1. I love her the most when I am drinking my morning coffee at work. She is at school. School is over five kilometres away. There are no grubby hands hanging on to the hem of my dress. There are no crayons and lopsided stuffed toys on the table, there is no glass of milk that I have to pour for her first before I can have a few minutes of peace. I do not have to ask her to be careful because Mommy has a hot drink in her hand.
My love for her comes in violent bursts at this time, it sways like mercury through my body, and seeps through my limbs. I miss the softness of her cheeks, the milk moustache on her little face, the way her voice forms a cocoon of white noise in the messy kitchen. I want to drive to school this very minute and pick her up, I want to kiss her in big slurps and spend my entire day playing with her. But when I do get to school, she has forgotten her jumper and her lunch is uneaten and she needs to use the bathroom “right now Mommy’ and then all I really, really want is to escape to work and have coffee by myself. Some days I have biscuits with my coffee too.
2. I want to be the patient and smiling mother, the one that cooks fabulous meals every night, complete with roast vegetables on the side and offers healthy treats as dessert. The one that can sew and darn and has a drawer with extra ribbons and spare buttons, the one that tacks labels on bathers and sun hats. I wake up with good intentions almost every day. But there is no spare drawer, there will perhaps never be one. You snip a button off an old dress and bridge the gaps. Then when you need to wear that old dress, you go a-borrowing again. My life as a mother is a sequence of undarned holes and missing buttons. I run around the house barefoot looking for a needle while she sits on the couch with mismatched socks eating ice-cream. I know that when she reminisces about her childhood in a few years time, she will remember that her Mommy cared enough to go looking even if she did not actually find anything on some days. I hope that will be enough. Also, ice-cream is a food group too.
3. She does not play by the manual. She sulks when she is tired, she snaps when I correct her, she never cleans her room and she takes forever to finish her tea. She forgets to bring home a note from the teacher. She does not always fill me with giddy delight and warm joy, some days I want to leave her alone in the middle of a tantrum and race down the driveway, I want to take the first bus to the seaside. For what it is worth, when I am on a bus on the other side of town, I wonder if it will magically transport me to a street near her. My love, it flourishes and thrives, when I allow myself to miss her. The mothers’ manual says nothing about that kind of love. Apparently you are supposed to be madly in love with your children all the bloody time but I think the manual lies.
4. Sometimes I threaten her and say that I will give her away to the first stranger that walks past the house. Other days I look at the well mannered kids in the shopping mall, the ones who listen to their mothers and the ones who eat everything on their plate and fall asleep in the car without a whimper and I almost want to swap her for one of those kids – the ones that seem to tick all the boxes, the ones that work. Some days I feel sorry for myself as a mother.
5. All discipline is a form of love. That is what I tell myself after the 17th timeout and the umpteenth tantrum about wasted food. But when people compliment me on how well mannered she is on play dates and how she always finishes everything on her plate, I laugh and I bite my tongue. I am sorely tempted to tell them of the trouble she gives me at home. â€˜It must be someone else’s child that you are talking about,’ I want to say. Some days I believe that she only does this to me. She is a good child around everyone else. I am not sure whether that is my fault or hers. I think it is hers.
6. I wish she was a baby again. I wish I could take in giant gulps of that baby powder plus milk smell and watch her crawl around the house, her dimpled thighs snug in her romper suit. I wish I didn’t have to deal with the talks on puberty and boys, I wish I did not have to hold my tongue when she messed up long division yet again. I am not ready for her to grow up just yet. Because I am not ready to grow up as a mother just yet.
7. There are things I should have taught her. An appreciation of her culture and where she comes from, the other languages her grandparents speak, how to set the table and how to do your hair in plaits, how to identify the ingredients that go into her grandmother’s special curry. Then I tell myself that it is things like decency and kindness and honesty that matter the most – like the frosting on a cake, you can cover up any crater if there is something good and solid to bind it all together. I tell myself that it won’t matter in a few years time, she will turn out fine – good and wise and funny. These thoughts of the yet-to-be days blur the holes in the present. I am hoping to be redeemed by the future. I do not know if there is any other way to be a mother.
8. I like my mother more now that I have seen what an amazing grandmother she is. I never knew she was that good with kids.
9. That thing about needing a village to raise a child is true. I do not have this luxury and like every other mother in the world, I like to believe that I need to have all the answers and that I need to know my child better than anyone else. So, I google remedies for colds and ways to wash white socks on the internet. I ask for help but only from faceless strangers so that I can still wear my mask of perfection with my friends. Do not be taken in by those tales of mothers that elevate these grubby days to sainthood. Motherhood is mostly a race. Even saints have to keep running.
10. There are days when I want to stay up late and drink a bottle of wine and eat cheesecake for dinner. But instead, I grumble a little and get on with the evening. I cook her a meal while she stands on the dining table singing her times tables, I get her through homework and a bath and I tuck her in with a story. Love is not always convenient or easy. Love does not make you feel great all the time. Love also means that you do not always get to make the easier choices. I think you can only truly learn this lesson once you have a child.
Yet. But. If I was given only one chance to fill my heart with something, it would be my love for her, this is the one bit where there is no second-guessing. On the days I remember this, I completely redeem myself as a mother.