Last month, I was interviewed by Abi at The Family Collective on my experience of motherhood. One of the questions she asked me was: Which are the moments that make you feel like a mother? I thought it a rather lovely thing to ask. You can read my interview here. But this question, I kept thinking about. So I wrote a little more about it; ahead of Valentine’s Day, consider it a love letter of sorts.
There are days I forget how old I am. There are days I feel still younger than I think I am. There are days I refer in passing to my career, and then it hits me it was not yesterday. Boy, it’s bewildering: time. The way it does this, the way it passes then stands still then swoops so fast like a fairy-tale billow of wind, like a full-skirt twirling, all gathers and falls and crushed silk so soft, you can barely catch a breath: this is sort of the way I feel about motherhood.
Somedays, we can be going about our day as we do - small backpacks on small shoulders, one, two, three little boys, spilling across a pavement like three toy trains headed in wildly different directions - when I might accidentally catch sight of our collective reflection in a shop window and it hits me that I am a mother of three. It disarms me, leaves me a little dizzy, for the notion is wild. Wait, what? Three kids? the twenty-something me says to my thirty-something self in my head. Then I snap out of it in a beat, for this is a pavement in London after all. Hold hands! I yell. Busy road!
Or else, we’re in the grocery store picking up a motley mix of both things we need for dinner and also absolutely do not need, the things that small hands have delightedly thrown in the basket too without any rational thought - sometimes, it’s not until the checkout that I realise we have acquired small bags of popcorn or biscuits or pastries that I must pay for too - and here, again I am reminded of it. I am reminded of the small hungry mouths that look to me to feed them, and their hot little fingers that wiggle their way into the cookie jar or into my 80% dark chocolate stash, hatching plans, giggling and licking their lips. Later, I might discover little smudges of chocolate on the door handles or a trail of cookie crumbs up the kitchen steps and when I discover these clues, long after they have gone to bed, it hits me again; that mother of three thing. They are real. I did not just make them up. They did this, they think, they do. Did I make them? Did we? These are the sort of thoughts I sometimes think.
See also: those feverish nights when one or the other cries in their sleep. When they need me and so I sacrifice my sleep and slip into their bed to stroke their hair and ssh them gently and then they settle, eventually. Then too, these thoughts come to me as I lie next to them in the dark. They are real. They need me. I will keep you and you and you safe. An aside: I always feel like a mother because I could always do with more sleep, too.
Somedays, it’s when all five of us are hanging out in our favourite cafe - the three of them munching egg and soldiers or cheese toasties and the two of us, looping little fingers together between his black Americano and my tea. And it’s on those days, between those moments of watching for spills and wiping sticky fingers, that we share a glance that lingers, and we both think, a little bewildered: How? how did we go from just the two of us to all of this? Did we really do this? It’s the same look we swap after we’ve successfully strapped them into their car seats at the close of some ambitious day out. It’s the look that celebrates our daily triumphs and says, we’ve got this. Home, now.
The moments I feel like a mother are those everyday moments and though they are but simple they are staggeringly huge too. They take up all the space in my heart, space I never knew was even there. “Space is infinite! Space never ends!” my five-year-old tells me, out of the blue. I tell him to stop jumping on the sofa.
(Yes, my boy. It never ends. This is infinite, what I feel for you and you and you. And you, who got there first. You, who will catch me when I fall. We’ve got this.)
Then there is this, too.
I feel like a mother come bedtime, when our clumsy dance from dining table to bathroom is complete, when all the tribulations of tooth-brushing and hair-washing and the who-did-what and the bags-packed-for-tomorrow is done. Somehow, all of that doesn't matter when we're all piled into bed and I begin to read a story or two.
So this is us: one with his head on my shoulder, idly twirling my hair, another tucked under my arm sucking his thumb, the other (the smallest one) rolling around somewhere in the middle. Come bedtime, I forget that my patience might have once been tested at all. I feel the comfort of our routine and a certain anticipation for lights out, yes, but mostly, I feel I know what my children need from me. Warmth, the reassurance of the rhythm of words spoken aloud, the steadiness of breath, the collective beat of our hearts. This is our story time. This is when I feel they need me close, not for noses that need wiping, not for any sense of urgency, but simply so that we may remember that all of this is real.
Infinite. May it never end.
These are the moments I feel I'll always remember even when they're long grown into the adults I can’t yet imagine. I am many things and sometimes I actively seek to be other things, not just a mother. But I am a mother. I am and I am and I am. I am three times over; it is folded into me now. It is both who I am and what I am and it is worth surrendering into.
It humbles me; they do.