Friday, 26 August 2011

The Women We Become After Children

Friday night is a treat for my boy. He gets to stay up later than normal bedtime and invariably falls asleep on the sofa, snuggled up under the red blanket.

I watched him tonight on the sofa as his eyes closed and his breathing became regular. I watched him as wakefulness seeped away and his body eased into stillness, the day's energy finally spent. I watched him with a large lump in my throat and hot tears welling in my eyes.

He starts school in a week and it is another milestone on the inevitable journey towards independence. Whilst I know he is ready in every way for the next challenge in his short life I'm not sure this melancholic mother is.

Being in this frame of mind I was brought up short by the book I have been reading and wanted to record one passage that really resonated with me.

The Women We Become After Children.
We change shape, we buy low heeled shoes, we cut off our hair. We begin to carry in our bags half-eaten rusks, a small tractor, a shred of beloved fabric, a plastic doll. We loose muscle tone, sleep, reason, perspective. Our hearts begin to live outside our bodies. They breathe, they eat, they crawl and - look! - they walk, they begin to speak to us. We learn that we must sometimes walk an inch at a time, to stop and examine every stick, every stone, every squashed tin along the way. We get used to not getting where we were going. We learn to darn, perhaps to cook, to patch the knees of dungarees. We get used to living with a love that suffuses us, suffocates us, blinds us, controls us. We live. We contemplate our bodies, our stretched skin, those threads of silver around our brows, our strangely enlarged feet. We learn to look less in the mirror.We put our dry-clean only clothes to the back of the wardrobe. Eventually we throw them away. We school ourselves to stop saying 'shit' and 'damn' and learn to say 'my goodness' and heavens above'. We give up smoking, we colour our hair, we search the vistas of parks, swimming pools, libraries, cafes for others of our kind. We know each other by our pushchairs, our sleepless gazes, the beakers we carry. We learn how to cool a fever, ease a cough, the four indicators of meningitis, that one must sometimes push a swing for two hours. We no longer tolerate delayed buses, fighting in the street, smoking in restaurants, inconsistency, laziness, being cold. We contemplate younger women as they pass us in the street, with their cigarettes, their makeup, their tight seamed dresses, their tiny handbags, their smooth, washed hair, and we turn away, we put down our heads, we keep pushing the pram up the hill.
excerpt from 'The Hand That First Held Mine' by Maggie O'Farrell.

I recognise that my heart does indeed exist outside my body in the shape of two sturdy, warm, often mucky bodies and the further those bodies move away from me then the greater the chance of my heart becoming even more bruised and battered by this journey of motherhood.

Denying the inevitability of growing up is to be the mothering version of King Canute. I know it can't be stopped by wishful thinking and I have done all I can to induce a sense of excitement in my son about this new adventure. I just hope that I can hold back that first hot fat tear until after he has waved goodbye to me at the school gate.