Happy(ish) Mother’s Day!

In the lead-up to Mother’s Day, I found myself both transfixed and irritated by a particular advertisement on Facebook. It wasn’t obscene or crude or exploitative, it was just, well… a bit ridiculous. Clad in a gold negligee with glossy blonde curls cascading over her slender shoulders, the “mother” rises like a mermaid from a pastel sea of roses, pastries, handbags and parcels piled across the bed. A glittery pink eye mask is pushed up her porcelain forehead, and gosh she looks well-rested.

I know advertisements are meant to tap into fantasies, but I couldn’t help thinking this one had gone too far. Perhaps it’s just my own stage of life, but I feel like fantasy for a lot of mums would be waking in a bed sans children after the stars have set. And here is the problem: after enduring weeks and weeks of a glistening, pink media assault, it’s inevitable that many mums will feel dissatisfied with their messy, noisy, slightly tatty Mother’s Day reality.

Last Mother’s Day I remember being sleep-deprived after feeding a baby through the night, and feeling a bit sorry for myself that my husband was working all day and I couldn’t whip out my “it’s Mother’s Day” card to excuse myself from of any of those menial mum-jobs: changing nappies, fixing meals, bathing kids, never-ending bedtime-rituals. I wrote about the sense of disillusionment that my Mother’s Day was far from the “catalogue version” I had been promised.

But this year I’ve been thinking of a dear friend who has just celebrated her first Mother’s Day as a mum and her first Mother’s Day without her own mum – having lost her suddenly a month before the birth of her first baby. It’s caused me to reflect on all those women who are grieving the loss of a mother or a child or who – whether through fertility issues or just the twists and turns of life – have never been granted the child they so desperately wanted.

Yesterday two very different crowded spaces – my Facebook newsfeed and the cemetery near our house – both conveyed a common story of loss and sorrow. For many, Mother’s Day brings a churning restlessness of the heart, a yearning ache akin to homesickness for an alternate version of life with no missing pieces. Thinking of these women (and men) has shaken things into perspective, and enabled me to shrug off the ludicrous fantasy that the media trots out each May.

Late last year I attended a friend’s birthday dinner with a group of girls I mostly didn’t know. As the night progressed and the food and wine flowed, a chequered assortment of life-stories emerged (as they always do at a successful girl’s night). It turned out that a birthday was only one of several events worth celebrating that night. From a group of six women in their mid-thirties, one was pregnant with her fifth child, another with her first through IVF, one had brought along her first baby daughter, one had an adoptive son and was hoping to adopt a second, one was late because she had to settle a three-year-old and breastfeed a ten-month-old before coming (that was me), and one (the birthday girl) had gleefully left two pre-schoolers at home with their dad.

It struck me: what a wide diversity of journeys to motherhood were represented by our small table alone. What thorny, winding, lonely paths many women walk to become mothers. And what travel-wounds some must sustain along the way; what bruises to the heart, what crushing blows of disappointment, what bone-aching weariness. I can only imagine, because I’m one of the lucky ones. My two beautiful children came easily: a sunny, babbling toddler who kisses everyone and hurts himself way too often, and a mostly sweet, sometimes spiky four-year-old girl with an incredible imagination, and a gift for making up songs.

For those whose Mother’s Day was marked by sorrow, I hope that you found some measure of comfort: a soft place to fall, a quiet corner where you could speak your grief. May the God who knows all things guard your heart and mind with a peace which exceeds anything we can understand. I am grateful to those friends brave enough to show me their travel-wounds, to share a little of their pain. On a day when most of the hearts on display are flawlessly fashioned from soft and whimsical fabrics, it can’t be easy to reveal one that is broken and bloodied. We need to see those hearts on Mother’s Day. We need to honour the tales of desperate loss as much as those of joy and triumph. Some of us need to remember the richness of our blessings lest we take for granted all that we hold in our arms. What we don’t need are more unattainable, airbrushed goddesses swimming through oceans of gifts – because that isn’t anybody’s truth.

This year my Mother’s Day was lovely. There was no sleep-in, I missed my mum who lives overseas, and I had to do all the dinner and bedtime routines myself after my husband went back to work. My little boy put a tooth through his lip and kissed at least one girl he probably shouldn’t have in the playground. There was the odd tantrum, sibling fight and quite a bit of screaming when we got lost and lunch was delayed on our scenic drive through the hills. But there were homemade cards and a gorgeous locket, a cheese-platter in the hills, a playground and a toasted sandwich for dinner that my husband cut into a swan at my request. I thumbed my nose at the glossy-haired goddess in the advertisement and revelled in the glory of my sticky, stinky, messy, slightly tatty, beautiful family. I am blessed beyond measure.

Mother's Day pic

Catalogue Mother’s Day

It struck me today that there is Catalogue Mother’s Day and there is Real Mother’s Day. The mums in Catalogue Mother’s Day have slept eight-plus hours and woken with flawless makeup, softly curled hair and pyjamas that manage to speak maternal care and feminine desirability all at once. They smile with quiet serenity as angelic, doe-eyed children press brightly wrapped parcels into their hands, and hunky husbands whisper words of gratitude and promises of waffles and bubble baths.

Catalogue Mother’s Day is not to be confused with Real Mother’s Day. The Real Mother’s Day mum has been woken three-hourly throughout the previous night, and the dryness of her throat suggests those few hours of sleep may have been spent eating sand. She stumbles groggily from the bedroom: damp circles on the front of her shabby T-shirt, dark circles under her eyes and a head that feels like it is full of wool. Or maybe thick soup.

The Real Mother’s Day mum may well have a husband who is a pastor (and required to attend three church services, plus finish writing a sermon to preach in the evening) or perhaps in hospitality or another occupation that requires him to be elsewhere than at her beck and call for the day. Or she may be a single mum with no one on hand to remind the kids to put a raincheck on all tantrums, whining and explosive poos for the day.

Even for those with a loving partner on hand, Mother’s Day is not without its challenges. Dividing the day equitably between mothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers and step-mothers can leave little opportunity for the Real Mother’s Day mum to enjoy an uninterrupted cup of tea, let alone breakfast in bed or a leisurely bath.

Mother’s Day is about celebrating what it means to be a mum. Today I was reminded that being a mum on 12th May – as on any other day – is about living out a long string of moments: bright, gorgeous moments that fill your heart, mundane moments that are quickly forgotten, challenging moments that seriously test your self-control.

Here are a few of my Real Mother’s Day moments for 2013:

  • A Sleep-in

Elijah had a cold, so I felt unprepared to deny him extra breastfeeds through the night. However when he woke squawking for attention at 6am, a mere two hours since the last feed, I decided in desperation to try cuddles in bed rather than another feed. I watched his little body relax as I laid him in the warm nest between us. His eyes latched onto my face and his mouth gaped with the purest joy. He tossed his head back and forth for a few minutes, settling in, babbling happily about his new situation. And every time he turned to me, I was offered that big gummy grin that miraculously smoothed away the frustration of hours of broken sleep.

  • Breakfast in Bed

“Here’s your breakfast in bed, Mummy!” Lily announced, setting a pink slipper on the coffee table with a flourish. Inside were two plastic sausages, a plastic tomato and something that came from the inside of a tap (“your candle”). Ok, so strictly speaking it was the afternoon, and I was reclining on the couch rather than the bed. But who’s going to split hairs? Besides, I really hate crumbs in bed, and there were definitely none this time.

  • A Shower of Gifts

Even when you’re pretty sure daddy and daughter were making the card while you were making your coffee, a homemade card is impossible for any mummy to resist. Mine was replete with sparkly stickers, coloured texta and a message that read, Dear Mummy, I love mummies! I think you’re lovely beautiful. Happy Mother’s Day! Love from Lily and Elijah! I was also presented with a whole box of baklava – my favourite sweet – from a Mediterranean patisserie that’s recently opened just around the corner. We’re talking eight flaky, honeyed morsels of goodness. Mmmm!

  • Time to Yourself

After an hour spent fighting sleep at church, and despite my earnest efforts of noise and distraction, Elijah fell asleep in the five-minute car ride home. But then, as a special Mother’s Day gift, he actually allowed himself to be successfully transferred to his cot where he slept soundly for a further hour and a half. And while Lily busied herself feeding Bunny and Pink Bear a soup made from toast crusts, water and stickers, I ignored the piles of laundry waiting to be folded and sat in semi-peace with the newspaper, a second coffee and said sweet treat (As Lily declared recently, “I wish I was the Mummy of you, cause then I could have lots of food as I wanted”. Can’t argue with that).

  • Family Lunch

This year, Jeremy’s sister and her family are over from Papua New Guinea, and we have been enjoying regular family Sunday lunches. Of course, all the planning, shopping, cooking and washing up inevitably falls on the shoulders of the women in the family. However, for Mother’s Day, my sister-in-law had the inspired idea that the dads should organise lunch. So we ended up with chicken, hot chips and salad served on paper plates and eaten on picnic rugs on the lounge-room floor. This was followed up with homemade cookies and Mexican hot chocolate in the backyard. Then while the boys cleaned up, Elijah slept in the pram and Lily hunted dinosaur-ants with her girl cousins, I sat and chatted with Jeremy’s sister. Lovely. For once, Sunday lunch was actually a relaxed experience for the women of the family.

  • A Special Concert

I know I’m biased, but I love Lily’s songs. I love it when she stands tall and straight against the wall and proudly busts out a tune she’s just made up. I’ll admit that today’s song, about five of her soft toys that were jammed on the couch, was not the most inspired: “There’s no more space, there’s no more space, there’s no more space!” But when I worked in a line about “kissing your face,” Lily rewarded me with a gleeful laugh and an encouraging, “I love your songs, Mum!” It was a nice mummy/ daughter duet.

  • Dinner and a Movie

Sundays are my I don’t care night when it comes to dinner. They are always busy, Jeremy is at church for the evening and often (as was the case on Mother’s Day) the afternoon too. Our Mother’s Day dinner was “Easy Mac” from a box watching Brambly Hedge. Not great, but I was exhausted, Elijah overtired and fussy, and we all needed the comfort of quick carbs and cute mice.

  • A Bubble Bath Before Bed

On this, my third Mother’s Day, it was good to ponder how much I cherish my two children: my funny, imaginative, sometimes exasperating little girl and my chubby-cheeked, sunny baby boy. There are moments when I look at them and am caught off guard with a flood of wonder and amazement that I get to be their mum. They are a blessing and I thank God for the gift of them in my life.

 

Nevertheless, when bath-time comes, I am always grateful that they are well on the way to being tucked up in bed! This evening seemed to be a particularly fraught battle to get them into the bath, with Elijah wanting to be held and Lily wanting to do everything in “three-year-old-time”. Then, once in the bath, Lily started having an emotional melt-down because the bubbles were popping too fast (ever heard of First World problems, kiddo?), and I could feel myself gearing up to deliver a sharp reprimand. But just as I was about to speak, I looked down and saw that Elijah still had his socks on in the bath! The next moment, Lily and I were both hooting uncontrollably with laughter, while Elijah looked on, bemused. It was a good way to end the day.

So there you have it: my Real Mother’s Day in a nutshell. It’s pretty far from the glossy catalogue version, but given the choice, I know which one I’d pick every time.

What were your Real Mother’s Day moments?

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