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And the people stayed home. And read books and listened and rested and exercised and made art and played games and learned new ways of being and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses and made new choices and dreamed new images and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.– Kitty O’Meara
“Ihate you!” I look down at my daughter — so much red-faced anger bottled up (and now released) in her 40 pound, five-year old self — and I feel the tension drain from my body. I look up at the ceiling and take a deep breath…look back down at her…and open my arms. She runs into them and starts crying — her anger from a moment ago, dissipating into the underlying reason for this outburst. “Mommy, you hurt my feelings.” My response? “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. Mommy was feeling stressed out from so many things in my head at one time, but I should have listened to you. What were you trying to tell me?”
This scene isn’t from one particular moment, but instead, highlights the ongoing cycle of emotional recognition and reconciliation that my daughter and I have been cultivating since her birth. On the surface, this moment may not seem radical. I can remember being a young Black girl, hurling angry words at my own mother. Yet, in responding to my daughter’s anger with understanding and an explanation of my own limitations (i.e., Mommy was feeling stressed), I allow her to bear witness to my humanity. In apologizing to her and being accountable (i.e., I should have listened to you — what were you trying to tell me?), I demonstrate that her feelings matter…her words matter…she matters. This is one of my birthrights to my Black daughter — a commitment to our emotional wholeness and her free expression.
As a Black woman scholar who examines positive identity development among Black girls and women, I return to these questions often, “What does it mean to be a healthy Black girl? How do we raise whole Black girls — free Black girls?” Bringing my daughter home from the hospital brought a new sense of urgency to my queries. I could not go to work every day to advocate for the holistic development of other Black girls and women, and neglect my own little girl at home. Unexpectedly, a lot of this work has involved me unlearning emotional habits that portray emotional repression as “strength” — I had to learn to be more vulnerable.
Black mothers are often the earliest, and arguably, one of the most important role models of emotional well being for their daughters. Yet, research suggests that many Black girls “have never seen their mothers cry” — one potential manifestation of the Strong Black Woman schema, a cultural trope of Black womanhood that praises Black women’s “unrelenting grace under pressure” and “ability to withstand significant adversity.” Studies are beginning to highlight how internalization of the “Strong Black Woman” stereotype has negative implications for Black women’s mental and emotional health, which may extend to Black girls’ beliefs about how to express strength and resilience. This stereotype of invincibility is one way that Black mothers may try to prepare their daughters to survive within the racist, sexist, and heteronormative cultural norms of U.S. society, but it may unintentionally hinder Black mothers’ ability to model emotional vulnerability and wellness for their girls.
In writing this piece, I spoke with Black mothers who were willing to share their journeys with emotional socialization from Black girlhood into Black motherhood. I asked them — “How did your mother model emotional wellness? How do you model it for your daughter(s)? What concerns do you have about your Black girls’ emotional wellbeing in our society?” Their responses were telling — both in their simplicity and the profundity of what they shared.
Pattie, a 29-year old mother of two girls (7 and 5 years old), reflected:
“My mom showed a range of emotions — happiness, worry, fear, sadness, and anger. She didn’t stay angry long, and she is a good listener and empathetic. But there were only a few instances when my mother cried in front of us. So when it happened, we knew it was a big deal. In my earliest memory, we had just pulled into the driveway. I was impatiently waiting to get out the car — I was like 3 or 4 — and I noticed she was crying silent tears. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me that she missed her mommy. My grandmother died in a car accident in December 1990. I was a year old, my sister was 9 years old, and my mother was a 29-year old single parent. Besides that time, she didn’t cry much. As for me, I don’t fall apart (publicly at least). I am a silent crier. I hold stuff in and try to process and “out think” my emotions — which is challenging and may not be the best way. But I also really fight against the “Superwoman” stereotype. In the words of Cardi B, I’m just a regular, degular, smegular woman — feelings, insecurities and all. I want my girls to understand that it is okay to be frustrated, mad, and upset. So when I am thinking through emotions, and my daughter asks, “What’s wrong, Mommy?” I try to tell her that I’m <insert emotion here> because of “xyz.” I want my daughters to express their feelings to me — even when my mom or an auntie might find these feelings “disrespectful.” I don’t want them to feel censored and think that certain emotions are inappropriate. I think all emotions — if you have them — are appropriate. But how you handle them is important.”
Shontay, a 30-year old mother of a 9-year old girl, shared:
“My mom had an extremely odd way of modeling emotional wellness. She hid her emotional trials and tribulations from us and encouraged us to put up a front when things weren’t the best to keep up an image of perfection. I feel like I am the picture of a strong, Black woman to most people around me, and that’s all I ever hear — mostly as a compliment. I cry in privacy, mainly in the shower. It’s hard to be vulnerable in today’s society (thanks, Ma). But I let my daughter express herself as openly as possible to me — even the bad things she may not think I approve of. I don’t make her mute herself, and we talk it out after she’s done going through the emotional part. I want her to know it is okay to feel — feelings are normal. We’ve talked about the expectations and stereotypes that society has for her and will try to force on her. I’ve given examples of times where my emotions were taken out of context and mishandled. She’s very strong-willed and passionate, so I’m certain that she will face the “angry, Black woman stereotype.” My biggest wish for her is that she remembers that other people’s projections onto her are a reflection on them, rather than her. I tell her that as long as she is Black, beautiful, and brilliant — others will try their hardest to find fault in her. I tell her — make no apologies for who you are.”
Sherrie, a 42-year old mother of two Black girls (13 and 8 years old), asserted:
“My mother didn’t model emotional wellness. She embodied the “Super Women Syndrome.” She was everything to everybody, and often neglected her own needs and wants. I grew up seeing how she reacted to stressful and challenging situations. Oftentimes, it was negative communication (e.g., yelling) and based on that, I knew to give her space. Over time, I am unlearning that and taking care of my needs. I make sure that I am okay so I can be the best me — not only for myself, but for my daughters. When I experience hardship, I push through because of them. However, this can be a double-edged sword because there are times that “pushing through” causes significant stress that impacts my relationships with others. I recognize that I have to be vulnerable. Asking for help when I need it has been a life saver for me. Knowing that I can’t be everything to everybody has been healing. I am modeling (and this is a work in progress) that it is important to express yourself in healthy ways and to make time for yourself. Owning vulnerable moments is important. I am teaching them the airplane saying, “You have to secure your own oxygen mask before you help secure others.” I want them to be able to own their feelings — whether good, bad, or indifferent. My goal is to raise healthy Black girls and it is important for me to do the work because they are watching. If I set the foundation for them in understanding who they are and loving themselves, I push back against racist and sexist messaging in society about Black girls and who they can be. I often get the question, “What do you want your girls to be when they grow up?” My response is always — to love who they are and to be happy.”
Finally, Yaya, a 53-year old mother of a 26-year old woman, expressed:
“I had to get in contact with my emotions. I didn’t allow my children to see me get upset because I had to handle everything. It was just me and them. When I turned about 40-something, I said to hell with it — I am not superwoman. I do not have to go in my room and wait until they are asleep to cry. When I fell in love with myself, that’s when I stopped caring about how everyone else felt and what everybody else thought. With my mom, we were not allowed to talk about emotions — it was just “shut the f*** up.” I believe she was like that because her great grandmother died when she was 10. My grandmother didn’t get to go to school — no one ever told her that they loved her. No one ever kissed her — so she didn’t know how to show emotions when she had my mom. I wanted to do something different. I’ve always told my children that I loved them. If there was a problem, we tried to talk it out. I allowed them to voice their opinions. With my daughter, she knows our bond is strong and we can talk about anything. I can’t talk to my mom, but my daughter and I talk about any and everything. We don’t hide from each other. I think it’s good because if she has a little girl, she can show her daughter things that I didn’t show her. She can try to improve on the emotional stuff that I didn’t do.”
Their responses highlight the intergenerational transmission of strength and emotional wellness from Black mothers to their daughters. As Sherrie says — our girls are watching us. While few in number, their stories are consistent with broader conversations on the power of Black mothering (e.g., “We Live for the We,”“Revolutionary Mothering,”“Rise up Singing,”“Mothering while Black,” and “Motherhood so White,” to name but a few). As we move forward into the next 50 years of studying Black girlhood and womanhood, we must continue to challenge harmful stereotypes about Black mothering and resilience that can undermine the development of healthy vulnerability and expressiveness in Black girls. For Black moms, this may involve freeing ourselves from unrealistic expectations of strength and emotional fortitude. As these narratives demonstrate, we are uniquely positioned to support our girls in denouncing harmful expectations of excessive care-taking, emotional repression, and an invulnerable strength that epitomizes racist and sexist expectations for Black women in U.S. society. Contemporary social media communities (e.g., Parenting Decolonized, Conscious Parenting for the Culture, and Moms of Black Daughters) highlight how Black mothers are advocating for change — both in how they think about their emotional accountability to their daughters and in how they encourage their girls to take up space in the world. In academia, this involves conscientiousness in how we depict Black women and their mothering practices, which should include being critical of the questions we ask and how we frame our results and conclusions. To what extent are we complicating, nuancing, and rendering Black mothers as fully human — both in their strengths and limitations?
For instance, in her book, Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America, Dr. Stacey Patton challenges us to acknowledge and address how some Black mothers inflict emotional and physical harm on their children by using corporal punishment as a form of discipline. However, rather than characterizing Black mothers as deviant and “less than,” she situates corporal punishment within a broader understanding of how Black mothers may be trying to protect their children from the violence of racism in U.S. society. As she writes, “We put Black mothers on a pedestal and hesitate to call them out because they’re holding up our families, often by themselves. We live in a society where a [Black] girl can be yanked out of her seat by her neck and tossed across a classroom by a school resource officer. But that doesn’t make it okay for her to beat the Black off us.” (p. 2–3) Most academic scholarship would stop short at — “Black mothers beat their children”— but fail to: (1) recognize the concerns that Black mothers have for their children in light of the physical violence inflicted against Black bodies in our country, (2) acknowledge that physical discipline is not inherently a Black cultural practice, and (3) overlook the myriad of other parenting practices that Black mothers employ to help raise healthy and whole Black children. We see a few examples of critical and affirming forms of scholarship on Black motherhood in the work of Drs. Marie Dow and Camille Wilson Cooper.
After apologizing to my daughter, I talk with her about the power of her words and how “hating Mommy,” may have seemed like what she meant, but that she was actually trying to tell me was something else — something even more important — that I hurt her. Equipping our Black girls with the ability to name and claim their emotions is a radical way to prepare them to thrive in U.S. society, and in many ways, it begins with our ability to name and claim our own. I have had to learn to honor my emotional growth (e.g., practicing self-compassion and allowing myself to receive support). I give myself permission to take a break when I am overwhelmed. I let myself “feel my feelings,” and not just the ones that are convenient for others. I allow my daughter to see my sadness and joy…my anger and delight. In modeling emotional vulnerability in this way, I pray that I am giving her the freedom to embrace her own.
Dr. Seanna Leath is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Virginia. Dr. Leath’s research uses interdisciplinary approaches to understand and address issues related to the holistic development of Black girls and women in the context of families, schools, and communities. Using a resilience framework, she considers the role of social identity development on the academic and psychosocial growth and well-being of African American young adults.
Whatever you do try not to panic. You may find these videos helpful.
A friend shared this fabulous story. Obatala, the Orisha of oneness and unity in Ifa tradition ran into Sopona, the Orisha that governs smallpox, on his way to the village and asked him what he was doing and under whose instructions. Sopona told Obatala that he had instructions from Oludumare the Most High to go to the village and infect 100 people with smallpox.
Oludumare checked with Olokun to validate Sopona’s story and then allowed him passage. On his way back from the village once again Obatala interrupted Sopona on the road telling him “How come you infected 1000 people with small pox when Oludumare only instructed you to infect 100?” “Indeed” said Sopona “I did as I was instructed and infected only 100 people with the plague but the other 900 died of fear of smallpox”. The moral of the story is that fear and other emotions are as toxic or even more toxic thanviruses.Boost your immune system and don’t be like the 900. Ashe’.
Falling In Love the 1st Time: The Love that Looks Right
It’s been said that we really only fall in love with three people in our lifetime. Yet, it’s also believed that we need each of these loves for a different reason.
Often our first is when we are young, in high school even. It’s the idealistic love—the one that seems like the fairy tales we read as children.
This is the love that appeals to what we should be doing for society’s sake—and probably our families. We enter into it with the belief that this will be our only love and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t feel quite right, or if we find ourselves having to swallow down our personal truths to make it work because deep down we believe that this is what love is supposed to be.
Because in this type of love, how others view us is more important than how we actually feel.
It’s a love that looks right.
Falling In Love the 2nd Time: The Hard Love
The second is supposed to be our hard love—the one that teaches us lessons about who we are and how we often want or need to be loved. This is the kind of love that hurts, whether through lies, pain or manipulation.
We think we are making different choices than our first, but in reality we are still making choices out of the need to learn lessons—but we hang on. Our second love can become a cycle, oftentimes one we keep repeating because we think that somehow the ending will be different than before. Yet, each time we try, it somehow ends worse than before.
Sometimes it’s unhealthy, unbalanced or narcissistic even. There may be emotional, mental or even physical abuse or manipulation—most likely there will be high levels of drama. This is exactly what keeps us addicted to this storyline, because it’s the emotional roller coaster of extreme highs and lows and like a junkie trying to get a fix, we stick through the lows with the expectation of the high.
With this kind of love, trying to make it work becomes more important than whether it actually should.
It’s the love that we wished was right.
Falling In Love the 3rd Time: The Love that Lasts
And the third is the love we never see coming. The one that usually looks all wrong for us and that destroys any lingering ideals we clung to about what love is supposed to be. This is the love that comes so easy it doesn’t seem possible. It’s the kind where the connection can’t be explained and knocks us off our feet because we never planned for it.
This is the love where we come together with someone and it just fits—there aren’t any ideal expectations about how each person should be acting, nor is there pressure to become someone other than we are.
We are just simply accepted for who we are already—and it shakes to our core.
It isn’t what we envisioned our love would look like, nor does it abide by the rules that we had hoped to play it safe by. But still it shatters our preconceived notions and shows us that love doesn’t have to be how we thought in order to be true.
This is the love that keeps knocking on our door regardless of how long it takes us to answer.
It’s the love that just feels right.
Maybe we don’t all experience these loves in this lifetime, but perhaps that’s just because we aren’t ready to. Maybe the reality is we need to truly learn what love isn’t before we can grasp what it is.
Possibly we need a whole lifetime to learn each lesson, or maybe, if we’re lucky, it only takes a few years.
Perhaps it’s not about if we are ever ready for love, but if love is ready for us.
And then there may be those people who fall in love once and find it passionately lasts until their last breath. Those faded and worn pictures of our grandparents who seemed just as in love as they walked hand-in-hand at age 80 as they did in their wedding picture—the kind that leaves us wondering if we really know how to love at all.
Someone once told me they are the lucky ones, and perhaps they are.
But I kinda think that those who make it to their third love are really the lucky ones.
They are the ones who are tired of having to try and whose broken hearts lay beating in front of them wondering if there is just something inherently wrong with how they love.
But there’s not; it’s just a matter of if their partner loves in the same way they do or not.
Just because it has never worked out before doesn’t mean that it won’t work out now.
What it really comes down to is if we are limited by how we love, or instead love without limits. We can all choose to stay with our first love, the one that looks good and will make everyone else happy. We can choose to stay with our second under the belief that if we don’t have to fight for it, then it’s not worth having—or we can make the choice to believe in the third love.
The one that feels like home without any rationale; the love that isn’t like a storm—but rather the quiet peace of the night after.
And maybe there’s something special about our first love, and something heartbreakingly unique about our second…but there’s also just something pretty amazing about our third.
The one we never see coming.
The one that actually lasts.
The one that shows us why it never worked out before.
And it’s that possibility that makes trying again always worthwhile, because the truth is you never know when you’ll stumble into love.
“You found parts of me I didn’t know existed and in you I found a love I no longer believed was real.” ~ Unknown
Many of us have heard “all the talk” about soulmates and twin flames over the years. Smh. Truth is there’s FAR more to relationships than any of this. Far more! Every time I hear about the two I roll my eyes. Wake up people! Life is alot more complex! P.S.- Same thing for connecting with someone because of what horoscopes say. Blah, blah, blah. There’s still more to the story. I urge all of us to go deeper and be wiser!
Greetings. A few weeks ago I started leading storytime yoga classes for 3-6 year olds. Yoga poses, songs, affirmations, books. These are the books I’ll be using for the next few weeks. I’ll add more as the weeks go by.
My Beautiful Hair by Queen K
The Heart of the Dragon by Larry Trott (for older children)
CLOVER STROUD reveals her craving for a SIXTH child is ‘like an addict’s hunger’ despite being so frazzled by parenthood at times that she imagines self-harming while cooking dinner
5 February 2020
‘Why on earth would you do that to yourself?’ a woman at a party asks, when I tell her I have four children. I don’t mention I’m in the early stages of pregnancy with my fifth.
It’s at a work event in London, with waiters bearing lonely canapés through the carpeted bowels of a central-London hotel. I have rushed to get here from our home in rural Oxfordshire, peeling the children off and flinging my toddler Dash — currently my youngest — into my husband Pete’s arms, so that I arrive sweaty, frizzy and feeling flayed.
How do you explain to a stranger why you have four or even five children to someone for whom the idea of anything more than one, two maximum, is absolutely mystifying?
At that time we had a neatly symmetrical two boys and two girls — 15-year-old Jimmy and Dolly, 12, from my first marriage, plus three-year-old Evangeline and little Dash, not yet two — and there was no reason to have another baby, apart from a ravenous kind of hunger that’s like joy and melancholy and nostalgia and daring all mixed together.
Back then, I want to tell the woman I’m doing it because I’m greedy. Because, at the age of 40, even though there will be less of the good things, like sleep, free time, sex and money, there’ll also be more pure love and I want to wrap that around me every day I can while I’m alive on this Earth.
Because being pregnant makes me feel sexual and engaged in a way that often I don’t. Because I want to test my body with the biggest physical challenge I know how to wilfully bring upon it, and because I want to touch the actual brink of death, as I know I will do in childbirth.
Because my eldest child is a teenager and that’s made me see how terrified I really am of motherhood ending.
But I don’t say any of that because a mother can’t say these things. So instead I say: ‘Well, I’m one of five, so I think there’s something in me that’s always wanted that sense of big, colourful chaos, with lots of siblings.’ Then I pause, making a little joke. ‘I like the thought of mess.’
When my fifth child, Lester, is born five months later, in the summer of 2016, he cries and cries, almost incessantly, small legs and arms pedalling around like a lunatic. Acid reflux, says the doctor, and tells me that nothing will really help apart from time.
The only way I can soothe him is to sit and let him feed, alone, ideally in a silent room without light or sound.
Dash and Evangeline hate my seclusion and hunt me out, until I have to call Dolly to take them away. I am always covered in white vomit. I keep changing my T-shirt until the dirty washing banks up too fast and then I give up trying to keep clean as no one apart from Pete or the kids will ever see me now.
I want to enjoy every moment of this, but how can I when I am so exhausted? I love Lester with every cell in my body, but sometimes I feel as though I’m shut in a wire trap.
I know, I know: I’ve willingly shut myself in here, but this love has me encased, imprisoned, nonetheless.
I am often a solitary prisoner, too. Pete works away in London during the week while the kids and I stay at home.
Can a marriage survive this? The truth is there is very little space for it with five children. When he’s back they swing from his arms and chatter to him all the time, and I am pushed aside like a silenced scullery maid whose role it is to wipe surfaces, find shoes and carry coats.
Sometimes I feel we might forget one another, Pete and I. We communicate in fragments, as if Samuel Beckett wrote our parts, exchanging fag ends of sentences we never finish.
I do not want to cling to him, but his vanishing outline as he leaves for work at the start of the week often makes my heart plummet. And on a Friday evening when he comes home and asks me how my week has been, I really try and say: ‘Oh, you know, fine, it was great, we did this, that and the other, and it was all really interesting.’
The truth is, he doesn’t actually want me to communicate what being at home all day with a newborn and a toddler is really like — nor the chaos of all five together after school. Neither do I know how to articulate the joy and claustrophobia, or the fact that while someone has been with me the whole time, touching me, prodding me, pulling at me, I have felt acutely lonely.
He’d think I’d gone mad if I described how intense was my longing for this moment in my life to be over, while also feeling cauterised by a quiet sort of grief as I sort through outgrown baby clothes and realise, four months after the birth, that even Lester is growing away from me.
How can I explain to him the tricks my mind plays on me by repeating that I don’t like the toil of motherhood, while quietly pondering whether a sixth child is out of the question?
People assume that because you have three, four, five children, you must be a natural — some sort of earth mother. But I am not that at all.
Often in the course of a single morning, a single hour, motherhood will take me to a place where I feel: this is the end of my tether. This place, right now, in the mess and chaos, is when I snap. This place is all I can take. This is my limit.
‘I’m at the end of my tether!’ I’ll scream at the children, slamming a pan into the sink in an attempt to scare them into obedience. Or I’ll text Pete: When are you home???? End of my f***ing tether.’
Being a mother pushes me, unwillingly, into parts of my mind that I didn’t know existed before I had children. Am I getting this right? Am I doing enough? Am I a good enough mother, or barely close? And is good enough, good enough?
Sometimes I go out into the garden to pull up thistles from the lawn. They make my hands sting but the pain makes me feel alive. Occasionally, while slicing red peppers for Bolognese sauce, I imagine what it would be like to run the blade of the knife across my palm.
The self-control I exercise is tightly wound around me all of the time. I love my children with my entire heart. When I want to imagine how I would destroy my life, I imagine it without my children. And yet, I am also howling inside.
Occasionally, I admit, I have let go of that self-control in spectacular fashion. Once, when Evangeline was about a year old and we were living in Oxford, Pete and I got a babysitter to stay overnight and went to a party in London.
In a basement bar, we found friends from university, shouting over loud music to explain the choices in life we’d made. Compare and contrast how your career, home, weight, social life, family configuration, all shaped up against those of the people you met when you were on the cusp of adulthood, at 18.
It was probably this pressure that made me swallow frozen vodka shots quickly, as I wanted the immediate focus of the evening to vanish. As long as I could see Pete across the other side of the bar, I felt safe. When I looked at him, I felt reassured by the choices I’d made.
We both drank extremely hard that night, peeling out of the bar with the last stragglers, stopping in the street to laugh at something ridiculous — before something in the drink made us turn on one another and we started fighting.
I don’t know why we argued. I was so drunk I could barely focus, I walked away from Pete and he turned his back on me.
Afterwards, I tried to sift through the muddy water of memory to recall where I thought I was going.
I know I walked into a tall townhouse where the people and lights of a party in full swing lit up the windows. I have an alarming, inky memory of then getting into a car with two women and a man who were all chain-smoking.
I knew I needed to find Pete, and they said they’d help.
When we didn’t find him, they dropped me, cheerily, back at the bus stop, before driving off, tooting their horn.
I had to persuade the bus driver to let me on as I’d lost my phone, my purse and my ticket, then I slumped in a seat as the bus sped down the motorway to Oxford.
I awoke as it pulled in to my stop, and as I stood up, Pete got up from another seat behind me. He’d caught the same bus, from an earlier stop, but we’d both been too drunk to realise.
We clung to each other in the lamplight, as if we’d been reunited after several years of separating war. I recall feeling immensely relieved and deeply happy as sobriety tightened around us and we briefly acknowledged how bizarre our behaviour had been.
We were parents, and we were supposed to be accountable. Responsible, even. We should not have behaved like that because parents are not supposed to be like huge toddlers, even though crashing around and making a mess is exactly what I often want to do as a parent, rather than tidy up all the time.
We crawled into bed together, shivering and giggling, and an hour later Evangeline started crying from her cot.
As a mum I have to pretend to be the person I am not: patient, gentle… only when I have sex can I forget all that
Because we are parents, we gathered up all the control we’d shrugged off the night before and later sat in the park rocking Evangeline’s buggy as Jimmy and Dolly ran around us.
Sometimes I think a lot of parenthood is like that morning, trying to create an impression that you know what you are doing and are in control.
There is no point denying that urge to step outside the demands of my domestic life, to become untethered.
When Pete comes home on a Friday night, I am desperate to bury myself in him and I hate that often all I have to offer him is a tangle of frayed edges with none of me left.
I miss the people we were together, before we became carers. Often, sex is the place we find one another again. Sex is also the opposite of motherhood.
As a mother I have to pretend to be the person I really am not: patient, hygienic, gentle, interested in other people’s children, good at craft, moderate, rarely anxious, never depressed.
When I have sex, I can forget all that control and be something different, unembarrassed and lustful, like an animal. It’s easier than anything else that I know how to do.
The truth is, no matter how much you think it won’t, having a baby makes your relationship unequal.
Someone has to go out to make a living when there is a newborn in the house, but also someone has to fill the fridge. Someone has to pick up the clothes dropped on the bathroom floor and put them in the washing machine. Sit with the baby and read cardboard books before he has his third nap of the day. Mash the banana and rinse the bottles and turn up every afternoon at the school gate at 3pm prompt.
Yes, of course, there are men who do this, who are the primary carers in their families. There is the father who is a hugely visible presence at Evangeline’s ballet class every week. He runs up and down after his toddler daughter, speaking loudly to her about why she’s a funny little monkey.
But he is surrounded by women. They are the rule, not the exception. In my small provincial town in the south of England, the majority of parenting, Monday to Friday, from school drop-off to teatime, is still predominantly women’s work.
And so my life as a mother has always been a huge paradox. Each time I’ve had a baby, as soon as they could sit up and crawl or feed themselves using a plastic cup or a spoon — as soon as they could spend a day without me — I felt a need to go back to the start and create it all again.
Practical details have never mattered, like whether we could actually afford another baby, or whether our house was big enough. Somehow the costs get assimilated; the children share rooms.
Those concerns seem prosaic compared to the need to take myself back again, to the beginning of life, back to the baby. Back to the centre, the golden core. It’s like an addict’s hunger.
What should I have said to the woman who asked me why on earth I’d do it to myself? Why have four, or certainly five?
Perhaps I should have described to her the feeling of their hands squeezing mine as we walk through the long grass, or their slippery wet bodies as they jump from the edge of the bath into my arms, or the pudginess of their sticky cheeks as I kiss them, or the distant, frightening beauty of their faces when I watch them while they are sleeping.
And yes, my marriage has and will survive it. I could not bear the separation from Pete that our life as parents demands if I didn’t know that who we are together will always be there, later, when they are all grown up.
Marriage is long, but also precious. I do not want to be rough with it. Loving one person, commitment, isn’t boring. It’s bigger and better than falling in love. Just like this huge, messy family, it is earth-shattering, each day.