Mothers give their love freely – but there’s a cost

My white narcissus with butter-yellow centres bloom unselfconsciously. No silvered water in sight, no chance to get distracted by their beauty. The pungent bulbs are the first to brave the clear, chilly mornings. Their sticky perfume heralds the promise of longer days and sunshine; it’s too powerful to pick and take inside. They wave merrily at me as I walk past. Maybe they know their lovely heads aren’t on the chopping block.

I’m making a pattern of a diminishing grass rectangle with the lawn mower.

I’ve let the garden go. I often do. Gardening is a wholesome idea, an activity like much of domestic chores which I take to intermittently. As a mother, I’m quite unlike my own mother, who can’t rest when there’s a fallen leaf or a straggly blade of grass out of place.

I love seeing the clover growing wild and wilder, the pale green burrs still soft and kind to bare feet. I adore the impossibly bright yellowness of the sour-sobs, garden plant brought to Australia by colonisers, gone feral: I know they’re a pest, but the blooms hold the sunlight when nothing else seems to. My chubby daughter, whose golden head also catches the sunlight, squeals in delight and at the pale purple stars of English clover. Some days we discover big, tall toadstools which look like fairy houses. We look, wonder where the fairies are hiding, and then I snatch it up, bin it — it smells of chemicals and poison.When you’re a mother, safety comes first.

Where I grew up, late autumn through to early spring was a time of soft green grasses. I loved watching the wind move over the grass, like an invisible sea. And on still afternoons, the sun made the young grass luminous and other-wordly. I’d enjoy the warmth, watch the gossamer threads of spider webs threaded magically between each blade glisten and shimmer. One time only, I saw tiny “balloonist” spiders floating away on wafts of warm August breeze, just like Charlotte’s orphaned children did.

Whole afternoons were spent watching the grass dance in the wind, imagining.

No wonder I try to recapture those moments via my sad rectangle of overgrown suburban lawn, a public admission of my indifference to many of the domestic duties which have become mine.

I like mowing. It allows my mind to range. I think about chapter names for my book, how I can develop the ones I’ve already clattered out. I think of what’s in the fridge or freezer to be transformed into dinner, of the kids sports uniforms we’ll need tomorrow, of my children’s homework still undone. I think of how I’d like to be able to sit down and write once the lawn’s mowed. As I do this, I know I won’t be able to, not now, not today. Maybe tonight, in those stolen hours between children being sound asleep and me giving my circadian rhythms the respect they deserve.

Being a mother and being a writer are the two most uncomplementary things. The work of housewifery — even the ‘relaxed’ form I partake in — and all of its labours are still thought a more worthy demand than writing and creativity. There are more pressing things than indulging in intellect; more acceptable things than having something to say, and determination to say it.

Even as I get this much down my toddler pulls at my arms. I cuddle her, then put her down to finish. She whines — bites my arm. I tell her ‘No’ — it’s the weekend, and my husband takes her away to give the cuddles. I rub my arm; she knows nothing yet of compromise. I hope as she grows, she’ll lead a life with less compromise in it.

Motherhood is constant compromise. The relentless demands of the children I love wanting my attention just when I sit down to write. It’s as if they’re aware of a hit on the psychic line between us, when my attention wonders too far inward, or outward, away from the list of things to do, away from their needs even for a little while — they seem happy with my absence when I’m performing the inane drudgery of housework. Some days I feel resentment, anger. I don’t hold it, but I acknowledge it. It’s valid.

As I started the mower, I did not want to cut the micro-meadow. Didn’t want to desecrate the freedom and unstructured beauty it represents. I almost hear the distant echo of my mother’s voice … I’ve made my bed, now I need to lie in it, and wonder, not for the first time, how much of her nurturing and fastidious housekeeping was part of that bed she couldn’t get out of, despite always being the first to rise. I avoid asking the same question of myself.

But then, there’s a time when certain things have to be put aside, isn’t there? Being shin-deep in clover in the well-kept beachy western suburbs seems reason enough. Before the soft clover blooms, seeds, and turns spiky, sticking in the children’s socks and toes. Still, I push through my own resistance as I push the mower through the magic of wild, sunlit green.

The jonquils nod blindly, unreliable witnesses.

It’ll always grow back.

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