"Mummy, where are you?" my five-year-old whines. I lay low, silently guarding my sanity within the confines of the toilet, a secret place in which they never think to look for me. I am not sure why? Perhaps they can't imagine that mothers ever use the toilet. A bit like the queen never farting, I suspect.
I hold my breath as my toddler passes by. I can see the shadow of his footsteps under the toilet door. Just a few more minutes of solitude. That's not a lot to ask, is it? "Muuummmyyyy..." the voice is insistent now and growing louder.
'How did it come to this?' I am thinking to myself in the sanctity of this tiny room. How come I don't adore every moment with my children like other mothers do? Am I not a good enough mother? Come to think of it, I didn't even recognise my daughter in the nursery when she was born. I looked at all the cribs and each baby looked alike; only the blue or pink swaddling indicated that they were a boy or a girl. Yep, from the very beginning, I was just not good enough. Clearly worried that I had no maternal instinct at all, the nurse had assured me it was common and that bonding isn't an instant thing, but rather, it forms over time. I'm still not sure she wasn't trying to make me feel better out of pity.
Oh, and I could never breastfeed either. Another sign of failure in the motherhood stakes. And mothers' groups bored me to tears. These perfect mothers with perfect figures gloated about their perfect babies and how their offspring would sleep through the night. Mine each kept me up throughout the night for many, many months. And my figure? Let’s not even go there. Suffice it to say that I blamed my husband for looking like the bag lady. Then, these women would gloat about how their toddler prodigies could walk and talk before mine. It was a bore and it was not long before I boycotted the sessions, knowing we would never be ‘good enough’. I buried my head in the escapism of books instead to keep me sane. I so longed for my old job back at the newspaper, just to have intelligent conversations again.
Remembering the parties we went to on the odd occasion that I was ‘let out’, people would invariably ask me what I did. Once it was revealed that I was a stay-at-home mum they would yawn and try to move on to someone more interesting, which turned out to be anyone else in the room, I gathered. Apparently, childbirth meant that I had lost the art of conversation altogether. Apparently, my only topic of conversation was babies, nappies and milk stains. Apparently, I had no opinion to offer on anything worthwhile.
Does childbirth damage your brain cells, I wonder?
Then there was the issue of transportation. You needed a pram and all of the accoutrements that are obligatory when you take a baby out into the world. Loading up the car with everything one needs for this tiny little blimp of a baby was a major operation, I came to learn all too quickly. It got so tiresome that in the end, it was just easier to stay at home.
Isolated. Depressed. I remember sitting here in this very toilet shortly after bringing my baby girl home, and sobbing my heart out, thinking that my life was over. I knew it would never be the same. I was the mummy. I had become the slave to the whims of this tiny creature and there was no turning back. Ever.
After we had settled into a routine with my daughter, my husband used to come home and ask me what I had done all day. I spat my venomous response at him, by giving him a blow-by-blow description of my boring day and made him sorry that he even dared to ask me such a question. I reminded him of the story I had heard somewhere, where the husband had continuously asked that question. Then, one day he had come home to an open doorway, a litany of toys strewn all over the stairs that he was tripping over, and when he called for his wife she was nowhere to be seen. There were dirty dishes in the sink, the lounge room looked as if it had been ransacked by burglars and there was dirty washing in piles on the hallway floor. Ripped paper was strewn over the carpet and questionable stains splattered the walls. He feared for the safety of his wife and family, and as he slowly climbed the stairs to their bedroom, still calling out as he went there was his wife in bed reading a book.
He asked her “Are you alright, darling? What happened here?” She replied, “You know how you ask me every day what I did all day?”
“Yes,” he replied tentatively.
“Well, today…I didn’t!”
My husband did not find the joke as amusing as I did. In fact, I'm surprised he even stayed with me, to be honest. I had become a mean monster of a mummy and now, here I sit, a "mummy-in-hiding".
As the years rolled on, I found myself giving birth again. A boy this time. Weren't you supposed to have a boy, then a girl? I even got that wrong. If my father had had a say in it he would have expressed his deepest disappointment. He’d been good at that. I was an eternal disappointment to him for being the wrong gender. I was never good enough as a daughter, and certainly not as a mother, wife and homemaker.
But despite everything, the second child was less of a shock, I had to admit, simply because I knew what I was in for. Nothing prepares you for the first child, but the firstborn definitely prepares you for the second.
As time marched on, they did grow on me as it turned out, both of them with their little idiosyncrasies. My little girl is a sweetie, and sharp too. At five, she has long flowing blonde hair and I love to dress her in pinks, and frilly, frothy dresses. (Obviously, I am also a failed feminist. Somehow, the women's movement passed me by.) But my daughter is the apple of her daddy's eye and she can do no wrong in his eyes. She can manipulate him with ease, even at the age of five. My little boy has a mass of curls that free flow, diving into his mischievous eyes, with long thick lashes that any female would kill to have. Big brown eyes. I call him my ‘Little Beethoven’, with his hair so free and untethered, while he laughs and laughs at the tiniest things and never stops running. His sense of humour is overwhelmingly joyous and he can make us all laugh at the drop of a hat.
But I digress. Back in the toilet, I contemplate my choices. My girl is starting to sound panicked and the toddler is making chortling and banging noises that indicate he's up to no good. I sigh deeply and brace myself. I stand up and open the door quietly, so as never to give away my hiding place for future moments of need. I creep up to the front door and loudly open and slam it shut. Quickly.
My little Shannon runs into my arms and gives me the biggest bear hug, whispering into my ear, "Mummy I missed you so much. I thought you were never coming back. I love you so much." I scooped her up and hugged her back.
"You know I would never ever leave you, honey. You are the light of my life. Let's find Trent. Ok?" She has her little arms around my neck, squeezing a tad too tightly but nods vigorously in agreement.
We find Trent in the kitchen. He's emptied all the pots and pans onto the kitchen floor and has found his way into the cookie jar full of jam and chocolate cookies. He has mushy cookies crushed all around him and his mouth is stuffed with them. Crumbs and smeared jam and chocolate are in his hair, his ears, across his face and the newly polished floor. He also smells suspiciously like he needs some ablution attention. He looks up and sees us and he starts to giggle, slowly at first and then with great big guffaws, as if this is the funniest scene in a movie, which features him.
I look from one child to the other. The smile breaks open on my face. No, we are not the perfect family and I am certainly not going to win the ‘mother of the year’ award anytime soon.
But smiling, I am thinking, “Yes. we are all good enough.”