Monthly Archives: July 2010

may contain coarse language and adult themes

It is a truth universally acknowledged (by parents) that all of the best conversations with your kids happen in the family car. Perhaps it’s the perception that the car is neutral ground. Or maybe it’s because there’s a captive audience.

What I have discovered is that driving with kids acts as a sort of truth serum. It is here that they are comfortable sharing secrets and troubles of the heart. If I feel that one of my kids has been a bit neglected, or that they are carrying a heavier metaphorical weight than usual I will often suggest a quick spin in the car in order to excavate the problem or simply to reconnect.

The car also seems to be where my kids indulge in a little test driving of the newest swear word or adult concept – usually couched as a junior-style investigation. “Mum, what is a d*#@head?” or; “Mum, what does ‘sexy’ mean?” or (a friend of mine’s pet peeve, prompted by radio advertising) “Mum, what is premature ejaculation?”

A little while ago the kids and I were driving home from a shopping trip. I was, as usual, engrossed in my mental to-do list and not really tuning in to their conversation. That is until the volume level rose ever so slightly.

Levi: “NO! I just want them to be partners.”

Indiana’s response was quieter, so I had to strain a little to hear:  “But can’t they just be les-beens?”

Levi: “NO!”

The kids were playing with Levi’s cuddly puppy toys and there seemed to be some disagreement about how the puppies’ relationship should be defined. I thought that now was the time to steer the discussion a little.

“What’s up kids?” I asked, hoping I sounded non-committal.

“I want the puppies to be les-beens…” started Indiana.

“I just want them to be partners,” whined Levi.

“Mum, what are les-beens anyway?”

I’m sure we have had this discussion before, but I humoured them. “Well, it’s when a girl chooses a girlfriend rather than a boyfriend.” Age-appropriate and easy to digest, I thought.

“What about if they’re boys, are they still called les-beens?” Indy responded, quick as a flash. Somehow I think she may have already had the schoolyard answers to these questions and was just testing to see if my responses married up.

Now I was in slightly deeper waters – what was the correct age-appropriate term for homosexual men? ‘Homosexual’ seemed too medical-textbook and everything else felt derogatory. Flying on a wing and a prayer, I went with my instinct. “Well, two men who love each other are often called ‘gay’,” I said.

The gaping silence from the backseat needed to be filled and, with visions of the aforementioned schoolyard, I said, “But you might have heard people say ‘gay’ in a mean way.”

A little murmur of assent came from behind so I soldiered on. “But it shouldn’t be said in a mean way and I hope you would never do that.” A solemn shake of the head from Indy signalled the end of today’s investigation. When the game continued, I think it was decided that the puppies would be known as ‘partners’. Fair enough.

Later that day, I rang Mum to tell her about my latest adventure as a mother. She treated me to a sample of her own very special brand of laissez faire parenting. “I would have just told you to work it out for yourselves,” she said.

*sigh* It really is a wonder I know anything at all. 😉

But her approach seems to have worked. I hope mine does too.

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what is motherlove

This week over on HappyChild (a fab new Aussie parenting website featuring the work of many of my wonderful writing friends) Carol Duncan wrote a post titled: Motherhood and Guilt – Are They Inseparable?

I love the way Carol thinks about parenting – and indeed life. She doesn’t spin a ‘perfect world’ tale. She digs deep and with a sense of wonder, awe and philosophical enquiry into the authentic experiences we all face. She’s my kinda gal.

Of course Carol’s abiding love for her children sings loud and clear when she writes about them. Just as her enormous heart shows itself when she delves into other issues. Such as this one.

And so – inspired to get back on the blogging horse (yes I’ve been slack. Blame Twitter ;)) I have used Carol’s Mother Guilt post for this post. Because I’m sure these are the two overarching constants of being a parent: Love and Guilt – usually all rolled into one.

And so…

What is (Mother) Love, Anyway?

It has finally dawned on me that I love my kids. I say ‘dawned on me’ but perhaps what I really mean is that I have accepted that this feeling I have for them is really and truly, unequivocally and without a doubt, love. And it has only taken about nine years for me to come to this conclusion.

I’m not sure if my confusion over my feelings for my kids is because of my misconceptions about motherhood or my delusions about love, but ever since I first became pregnant I have heard a whisper from the teeniest of voices asking me if the feelings I had ticked all the right boxes.

It’s not that I didn’t bond with my kids when they were born. Having read heart-breaking accounts of loving women who looked at their newborns and felt nothing but an emotional void, I know that this is not what happened to me.

But I have often wondered if my euphoria at the birth of both of my kids was largely a result of the powerful hormones which surged through me as they were born. How else do I explain the abrupt shift from my zombified, pethidine-induced stupor during my 21 hour labour with Levi, to a state of divine, lucid clarity the minute this smiling boy was born (yes it’s true, my son was literally born with a smile on his face)?

And when I brought my babies home I, like many new parents, spent a ridiculous amount of time gazing in awe, wonder and amazement at the perfect sleeping human beings who had somehow emerged whole from my person. But were these feelings love?

Sure, I felt protective of my babies. The sense of responsibility was enormous and I was the proud new owner a sinister new level of fear about the infinite dangers which surround a child. But was this love?

I do know that I loved being a mother. During my stay-at-home years I walked on air. I treasured having my two little ones with me all the time. I loved the gentle pace of our days and I alternately revelled in and raged against the challenges parenthood presented. I thrilled to the total experience.

Did this mean that I loved my kids? I don’t know. Perhaps I was merely in love with myself in my incarnation as ‘mother’ and, if so, maybe that exalted feeling extended to my kids because they were the beings who inspired it?

Of course I had heard all the usual descriptions of motherlove, sometimes breathlessly recounted by Hollywood celebrities in the trashy magazines I skimmed as I waited at the supermarket checkout. They came thick and fast:

“I finally realise what’s really important”

“My baby has changed my life.”

“I can’t believe the overwhelming love I feel for this little person.”

“Everything falls into perspective.”

Reading these oft-repeated and therefore increasingly banal (as heartfelt and true as they may have been) musings I found that they did not speak to me. Was that how I felt? Intrinsically motherhood had not changed me. My yearnings and neuroses and big questions about life didn’t change – except now I was a mother with yearnings and neuroses and big questions about life.

I knew that my children were my first priority and that my role was to teach, guide and walk with them through life, but then I knew all that before I had kids. Aren’t these things a given?

And so I had to look at my definition of love. I am ashamed to admit that, even at the ripe old age of 31 when I became a mum for the first time, my idea of love was still influenced by Hollywood love of the boy/girl variety. I think I was waiting for the ‘can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t-stop-thinking-about-you’ juggernaut which had previously defined romantic love for me, to slap me in the face when I had my kids. So when it didn’t, as much as I was loving motherhood and telling my kids at length that I loved them, I still harboured  some sneaky suspicions that this wasn’t the motherlove I had heard about.

I guess what I had forgotten was the other kinds of love I had felt in my life – the abiding love I have for my mum and siblings; the I-love-the-person-I am-when-I’m-with-you love I feel for my best friend; the deeply satisfying and indulgent love I feel for literature and film; the hard-won love I feel for myself. I had forgotten that all of these feelings were, in fact, love. I also hadn’t realised that I felt all of these things for my kids.

So how did my motherlove epiphany come about? Well it is something I had glimpsed before – when I have ducked out to the shops alone and heard a baby cry, when I catch sight of my kids’ photo while I’m at work.

But, it was on my 40th birthday last year when my sister whisked my kids away as a birthday treat so that I could spend Sunday on the beach devouring the weekend’s newspapers from cover to cover that everything fell into place.

As I sat on the sand I was shocked to discover that I felt oddly bereft. Something was missing.

At that exact moment I realised that I really, truly, unequivocally and without a doubt love my kids. It’s an abiding, for-keeps, grateful, thrilling, satisfying, hard-won love but, most of all, it’s a you-complete-me love – Hollywood notwithstanding.

What does your love for your kids feel like?

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