It starts when the alarm goes off – or sooner if you have an early riser in your brood. You haven’t had that first hit of coffee before one of them is crawling into bed beside you, freezing small feet in your back or fusty favourite toy in your face.
Sweet wet kisses soften your growling ego as selfish, knackered you melts away into benevolent, all-giving mother. Not without a little stab at your intellect, mind. You breathe a deep breath and hush it for now, knowing you’ll get to be you again in a while.
Then it’s: “I’m hungry!” “I need to eat!” “Mum can I have some cake for breakfast?” “No, darling, not for breakfast, let’s start with some cereal,” you say in your well-rehearsed bright/confident voice, throwing off the too-warm duvet, grasping for a dressing gown and shuffling into the kitchen to start the day. The first battle of wills won. For now.
And so the morning progresses.
There are moments of pure, purgatorial torture. The daily battles over teeth that must be cleaned, hair that must be brushed, shoes that must be put on. And all the urging, cajoling, encouraging that drains and saps away at your soul. Day after day after day.
Your ego stirs, complaining that it’s just so bloody hard, and boring, and frustrating – this incessant struggle.
But then come those moments of beautiful sweetness – like the rapt “I love you, Mummy!” and heartfelt squeeze from your child, after some tiny kindness or moment of real attention from too-busy you, something that filled their small heart to bursting with oxytocin.
‘They don’t really need that much from me’, you think. ‘Just everything I’ve got.’ ‘But oh, it’s so worth it,’ your heart bursts in reply. And your ego shrinks back, chastened by guilt, appeased by the lovely recognition that you do matter, even, perhaps, too much.
It’s a beautiful, exhausting ballet. And the final, climactic ending is your successful farewell at the school gate.
The long interval is when your other life unfolds. The one where you are, once more, the centre of your own universe. ‘Hello there ego, it’s safe to come out now!’ Here is where you work, or create, or organise, or just be.
And you can go long hours without thinking of them. But then you suddenly remember, check your phone, just in case something’s happened, a pang of guilt in your heart that you’d actually shrugged off the mother cloak for a while.
‘Not to worry,’ whispers the ego. ‘The second performance will be starting soon. Plenty of time to squash me down then. Just let me breathe here for a little bit. Go on. Do.’
So the hours unfold, the days, weeks, years.
Sometimes you don’t know who you are. Other times you know only too well.
But here’s the truth of it all:
You’re a superhero. You’re a goddess. You’re a mother.