I talked earlier about how I went from enduring to embracing my kids. It strikes me that this sounds somewhat ungracious, particularly in this season of gratitude, following the week of Thanksgiving for many of you.
And yes, it probably is.
Speaking only from my own experiences of parenthood, it’s very easy to fall into a trap of being ungrateful around the kids, these little human beings that need constant care. Many times, they can be a total joy (“Mama, I love you for ‘eva and ‘eva and ‘eva’”); but at others, I won’t lie, they can be an utter pain (“I am NOT your best ‘bend any more for ‘eva and ‘eva and EVA!!!!”, cue a stamping foot and slamming door). On any given day you have no idea which of those versions you’re going to get. The resulting unpredictability can be draining and exhausting.
And, possibly because of all that, it’s easy to be ungracious. To see only the sacrifices and compromises but none of the benefits. To be short with them, to snap.
To implicitly expect some kind of small, daily thank you just for being their Mum.
I do this often – particularly when I’m stressed or tired or worrying about the work I’ve not done or the place I need to be next. At times, if I’m honest, ungracious is probably my default mode with them.
But then sometimes, as they have taught me so well to do, I pause. I reflect.
And I realise what has been obvious all along, that it is, of course, me who owes them the thank you.
For sure, things have changed. I no longer have the same career, nor do I wear fancy suits. My collection of high heeled shoes and designer bags lie forlornly in a cupboard. My hips aren’t where I left them and my hair sometimes falls out in clumps. I’m usually hankering for a bit more sleep, and always short on time. I tend to squeeze a week of work into three days, and I’m always in a rush.
I’m tethered to two tiny people with a life I didn’t know existed. They amuse me and exhaust me and drive me round the bend. They’ve jettisoned the peace and order and in their place left chaos, noise, and mess. They terrorise and frustrate me and tell me things about myself that I don’t always want to hear (“Mum, you’re sometimes quite scary”). They can drive me f**king crazy.
They build me up and knock me down and build me up again.
Through them I’m acquiring resilience, strength and stamina and many other worthy skills I thought I’d never have. Patience. Abstinence. Moderation.
They show me kindness and forgiveness (“when I was three I realised that I got a grumpy mum, but I decided it’s okay, I am going to love her anyway”), and have faith that one day I might improve (“don’t worry Mum, you can always do better tomorrow than you did today”).
They’ve stuck with me the countless times that I have been the brat. They’ve shown me hope and perseverance, even when they must silently despair (“Mum”, says Mary, standing in my bedroom surveying clothes scattered across the floor; “how many times do I need to show you. This is how you fold your clothes.”).
There are things they’ve gifted me that no amount of riches could ever buy.
A tsunami of imperfect love from which I’m powerless to swim. Showing me how to do love, but this time, properly.
New eyes through which to view the world, and a duty to decry the unfairness I see (“but Mum, why isn’t there a girls’ football team at school? I don’t understand”).
An urgency to change things and a reason to be.
I watch them go about their business, two busy little bees, making snowflakes out of tracing paper and airplanes out of cushions. Though they do not know it yet they’ve shown me how to slow down, to pause, to really see.
Over time the joy of simple pleasures has unfurled itself to me.
I read their little notes and share in their small frustrations (“but mum, why, why do I have to wear tights?”). I learn from their examples and I find that for them I want to be the person that I couldn’t, on my own, see the way to be.
Like little plants I watch them grow; and beside them, I grow taller.
They freed me from a gilded cage and gave me wings to fly.
I’ve gone from smog and dirt and city noise to peace and space and air.
From a life spent chained behind a desk to creativity and, perhaps, a little flair.
So, to my daughters; thank you.
Molly Kingsley is a writer and photographer, who also happens to be a parent to Mary (6) and Phoebe (3). You can follow her @the_lens_i_see_through.