In response to my post yesterday about cuddling our teenage and grown-up children, one mother wrote these words, just as I was writing this:
I asked my 7y-o girl last night, will you still hug me like this when you are much, much older? She said, yes, she would. Well, I hope so, since emotionally I’m a very wounded person, and she is my savior.
Yes, children can heal us and make us better, but only if we allow them to.
One of the people I met who shocked and upset me most was a mother who blamed her children for the “unsatisfactorily life” she leads – beautiful house, large garden, doting husband, no money worries, but OK, heavy responsibility as a carer – and consequently, he children grew up unhappy and broken inside, lurching from one disaster to the next.
So really, children can be poison or medicine. It’s your choice.
My first child could have been my poison, when I was stuck at home with a new baby at 17, whilst my friends were out doing exciting things. Later, my university choice was governed by affordability – I had to go to a university that provided affordable childcare. I never had a youth, because I had too many children and was permanently tired trying to juggle so many balls.
But without my children, I would not have known selfless love, for they healed me with their unfocussed infant eyes, starfish fingers and trusting love. My adopted mother did a very good job, took me as far as she could, and my children took over from her. Without a doubt, my children have certainly changed me, though I hasten to add, I am still very much work-in-progress.
How have they changed me? First, I had to let go of the notion of self, of each man for himself, of ME. I could blame my children for changing my path, but when I closed my eyes and thought about it, the life they gave me was better. I just had to learn to love it – eating Sunday roast at 1am Monday morning, cooking 7 dinners on Sunday, packed lunches being prepared at 11pm at night, Saturdays spent house-cleaning, dirty house the rest of the week, forever making excuses for missing lectures, etc etc etc. Oh, it was lovely….not.
This was where we lived: a small council flat where the previous tenant committed suicide a week before we moved in and her things were still there. The rent was £35 a week. Later, we move to a house in a rough council estate, and my children ran wild with the local kids who swore and who had parents who did drugs, abusive parents (the police was often called) or parents who were already in jail. We didn’t dare to invite our parents to our house. Shortly after we moved in, our neighbour tried to steal our car. The savage Alsatian next door almost savaged my children. I was nearly in tears, sitting in a dirty house in a place that did not feel at home, and knowing that tomorrow will be the same. It would have been very easy to resent my children, but I reminded myself, they were my choice. Nobody forced me to have children. I just have to face up with the consequences and do my best, rather than be bitter.
Becoming a mother also meant that I had to do things with no expectations whatsoever of reward or even acknowledgement. I had to be prepared to open up, change, go with the flow and to give up a piece of myself for my children’s smile. But the rewards, which came years later, were worth all the gold and precious stones in the world – my now grown-up children made my life worthwhile. Waking up in THEIR happy homes drives it home to me.
Three years ago, my children’s father and I helped my second son to purchase his first home. It is in a less salubrious part of town, an end of terrace tucked away in a nondescript road. I had first visited this town when I applied to study medicine here as an 18-year-old, and was not impressed. But in the intervening summer and Christmas holidays since my son bought his first house here, I have cooked, cleaned and gardened in this small house, put my meagre savings into it, with no expectations whatsoever of any reward except making the house nicer for my son. My children’s father had put in a tremendous amount of his time in the house, too, ten times my modest contribution. We often joke, we’ll send the boy the bill one day.
But the greatest payment came today when I was out in his small backyard. It had been a rainy summer, but today, the sun shone brilliantly on this small patch in Southampton. The grass is freshly mown and the apricot tree laden with fruits. I thought to myself, this is truly the best spot in the world!
I thought too about the neighbours who always kept an eye on the property for my son, namely the 80-year-old who takes his rubbish out on bin collection days when he is not around and the lady next door with the dog who is the first to react at the slightest noise coming from the house.
And sitting in the garden, I opened my laptop and saw this….
…. and I thought, yes, I will do what I can to help the people of Southampton because I feel blessed to be here. I am blessed to be a different person today than I was 32 years ago when I first came to this town. I have grown. Today, I am more mellowed, more charitable, less dismissive, less rigid. Thanks to my second son and his siblings, who dragged me kicking and screaming, away from my narrow and blinkered world. They were indeed the best medicine for my wounded soul.