Years ago, when I had two children under two, from time to time someone would observe my sleep deprived visage, my poor body wrecked by two difficult births and my often hysterical demeanour, and tell me that I had to enjoy it, because it would be over before I knew it, and my two beautiful babies would be gone and grown.
Frankly, if I could have, I would have happily bludgeoned some of those well-meaning people to within an inch of their lives with my double pushchair, but generally I would smile through the pain, agree and return to my life, which consisted mainly of child related activities and sobbing quietly in corners when I thought no one was looking.
I was terribly disappointed with myself. I loved my two children – of course – but at the same time I couldn’t help feeling that I had somehow ruined my perfectly good life by having them.
On reflection, I had to admit that there was really nothing in my life, prior to actually producing children, that would have suggested that I would be either good at being a mother, or indeed enjoy it. I watched some of my friends in envy as they took to it all like ducks to water, baking cakes, making jam and spending hours playing mindless games with a two year old, and appearing to be actively enjoying it all.
I, on the other hand, wanted to poke my own eyes out after 10 minutes of toddler play, and felt like a massive failure.
None of this stopped me from loving the bones of them, or from doing the things that I knew were good for them and for their development. I would have – still would – lay down my life for them. I just wanted to like it more. I had expected to like it – I had thought that even though baking and jam making and building a tower and knocking it down over and over and over and over again had never interested me before, that the act of pushing a child out my nether regions would perform some sort of hormonal miracle and I’d find all that stuff fun.
It didn’t. And I didn’t.
I felt like my life, and my self concept was disappearing – being subsumed to the needs of others. And now, looking back with the benefit of maturity and experience, I realize that essentially that is what mothering is. What seems like a sacrifice at the time is in fact a brilliant quid pro quo arrangement, where you give up your life and in return you get a lifetime of parenthood which actually knocks pre parenthood into a cocked hat and then stamps on it.
Thankfully, as they got older, I got better at it, it got more interesting and as a result it got easier. And now just at the moment when I could honestly, without a hint of irony, say that being a mother has actually been the best, the most important, the most fulfilling and the most challenging experience of my life, and that my children have brought me more joy, more laughter, and more love than I ever thought possible, I find myself the mother of two adults aged 18 and 20 who are contemplating flying the nest completely.
So, stand down your double buggies ladies and listen to me. Cherish every moment. Know that your best is good enough. Because it turns out they were right.
It is over before you know it…