I’ve spent nearly half my existence being a mother. Nothing else has had such an effect on me. As soon as my first baby took her first breath, I became someone who would sacrifice their own life for another. But so much of mothering is concerned not with grand gestures but with small, practical actions and domestic chores. My job was to love and nurture them, guard them from harm, get them safely into adulthood and set them free.
So living with my grown-up children puts me in a strange position. They are under my roof but no longer dependent on me. Our relationship has changed, turning me into a housemate, landlord, friend and adviser. But I’m still their mother, with a mother’s instinct to continue those nurturing actions. To be perfectly honest, I’m finding it confusing.
The other day I became tearful over a nature documentary starring a mother octopus. She looked after her eggs for 53 months, clinging to the same rock, guarding and caring for her young, never leaving or eating. Then the eggs hatched, and she died, starving and exhausted.
When Megan caught me sobbing on the sofa, I tried to explain the tragic and noble sacrifice of the octopus, giving herself completely for her children, so that they could swim off without her. Megan offered words of comfort and wisdom. “Mum, you’re nothing like an octopus.” She patted my shoulder. “You’re more like …” she thinks for a moment. “Lola.”
Our cat, Lola, was an excellent parent to her seven kittens for the first few weeks, but then began to show signs of impatience with her boisterous children as they took swipes at her whiskers. Eventually, she had enough, left them under the sofa and went off on the tiles.
There is a point where the mothering role winds down. It’s a natural, important marker of your success as a parent to set your offspring loose into the world as independent beings and good citizens. That hasn’t happened to us yet, and Megan is right. Like Lola, I’ve begun to feel impatient, with a tail-twitching yearning for my own independence.
Only Zac, my teenager, really needs me to be hands on as a parent. But having a big age gap between the children means he’s got the rest of his siblings to do the parenting job for me. And they are much stricter than I am.
When my attempts to get Zac to bring his dirty bowls downstairs fail for the 20th time, Lily takes over.
“Go and get them right now!” Lily demands. “No. I mean it. You won’t get any lunch until you do.”
Zac rolls his eyes. But he does as he’s told. Lily shakes her head at me. “You let him get away with murder.”
She even gets bossy about hugs. I simply hope the boy might be kind enough to allow me to give him a parting kiss on the cheek. Lily orders him to be affectionate. “Come over here and give me a hug. I need one.”
And he does.
On another occasion, I find Jake going upstairs with an armful of dirty pans and a colander. “What’s that?”
“Zac’s lunch things.”
“But what are you doing?”
“Teaching him a lesson,” he says, dropping the lot on Zac’s bed.
Parenting is hardcore when it comes from a brother.
His sisters give him advice about hairstyles and shoes. Lily patches his jeans. Megan, the enthusiastic cook, ensures he’s eating properly. She gets him to consume all sorts of green things I’ve never been able to persuade him to try. He’s turned vegan for his siblings. He wouldn’t even eat a piece of broccoli for me.
I should be thrilled. The sad thing is that I feel a little usurped. It’s very contrary of me. I’m less of a cat than I thought I was.
As I’m ironing a pile of laundry, listening to the radio, I’m interrupted by the girls. Lily is outraged. “Zac’s not a baby. He can iron his own things.”
“We did. At his age,” Megan says.
Zac drags his attention from his phone. He looks concerned. “She can iron them if she wants,” he mutters.
My youngest keeps his clothes in a festering pile on the floor. He doesn’t care a hoot if his T-shirts are creased. So what I take from this exchange is just one thing – he still wants me to mother him. I am not redundant yet.
Some names have been changed