I am afraid of spiders. I am afraid of cockroaches, mean looking dogs and dark alleys. I don’t like it when people shout, I feel lost a lot of the time and 8 times out of 10 I still need my mother to tell me it’s going to be OK.
I am what they call a grown up. I am also your mother. My feelings and my emotions are alive with continuity, not just the straight line I follow as I age and get my wits about the world, but the Richter scale of every single new emotion you feel and that I do too by parental osmosis.
Today, like every day, I saw your look. Your eyes wide open as that child pushed you away, her hand on your head, making you hit the side of the big wooden train in the middle of the playground. Today you just took it. You looked at her with all the questions a toddler could possibly have without yet having the words to express them. Your helplessness was palpable and so was mine. There were no tears, just a look I know I will see forever and again, even if it will be changed over the years by the tactics you will acquire to conceal the disappointment, the hurt, the rejection, and the realisation that we never fully learn how to deal with certain blows, we just manage our portfolio of pitfalls in an effort to fit in. And I could see all of your tomorrows. And it fucking gutted me.
We are the grown ups, the ones with the tools, the knowledge to frame 100 pushes against wooden trains, walls, corners and hope they can be used as part of the building blocks of well rounded, balanced personalities. We know these are unavoidable and necessary experiences. And yet all it takes is one push against our own to turn us into wounded lionesses, having to reach deep down into the memory bank of sensible approaches to quiet the primal rage, the blood red pain, the feeling that we have never been pushed before, never so hard, that this is all new to us too, that all we want to do is push back and push back hard. Whoever said we couldn’t go back to the beginning didn’t factor in the basic tenets of reproduction. Part of this parenthood malarkey is branching out into a new version of ourselves that gets to experience the world all over again just as our kids do for the first time and it’s not all blossoming daffodils and the first taste of ice cream.
Inside of us, you babies grew sheltered as we nurtured you. You formed limbs and a heart and we grew inches and another heart too. Now you’re seeing the world and experiencing both its overwhelming beauty and brutal cruelty, trying to decipher the wondrous and the hurtful and we are too. All too acutely, we are also aware that one day you may be on the other side of the fence, delivering the pushes, the blows, the knock outs. And again we will have to split into three, four or five because there will be times when you, the ones we call our very own beating hearts, will be absolute little shits to others and we will have to sieve your behaviour through our biased parental filters, teach you a lesson and spare a thought for the mother of the kid you pushed.
When I found out I was pregnant with you I was thrown into a vortex of emotions, mostly joy sandwiched between the gut-wrenching, adrenaline fuelled suspicion there was gonna be a lot more to this than I had bargained for. What I didn’t immediately grasp was that this was also life’s way of making me come face to face with all the bullets I had consciously or unconsciously dodged by running away from painful situations or awkwardly tackling subjects like my own experience of being bullied.
This time there is no way out, nowhere to hide. I cannot cover my ears, turn my attention to food, or play the class clown to drown out the noise. I am going to have to face the big fat ghosts of the past so I can be your role model and hold your hand, your growing brain and heart into making the right choices and facing your blows head on.
The past few years since I became your mother have been the hardest of my life. At times I thought I wasn’t going to be ok. Sometimes I still think that because life has excelled at placing Olympic hurdles in front of us and also because I wear my heart on my sleeve and am fatalistic as shit. Sorry, son. But these years have also served to crack my head open like a massive sledgehammer. I thought I had lost my identity when I became your mum, juggling you and a me I didn’t recognise. But it was the other way around.
Most of the me I thought I knew was actually a collection of carefully honed escape routes, resting comfortably on the perception that youth gives you that you will be able to carry on forever on the wings of your smile. The truth is most of the choices I made were crafted to make sure I stayed safe, avoided looking too deep into gaping wounds and forming new ones. Predictability was my groove and dodging ghosts my speciality. Then you came along and shat all over my self-preservation.
You see, it transpires that being a parent mostly means picking up food off the floor, surviving on shreds of sleep and leading by example. The trouble is you have to go and work on yourself before you can aspire to have any semblance of moral leadership. Being your mother has helped me see that we shouldn’t go through life being victims with coping mechanisms but survivors with tools, adults who don’t run from their weaknesses but acknowledge them as a first step towards building strength, adults who don’t procrastinate and move safely inside a self created bubble because they are afraid to jump out and get hurt. Adults who ultimately live and don’t just glide on the surface of life.
You and the kids who pushed you in the playground pushed me and my security blankets off a cliff along with it. I’m still not great at taking the road less travelled but I am collecting more growing pains now than I ever did before. As naff as this sounds, I gave birth to you but it was you who really gave birth to me. So I can show you the ways and let you find yours.
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