Even if you don’t have a child, you know it takes up your time, your thoughts and your heart. You might not fully realise the ways in which it does so, until you have one. Having a child changes things in the ways that you would expect, but also in many ways you couldn’t possibly anticipate; in big frightening ways and in delightful small ways. This is what being a mother is to me.
Being a mother is caring. It’s more than caring for your child, for their physical needs and their emotional happiness. It’s caring about what happens outside your door. It’s caring where the items go that are ‘not widely recycled’. It’s caring about politics and the economy even if you don’t understand any of it. It’s caring, really caring, about climate change; resources; the bees. It is caring more than you could have ever thought possible about what might happen in twenty, thirty, fifty years time. It is caring about a world of which you will never be part. It is caring about other people’s children; the children in your little world and the children in the wide world. It is caring about other mothers, an unspoken knowing of the unfathomable depths of their fears, their sorrows, their needs.
It is about love. A different kind of love. This love is supposed to be instinctive, well, it is and it isn’t. It develops, it grows, it shakes and it smashes. It spirals around your heart in a double helix; it becomes your heart’s DNA. It is boundless, formless, entirely without condition. There is no pain in this love, only fear in the loss of it. It is always staying afloat in its raging ocean, when you should be drowning. It is always being able to see through its impenetrable mist, to understand amidst its great mystery. It is not something you are feeling, or doing, or even being. It is something you are, something you were always meant to be and have now become, and which has become you.
Yes, it is about fear. Cold, cruel fear that could rule your entire world. Fear that can take you just as far as you let it. Fear for the known, fear for the unknown. Fear for the someone or something could take her away. To know that you alone are her protection against the many forms of poison inflicted by mass society, toxins to body, mind and freedom. To fear taking on the world and its perceived view of you, but knowing that you must stand, alone if necessary, to shield this blessing in your arms from harm, even if they call this harm safety. And it is about anger. At corruption and greed, at ignorance. It is about fearing judgement. It is unforgiving self reproach, uncompromising belief and fiery pride. It is a savage defensiveness against the thoughts and words of others, where they are perceived as threatening or condemning. Like a lioness, always alert, always ready, always poised to spring.
It’s about wonder. Wonder that you have created this little being with a mind and a heart all her own. Wonder that the little demon for whom you cared in those early days that screamed and screamed and seemed hellbent on destroying you is now lost in her own concentration digging in the sand, or in her thoughts staring from the car window. Utter amazement at the way she learns, copies you, interprets you. It is to be engaged in her wonder, in the surprising places that she takes the most joy, sometimes guided by you, and sometimes born entirely of her own magic. The way that she only glances with indifference at the beautiful peacock to her left, magnificently displaying his beautiful feathers, to thoroughly delight instead in the little pigeon to her right, pecking at crumbs on the ground. In the way she see everybody as equal. In the way she throws the same beaming smile, holds out the same little hand of friendship, to everybody, even those with whom interaction might, for many, be avoided. She does not discriminate in any way, where we only try not to. It is to marvel at her innocence, purity and sensitivity, and to faithfully promise to protect it from society’s debris.
This is what being a mother means to me. It is always having to rise to the challenge even when you are on your knees. It is remembering what is like to be the caterpillar, taking its time, ambling through the days, slow, slow; motion without direction. It is about remembering that casual tranquillity, and letting go. It is about spreading new wings, losing old ways but enjoying new freedoms, new depths, new heights of amazement. It is facing new, never ending challenges, embracing new mysteries.
It is becoming the butterfly.