The Mother Of All Jobs

Motherhood can be a thankless role, writes Kate Wattus, so it’s lucky that priceless moments come along every so often.

Do you remember what it was like before Annouk was born?” I asked my six year old recently.

“Yeah. I could read in bed with my lamp on without waking her up, and I could play on the PlayStation with the sound turned up without distracting her while she breastfed, and I had a room to myself,” she replied without missing a beat.

Oh.

“But what about all the good stuff that’s happened?” I asked, my voice filled with hope.

“Well, I’m never bored now, and it’s nice when she talks to me,” she said. “And it’s someone else I get to love.”

I touched the goosebumps that had electrified my arms and said, “I love you, Britt”.

“Love you,” she said with a dismissive sniff. “What’s for dinner?”

Those goose-bump moments are the best. They enliven the soul and inspire the heart, and I hope that my girls get to experience such moments for themselves.

I hope they get to experience the other moments too. The ones I’d describe as if-I-have-to-spend-one-more-minute-in-your-presence-I’m-going-to-wring-your-neck-or-lose-my-mind moments. In a recent heated discussion concerning the pros and cons of wearing high-heeled shoes to primary school, Britta turned her tear-streaked face towards mine and wailed, “I’m getting angrier and angrier by the second. You don’t know what it’s like to cry this much because of your mother!”

That stopped me in my tracks. I was speechless. It was all I could do to stop myself from breaking into idiotic guffaws. Of course, I knew what it was like to cry because of your mother. But now I was the daggy mother who was causing the tears.

Let me just repeat that. Mum still packed my lunch in Year 12.

I was grateful to Britta. Not grateful enough to give in to the high-heeled school shoes, but grateful nonetheless. She had forced me into a moment of self-reflection far deeper than my own mother ever had when giving me the when-you’re-a-mother-you’ll-understand-what-it’s-like talk.

That’s not to say that now that I’m a mum I agree with all the rules that I had to live by as a child. But I do also recall that I never lifted a teenaged finger to pitch in with the household chores. For example, Mum still packed my lunch in Year 12. Let me just repeat that. Mum still packed my lunch in Year 12. Yes, I could drive a car, get drunk, have sex and vote, but Mum still packed my lunch. Appalling, embarrassing, but true.

I also had my groceries bought, my clothes washed and ironed, my meals prepared and my bedroom cleaned. So I suppose I have no right to get furious with Britta when she constantly leaves her snotty tissues on the bedroom floor for me to pick up, or blames me for forgetting to pack her show-and-tell items into her backpack. But I do. Just as Britta will get furious with her own children for taking her devotion for granted, and her grandchildren will get fed up with theirs, and so on.

Don’t you agree that on the day the Bard penned the line, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is, to have a thankless child”, he just may have picked up one too many of Junior’s snotty tissues that morning?

Motherhood’s a tough gig.

Never once did I hear my own mother mutter with Learian malice, “Create her child of spleen, that it may live and be a thwart disnatur’d torment to her”. Maybe that’s because she knew I’d get it all back one day. Come to think of it, that may explain the way she’d rub her hands together in gleeful anticipation whenever I talked about giving her grandchildren. She wasn’t thinking about the joy I’d experience as my own little ones flourished, but rather the payback.

Motherhood’s a tough gig. Recently a friend emailed me this job description for the position of mother: “Permanent work in a chaotic environment. Twenty-four-hour shifts. Must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule, be willing to be indispensable one minute and an embarrassment the next. Must be willing to be hated. No opportunity for promotion as you will stay in the same position for 18 years without complaining. On-the-job training. No salary or wage; in fact, you pay your charges. And when you die, they take whatever money is left over.”

Yep, motherhood’s a tough gig.

These days my own mum not only seems to like me, she actively seeks out my company from time to time. There must have been enough goose-bump moments during my childhood to keep her interested. Maybe nature plays a part in the keeping-parents-interested phenomenon. Perhaps our offspring are born knowing how to provide us with enough goose-bump moments to ensure their own survival.

I think I’m going to postpone my resignation for a week or so.

Just the other day Britta must have sensed that I was almost ready to hand in my resignation. We’d been late for gymnastics on a hot afternoon in heavy traffic, with a whingeing, tired, hungry baby along for the ride. By the time we’d done the bath/dinner/getting-ready-for-bed shift, I’d reached the end of my stamina. Attempting to draw out the final moments before bedtime as much as possible, Britta asked if she could go and get a picture she’d drawn for me earlier.

“Honey, it’s really late. It’s time for bed,” I said, keeping my voice as even-toned as possible.

“But Mum, can’t I just…” she protested.

“Five, four, three…” I threatened.

“Oh, but I just want to get it for you,” she persisted.

“I’ll go straight out and look at it if you get into bed right now,” I reasoned, before tucking her in and saying a final goodnight.

Little did I know that a major goose-bump moment was just around the corner. Among the rubble, she’d left strewn across the table lay a small poster decorated with texta stars and squiggles, and two words: “Mum rocks”.

I think I’m going to postpone my resignation for a week or so.

This was first published in CHILD magazines. Illustration by Thomas Nicholson

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