‘What are my good mothering traits?’ I nervously ask their father
Róisín Ingle: When the answer finally arrives, my eyes sting with relief
It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday. They’ll bring me breakfast in bed. Photograph: iStock
I’m in a cafe called Daddy’s in Rialto thinking about Mammies. Although I am not a Mammy myself. Never was. I used to be a Mama. Now I am a Mum. Sometimes Muuuuuuuuuuuum. Occasionally – when they’re disappointed, or thrilled with me – Mummy! The exclamation mark brings equal pangs of pleasure and pain.
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! I know there must be something. Give me a minute. I can’t think. Sorry, no. It’s gone. I get my phone and email their father who does much of the practical heavy-lifting in our house, the boring domestic bits. The lunches. The dishes. The laundry.
I ask him for a list of my best bits, my good mothering moments, because I can’t remember.
I hang on to the “tell you later”. He wouldn’t be able to say “tell you later” if there was nothing to tell
He replies: “You’re too hard on yourself. I can’t answer now. Too busy. Tell you later.”
I hang on to the “tell you later”. He wouldn’t be able to say “tell you later” if there was nothing to tell.
It’s a cold afternoon in March. The light is coming back into the days. There are plenty of mammies, possibly mums, definitely a few mummies in the cafe. Two female friends have been for a walk with their babies, all plump hands waving and woollen hats with furry bobbles tucked up into fancy-looking prams.
The mums – I’m almost certain they are mums – are wearing pleather leggings and parkas and brightly coloured sweatshirts. I am sure they didn’t check what the other was wearing before they met up, but they are both rocking what magazines would call a practical yet stylish parenting uniform.
I applaud them silently in my head.
Raw and wild
I have a day off work. I am pretending I am not a mum. Unfortunately, the book in my bag, the only one I remembered to throw in there, is A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa, which is all about motherhood. It’s a wild, raw, mystical, beautifully written book about one mother’s search for another across centuries.
Breast milk spills 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 is all school runs, mops, vacuum cleaners, breast pumping, bins, dishwashers, laundry, dirty toilets, milk, spinach, chicken, porridge, bank visits, playground visits, dinner, baths, bedtime. Rinsing. Repeating.
Even so I keep reading. Imagining I’m a non-mother, visiting a foreign land where unpaid women spend 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 writes .
It comes easier to some than to others, I think to myself, scooping up some runny Turkish egg with a piece of toasted sourdough bread. Everything is sourdough now.
A young man has brought his mammy – she is definitely a mammy – to lunch in Daddy’s. “What’s Turkish eggs?” she asks her son as she looks over the menu. They order boxty instead, something the Mammy is deeply familiar with.
I’m there too but they don’t ask me to be their future childminder or cleaner. I am both delighted and devastated
I sip my coffee out of a glass mug that might be from the 1970s. I refresh my email, looking for a reply from the father of my children.
Nothing. Yet. Tell you later.
I think about the other day when my children were talking about their futures. 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’m there too but they don’t ask me to be their future childminder or cleaner.
I am both delighted and devastated.
Later that afternoon I am in another place, Lucky’s on Meath Street, having a pint of Guinness. I go into the beer garden and am taken back in time by an out-of-context brown and white sign. It says Metro Burger. It used to hang on the Hawkins Street side of the now demolished Screen Cinema. The sign was saved from a skip by some good citizens.
You let them be themselves. You’ve made sure they don’t carry our baggage
I’m remembering the particular tastiness of a 1980s Metro Burger burger before a movie when the email comes in: “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 sting with relief.
It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday. They’ll bring me breakfast in bed. There might be a gift, a cushion with their faces on it maybe, a card and some words: The best mum in the world.
Their only mum in the world, more like.
She’ll have to do.