My child is crying behind the closed door but I do not do anything . I know she is waiting for me but I just stand there. What do mothers of older children do in such situations? There must be a Perfect answer somewhere deep in the recesses of my Mommy Mind – I have answers for toilet training, for weaning, for birth, for homework, for reading, for writing but where is that folder for friendship betrayals, unexpected illnesses or being left out? I hear her pain every time she catches her breath, every uh-uh, every quiver in her voice, every sob, every gasp and every cry.
There was a time, a long time ago, when we were so happy to hear her lusty cry. She was hale and hearty, a baby girl! As the midwife placed the warm tiny squirmy creature on my chest, she stopped screaming, obviously soothed by the feel of my warm skin and the familiar pounding of my heart.
As she snuggled closer towards me, I made a promise that I would always be there for her. There was absolutely nothing, I was sure, absolutely nothing I would not or could not do to protect this precious little gift.
“It’s okay…” I whispered into her little ear as she started squawking, “Mummy’s here.”
Five months in and the cracks began to show but there were always helpful and sometimes unhelpful and unsolicited prompts from the lady down the street to the random stranger who wanted to pat her little head. It seemed like everyone was a baby expert and everything was a phase. There was no one more expert than my Auntie Muriel in her flowery sun dress, hair tied in a towel tube with make up left over from the 1950s’ with her special and secret recipe honey lemon with a hint of ginger tea drink.
“I’ve been there, love,” Auntie Muriel would say as she served her special honey lemon tea drink during one of our regular catch ups, “I haven’t slept for FIFTY years since your cousin was born and …cough! splutter! cough!! Look at me! Cough! Cough! Fit as! Do what your body says, like having this cup of tea first.”
During the first two years, while I had cups of tea with Auntie Muriel, I mothered instinctively. I fed my daughter when she was hungry, I changed her when she had a dirty diaper and I swaddled her when she was cold. It was my heart, my touch and my smell, which sustained and comforted her. My body just knew what it had to do, sometimes with the helpful promptings from people all round me.
As I listen to her crying now, I know that her pains are more complicated. It is not about being hungry anymore, it is about being betrayed by a friend. It is not about being dirty anymore; it is about failing terribly at a test. It is not about being cold but it is about finding out that you have an illness, a disease, a disorder, or a disability that will change your life dramatically.
The strangers have long been gone and no one was or wanted to be an expert on things emotional and teenagery, not even loud mouthed Auntie Muriel who had an opinion on everything, from alien abductions to tea bag conspiracies.
“Where are you, you damn mothering instincts?” I cry out to myself, “Where are all you two cents baby experts we love and hate? Auntie Muriel???”
But Auntie Muriel would shy away and said she suffered from PTSD – Parenting Teenager Stress Disorder and cannot be around a teenager for long periods of time before relapsing. A “so what” or “whatever” triggers an attack of “where did I go wrong?” So all she would say is “Let’s have a cuppa first” every time I asked her before she launched into her favourite topic of how she believed celebrities are offsprings of a superior Alien race.
“There is no way Miley can twerk like that! It’s not human!” Auntie Muriel would say and we would both descend into a serious discussion about the possibility of alien-human mixed breed lifeforms, more serious issues forgotten and put away for just a while.
I could do with a nosey neighbour or even Auntie Muriel saying to me with her usual lemon honey drink, “Oh that is just a phase.” Most times when you tell people you have teenagers, they give you a sympathetic look, a comforting clap on your shoulder and say, “It will be over soon…don’t worry.”
They talk as if you are suffering from gastro or food poisoning but I do worry and it does seem like it is forever.
As I listen to the sobs behind the closed door, I put my hand up to knock but I hesitate. There was a time when there would be no hesitation. When she screamed for me at 3am, I would leap out of bed and dash to her room. I would put on my best Academy Award winning performance as the Mummy Monster Slayer and then I would lay down next to her. Her little body would be cold and shaking with fear as I pulled her in, just a little closer to me, so close that I could feel her heartbeat. I would hug her just a little tighter and envelope her in an embrace of love and protection. Her breathing would slow down and her body would soon start to relax in my arms.
“That’s okay, darling,” I would say softly to her, each and every time, even for the third, fourth or fifth time that night as she drifted off to sleep, “Mummy’s here.”
But there would be no award winning Mother of the Year performance today because the Monsters are now in her head. There is no script for the Heroine Mother who vanquishes the “A**hole boyfriend who broke her heart”, “the b*tchy best friend who won’t speak to her anymore”, “the annoying teacher who just hates the way she looks” or “the mean group of friends who has decided to use her as target practice”.
The standard answer “It is just a phase”or “It is all part of growing up” just will not do anymore. Where is my Best Mother of Older Children (Teens) Speech for exactly this moment? When the camera pans and zooms in on my child’s face and then zooms back to mine. I then take my spot and I deliver the most emotional Emmy Award mothering speech, which then inspires my child to win the Nobel Peace Prize, just like in the movies and television shows?
This is my moment but I do not have a speech as the issues are more complex, of a greyish hue where there is no right or wrong and of a teenage logic, as mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle. How do you tell your child that her best friend does not like her anymore, just because? How do you explain “just because” when you do not even understand it yourself?
“You don’t, you just don’t…” Auntie Muriel would say as she forced another cup of honey lemon tea drink in my hand, “Here, just have a cuppa first, love.”
As I drank my tea, Auntie Muriel told me stories of her past, of wanting to wear pants to church, of wanting to study in University, or of simply wanting short hair and presently of how she was determined to prove that aliens did live amongst us, suspecting that George, the Greengrocer who grew magically large pumpkins must have alien power.
“There is no way his pumpkins can grow so big!” she would say and I would once again, have the time to just pause, “Always remember there are things we can never understand. Unless you’re an alien, of course!”
My daughter’s sobs become slightly louder and I open my mouth but I have no voice. I remembered a time when I always had a voice. I made her laugh when she had a bump on her head. I encouraged her when she was afraid and I told her stories when she was sad. In those stories, she could become anybody she wanted, a Princess, a Knight, a Horse, or a Unicorn but she was always who I wanted her to be – my daughter, my love, and my heart. She would look up at wonderment at me, and I would see in her eyes that I was the Mummy she wanted me to be too – her comforter, her protector and her dearest.
“Yes, you know that, don’t you, darling?” I would say as she hugged me and thanked me, “Mummy’s here.”
My hands start shaking as I turn the door knob. Her story is changing and I do not know what part I am playing now.
“Should I just ask her?” I asked Auntie Muriel.
“I’ll quickly put the kettle on.” Auntie Muriel ignored my question and gave me again, for the thousandth time, the same drink she has always made and given me, ever since I could remember, “Let’s have a cuppa first…Did I tell you about the day you were born?”
Auntie Muriel then told me of the questions I would ask my parents and her – “Why was the Moon following me?”; “Why did I have to sleep?” or “Why I wanted to have pink hair?”
But there was a time when I looked forward to my own daughter’s questions. It was always “Mummy, come and play?” “Mummy, why is sky blue?” or “Why does the clock go tick-tock?” She would always say sternly at bedtime, with her hands on her hips and wagging an accusing finger at me, “AND …don’t close my room door, Mummy! And don’t close yours too, ok?”
“Don’t worry, darling,” I would say, “You know that Mummy’s always here.”
Today her door is closed and her questions are much more complicated.
I am HER mother! Stop being a wimpy Mummy! I want to slap myself and I say to myself, “Come ON, this is YOUR child! Say something! Do something! Just anything!”
So I open the door and my daughter looks up with tears in her eyes. I walk towards her, stretch out my arms out and she simply collapses into me.
“Please, Mummy, can you help me?” she whispers the question, which completely rips my soul apart.
I sink into my knees and my body shakes but I do not cry. She looks at me at with the sweet naïve faith she always had from when she was born.
I had searched desperately for an answer but I had found none. I had even asked Auntie Muriel the day before when I caught a hint of what was coming.
“Just mix two cups of water to one part of honey and lemon and then your special tea and a hint of ginger!” replied Auntie Muriel in her usual manner, which made absolutely no sense at that time, “Just come over now and have a cuppa, love.”
I should have known better that that would be her usual reply to everything.
My child is taller and bigger than me now but somehow she curls herself in my lap, as if she has always belonged there, like the little girl she once was. I place my chin on her soft brown hair and I now feel my hot tears run down my cheeks.
Once again, I feel the soft beating of her heart against mine as if she was a newborn, all of fourteen years ago. Instinctively, as our hearts begin to beat as one again, I kiss her gently on her forehead, and I pull her a little closer to me. I then lean closer and whisper softly into her ear, “That’s okay, darling, Mummy’s always here….”
She looks up at me expectantly and the answer becomes as clear as day.
“Just mix two cups of water to one part of honey and lemon and then your special tea and a hint of ginger!” I hear those words as if Auntie Muriel is here with me, like she always is.
I say what Auntie Muriel would have said to me in this situation.
“….to make you a cup of honey lemon tea with a hint of ginger. Let’s just have a cuppa first, love.”
I realised then that my child has grown up and is old enough now to share a cuppa with me. I may not be able to fix all her problems or chase all the Monsters away but I can and will always make her cups of tea, for as long as she needs me to.
We need to step aside and let them grow up but be there with our cups of tea.
And that is what Mothers of older children do, just like what they have always been doing, generation to generation, from one generation to another.
This post was featured on the Front Page of Mumsnet.
When The Mulk tries to be funny, I become Agent Spitback writing life nonsense for my Secret Diary.
Follow me on Silly Brick Road
Tweet me nonsense at @AgentSpitback
© ELT 2016. All rights reserved