Ella’s shoulder – A moment of light in the mania of motherhood

Ella & I are shopping one night. She has had a mammoth afternoon nap, and I have been learning about the non-negotiable requirement of 10 minutes of no-distraction time with each child so I decide to take her to Genesis PNP with me.

Shopping is one of her time favorite past times (I can’t wait till she can drive). It is a gorgeous time together; the shop are basically empty, we are dancing in the isles and I don’t protest as she puts all the things she “needs” in the trolley – like chocolate and dog food (we don’t have a dog).

As we are walking out, I am overwhelmed with exhaustion. Working days & broken nights and pre-dawn wake ups slam into my head.

“I am so tired I could fall over”, I think out loud.

Ella looks up at me with concern and with complete genuineness asks, “Do you want to sleep on my shoulder, mommy”?

My heart stops. I look at these sweet girl – challenging at times, stubborn always and very, very demanding some days. The neediness of mothering sometimes is suffocating. Yet in that moment her pure soul shines through all that stuff.

“I would love to”, I say.

She thinks for a bit and gives this irresistible smile and says “But my shoulder is too little”. She giggles at the thought of me fitting on her shoulder, and we go home.

The whole week I think of this moment. When she refuses to bath or insists on wearing summer clothes on icy days or wants to hit her baby brother, my heart melts and my eyes fill with tears. In my moment of need, my 2 ½ year old daughter offers me what I offer her when she is tired– to sleep on my shoulder. Her safe place. She offers me her safe place.

Everything of being a mom is giving, giving, giving. But for this moment, she is offering something precious of her own to me.

And so even though I can’t fit on her shoulder, I know it’s all worth it.

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Why I am a mother who hates children

I hate children. Hate is probably too strong a word. But I have never liked children. I tolerate my nephews from a distance. One of the most excruciating days of my life was when I taught a playgroup for an hour. I am not a misanthrope. I like people a lot. I like talking to people and connecting to people. But I don’t know what to do with little babies and children. I like having conversations with some semblance of intelligence and reciprocity.

I know people who are the exact opposite. Like my husband. He adores babies and children. He befriends random babies in queues and they swoon at him in return.  All our friends’ children know him and love him. Another friend begs to hold new babies. I am not like that. I never baby sat or taught or ran day camps voluntarily. I was never the maternal type. I don’t think I ever played “mommy, mommy”.

I even find my own new-borns foreign. New-borns freak me out. They are so incomprehensible and demanding and needy. They don’t even smile. My daughter is now two years old, and every day I am enjoying her more. Feeling authentic connection to my three-month old baby still challenging. There are moments of pleasure but it’s hard. Being a mother is very, very hard for me.

So, I was understandably baffled when; last night after a particularly horrid bed time with a screeching baby and a tyrannical toddler; an undeniable truth filled my being. I was overwhelmed by the fact that  “I love being a mother”. Now I am not the happy-clappy mother-nature type of person. I am very vocal and honest about the challenges of motherhood. Sure, there are wonderful things. Like huge smiles when my baby wakes up and him melting into my arms at bedtime. My daughter sprinting into my arms when I fetch her from school. And watching her learn sophisticated negotiations techniques and dancing with her. But there are equally, if not more, horrid things. Like never waking up naturally and all kinds of bodily fluids in my bed and never being independent and having no remaining vocabulary and never going to the bathroom alone.

So I did not know where this very enlightened thought came from. Looking back, I was not always how I am now. I consider myself reasonably kind and nice and decent. I am no modern-day Mother Theresa, but I  mostly try to be nice to my circle of family and friends. But this wasn’t always so. I was a hideous teenager & young adult. I was extremely aggressive, angry, hostile and exceptionally cliquey. I struggled to connect to people. I was very outgoing but I was gruff and hard and prickly. I was pretty selfish and self-absorbed. As I got older, I slowly mellowed. I began to shed the hard exterior and became less afraid of my vulnerabilities and others’ feelings. I learned how to access a part of myself which is compassionate and kind. But I still harbour a deep belief that essentially I am a horrible person. I fear that essentially I am selfish and unkind.

And that is why I love being a mother. The cute perks of raising small children do not yet outweigh the challenges.  I love who I am when I am a mother. Because even though I am no longer prickly and hostile and selfish, I still fear that I am. But when I am with my kids, I am undeniably generous. I am mostly (even if I am faking it) considerate and compassionate and caring to my children. I am finding patience I never knew possible when making the bottle just right.  Although I would give a lot to have a decent night sleep, or curl into bed on a rainy Sunday with a book; being a mother does not allow for that. Being a mother demands that I develop a way to transcend my moods, and put aside my desire for chunk of solitary time. And by doing so, I am gaining trust that perhaps I am not essentially unkind.

So while I love my children so much that I want to squash them into pieces; being their mother means I am finally learning to love myself.


3 things never to ask a new mother

      1. Are you in love
When Ella was born, every second text message contained this question. But the thing is, just because you carried around this little person for nine months does not guarantee love at first sight. Hollywood portrays birth as tear-filled moments encapsulated by overwhelming love. But in the real world, many new mothers do not feel love at first sight.  They feel curiosity, terror, fear and exhaustion. For me, I was in such physical shock from labour that all I could do was lie down and shake for an hour while I recovered from the hours of excruciating pain. My husband did the skin to skin contact first.  Despite our shared gene pool, she was a stranger to me for a long time. And in those first weeks and months, we got to know each other, Ella and I. The love took a while to come. First there was like. And now, mostly there is love.  The love will come – after two days, two weeks or even two years.But asking a new mother that puts an unrealistic expectation and pressure onto them. As if there is something wrong with them if they aren’t swooning with love at their new-born.
2. Did you have a natural birth or a c-section
There is so much hype, idealism and fanaticism these days on both sides of the equation. In some circles natural births with no pain relief are lauded. Pregnant women often get very attached to one birthing method. They do hypno-birthing, yoga, meditation, birthing classes and visualization. And then things happen. Cords get stuck. Babies go into distress. Pelvises are misshaped. And often, these mothers are devastated. Perhaps they feel like failures, like they have let themselves down. There is regret and wasted hope. The emotions are deep and difficult. So don’t ask – don’t put them in a position where they have to explain their choice for an epidural, or anything else. And likewise there are mothers who elect for pain relief or a c-section from the word go. And that is their choice. They don’t need to defend it, justify it or explain it. They don’t need any judgement or superiority. So don’t ask.

3.Are you breastfeeding or formula feeding
Similar to the above, there is much dogma around breastfeeding. Attachment parenting dictates that we breast feed till our kids are six. For many of us, the picture of a perfect mother is one who nourishes their child from within. Many mothers have an innate desire to nurse their babies. And they will often do so at any cost. But as mothers know breast-feeding is not a pain-free, always possible occurrence.  I have friends who sobbed in pain as breastfeeding was so excruciating. And one who pumped for hours only to get an ounce of milk. And the ones who are desperate to and drink gallons of jungle juice and even take medication, but still do not have enough milk. There are ones whose babies have such bad reflux that formula is the only answer. And then there are ones who hate the concept and choose bottle-feeding from the word go. And no matter the choice they make, or they are forced to make, chances are it haunts them.  They probably are mired in guilt. So don’t make it worse. Don’t put them somewhere where they have to explain. If you do breastfeed, it does not mean you are a better mother. A mother makes sure their baby has exactly what it needs to flourish. In days of old, wet nurses where common. Today, many happy healthy adults were nourished by formula
Last week, someone asked me if I was still nursing Ella, my sixteen month old. And despite having worked through my own experience, there was still a twinge of guilt as I replied no.
PS. None of this applies to someone who offers you any of the above details, if they do then feel free to ask. If someone is your close friend, these rules also probably don’t apply. But if someone is a casual or even friendly acquaintance, think of some other way to make conversation. How are you feeling, congratulations and offering to help in anyway is always a safe bet

Dear wholesome mother, please shut up

‘Wow, your mommy is nicer than I am to my Benjamin’ a friend comments to my toddler as our trolleys pass each other in the queue.  Ella, my feisty 15-month old, is sitting in the trolley, cramming MSG-filled Ghost Pops into her mouth as fast as she can. ‘Oh, normally I don’t give her stuff like this, she’s just irritated and exhausted and I need to keep her quiet till we are done’, I stammer, trying to justify my gross misdemeanor. Walking to car, I am furious. Furious with myself for being so contrite, and more furious with my friend for her comment.
Here’s the thing. I know that MSG and sugar and processed food are the evil incarnate. I know better than to let Ella eat chocolate ice cream. I know that homemade baby food is the answer. I know that organic oats is the ideal breakfast. And that chocolate biscuits for breakfast are really not ideal.
I don’t intentionally sabotage my daughter’s nutritional development. Yet just a few weeks ago, you could find me feeding her sugar laden yogurt for every meal. And when we go to a party, and there are chips she wants, I give them to her. I also feed her grapes, and cheese, and lamb and homemade stew. But sometimes, cereal is a meal too.
So, dear friend. A word of advice. I really don’t want to hear about your mother-nature down-to -earth goddess like abilities. I am happy for you, I really am. I even admire you and hope one day to have the discipline and organization to be like you. I am glad that your children are sleep trained at six months and never get a bottle at 2am out of desperation. I am impressed that you don’t turn to junk food for five minutes of peace and quiet.
But I am not you. For me, mothering is hard. Excruciatingly hard. And when my off-the-chart teeny refuses to eat but yogurt for weeks on end, I am not going to fight.  And if she sees me eating a biscuit and wants one, I am not going to fight.  Because I choose my battles. She has never tasted soft drinks. But my sanity is equally as important as organic sugar-free homemade nutrition. And if Ghost Pops once in a while preserve both our emotional well-beings till nap time, then G-d bless the inventors.
So do us struggling mothers all a favour and don’t volunteer information about your excellence. If we happen to ask, then by all means share and share some more. Otherwise, don’t comment on what mothers are not as wholesome as you do. Don’t share any information of bravado, your hearty and healthful homemade smoothies or your homemade stone ground bread. If you feel the need for an award for your mothering choices, feel free to give them to yourself – silently. Because for some of us, mothering is hard enough without the superior mothers flaunting their brilliance for all to see.

 P.S Before I had Ella, I was very guilty of this. I was very quick to criticize others inappropriate parenting techniques. So this tirade is as much against myself as anyone else.