Tuesday, 11 September 2018
Happy Birthday Mama
Happy birthday to my mama who would have been 66 today. She made this blue blazer herself, she was a talented seamstress. I have not inherited this talent in the least. I am not good with material pursuits. I get frustrated when I make my first mistake sewing and give up easily. I’m very unaware of my surroundings. I don’t remember faces well.
I loved this blazer and we kept it when she died. I don’t have it any more. I kept her sunglasses too but at some point they broke or I lost them. A broken pair may be in a box somewhere.
I don’t have any things that belonged to her or smell of her. I don’t often get to her grave, inconveniently far away from anywhere I’m ever likely to be in. I have only been a few times.
The more time passes the less I remember her, her voice, how she looked.
For years after she died I felt like a mind lugging a body around, and that feeling never entirely went away. I live in my mind and easily become isolated and alienated from the physical world and people around me. Grieving as a developing teenager shaped my personality.
It’s difficult parenting young children when you’re so uninterested in the physical world. Being that young is almost exclusively about engaging with the world. Toys, games, trees, things, things, things. I don’t like things too much because you can easily lose them so it’s best not to get too attached.
But I can’t bring that to the table when I’m mothering. I have to be the vessel via which my children access reality. I have to name things, show things, give things, touch things, keep things, tidy, make, move, shape, point out. I can't.
My son took ages to start pointing. I never pointed at anything. It’s just stuff, here it is, all of it, whatever. It’s just stuff. Grief killed my ability to sense the point of living, and that feeling never fully went away.
Children need a mother who doesn’t struggle existentially. It’s exhausting not having the personality for it. It’s exhausting needing hours to read and write every day in order to function as an average human. It’s exhausting knowing I’m not up to the task and turning up anyway.
I wake up feeling stressed. I can’t say ‘good morning’ to my baby, I pick him up silently and warm up his milk. He whinges as I try to put him in the high chair. I put him on the floor instead - I can't make the milk and hold him at the same time and it's not 7am yet, I am tired.
He starts crying properly. I ignore it and think to myself, a normal mother would say something to him. She wouldn't be quite so successful at ignoring it. She would feel guiltier. She would say 'just a second,' she would use words like 'sweetheart.'
I push down the lever on the kettle and wait for the sound of bubbles. I look at my phone to find some words. I love words. Immaterial, eternal, thought-provoking. Thoughts. If only I could be a thought. If only my children could know my thoughts without me having to speak them.
It is tiring to speak. I'm an introvert, and mothers, I suspect, are a better fit for extroversion. Probably why there are more male introverts than female ones. Mothers have to be other-centric. They have to externalise, constantly. And the repetition. Repetition is key. It's also soul-destroying.
My toddler has heard us. I hear the rumble of his feet add itself to the kettle's crescendo. He doesn't say good morning. He doesn't say mummy. He doesn't say anything much, he stands there and stares, sometimes smiles, sometimes babbles. That makes sense - I haven't been repeatedly greeting him, so why would he now greet me?
It's all my fault. I should say good morning to him now.
'Good morning, did you sleep well?' someone says.
Someone hugs him, kisses him on the cheek, as she has seen people do in adverts or films or perhaps as she remembers her own blur-faced mother doing, once upon a very very long time ago.
I want to leave. I want to be alone. I made a mistake.
I can't, they need me like I need her.
I can't be better. I can't be mother enough. I can't talk beyond these awful efforts that amount to nothing. I can't repeat things more than twice. I am lazy or broken or both.
Happy birthday wherever you are, I hope it's a fun day today, I hope you are celebrating with whoever is with you instead of us. Happy birthday on this black day where I struggle to be anything other than miserable, anything other than subpar, anything beyond a mess. If you have made it, pray for me and for us. That we may make it through this ordeal. That I may bring myself to be cheerful and name the cars, the trees, the leaves, the colours, the shapes, the fabric of this cage. That the boys may survive my misery. That they may be stronger than I am, just like I am stronger than you were, when you left us so quickly, so early, so cowardly, all those years ago.