The Mathematics of Being a Good (Enough) Mother

Family

I have a confession to make: today, I am a terrible mother.

When my daughter was born, I bought in to the idea that breast was best. I loved the suggestion that there was something I could do from day one that could give her the best start. I loved how that made me feel. And, fortunately for me, I found it easy.

As she grew older I could be found pulping and puréeing first thing in the morning. I found myself shopping everyday for yet more fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and foods free from artificial colours or preservatives. I have never been much of a cook but, even to me, it seemed pretty straight forward.

In that first year I also became a familiar face at various mother and baby groups. Something that didn’t come quite so easily. I despised the prospect of singing in pubic and was pretty terrified of socialising with people I didn’t know. But I did it anyway. And survived.

And I filled the days with every manner of enriching activities! From swimming to baby signing, museums and visits to the library, arts and crafts, flash cards, singing and dancing, days at the farm, fresh air and exercise and everything in between. And the reading! Endless hours of reading! Repeated reading to the point where I can recite a whole host of children’s classics from memory alone. Because how could I ever refuse her requests to sit down together and devour a book?!

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And, possibly harder than finding the time to fit in all of the above, I found the faith to tell myself that everything I did for her, every choice I made, held her best interests at its heart.

But I didn’t do it because I am perfect.

I did it because I know I am not.

I have been worried about today for a long time. If I am honest, I cannot believe it didn’t come sooner. I never thought I would survive this long.

Because I had already been a statistic. 1 in 4 people this year with suffer with a mental health issue. Depression, anxiety, paranoia…the spectrum is wide and the term encompasses so many different things but, having been there more than once before, I know the symptoms are often the same.

Put simply, it can become hard to cope.

I am reluctant to label the feelings that have been growing inside me for the past few months. I hope that I won’t find myself forced to as I sit opposite the doctor and ask for their help. But these feelings are familiar.

And, for me, the worst part is how they fool me in to thinking I am a failure.

So today, after spending the morning sat on the sofa whilst my daughter watched too much television, feeding her lunch of fish fingers and baked beans for the third time in a week and then driving her to her grandparents to spend the rest of the day and night, I returned home and got in bed.

And now I lay here doing the maths. Will all my efforts count in my favour? Have I done enough to make my workings add up? Or will my weakness cancel out anything I had going in my favour?

What does it take to be good enough?

A Mothers’ Meeting

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An army of brand name buggies encircle the tables located in the prime position; equidistant from the parent and child toilet and the mini microwave next to the till. Each is accompanied by a high chair that was, upon entry, acquired by a blonde girl under orders from the tall woman in her late twenties who now waits third from the front of the queue. From this position she employs her best signing skills (picked up and practised to ensure her first born could communicate long before that much anticipated first word) to clarify whether the women want cappuccinos or lattes, skimmed milk or soy.

Sat around the table the other women are already chattering. They pull plastic pots from padded bags and test the temperature of pre prepared bottles as they reply to emails on their iPhones. But the talk never stops. Some share self soothing success stories whilst others offer top teething tips. One dares to enter the debate on controlled crying by detailing her own dilemma. The others avert their eyes. They talk in fragments. All fail to finish sentences as, instead, they are torn away to distribute organic carrot sticks or spoon pouches of purée into gummy mouths. There is a flow of faces as they take it in turns to lift their little ones and traipse to the toilets. On the table a mountain of torn wrappers and used wipes has grown long before the order even arrives.

Looking on are two retired women, weighed down by bags, whose eyes scan the room in search of a seat. A man dressed in a cheap suit stands in the queue and clutches his panini and packet of crisps. It is clear his aim is to avoid meeting anyone’s gaze. Couples huddle along the side of the room and sip their too hot tea as they plan weekends away. Sometimes the women’s eyes can’t help but wander.

And, in the door way, struggles another mother, torn between her desire to pass half an hour in peace and her ever growing desperation to have another adult hear her voice.

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How not to face the future

Writing

“We are back here again, aren’t we?”

I paused for as long as I could manage. I broke.

“I guess.” My voice cut the silence with a cool, steely edge. At least, I wanted it to.

“You just can’t believe that it might be true, can you?”

“No,” I replied, “Obviously I can’t.”

“Every time we get here, it becomes so clear you are in distress. You must see that that is real?”

“Is it?” I hoped sincerely that it was. “Or is it just an excuse? It sounds like an excuse.”

She stared straight at me. I wanted to get up walk away. I let my focus become blurred and tried my hardest to escape her gaze. I checked the clock. It was impossible.

“Ok, so, let’s assume I am. Let’s assume it isn’t my fault and I’m not to blame. It doesn’t change anything, does it?”

“Maybe it will.”

She sat there, silent and still, her eyes fixed on me. I wanted to run but, again, I stayed. Something always makes stay. Silent and still, I allowed myself a moment to try to imagine if things were different.

I couldn’t.

I had nowhere to go from here. I had nothing to say that hadn’t been said too many times before.

So I sat there distressed, silent and still, and waited.

The Writer

Writing

It’s the early hours of the morning and the house is near silent and very still. She sits dressed in an oversized jumper and a blanket in the dark. Her face is illuminated by the blue glow of her own words on the white screen. Her features are highlighted and her flaws are exposed.

The words have been pouring for a while now. She couldn’t stop them if she tried. Sometimes she wondered what would happen if she did. And then she remembers.

This time alone with them is when she loves them best but they never leave her. They follow her around out in to the rest of the world and she finds them forming and making their presence felt in spite of herself. She has learnt to listen.

As she takes in their shape on the screen, she questions where they came from. Are they even true?

Learning To Let Go

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I had carried it with me for longer than I could remember. I clung to it before I was even aware of what it was. Or what it might become. I was unaware of the potential danger. I guess, I needed it more than I knew.

For a long time I hid it away. I didn’t want the world to see. What might they think? But, it was always there. It was once all I had. So, somehow I befriended it. To whisper words of comfort late at night and feed it all it needed to grow. But protecting it was too much for me to bear alone. It almost killed me. It had become more than a metaphorical part of me, it now defined every decision I made and all I did.

So I showed you. I revealed it slowly, piece by piece. You listened and, little by little, learned of my secret too. And then you told me what to do. Gave me the answer I claimed I so desperately needed.

Let it go.

But there was something in this that felt like a betrayal. As much as I wanted to believe it might be better, to trust and find faith in your words, I was afraid. Of course I was.

How could I simply lose something that had meant so much for so long?

My love of lyrics

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I have been a lover of lyrics for as long as I can remember. One of those girls who took the words of a song and went with them; no matter how vacuous, I would make meaning and live by their message. Or try, at least.

At school, my contact book was covered in songs scribbled alongside the names of boys who were breaking my heart that week. As if the words would provide an answer to the problems my life was starting to pose.

I was a fan of the music – the beat, the base, the melody – but that’s not what held my heart.

You see, words are what it’s all about for me. Whilst the opening bars of a song can conjure up a memory to make you smile, well written words play out like poetry. Like a mirror, they help you see. Parts of yourself that are raw, desperately needing nurturing or even waiting patiently to be exposed are presented in the words of another and and you realise that you are no longer alone.

A distant dream…

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I twitch and I am awake.

There is no blinking back to come around from a dream before rooting myself in reality because I know exactly where I am.

Flickering light half illuminates the room as a long forgotten film plays, almost silently, from the bookshelf opposite the bed.

It’s gone four am and I shouldn’t be here.

Your warmth radiates through the duvet and pulls me back, closer still. You are also awake but you don’t say a word. We both know what you should say. We both know I wouldn’t listen if you did. So, instead, I stay.

You smile. You sit up and turn on the bedside lamp before rearranging the cover to accommodate your new position. I shift my stance and sit up too. The bedside clock tells me that time is ticking by but still, not a word. We won’t be rushed. I take a sip of last night’s wine.

An eclectic selection of books are scattered on the floor amongst day old t-shirts and half drunk cups of sugary tea. Words read together that seemed to seal our fate. Shoes wait alongside an empty wine bottle, watched over by the shut door. The air is stale; stuffy and still, the stench of cigarettes and too much time hiding away.

You kiss me and I know this means I will have to go. You are right. You often were.

I close my sleepy eyes once more in a desperate attempt to cling to the night. A time when the world would stand still and all there would be, all that would matter, is you and I.

Insomnia

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There is something strange, yet magical about the world when you awake in the middle of the night.

Far from silent, the sounds seem amplified and enormous in the otherwise still space. Cars pass headed to who knows where. A train rumbles by. The house softly groans. I feel the same way. My rested brain is more intent on interacting and yet the rest of the world is rightly reluctant. My mind drifts to dream of all of the people in all of the places with something to do other than to simply lie here. Still. The world seems to want to keep the action far away and out of reach and yet remind me that it is always there.

Minutes feel like a lifetime as you are left alone with nothing but your thoughts. Time to think is always a killer. The clock becomes an enemy and even an off hand glance in its direction is too much to bear. So I lie perfectly still and straight and hope that my mind might find it fitting just to fall…

The sound of others sleeping is a funny sort of comfort. A reminder that rest does exist. Frustration and reassurance come with each steady breath. And yet, I have come to almost enjoy this space.

I am free from obligation. I can breathe. I can exist and simply be.

Losing myself

Writing

Aspirations can be elusive. Something you should hold solid, clear and strong but something I was stuck searching for. Because there is always that contrived question lurking when and where you want it least;

what do you want to be?

Answering was easy. I knew what I should say. And what I shouldn’t. I may not have known what I wanted to be but I knew how I wanted to feel. And how I wanted you to feel about me. So I shaped my answer carefully and constructed myself in this refracted reflection.

Eventually my identity became defined: a soul shifting herself to become someone whole in all eyes but her own.

Then I found myself. Broken. Lost and alone and looking for a way back to who knows when.

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