience of life in the last ten years to percolate to that “me”. I’ve been letting all that sink in and make the changes that are inevitable. It’s been a little frightening to think that the me that emerges from this decade of intense living will not be the me that had to be put away for a while. That “while” has been far longer than any of us anticipated. But then cocoons are not a bad thing… they allow for transformation, for growth. They allow the possibility that what will emerge will have beauty and strength…
My cocoon is slowly thinning. I can begin to see the outside world once more.
In the last few years, “me” has emerged through such activities as knitting, sewing, making time for special friends… I have stubbornly continued to help out at school with the choir, even though this can be tremendously difficult when the children are more fragile. I have allowed music to come back to me in the small moments that it has deigned to. And I have tried to listen to the voice within to find a direction for life beyond the children.
This week I emerged a little more. Thanks, oh thanks to Darling Man, who has such faith in me…
It started with a few little comments..
You would have made a brilliant doctor.
You know so much about this… it’s really complicated…
You could learn…
And I looked. Could I learn? Could I “start again”? Could I look into medical research and what would I need to do?
And I found answers. Medical school is not the right way for me. It would involve a single mindedness that I am not willing to give. I have been single minded for ten years, and I need to be me. “Me” is not the single minded type. I have always enjoyed too many varied things to give ten years of my life to training to be one person only. Especially given that I would qualify as a doctor no younger than 50.
I also found other answers. Nursing is also not the path I want… lots of reasons. But science and health are really calling me. Funnily enough I am back where I was at the age of fifteen… interested in how the body works.
I have been increasingly interested in the process of converting food to a healthy, functioning body. I am fascinated by Little Man’s difficulties with food, and I find myself wanting to learn more, but hitting the brick wall that is lack of education. And I have experience. Valid, strong life experience.
I have one child who is tube fed and clearly has problems absorbing food correctly due to genetic problems.
I have another child who is at considerable risk of anorexia.
Personally, I found myself gaining a huge amount of weight due to hormonal problems, and eventually managing to lose that weight (I hit that magic goal weight with weight watchers this week – my bmi is finally healthy!!).
And so I find myself rather keen to return to university to study nutrition and dietetics, with the goal of becoming a dietician.
Phew… as ever, writing things down makes them real, and strong, and scary!
My first step is to do an ‘A’ level in Biology. It’s a requirement for the degree course. I have to say I’m quite relieved, because it’s been a long time since I studied. ‘A’ level is achievable.
Darling Man… how lucky I am to have a partner in life who is so supportive, and enthusiastic. I know that he will push me when I need it, and provide me with the confidence I absolutely lack.
First step of the first step was to announce!
When I learned of Little Man’s leukaemia, I spent hours on the phone, telling anyone and everyone I knew. With every call, it became more real and in so doing, it became more manageable. When something is real there is no choice but to deal with it, step by step.
So now, in my bid to release the “me” that has lain rather dormant for a decade, I am announcing…
I am planning to go back to school, and my second step, after announcing this to the world, is to buy my text book!
Off to Amazon I go…
I am me. You may not have seen it. You may have been blinded by the mothering, the intense mothering that circumstance has required of me. But I am… I am me. Just watch. Once circumstance allows, I will emerge from that cocoon, and I will fly.
For me. Also for those wonderful children. So they know that Mummy is also more. Mummy is me. So they know that they too can fly. They too can be… Zack… Kesia… Tom…
I am me.