I have a dream I am standing with a knife in my hand, in front of my two daughters. I am protecting them from something: a threatening man, a presence, a wild beast. It is not clear exactly. All I know is I have become a wild beast myself, the lioness in front of her cubs, unwilling to let anyone, or anything, hurt them. I growl, the knife in my hand, ready to plunge it into flesh, ready to rent apart evil, ready to murder.
I wake up. The 18 month old is lying asleep beside me. In the bunk bed above, I hear the 4 year old turn, readjusting the doona which periodically makes her too hot. My lower back aches. There is a constant, dull pain from lifting – into the high chair, out of the highchair, onto the lap, off of the lap, into the bath, out of the bath – and I roll onto my back, hoping for relief.
I feel a long way away from the primordial mother of my dream world. I know intimately how the next 2 hours of my life will play out. My daughter will ask “mum, can we wake up now?” and we will begin the ritual of putting on dressing gowns, eating breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth and all the other mundane elements which make up the morning. The 4 year old will ask questions, the 18 month old will laugh and then cry, my husband will stumble into the shower.
Where are the dramatic moments of enacting out the role of parent? Why can no piece of art capture the true tediousness of so much of looking after small children? Because we cannot admit to it? We need the cliche of joy and un-equalled love. Yes, those moments are there but, as my elder sister warned me so many years ago, more of it is just hard work.
As I often do when I’m searching for a feeling of connection, when I feel as if I might be the only one experiencing such negative thoughts, I think of books which might depict the – what shall I call her? – “tired mother”, “weary mother”, “guilty mother”? Ironically, it is a book written by a man which immediately jumps into my head: The Hours by Michael Cunningham. But Mrs Brown is the quintessential woman of the ’40s. She does not have the opportunities available to me, I am not stuck in the suburbs with nothing but parties to plan and her decision to leave her child is one most women could not contemplate.
Where are the characters with babies, with toddlers, with the 4 year olds who get so much into your head, you find yourself calling yourself by their name? I know I am not alone in this strange world of tedium, wonder, weariness and guilt (why can’t I enjoy this more? why can’t I forget about all the other things I’d rather be doing?) Suggestions welcome.