Róisín Ingle: Before Covid-19 we did normal things like make plans. Remember?
This Mother’s Day, think of the mums at home, in houses that have become like prisons
Róisín Ingle: I’m thinking of my own mother, sitting at the window of her bedroom, looking out at us. Photograph: Tom Honan for The Irish Times
Before corona we did normal things like make plans. Remember? Or sometimes we did things on a whim. Like the day two weeks ago, which feels more like two years ago, I visited a cafe called Daddy’s in Rialto. It’s closed now, of course. Shutters down. The friendly barista – yeah, take a seat, no problem, can I get you a coffee? – is at home now, waiting. We all are.
Let’s remind ourselves about a time when it didn’t seem odd to just randomly take yourself for lunch, to think, or to read a book alone. We need to remember those days because they are coming again. I can’t give you an exact date, I wish I could, but they are coming. The days when we can go for coffee and daydream. The days when everything won’t seem so sad.
I remember that day in Daddy’s. I was thinking about the light, how it had started to come back into the days. The darkness of winter finally ceding to what we assumed would be a brighter, kinder season.
I was thinking about Mammies. Although I am not a Mammy myself. I am a Mum. Sometimes Muuuuuuuuuuuum. Occasionally – when they’re disappointed, or thrilled with me – Mummy!
Bad Mummy! Abandoning the 100 Days of Walking thing I said we’d do. Losing my temper over the constant “state of the place”. Forgetting to send that application form so they missed out on an exciting opportunity. And many other things that even I – Oversharer Almighty – can’t admit to here.
Good Mummy! There must be something, I thought, sipping my americano. But no. It was gone. I found I couldn’t remember the good stuff. So I got out my phone to email their father who does most of the practical heavy-lifting in our house, the boring domestic bits. The lunches. The dishes. The laundry. (Good Daddy!)
I asked him for a list of my good mothering moments. He replied quickly: “You’re too hard on yourself. I can’t answer now. Too busy. Tell you later.”
I hung on to the “tell you later”. I figured he wouldn’t be able to say “tell you later” if there was nothing to tell.
There were plenty of Mammies, possibly Mums, definitely a few Mummies in the cafe that day. Two friends, thirtysomething women, had been for a walk with their babies. The small ones were all plump hands waving and woollen hats with furry bobbles tucked up into fancy-looking prams.
The mums were wearing pleather leggings and parkas and brightly coloured sweatshirts. They were both rocking what magazines would call a practical yet stylish parenting uniform.
I applauded them silently in my head.
I had a day off work midweek. A day away from the office. Remember that place? I was pretending I was not a mum. Working at home has benefits – for example, I am writing this in my polka-dot nightie – but it’s impossible to forget your parental status here in Home School Central.
I was thinking about mammies because the book I was reading, the only one I’d thrown in my bag that day, was A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa. It’s a wild, raw, mystical, beautifully written book about one mother’s search for another across centuries. Breast milk spilled from the pages, on to the table, into my delicious plate of Turkish eggs, mingling with the runny garlic mayonnaise.
The motherly life described in the book was all school runs, mops, vacuuming, breast pumping, bins, dishwashers, laundry, dirty toilets, milk, spinach, chicken, porridge, bank visits, playground visits, dinner, baths, bedtime. Rinsing. Repeating.
Even so, I kept reading. I imagined I was a non-mother, visiting a foreign land where unpaid women spent all day sweeping floors and scooping fallen crusts from underneath tables.
“There is a peculiar contentment to be found in absenting oneself like this, subsumed in the needs of others,” Ní Ghríofa wrote.
It comes easier to some than to others, I thought to myself, scooping up some runny Turkish egg with a piece of toasted sourdough bread.
A young man had brought his mammy – she was definitely a mammy – to lunch in Daddy’s. “What’s Turkish eggs?” she asked her son as she studied the menu. They ordered boxty instead, something the Mammy was familiar with. Clever Daddy’s!
I sipped my coffee out of a glass mug that might have been from the 1970s. I refreshed my email, looking for a reply from the father of my children.
Nothing. Yet. Tell you later.
I thought about a day not long before when my children were talking about their futures. Covid-19 was not in their future. Not then. They looked ahead and they thought perhaps they’d have their own children one day.
“Daddy, you’ll look after the babies, won’t you, when we’re at work, and tidy our houses?” I was there too, sitting at our kitchen table scrolling on my phone, but they didn’t ask me to be their future childminder or cleaner.
I was delighted. I was devastated.
After Daddy’s, on my delicious day off, I visited another place, Lucky’s on Meath Street. I ordered a pint of Guinness. Remember when we could just go and have a pint?
The email arrived. Finally. “You’ve great parental instincts. You’ve nurtured their social conscience. Helped them with growing pains. Guided them with good advice. You’re not afraid to take action when things aren’t right. You let them be themselves. You’ve made sure they don’t carry our baggage”.
My eyes were stinging with the relief of it. But two weeks on, weeks that feel like years, it hardly seems to matter now.
It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday. I’m thinking of all the mothers at home, alone in houses that have become like prisons. My own mother, sitting at the window of her bedroom, looking out at us, standing behind the hedge. The mother who can’t pay the rent, the mother who has lost her job, the mother who had to lay off all her employees. The mother on the front line in the hospital, the mother who has cancer going for her radiotherapy appointments, the mother in an abusive relationship trapped at home with her abuser.
The mother who is not yet a mother, but will be soon and is terrified.
“We can have a corona-themed Mother’s Day, mum,” my daughter said the other day when she thought I looked sad.
“Something to look forward to,” I said smiling.
We have to keep smiling. All of us, but especially the mothers.