The long road of mothering
Mandy Nolan remembers the days of a chaotic life with five kids and a mini-van. Now, her nest is almost empty and she's realising that the long road of mothering has no end point. And in fact, it actually gets harder.
The long road of mothering.
I remember packing my five kids in my Mum-van and wondering if I would ever get my life back.
The endless shopping, wiping, driving, dropping off, picking up, encouraging, hassling and general micro-managing sometimes made me feel like my head was going to blow up. Some days I felt less like a mum and more like a PA. I knew the answers to all the hard questions, like: “Mum! Where are my socks?”, “Who ate the last biscuit!” (me) and “Can I borrow your charger—I left mine at school”. A simple ‘yes’ meant you would never see your charger again. I loved my kids. I loved my family life but I was always on. I wondered what life would be like when they finished school and left home.
What would life look when my Mum job was done?
I imagined all this space in my head opening up, like cerebral pop-up shops—able to take on new projects, time for hobbies, time for long boozy lunches with my girlfriends.
News alert: it’s never done. When you’re a mum you don’t knock off till you drop off. Sure it’s not the intensive on-the-spot sock location—but even in their absence you continue to parent. You hold space.
It’s hard when they leave home. It’s impossible to describe the maternal longing I have for them. Still. I look at babies in prams and remember the intoxicating milky sweet fragrance of their skin.
We were a big busy family of seven.
The house was noisy. There was laughing, fighting, tears. There were amazing dinners that went for over an hour most nights because the kids just loved to talk. I miss our table time the most. Now it’s just John and me and Ivy. My nineteen-year-old son left home earlier this year. His three older sisters had left in the years before. My six-bedroom house feels so big and empty without their filth. Finally their rooms are perfect—beds are made like a window display, cushions arranged like I’m auditioning for a job at Pillowtalk. I hate it. I want to mess it up.
I miss the chaos of their lives. The chaos of my life. Ivy, who is eleven, was born to a big family. Now she’s an ‘only’ child. It’s hard on her—she has cried numerous times about how boring it is living with two old people. I have cried too because I totally agree.
So even though they’re not here, they’re still living in me—they’re mine. Now I must do some of the toughest mothering I’ve ever done. I have had to learn to let them make their own mistakes. Be there when they need help, but not tell them what to do. I have to trust in their ability to manage their lives and create a story completely separate from me. Wow that’s amazing AND painful. I watch them fall into their lives of work and study and partners and friends and see them start to create their own rich lives. Where I was once the entire quilt, now I am a patch somewhere in the corner. I am an integral part of the life they are making but I am not their everything anymore.
They, however, are still my everything.
Loving and guiding my kids from afar is the part of parenting I was never prepared for. This is when you can really fuck it up if you don’t keep your trap shut. This is the time when if things go bad, they come home. When they need to borrow money. When they don’t call sometimes for over a week. When they go out and drink and take drugs and party but don’t have a mummy to check they’re still breathing.
I have worked hard to have a strong friendship as part of my relationship with my kids. I don’t hide who I am from them. I have been honest. They make fun of me, a lot, but I like to think it’s because they respect me. I actually love how they roast me. It means they know me. Being known by your kids is more delicious than cheesecake. They talk about me to their friends. I know because when I go to visit them and meet new friends I can feel the young person awe from the good PR my kids have done. That’s better than a love heart emoji on Facebook.
The other day I wrote a story about the therapeutic use of psilocybin—one of my daughters texts me and says, “Read your blog Mum, felt like an omen, I’m off to the park with friends to do mushrooms.” Shit! I didn’t mean to go take mushrooms. I want to give advice. I want her to go to her room and read a book. To tell the truth, I think I want to be in the park taking mushrooms with them. Creepy old tripping mum.
I overstep the mark a lot.
During lockdown I sent my kids care packages that included a vibrator for my eldest daughter. I mean, she’s single. She’s wasn’t going out. She was like, “Ergh Mum—I can’t use that—I’ll think of you. It’s weird.” Oh. Of course. Well, on the upside, there’s a brand new vibrator with my name on it for when I hit Melbourne next.
My kids arrived at adulthood, safe and well loved. It’s like having a seedling that you’ve nurtured in a greenhouse that needs to be planted outside and exposed to the elements so it can grow into a mighty tree. I look forward to the day when the trees of my children are grown wild and strong, and I can climb their branches to look out and see the world they have made.
That is the long road of mothering.