There are days, quite a lot of them, when I don’t feel like the adult in this Momma Bear, Baby Bear scenario. Allegra crept up to me one afternoon and wrapped her dainty arms around my legs and hugged me hard. The little mite, in her tiny years and few short feet, has grown up so much but still so desperately needs her Momma’s hugs. And I hope she always will. In that instant, as her arms squeezed me tight, I thought, dammit I needed that. I needed that hug. And I also thought, dammit I’m the Mum.
Becoming Momma Bear doesn’t necessarily hit you when the baby pops out and your waist line somewhat recovers from those long nine months. It may not even hit you until your second baby appears.
When I look at my kids, it’s sometimes surreal to think that they’re mine. That the adult version of me grew them, birthed them and is raising them. That me and Papa Bear are all they need in this world after food, water, clean clothes, a roof over their heads and a decent education. Priorities!
When I look at her, I see me. I remember the feelings of being five. The feelings of adventure as everything screams new, exciting and interesting. I remember the feeling of fear. Of awkward worry. I remember the exhilaration, happiness and excitement of weekends. And I remember desperately needing a hug from my Mum and getting it because she would always down tools and squeeze me back no matter what she was doing. There was a safety of being close to her, and I’m not too old to admit that there still is. A girl needs her Momma, right?
As I stirred a pot of chilli, Little Miss grabbed hold of me. I paused, spoon in hand, other arm draped across her shoulders and gently squeezed back, leaning down to kiss her wispy hair which I forgot to brush that day.
And it hit me. Quite hard too. So much so, that I didn’t flinch when a piece of scalding hot chilli slid down the spoon and stung my hand.
I may be Mum to two bears a while now but sometimes it just hits you that you’re no longer the kid, the teenager, the girl who just left college. You’re the adult, the grown up, the responsible one. The one who pays the bills, controls when the tv goes on and off, the one who stocks up the fridge and says no to the cookies in the biscuit aisle.
I looked down at Allegra and saw how crazy tiny she was. “I’ve so much mothering to do,” I thought, and the weight of responsibility almost suffocated me in fear. I’m accountable for her. Our relationship will play a big part in how well adjusted she turns out.
This is it. Being Momma Bear. An accolade I will never separate from. A perpetual part of me, as no matter what happens I will always be Mum to these two girls. I better not mess this up.
I see myself in her, and not just in her big brown eyes, but in her independence and desperate want to be older, bigger, faster. She is a five-year-old who is desperate to be six and doesn’t want me hanging around the school yard before the first bell rings. Her individuality looms large as I want to hold her hand that little bit longer before she breaks away and my influence starts to dissipate.
Who I am has merged with her and her little sister as they take a part of me and make it theirs. I like this merge despite it originally being a hostile takeover I retaliated against. There are new rules, new policies and procedures, but I like to think I’m still boss. They can stay a silent partner while I figure out this new structure of life and make sure I get the most out of it.
And yet, I feel so desperately immature to be the adult, the one who must solve the mighty problems of their little world. The one who must show no fear, have all the answers and be ready for anything. I am the one who knows what’s going to happen before it happens. All of which is impossible of course, but isn’t that how kids see us?
That’s how I saw my Mum.
She always had a solution like a Mary Poppins Super Woman on a bubblegum sugar rush! From the endless ideas to get me out of an “I’m bored” slump, to answers flowing from her for the “but why” questions. She was always enthusiastic and busy but always there for us. She gave us her time as well as her love. And made it seem so effortless.
When I look back on the days after school, I see my Mum floating through the house keeping us in order. She never seemed to make a mistake and never looked under pressure. There were fairy cakes cooling on wire racks. Matchboxes were lined up on the kitchen table, with glitter, markers, glue and foil to make Easter or Christmas decorations. Or large smooth rocks were ready to be painted and varnished. It may seem that my Mum was the equivalent of the Perfect Pinterest Parent – which you may see my aversion to in this chapter – but when I talk to her about being a parent, and how I see those days in the 80’s when the TV was rarely on, she laughs. Partly because the TV was on more than I remember and partly because she reminisces about how hard she found those days of juggling three kids in a recession as my Dad worked every hour possible with a two-hour commute.
I know my vision of her is blurred in bright technicolour and I know her days were hard. Damn fricking hard. She could write the book on loneliness, frustration, sad days, happy days, achievements and cock ups. But all I remember is the Mum who bought me popcorn after swimming lessons and walked the twenty-minute stretch with me to get the bus every Saturday morning, in miserable rain might I add. The Mum who was relieved when I asked to quit ballet but proud when she saw me dance on stage, in The Gaiety Theatre no less, when I was seven. I remember the Mum who had movie nights prepared for us after school and let us lick the icing bowl once the buns were sufficiently iced. The Mum who always, without fail, helped me fall back asleep at 3am and tucked me in with a hug and kiss and a safety blanket of happiness.
I wonder, when she had her first baby at 30, as I did, did she feel like the grown up? Did she feel strong enough to hold onto her own emotions as well as those of her kids? Did she ever think, “Damn, I needed that hug. Dammit, I’m Mum.”
I’m slowly becoming accustomed to the new me. I haven’t particularly had much choice because for a while there, Momma Bear was much stronger than the me who walked into the maternity ward before Allegra was born. She took over and the old me, the me I grew up with, the me I loved, was becoming lost as Momma Bear boomed loud and towered over me. Oh yes, Momma Bear is strong, but she needs the old me as much as I do.
In all, I quite like Momma Bear.
She’s fierce and ferocious, protective and more creative than I ever gave myself credit for. The fact that she was a surprise invader after the extra toes and fingers came into our house, made it a little harder to gravitate toward her at the beginning. She was no Mrs Doubtfire, that was for sure. I was fully aware that a new person would come home from the hospital with us, but it wasn’t the pint-sized bundle of blankets who took away consolidated sleep from me. No. This new person was buried under my skin and spoke with my voice.
Getting to know Momma Bear is almost like a cousin you’ve only met twice, who comes to stay for a long weekend except they don’t go home. Love them or loathe them, you must get used to them. It’s a slow and sometimes unbearably tedious transformation as your babies grow. With every change they go through, cousin Edith transforms too and not always in a good way. Going from a twenty something woman with an entire clock full of hours, to an overly tired, undefined Mum who spends more time trying to remember if everyone has sufficiently emptied their bladder than if she ate or not, is confusing. When babies popped out, they clutched at parts of me, ripping them out without putting them back. And I suddenly became Momma Bear whether I realised it or not.
And that was it. The old me was buried somewhere, hidden but not fully lost as I said Hello to this new Mum, getting to know her, getting to know me.