Being Mum

Back to work tomorrow. And I don’t mind.

Today, of course, the sun is finally shining – a beautiful winter white shine. But I still don’t mind. R is his usual monosyllabic thrawn self – but I don’t mind that either.

I feel well. There is nothing – and this is a new experience for me – stressful about work. The kids and Mum are as healthy as they can be. The new cat does not pee all over the place. The chicken, sweet potato and coconut milk curry tastes better than I thought it would. And Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 1 in B Flat Minor is making me cry.

What more could I ask for?

It has been a mixed week. The school October holiday week here – and this new job’s 65 days’ annual leave means I get to be off too. I had a bit of a health hiccup but that has passed. Torrential rain and flooding curtailed trips out. The planned escape to York was scuppered by Ana’s suspect spots (do they get chicken pox more than once?) and Jamie’s projectile vomiting. But there was a trip to Newton Stewart in Dumfries and Galloway to spend a day with my brother, Derek and his wife, Zoe and the children, Nairn and Mia. A chocolate factory workshop for pre-spotty Ana and pre-vomit Jamie. And then a log cabin in the wood; a hot tub dip in the rain; a rich fattening carbonara and lots of prosecco.

What I enjoyed is what I normally struggle with – and I say this knowing that it will probably surprise (if not shock) some and dismay others.

I enjoyed the domesticity of it all.

The making of food. The rhythm of my home. The children’s comings and goings. Their noise and nonsense and fighting and moaning and laughter. The older ones coming in late and flopping onto my bed to tell me all about what had just happened in their world. The loud raucous dinners with all 5 of them around the table – squabbling and shouting louder and loudest to get their stories told. I enjoyed long lies in the morning. Cooked breakfasts – even although I was cooking them. The smell of the laundry room and the hiss of the iron.

I have fought long and hard not to be defined by the too-handy descriptor ‘mother of five’. Maybe I have gone too far on occasion. In the process of convincing others, done too good a job of convincing myself – that the label somehow doesn’t fit.

People are fascinated by the ‘5 children’ thing. I have found myself in the middle of humdrum meetings – meetings where you are simply getting your job done – where you want to be visible only for the reason you are there. And then some idiot will mention ‘earth mother’ or ‘five’ or ‘want to know anything about children, ask Yvonne’.

They mean well. I think. And over the years I’ve become increasingly efficient dealing with it. A smile. A nod. And then a subject changed to business.

I know that my fecundity intimidates some. Challenges others. Puzzles even more. When you have 5 (I say ‘5’ – but it could be less) your fertility becomes a matter for public discussion.

In the beginning, the assumptions that were (and still are) made took the breath from me. I was (variously): procreating from a deep religious conviction (usually Roman Catholic in this neck of the woods – despite me being atheist); had no television in my house (cue laughter); was sex mad (more laughter); shouldn’t be working (said by the misogynists and by one infertile woman boss – to my face and in front of other workers); needed to work (because five children were expensive); was an earth mother (self-explanatory); had child-bearing hips (ditto); was overloading the planet and irresponsibly destroying resources (all by myself!); was wealthy (eh?); was poor (well… that would be the five wains then…); had them to different fathers (not true – but so what if it were?); was mad… I have been asked ‘why?’ (I have som many). I have been criticised for making that choice (aren’t there too many unwanted children – couldn’t I have adopted?).

I have had conversations which were completely unremarkable – until the other party discovers how many children I have given birth to. Women, in the main, feel intimidated. I can see it in their eyes. They shift away from me. They stop telling me their birthing stories or their son or daughter stories. Do they really think that I am judging them? That I am somehow holding myself out as a better mother just by virtue of me having 5?

Or – and this is clearly how some experience ‘me’ – that my fecundity is a statement that says something critical about their fertility choices. These are the mothers who suddenly feel a need to un-burden. To tell me how they always wanted more – but their partner stopped them; or there wasn’t enough time; or labour was difficult; or they just made a mistake and were sterilised without sufficient thought. To be honest, I am never sure with these ones whether the truth is that they feel I am so ‘odd’ that I must be placated and ‘normalised’ by their own stories of how they wanted to be like me too… It sometimes feels as though they are patting my head (poor demented soul that I am) and reassuring me that ‘your choices are not that odd – I wanted to have more too’. Or whether I really do touch some deep buried need they had to have more children.

And the childless – oh how they recoil from me. I have well and truly nailed my colours to the mast of ‘parenthood’. I must be rabid about procreation. I am obviously disapproving of their choices – or pitying their infertility.

What I am clumsily trying to explain is that there is no neutral reaction to the fact of the maternal me.

My fertility is always a signifier of something other; something more. It’s religious or political or it’s evidence of a warped response to the world or it’s just plain odd or it’s me saying something about other people’s choices.

The upshot? That I have spent a long working age hiding or ignoring the domestic me. And so it is that I find myself not entirely comfortable in my 5-children-ness.

This week I relaxed a bit. I enjoyed myself. I revelled in family – and in the fact that I am a mother.

Being a mother does not define me – or any mother for that matter. But it does form part of my identity. An important bit of me is ‘Mother’. Maybe the most important bit. I need to find a smarter way to bring this ‘mother’ out, into the light…

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