The Unravelling

26th July 2007

This evening finds me sitting before my keyboard chanting the mantra ‘I must not let me get myself down (unless I’m getting down with my bad self!)’ as I struggle once more with the concept of self and motherhood which sometimes seem to be mutually exclusive.

When you have a baby you have to let go of the person you were before – no bones about it. You have to let go of any sense of yourself as a separate person and just allow this little being to take over, at least for a while. No longer is anything outside of this being more important. No job. No relationship. Nothing. It’s not that you stop caring about these things or that you love other people less, it’s just that there is nothing more important right now than raising this child you’ve brought into the world. And God do I hate it sometimes. Not the raising of the child part. It’s more the letting go of who I was before I started this that I struggle with.

Every day in subtle and tiny ways I realise I am still resisting losing myself in mummy-hood. I resist moving into this new role that’s sometimes about as exciting as watching The Wiggles. I resist giving all of myself to this beautiful creature that needs and wants and needs some more. And why wouldn’t we. Let’s face it – most women have had successful careers or at least job’s that they enjoyed doing, that gave their life meaning, that gave them somewhere to be in the morning and that needed their skills, their input, their special and unique talents. These days those special and unique talents are put to use trying to prise dried rice cereal of plastic high chairs, or finding new and innovative ways to remove poo from corduroy or vomit from clothing. And that’s not all. I think that the way in which most women fit anything into an average day with a child to be almost miraculous. Cooking – when? Cleaning – yeah right! Having an uninterrupted pee or a phone-call – not likely. So it’s no surprise that I find myself wanting to shut myself in my office for five minutes of uninterrupted peace, while Lily whinges outside. And sometimes I do.

There is no room for selfishness in the mother-child relationship. It’s no longer about ‘you’. In fact, it’s all about them, all the time and that’s very tiring. And God don’t I wish I could be selfish for just half and hour. Just half an hour to do nothing more than lie in bed and stare out of the window at the trees. Or lie in bed and read a chapter of a book without worrying if my little kamikaze pilot is falling over something, into something, pulling something over on top of her or eating something that she shouldn’t, like cat litter. Alas, those days of tranquility are gone. The days when I felt like a fully paid up and useful member of society are but a beautiful memory. Now the nearest I get to feeling useful is if I manage to look after Lily all day without some catastrophe occurring. If I can do that and bath her, put her to bed and still have some energy left over to make dinner for my poor beleaguered husband, then I’ve done exceptionally well.

I think the frustration I feel is probably more noticeable because I do have to at least appear to have everything under control. I run a business that requires me to be compos mentis and that’s something I never feel these days. It’s like my brain turned to mash during pregnancy and has not had a chance to recover because the closest I come to a real conversation most days is talking to the market research people on the telephone. Alas, even they make a swift exit when they realise I don’t own my own house.

Nothing is as frustrating as wanting to achieve something with your day and not being able to. There are so many things that need doing with my business, in the house and with our plans and nothing ever gets done. I never have any time to myself and when I do, I’m so sodding tired all I want to do is hide under the duvet and pray that Lily doesn’t wake up for at least 2 hours. I find myself silently screaming inside because I can’t externalise this feeling of resentment that creeps up on me sometimes. The truth is I don’t want to spend every waking moment of my life looking after Lily. Does that make me a bad mother or a bad person? Surely other people must feel like this. It’s so damn hard, this mothering business.

And yet this is all part of the unraveling we must go through. Slowly our outer layers are peeled (or in some cases, torn) away revealing the newer, rawer flesh of mummyhood beneath. And each day means another lesson, another mistake, another frustration to negotiate. There are tears because there must be tears. Tears are a cleansing. An important way of diffusing, de-stressing and re-stabilizing before we face the next challenge and the next and the next. This unraveling serves another, more important, purpose. The purpose of revealing the mother we are to become. And not just the mother but the woman. Underneath all these outer layers of sophistication and complexity that we wear like a mask, lies something primal and simple. Our true nature as ‘the mother’.

The unraveling is never comfortable at least not for us modern women. In older times I’m sure that the unraveling was not even noticed – we flowed seamlessly from maiden to mother to crone with never a worry in our dirty heads. We certainly weren’t caught up in trying to retain aspects of our maiden-hood whilst moving into our motherhood nor were we obsessed with remaining in the full blush of youth when moving into our crone aspects. And this is, I’m sure, the problem. We have so defined ourselves by what we do and how other people perceive us that we are almost paralyzed by the changes that motherhood can bring on. We don’t know how to cope with the seemingly diminished roles in society or with the way our society looks down on women who stay at home to mother their children. We no longer have ‘a village’ to help us raise our children. We are in this alone and, more to the point, are supposed to look good and maintain a clean and tidy home whilst doing it. No wonder we are frustrated by staying at home to take care of our babies when the world seems to be pointing the finger and asking ‘when are you coming back to the real world? Don’t you want to be useful again?’ And I buy into it again and again and then wonder why I feel resentful and frustrated and why I fight the very essence of the mothering role. I wanted this more than anything else and yet now that I have it, it seems to be about as comfortable as a cheap suit made of horsehair.

I know that we put pressure on ourselves to achieve every day because somehow we have received that message. That just looking after our darling children is not enough. Is not worthy of our full self or our full attention because we should also be doing this and this and this. The truth is motherhood is enough of a steep learning curve to keep even the astro-physicists busy for a while. I’d love to see these fabulous minds engaged in the raising of a little bubby for a week and see which end of the universe they stagger out of afterwards.

It’s hard to shake off our ‘other’ roles. It’s hard to understand that this is all there is. It’s harder still to accept it. Yet we are an elite of sorts. We are the women who are helping to shape the future of the planet. We are the educators of the people of tomorrow. Isn’t that a worthy enough goal? A wide enough job description? Responsibility enough for even those of us who held down positions of high office before pregnancy? Isn’t it enough to know that what we do today and all the today’s after this, affects the future, our future and, more importantly, their future? When I look at child-rearing this way, it’s amazing that I expect anything else of myself. Why should I feel bad that I am not ‘out there’ when the changes I am seeking start ‘in here’. In my heart, in my words and in my loving arms. If my daughter can look into my eyes and know that she is a part of the Great Work the mother’s are doing, then I will have done something right despite all my protestations at this endless unraveling. If I can raise a selfless, compassionate, kind and loving being then what other accolades do I really want. Will the results of being the big bad businesswoman and super-achiever I sometimes yearn to be, be as wonderful and inspiring as watching my beautiful, curious, willful little girl grown into a beautiful, curious and willful woman?

There is nothing so precious, nothing so important, nothing as fascinating as this mothering business. Every day as I climb this steep learning curve I seem to pull away another layer in order to see more clearly and feel more deeply. Every day I contact something so real and so wild that it makes me want to cry, to laugh, to scream, to throw everything out of the window, to dance and to shout, to sing and to dream. It’s truly a crazy journey I am on and yet as each of those layers disappears I am more myself than I think I have ever been. I fight against this and I will no doubt continue to fight against this in many ways over the months and years to come but I do not doubt that at the end of this journey (if there ever really is an end) I will have learned more by being a mother than any amount of workshops or self help books could ever have taught me because I am being taught by the greatest of all bodhisattva’s, my child. And I should be bloody grateful.

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