There’s a line in Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’ which I always felt was a really harsh description of the mother in the story, Ammu. She’s been lying in bed with her twins, aged eight, and they have been poking and prodding her, commenting on her stomach, counting her stretchmarks etc, etc. Sort of like what my girls do when they come and chat to me when I’m having a shower. The latest gem from the eldest was regarding the size, shape and apparent hilarity of my ‘boobies’. But that’s by the by.
Anyway, the twins are clearly adoring of their mother; their attention and comments come out of a sort of awe about the fact that she once carried them inside her. But Ammu’s reaction does not appreciate where they’re coming from. She ‘shrugged her children off the way a bitch shrugs off her pups when she’s had enough of them’. I always thought it was such an awful description. Because what sort of mother would do that, right? Harsh, Ms. Roy, harsh.
Oh Lord, do I get where she’s coming from now. Some days I feel like I have not had one moment, not one, where I haven’t had someone else touching me, tugging at me, climbing on me, wanting to be carried, needing a cuddle, examining my body, pulling my hair etc, etc, etc. Those sorts of days usually start with one or more of my children in my bed, usually with their hair in my face. They need to be so close to me that I am actually inhaling strands of their hair. If I sit on the floor with them to play, one or more of them must sit/stand/climb on me. The baby wants to be carried everywhere, a desire that becomes especially urgent if I need to pee. The middle one wants to count my freckles. The eldest wants to tickle my feet. It’s all such sweet, sweet stuff. I know it. I really do. How glorious that these children want to be so close to me, that they feel so comfortable and love me so that they want to be physically connected to me so often.
But by the end of those sorts of days, I am exhausted. Completely sapped of energy. But more than that, I feel like I have lost all sense of personal space and that even my body is not quite my own anymore. I find myself being irritated by my daughters’ stalling before bedtime by needing one more cuddle or by the baby putting his arms up to me while I’m cooking dinner. I just desperately need some space. Physical, literal space. And yes, I do shrug them off at times, I know I do. And I know that their wee faces fall a bit and I know that they don’t understand because they soak up as much contact as they can get. But even with that knowledge, some days I just need to be left alone. Just for a wee bit. Just to feel like I have some control over my own movements and my own space.
I don’t know. Does that make me a terrible mother? I worry about my need to feel separate sometimes. And my faithful friend Guilt always has something to say about it. Strangely enough, the line from Arundhati Roy has now become a bit of a consolation – if it’s there in print then my experience can’t be too unusual. Maybe it’s just another one of those things that we’re not supposed to admit to as mothers. Well, here I am admitting to it. Hopefully if you feel the same way, this will provide a similar consolation for you.