I was thinking about that saying ‘Motherhood And Apple Pie’ yesterday as I gingerly reached up to pluck some apples from our lovely apple tree in the garden.
This tree has pride of place and is the focal point of my far-away gazing into the garden whilst I sit in the kitchen and sup coffee. It is my organic symbol of day-dreaming and my inspiration for all the lists upon lists of Good Intentions which I plot as I satiate my need for caffeine. Lose weight, exercise more, spend more quality time with the kids and His Royal Husbandness, be a better, more caring friend, excel in the workplace, write that new song that’s been lurking in my mind for weeks, start up another new business and begin the expansion of my entrepreneurial empire, stop throwing out perfectly good leftovers, de-fluff the tumble dryer, listen to Radio 4 from time-to-time, clean the floors more often.. and so on.. you can see where my mind goes with this.
This year, after sustaining a brutal and unprovoked lopping attack by His Royal Husbandness the year before, the tree has managed to overcome it’s injuries and produce an impressive harvest of yummy, crunchy, rosy red and green fruits. I had an idea…
So in my mind, with my flip-flops on, my gingham apron, beehive and bodily whiff of vanilla and home-made bread; in the hazy sunshine of a crisp Autumn morning I reached gaily for the first of many perfect apples for the Pie to End All Pies. This pie would be a nasal and tastebud explosion, a demonstration of my nurturing adoration for my family….. YUK! A whopping great spider lunged up my sleeve and the apple got flung unceremoniously half way across the garden. ‘Pop’ went the fantasy to reveal the reality of me in my scruffy denims, even scruffier trainers (because they’re more practical for the school run), with my not-yet-seen-a-hairbrushed hair and my bodily whiff of Baby’s most recent deposit – screeched in a most un-motherly way as I moaned to His Royal Husbandness… ‘There’s chuffing spiders on them! Why are there spiders? What’s a spider doing up a tree? MY tree??’ Of course his deadpan reply came with the harsh news; ‘They like flies, flies like apples’.
I promptly stomped into the house, past the pile of laundry and over the slightly sticky floor and found my son’s toy litter-picker (yes, we have bought him some strange items) and used this to cautiously (and with a look of ready disgust) extract a dozen apples from this tree. As I did so, I suddenly realised; I’m more of a crumble kind of gal anyway. A pie would be too neat, too perfect.
This got me thinking about Motherhood in general. How I feel that I fail spectacularly at ‘it’ every day. What is ‘it’? Well, it’s that fuzzy ideal of nurturing perfection. Where your children are perfectly turned out, emotionally balanced at all times and sitting playing beautifully in a pristine house. Yup, I fail at THAT daily. And whilst I washed those apples I pondered how it’s ok to fail at THAT kind of motherhood. In fact, it’s a good thing. A very good thing.
Who are our role models? Obviously we start with our own mothers. Mine did a good job (I think) and we wanted for nothing. Except maybe just one more cuddle, one more ‘I Love You’, one more ‘I am so proud of you’, one more ‘You can do it!’, one more ‘It will be okay’, one more ‘I’ll always be here for you’.
That’s the problem with this ‘nurturing’ stuff; in all the detail and the intensity of trying your hardest to be a good Mum; it’s never going to be enough. Children are like little sponges of need and you alone, Mummy, do not have it all. You’ll never have enough hours in the day to do everything that you think you need to do. You’ll never have enough energy to take them all the places and show them all the exciting things you want them to experience. You’ll never have enough patience to bite your tongue every time they push THAT button.
What we have to do is come to terms with imperfection, with failure and with being ‘good enough’.
Over coffee recently, my friend told me ‘we inevitably screw them up somehow, no matter how hard we try not to – the trick is to minimise the damage’. Harsh harsh harsh reality bit me. I was painfully unhappy trying to contradict this truth and swim upstream. I wanted so badly to get it all right. To be a perfect Mum. Her blase dismissal of my fantasy broke my heart and yet it liberated me utterly.
I grew up thinking to be a good Mum you have to be strong all the time, never cry, never get tired, never say No when you probably could have said Yes and never say Yes when you should probably say No. My Mum amazed me but set a standard of being so steady and solid all the time that I just couldn’t replicate. I can be scatty, disorganised, grumpy, over-emotional and mentally fidgety. But if I continued to try and hide all those colours from my kids, I would die inside. By allowing me to be myself, they will also witness the fierce passion I have for them, for their Daddy, for my work, for my music. Sometimes I will get the balance wrong and need to re-think; but for the most part they’ll grow up with a Mum who is whole, energised, real, vital, in love with all life has to offer.
I came home and decided to start being me. I decided to not hide away when I was emotionally wrung out, but to grab my son and squeeze him so tight and tell him how glad I am he is mine and I am his even when he’s not only pushed my buttons but leaned on them all day. I decided to stop cleaning the kitchen 10 times a day. There’s a weird phenomenon about being tidy; it seems to reach a messy peak around lunchtime and doesn’t get any worse – so my after-dinner/pre-bed tidy up is enough; good enough.
Speaking of kitchens; they are not the heart of the home. Mum is the heart of the home and she has to be kept healthy in every sense of the word – or things stop working properly.
So, thoughts of a picture perfect apple pie pushed aside by my new epiphany, I began work on a Crumble. Messy, lumpy, squishy and floppy – but boy it tastes so good.
If you want to stop being an Apple Pie kind of Mum, and be a Crumble Mum; here are the rules to aim for but feel free to fail at 😉
C – Create and collect as many memories as you can! Photos, video, finger-paintings, anything! Don’t let days go by without having captured some kind of memory of your kids’ growing and developing and you enjoying them at the age they are.
R- Remember every day, every hour, even every minute that seasons change. Things may feel rough right now, but things move on and change eventually. Treasure every single moment for what it is – for time is fleeting past. Treasure the challenges as a chance to grow and become stronger in who you are; your kids are always watching.
U- Understand that you will fall, fail and flail about from time to time. Seeing you pick yourself up, dust yourself up and move on stronger and wiser will teach your kids more than any kind of hiding or ‘protecting’ them from life’s realities. It will give them the confidence to bounce back after a struggle. Don’t give them the impression that nothing hurts you and that you’re infallible.
M- Meet other Mums and compare open and honest notes on your triumphs and challenges. Don’t shy away from asking each other what works or doesn’t work. “How do I tackle this certain behaviour, any ideas for things I can do to bring my child out of their shell, any experiences where you’ve felt like this.” Talking about parenting is not the same as being critical about parenting. Dont be so defensive. And don’t be afraid to say so – when you’ve had a victory!
B- Be real. Be confident. Be yourself and stop trying to copy her down the road, or your best pal, or your own Mum. You are you, your kids are your kids and whilst all wisdom and experience you can find will HELP, it is not the blueprint for raising your individual children. Be real when you’re struggling and let people help – don’t just bend their ear and then walk stiffly off like some martyr going back into battle. Let someone in. Let someone help you. We’re all in it together.
L- Lead by example. Kids mostly grow up not listening to a word you say – but instead they watch you; like beady eyed little sponges they observe how you behave, how you react to things, how you conduct yourself. Don’t use this to pile pressure on yourself to be perfect – but talk about your own dreams and ambitions, show them the things you love, involve them as much as possible: share your own journey with them – don’t lose yourself in being ‘just Mum’ . Show them the whole, real, wonderful you.
E- Expect the tough days. No matter what you do or how hard you try, the tough days come. Some times they pitch up for a while, sometimes they are fleeting. If you expect that life will throw some curveballs, you can get prepared. Planning ahead helps. Simple things like make sure there are extra coats and a couple of bottles of water kept in the car (in case of traffic jams or sudden bad weather), if your child tends to act up when blood sugars are down, keep a snack in your bag for them. It may seem small but a little planning and preparation can diffuse a LOT of stress for those unexpected moments.
And for those curveballs you couldn’t possibly have planned for ?
Take them on and then laugh them off.
Life will never be perfect – so you’d be out of place if you were!