When I write my article this time, it will be mixed with a lot of my own life story in it… how else, I am one of us, a mum! But it took me a whole 51 years to come to some of these insights!
Oh, how I yearned for a baby! Long story short – it took 8 years and many drives to an infertility clinic to get the first precious one. Needless to say, when baby number 2 made his appearance 18 months later; I was thrilled and flabbergasted!
Still breastfeeding number 2, when number 3 decided to come some months later; I was also ‘over the moon’, but more literally. I was a full-time working, breastfeeding, social worker mom. How was I going to do this?
But we marched forward, because you see, I don’t give up. I wanted these amazing lovely children. Anyhow, if millions before me could do it, why not me?
With my last-born, there was no such thing as maternity leave. Only two maternity leaves per family. She was not exactly ‘planned’ (sorry my babes), and I only had 2 weeks’ vacation leave and a wonderful Tina as my Nanny. She would phone me every 3 hours (whispering as if we were Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, “You must come NOW!) Then I would scoot out of that office, between clients, finding her in the driveway with babes and the watch in her hand. “Just 2 minutes per breast Ma. Your milk is rich.” And I would be off, praying that the towel that I pushed between my breasts and my shirt would do the trick. Honestly, how could I walk in with all the evidence on my shirt? At the weekly clinic she gained 300 grams a week!! At least I was doing something right!
Now just remember and yes, you will be disgusted (even I am these days…), but guilt played a massive role. I still had a big, burly, nearly two year old boy with brown dirty hands coming to demand some mommy time as soon as I arrived home. The moment I would sit in the bath this child with big, dirty hands and teeth wanted his nana (hideous hey… but today they are indulgent and precious memories). We got that sorted out pretty quickly, let me tell you!
Oh, but the TIREDNESS. I will never forget. Never ever, ever, ever!! It lasted for 18 years (sorry my dearest sisters). One night I woke up and I couldn’t find my sweetheart last born- oh my freak! She was lying on the carpet! What was happening to me? How did she land there? Was I going to be arrested for child abuse? I could just see the headlines: “Social worker abandons new-born on floor”.
Those were the baby days… then came the school days.
(But before I move on: this is gossip, but needs to be gossiped: But was it only ME? Those mommy groups?! All of them looking so gorgeous, full make up, nappy bags packed, size 32 jeans (jealousy makes you nasty), laid back and “Yeah no, their babies have been sleeping through since day one?” “And; you mean to say, yours is still not walking? At 14 months? Because little James here, he walked at 8 months already?” Oh my word… Let me zip my mouth.
The Secret Oath
Back to the school years. Every January you take the secret oath. Okay; you share it with hubby and your best friend and your sister, but still, it is secret. “This year, it will be different. Life will be organised and you will be on top of it. (Pinterest says so!!). You will keep all the balls in the air. That is what mothers do.”
You can tell me nothing. It starts off with new lunch boxes (sense of control and good mothering); early buying of all the stationery that the whole world and its friend could need; calendars with space for mine, his, theirs. A proper diary. Time to rethink your life… I need me-time; so I have to make time for exercise, hair appointments, tea (wine sounds better) with friends… and you make space to jot it down in that diary in all sorts of colours to ensure that you take notice. And hubby-time (and along come all those weird and wonderful feelings that I don’t have to describe…)…so time alone with him. Definitely. Absolutely. We can do this.
When Reality Strikes
And the first week is still cool, the second week back at school you start feeling a nagging feeling like a little stone in your shoe, but by week 6 you are ready to explode. Of ‘me-time’ nothing is left over – except for the ten minute – ‘feeling sorry for yourself in the shower’ times (can you relate?) Exercise routine down the drain and you hardly get time to message your best friend. Between ballet recitals, choir practices, rugby matches, cricket matches, swimming classes and broken ankles – is there still someone out there called YOU?
You see: it goes something like this. It is ten to one. You HAVE to run out to get the stuff for your middle child’s project that is due tomorrow (and don’t even try the guilt trip on me: why didn’t I get it earlier? Because someone got tonsillitis, I ran over the cat and had to deal with grief, loss and funerals and the domestic worker didn’t turn up. Happy now?) And then you hear the all too familiar footsteps coming in the direction of your office. “I have this urgent document. I know it’s lunchtime, but please just get it out?” You even smile as you agree (REALLY now?)
You swear under your breath. What now? Nothing now. Survival mode. You are a warrior. But you try. “Love, hi. Hmmm, I’m in a bit of a fix at the office and…” the reply? “Sweet, any other day, but I’m about to enter a meeting”. Nice teamwork there. Ugh.
So by 16h30, you literally spin out of that office, get the stuff and arrive at aftercare, with three children looking as if they have been abused and neglected. I mean really. 10 minutes late. “Hi troopers! Sorry I’m late!” How was the day” “Okay”, was the best I got.
“Mom”, says little Miss Muffet, “I hope you remembered to buy the ribbon for my ballet shoes for tomorrow”. My heart skips ten beats. I don’t answer. Just say in the calmest of voices: “Sweet. Please get Auntie Julia on the phone for me?” Thank the Lord for friends like her. She had yards, and even offered to sew them on. She would fetch them from my home. “Julia, have I ever told you how much I love you?”
And as they grew, the challenges grew. Most often it felt as if all the balls that you were supposed to be keeping up in the air were lying deflated at your feet. Isn’t it funny that the laugh muscles stay at the office at times, and the sour muscles come home with you? There should be a rule against that. A Law rather.
But then I grew some serious mommy muscles.
Before I carry on, I just want to say that the images of those days are so vivid that I had flashbacks for a very long time – I think I could have been diagnosed with PTSD (just a joke – or not?!)
Survival rules for keeping all the balls in the air (if such a thing is at all possible)
You cannot, and should not, do everything for them. That’s not called good mothering. That’s called ‘brat-raising’. You see, once they reach about 8, they must pack those lunch boxes THEMSELVES. No, no, no. Stop with the guilt feelings. You want to raise responsible adults, so start early. They must pack their own school bags and sport bags. God made you with two arms. You are definitely not an octopus.
I gently woke every child of mine up with tea, coffee or whatever they wanted every morning. WELL in time. I gently, very gently, made my second rounds to make sure they were up. Some, I must say, were more diligent than others… and as the morning clock ticked on, my voice became a bit more urgent. They all knew the ‘school car’ left at 7h20. Initially, I begged. Tina came running with forgotten rugby togs and lunch boxes. Until one day – The RULE. A hard and fast rule. If you are not there, with your stuff, I leave. That is it. Tina cried for days about what she regarded as cruelty. They didn’t take me seriously. Until kid number oldest in matric got left behind. He was totally dumbfounded. ‘How could you mom?!” The call only came at 11.00, mind you. “See son, it wasn’t me, it was you. I am so sorry this had to happen to you”.
How I had to contain my laughter some mornings, seeing him racing to the car in his boxers, school uniform and sports bag in tow. But he was on time. We had to bear with his bad mood and bad breath, but that was what it was.
I learnt early on, when you ask them in the car, how was your day, you are more likely to get an ‘okay’ and not much more. But especially when they are small, those special, special bedtime routines are where the magic happens. The hugging, the stroking, and the loving words open up the communication…. “Today, it wasn’t nice when Stacey said Sarah liked her more than me and she wasn’t going to invite me to her birthday party…” This is where life lessons are taught and bonds are developed. And Moms…. Please share those with Dads. Even if you have to bargain. He will be thankful to you forever. While we are on the topic, what on earth happened to reading to our kids? This is a non-negotiable. And I AM taking you on a guilt trip on this one. Go to the library or buy books, but read for goodness sake. It’s not just stories. It is about themes in life and helps your child with you to understand and investigate. READ. Got it? (Matilda by Roald Dahl is still one of my firm favourites). I remember the nights lying with the kids, waiting for them to fall asleep, and then waking up and its 11h00 pm and I am all crumpled and irritated. I miss those nights dearly, you know….
All the talking when they are young, pays off. I was the first one to hear when boyfriend dropped my Muffet. (Was I mad? YES! Did I cry? YES! In front of her? Maybe just a little… but my arms were wide open and we could learn some valuable life lessons).
Now; here’s the soft me. Criticism for this I will get. But I don’t mind, because I was not a helicopter mom. The part that some of you will say – “Ooh, she’s all about consequences….” Yeah yeah yeah. But there are exceptions. Always. It’s like this. The kid worked hard on that project. And she forgets it at home. Sorry. You race home and take it to school. She deserves that. True thing.
Dinner table eating. I can just SEE your faces. Who eats at a dinner table except if there are guests? We do – and so should you. Dinner tables were made for reasons. We made it a Rule, when the kids became teenagers. You see, they gobble down that food and disappear behind their closed doors (all normal teenager behaviour), but how and when do you get to SEE, let alone talk to them. My husband is an attorney and he always said to the kids that everyone in life has to have an opinion. So, at dinner time, he would raise those weird topics that would, let’s face it, would get an ‘opinion’ out of them. At least we spoke and fought! But we also spoke about rugby and cricket and crime and ‘please just not mom’s work’ and that ballet and debating were overrated. But we spoke. I am not saying that they were angels. They did their FAIR share of inexcusable nonsense. Except for Ms Muffet. She was always good (do something naughty please? – within limits!).
And what about disappointments? I kind of think that for every disappointment there is an extremely proud moment! You know what I learnt from my parents – they were the BEST. They never pointed a finger. They never said those words – you know; those ones that go something like: “I wish I never had you…”; “You’re good for nothing…” and believe me; I made BIG mistakes. Their arms were always wide open, always, always. Today still. We spoke, and prayed and looked at ways to fix things. And I want to say to you today – if you have said those things to your child, it’s okay! Really! Really! Because you can still fix them. But don’t wait. Fix them today. “Sorry” is a very powerful word. And if the hurt was deep, go and get some counselling – see a counsellor. Ask me – I’m one- that stuff really works!
It’s only you that can make time for you! If you don’t, you will go totally bonkers. Kids don’t need mothers that are bonkers – believe me (okay, sometimes they do!) Grab that coffee, go for the jog, the mani, the pedi, read the book – whatever makes your clock tick!
Hubby time is a non-negotiable! Our kids could always tell: if they smelt “wors and mash”, they knew – you guys are going out again! Faces all moody, but so-what, it was for our and their benefit at the end of the day anyhow! Up to today they hate “wors and mash!”
Nearly done. Because this is starting to sound like a sermon. Tell them you love them. EVERY SINGLE DAY. Be their safe place.
You’re not a juggler, by the way. You are a mother. So stop trying to keep all the balls in the air, and start kicking them around on the lawn with the kids! AFTER ALL, balls are supposed to be there for FUN!!!!