The Mother of All Melt-Downs
Happy Mother's Day, to those of you in the States who are mothers. The "holiday" is celebrated over here in March, so the day totally snuck up on me. I am completely unmoored from the calendar that I grew up with - Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving. It's like I can forget they ever existed.
As I get older, Mother's Day becomes an emotional minefield. I don't have any children and I vacillate over that predicament like a weather vane in a tornado - swinging rapidly from wistful and yearning to happy and accepting. Most days, I am quite happy with the way things are, but some days are tough. Last year, watching my niece celebrate her sixth birthday with 15 giggling, screechy little girls, I thought my heart might burst from the longing.
But a few weeks later, while babysitting the same niece and explaining that I needed 10 minutes to just relax before playing the next bizarrely complicated and overly regulated pretending game, I was relieved that I didn't have to deal with children on a daily basis. Days like that make me wonder if I have it in me. I am actually a bit frightened of infants. If one could give birth to a five-year old, I might be willing to give it a go, but the thought of going through night-feedings, then teething, then the Roman-Emperor phase of toddlerhood makes me think that maybe we should just stick to raising dogs.
Last year, to celebrate Mother's Day, Peter's parents, brother and sister-in-law, and the two of us went out to lunch at a really swish hotel in Dublin. It was the sort of place where the tables are blanketed with silverware and the menu is full of terrine of this and confit of that. In short, it was the sort of place that makes me break out in a cold sweat because as soon as the waiter comes by, everyone will know that I am an unsophisticated rube who doesn't drink wine, is afraid of mushrooms, won't eat anything that swims, and will only eat meat that has been processed entirely out of all recognition.
An Taoiseach and his family were dining a few tables away. There was also a woman at the next table who had to be an Irish model, but, since I am not a reader of the Sunday Independent, I couldn't tell you which one. (Nor would I want to be able to.) Her baby daughter was with her, dressed in an immaculate cute dress, and I had to wonder how the woman kept the child so clean while managing to find the time to dress herself up and slather on several coats of make-up. I'm sure there were other Irish-famous people there (Irish-famous being completely different than regular famous) but I was too busy reminding myself "Silverware: Start from the outside and work your way in" to celebrity search.
For whatever bizarre quirk of biology and emotion, I was feeling horribly wistful and yearning for a child. Ordinarily, I try to keep these thoughts and feelings to myself. In the 12 years we have been together, Peter's feeling on parenthood has gone from completely oppossed to being willing to discuss it at some long-distant point when we have ourselves established in what we want to do. Usually, I am quite happy to defer thinking about or discussing this touchy topic. But on this day, the emotional bit of me overwhelmed the logical bit and in the car on the way to lunch, I had blurted out a difficult and awkward question - will I ever be someone's mother?
Understandably, Peter was not eager to open that particular can of worms, not in the car, not on the way to a family lunch, not now. (I am very bad at choosing my moments, probably because I don't talk about things when they bother me so it all builds up and the top pops off at inopportune times.) He gently tabled the matter for later discussion and I'd managed to put the thoughts out of my head. Which was pretty easy to do, given how intimidated I was by the restaurant. Every ounce of concentration I had was being marshalled to allow me to make polite comversation whilst eating in a way that wouldn't make people wonder if I had been raised by wolves.
Near the end of the meal, one of the waiters came around and gave a lily to each woman at our table. I politely told the man that I wasn't a mother, so no thanks, but he was not to be fobbed off. His mission was to distribute the flowers and he insisted I take it. Feeling monumentally stupid, I did take it. But sitting there, it rapidly became clear that this was going to be the lily that broke the camel's back. I could feel the tears taking up the ready position and I didn't want to hang around for them to get the set....go command. I excused myself and headed for the bathroom where I locked myself in a cubicle and had a good long cry. Then I had to pull myself together and go out to smile my way through the rest of coffee and dessert.
I don't know why the day affected me so badly. I don't know why I didn't want that stupid flower. I just know that I had never felt so bad about the whole damn topic and, at least so far, I've not felt that bad since. I know exactly how old I am and I know about the risks and difficulties of having children as you get older. The thing is, I would have been a complete disaster as a mother if we'd had children when I was in my 20s. And how can I want something so badly one day and fear and dread the exact same thing a few days later? Until that feeling stabilises one way or the other, it seems best to err on the side of caution and try not to even think about children for now.
I made it through the rest of the lunch without incident. In the parking garage, I looked for the oldest, most beat up car I could find and then tucked the lily on its windscreen. I hoped that the owner of the car was a single woman with a pile of kids who was having to work on Mother's Day. Someone who deserved a token of the day.