Saturday, June 4, 2011

Motherhood Statements

She smiles at me somewhat shyly from beneath her broad brimmed and ever sensible sun hat as I pull up at the table next to her. I apologise for interrupting her peace as I sit my young boy up in a chair and she laughs and seeks to engage him in conversation. Her efforts are fruitless, as there is nothing my four-year-old enjoys less than conversing with a stranger.

“He is so cute” she enthuses as he scowls at her and then issues his commands for more food, a straw, whatever. I attempt to maintain some shred of dignity in the face of his demands, while at heart my real concern is figuring out how to best keep my son occupied with the least amount of effort. I need a quiet moment to recover from what has been, in no uncertain terms, a bad morning.

“So how old is he? Does he go to preschool?” she asks and I soon learn that she is a fellow mother, attempting to maintain her sanity in the face of sleep deprivation and all the unspoken strains of new motherhood. She has an 11-month-old at home, a nanny, a PhD in mathematics and is working for a start up. A typical mother in these parts, and like most in this neighbourhood she is not a native Californian but hails from Europe.

“I am trying to decide if I should have another one”, she says, holding up a self-help book covered in baby pastel shades of blue, pink and lemon. And I realise that she is in fact highlighting and writing notes in the margins as she seeks a logical answer to a question that is better suited to the science of Chaos Theory than algebraic formulas.

She reminds me of another mother I know from around these parts who drew up a spread sheet to determine the optimal name for her future child. Not surprisingly, six-months down the track the child’s name was changed.

“You do know,” I say as if sharing some great secret “that in some ways it is easier with two. At least they have somebody else to play with.”

“But what if they don’t play?” she asks bluntly. “What if they don’t like each other?”

At this I am rendered speechless. Moments later I guiltily join in as she enthusiastically lists the many reasons why having more than one child is an irrational and unwise decision and then we both retreat to our private worlds. My son, possibly so drained from my morning of tears, is in an unusually cooperative mood. While he draws I read and mentally re-group in preparation for the long afternoon ahead.

Before long it is time for my new friend to leave. She stands up and then issues forth with a stream of motherhood statements worthy of a Hallmark greeting card catalogue, statements so at odds with our earlier conversation that I can only assume she was gripped by a certain guilt at our earlier disloyalty to the project at hand. I nod and smile awkwardly, happy that however briefly, I shared an honest moment with a fellow traveller on this strange journey called motherhood.


goingbydirigible said...

What a gorgeous piece of writing. I love your skill for observation and thinking about someone's motivations without a layer of judgement. You write about other people honestly, but never seem to lose the sense of feeling that you're as honest about yourself too. Just beautiful - thank you!

Lauren Finn said...

Love your work and hope your day improved. Lx

Mark said...

As I read this, I picture this woman's son as becoming the stereotypical "only child" with all that entails. The child getting used to always getting his way. (Some day I must tell you about my DIL who still orders her parents around - and they still jump at her orders!) Before my wife - an only child herself - and I were married, we both decided that we would not have an only child.

Children are equations that you need to balance. Will they play together? Yes, but they will also fight, conspire, gang up on parents, and be each other's best friend at times.

My kids are two years apart. From the time my son was born, they bonded in a way an only child can never know or appreciate. They occupied each other at times so my wife and I were relieved of that duty occasionally. As they got older, they hung out with the same (band) group, so dad's taxi service was made easier. And when my daughter got her license - it went out of business. They looked after each other, and today they are in their 30's and still are best friends.

Only children tend to miss that piece of awareness that they are not the only one who matters. Even grown up you can usually spot those who are only children. (my DIL, my wife, my dad)

What if they don't play? What if they don't like each other? Oh come on now.

Did I mention that my grandsons are twins? ;-)

Yes, having more than one is good for the parents and good for the children.

Mark said...

Ooops that should have read "Children are NOT equations ..."

4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle said...

So beautifully written. I giggled away at her mathematical childhood equation. Are you okay? Bad morning? Kx

Alex said...

4 kids here too!
I always want to roll my eyes at 'those sort of mothers'.

Sarah said...

It's funny how honesty can sometimes feel like disloyalty - but I am sure she appreciated your candid comments and you gave her much to ponder. Having any number of children is not for the faint-hearted and as you have pointed out, there are pros and cons to every configuration.

If we are wise we make our decisions based on gut instinct and the information we have available at the time, then we make the most of the situation we find ourselves in. This doesn't mean that it's always perfect all of the time! Great post.

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