When I was fifteen I wrote an English Essay entitled ‘A Woman’s Place is in the Home?’
I would love to read it now but it has long since gone. Written in the late eighties, all I remember of the piece is being indignant that women were expected to stay at home with the children when there were alternatives available. I talked of nurseries and other childcare facilities. Of fathers and grandparents doing their fair share. Of women’s right to work. I think, in part, I was influenced by my own upbringing, having been raised by a young single mother who worked nights as a nurse to support her two children. I couldn’t know then that returning to work, when my daughter was just six months old, would weigh heavy on my heart. That nursing sick patients – when my own child was unwell and needed tending – was unthinkable. That I would instinctively want to hold her close, sleep with her nestled in the crook of my arm, feed her from my body. I couldn’t know then that having three home water babies would wake me up to the power of surrender. Of trusting and flowing with life. Home is the place where I gladly spend most of my days, knowing, deep in my bones, that raising my children is the best job I’ve ever had and the only one I ever really knew that I wanted.
There is no place I’d rather be.
Two words come to mind when I see my mother through child’s eyes; hair and food.
I remember her wide-toothed, long-handled afro comb and the perfectly rounded halo that took time to get just so. She would flatten it before going to work; halos and starched paper hats don’t mix. I would sit cross-legged on the floor whilst she greased up my hair, struggling to tease a comb through the kinky frizz. Hair past my shoulders, it was a long job. Each week there was fidgeting and frustration. Tears pricked my eyes when plaiting fingers snagged a strand and pulled my scalp. I’m not sure it was always accidental. As for food, there was daily scratch cooking. Lots of spice, some unusual ingredients. Pigs’ trotters, for instance. The terrifying whistle and snort of the pressure cooker steaming the overnight soaked black-eyed peas into submission. Trips into town to visit the only whole food shop, with its buckets of loose grains and pulses. It had a heavy smell and orange juice in square glass bottles. Summers were beach trips with picnics of home-made coleslaw and chicken drumsticks cooked up at the crack of dawn. There were endless puddings; baked, boiled and beaten. The wooden spoon, greedily licked after whipping up a cake mix, occasionally licked our outstretched hands when our too tired mother snapped. Christmas brought with it turkey stew with dumplings and a delicious, beautifully iced, igloo cake complete with skating penguins and tiny snow peaks.
Your Mother, You, Your Child
Visits with my mother haven’t always been easy.
Though I’d encouraged her to accept a job near the Caribbean island she still called home, I felt a little unmoored when she left just a few short weeks after I met my now husband. He and I flew out, soaked up the sun and the rum. We had a blast. Once we’d wed (celebrating our first anniversary with a three week old), I felt my mother’s absence keenly. Sporadic phone calls magnified the distance and disconnect. There were a smattering of visits when my children were small. These occasions spawned feelings of criticism; resentments, tears, harsh words. We disappointed each other; felt let down. So when she wanted to stay at mine, offering to help when my husband was away for a week last year, it was with slight trepidation that I accepted. From the moment she swept in she was just the pause we needed. The children adored her silliness and giggling. She worked magic – rocked the baby to sleep, gently laid him on the rug. I put the children to bed, she did the dishes, cleared the crumbs from the counter. There was an ease and a fluidity between us that had been missing for a while – we were in sync. With less on our minds it was easier for our hearts to see the purity of intention. The goodness behind our actions.
And when I caught sight of my mother brushing my daughter’s hair, I realised that, this, too, is love.
This is a piece I wrote for inclusion in an exhibition book for the awesome Mother in the Mother project run by Pippa Robinson, a Bristol based arts project celebrating motherhood, exploring our maternal lineage and collecting mothers’ stories.