Watching mothering in action

‘Lie still,’ says my youngest to her doll, ‘I’m putting coconut oil on Lemonbalm,’ she says by way of explanation (her doll’s name is Clementine, but over time it’s become Lemonbalm). She up ends the green drink bottle into her hand, the water coating her hands, then she rubs her hands together, and smears it all over her dolls arms and legs, and belly and face.

‘See, I’m pretending this water is coconut oil,’ she says. ‘Now turn over Lemonthyme, I need to do your back.’

‘You’ve already done her back,’ says her sister. It’s true, this is the second time Lemonthyme is being coated from head to toe in my youngest water for the night. But my youngest doesn’t care for details like that. She is being the Mama, and its her favourite game.

‘Now I’ll do your bottom,’ she says, rubbing thoroughly. I wonder what her teachers must think of me at her school if she does this there. Do they think I spend this much time on her bottom? I swear I don’t.

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Homeschooling… No, well, maybe…

‘I’m going to school today,’ says my youngest, dancing down the stairs to the kitchen. She’s been home sick for the whole week, and while I’m hanging for her to go back so I can write, so I can work, so I can rest, burdened as I am with the virus she so kindly sneezed all over my face. There’ nothing like being splattered with a loved one’s mucus. But she fell asleep at about 3pm yesterday, slept until after 5pm and then went back to sleep again at 7.30pm. Unheard of for her. This is the girl who I had to force to drop her day sleep at 2 years old because whenever she slept she would remain wide awake until well after 11pm. Enough to destroy what was left of her mother’s sanity. So I was not quite so convinced that school was a good idea just yet. Not matter how much I wanted it.

Her older sister, who had decided the night before that she would not be going to school today as it was ‘unfair’ that she had to go when her sister did not, woke up with a raging fever. She’s a powerful little being. I am not sure if she too was sneezed all over or if she just willed the fever into existence to prove a point.

As soon as my youngest got wind of this strange turn around, and realised that she would be going to school while her sister stayed home, the water works started. ‘I don’t want to go to school,’ she wailed so loudly I’m sure our neighbours were left wondering what strange and unusual punishment we had concocted for our three-year-old.

My husband was clear, she was well enough for school. As she writhed around on the floor, I considered it might be possible, but I was reluctant to send her back too early. Plus, there was no way I could get her sister into the bike to go and pick her up from school should we be wrong. So home she stayed.

A year or so ago I started following a delightful blog about a woman who had seven children, for that I was ready to erect a statue to her. But she also chose to homeschool. I was wondrous and amazed. I love my children but the idea of homeschooling makes my ovaries want to crawl up into my spine. My biggest challenge as a mother has always been the relentlessness of it all. When they were both home from school, trying to get any time to myself was near impossible and it exhausted my spirit. I loved playing with them, and caring for them, not so much the washing, folding and putting away of all of their clothes, and I definitely grew to despise scraping egg yolk from tables. I love setting up spaces for them, creating cupboards that make sense of their toys, and shelves to organise all of the creative outlets we explore together. We collect spring blossoms to hang on their book tree (a book case shaped like a tree, branches and all), we paint, we craft, we colour, we cook and take care of our plants, but when my husband is a away for weeks at a time and they are sick, I return to those earlier dark days, of sleep deprivation and relentlessness and my spirit shudders. No reprieve. No time. No space. ‘I want…’, ‘I need…’, ‘get me …’

And so I admired this woman for being able to embrace the everydayness of her life, the relentlessness of her tasks, the unfinished state of her projects, the lack of personal space, within her body, and in her home. Those babies of hers are always around her. Always. And she seems happy.

‘I could never home school,’ I told my husband one night, the blue glow of my phone dancing on the wall, as I read another post of hers. I laughed with her at the unfinished washing, and the sense of chaos that life with young children can create. I admired her, but in the way that I was grateful her life was not mine.

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To be loved like this

‘Mama, Mama, Mama…’ says my youngest, wrapping herself around my head like a boa constrictor. She presses her soft cheek against mine. I can feel her cheekbones. Her limbs slither about me, and then she rests. She can’t possibly be comfortable. I know I’m not, but it’s nice to be loved like this. My eldest loves on her own terms, and affection is given out in much smaller doses.

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Oh, the fighting…

I remember when I was a kid, my Mum was always talking about how much my brothers and I would fight. She used to tell us that our Uncle, who happened to be staying with us at the time, would hide in the garage until we had left for school just to avoid the noise. My brothers and I would laugh. Now, I find myself saying something similar to my girls it makes me wince. My girls have discovered the art of fighting. Yelling, crying, whinging, hitting, pinching, taunting, you name it, it’s in their armoury.

Now, I say similar things to my girls, trying to find the ‘thing’ that will make the yelling and crying, the whinging and the hitting, the pinching and the taunting stop. You name it, it’s in their armoury.

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What is it about having children that makes us community property?

‘Hey,’ says a man on the street. I look up from my phone, he continues talking but I can’t understand a word he is saying. I grab my eldest’s hand as we are moving from the roadworks onto what is a busy street and look at him puzzled.

‘Get off your phone,’ he says in English, gesticulating at my daughter and the busy street.

‘Excuse me?’ I ask, confused and surprised at his vehemence.

‘You, you’re dangerous. It’s a busy street, you should be watching.’

‘I didn’t ask for your opinion, Sir.’ I offer, turning away.

‘I should report you to the police,’ he continues, his face screwed up tightly, his eyes bulging at me like a pit bull.

‘Go on then,’ I say, holding my daughter’s hand more tightly now. I watch the man walk off continuing to rant and gesticulate wildly, outraged at my audacity. I wish I’d been composed enough to say to the man ‘please don’t attack my self-worth, I don’t have a lot of it to spare.’ I wish too, that he’d have been able to hear that and respond with empathy. But empathy was not being served.

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