There are many kinds of mother you can be. Tiger mother, Alpha, Helicopter. I’ve never really seen myself as any of them, and certainly tried to avoid a few. If I had to classify my parenting style, I’d say that I carried stuff. To give it a festive flavour, if this were a nativity, I’d be the donkey. I’m actually surprised that ‘donkey mother’ has never caught on.
“Well if He is to bear the burden of the world, he had better be carried by me” – Jeanette Winterson
I carried my children for nine months, and then carried them around for a good while longer. I reckon I can still make a shepherd’s pie one handed and have the physio bills to prove it. Fred never really liked to be carried much, so from an early age, there I was 10 paces behind him on his scooter carrying the coats, the bags, the snacks. My husband, on the other hand, continued to carry him to bed each night, until he got so tall his feet nearly reached the floor.
I would collect him from school, only for him to run out and throw his things at me, like I was made of Velcro, before he ran off again. And I’ve been doing it every day since. I’ve carried school projects, forgotten PE kits, and random sticks, scooters when the terrain got too rough. I carry the passports, and the sun cream, the gloves and the hats. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve forced Fred to take a coat, only to be met with “do what you like, you’ll be the one carrying it!” And reader, I carried it.
That’s not even including the things I carry in my head. I carry who likes pesto, who doesn’t like mash, who chose the film last, who needs which kit, who’s fallen out with who, who’s nervous about which test and who hates which teacher. I know where everyone’s keys are. I carry the troubles of my friends, and their secrets, the demands of my clients and still manage to remember my passwords – even though I never write anything down.
When I grow up I will be strong enough to carry all the heavy things
You have to haul around with you when you’re a grown up – Matilda
Someone once asked me what anxiety felt like. I said I felt permanently as if I was in a very crowded bar, trying to carry a very complicated drinks order, but everyone kept taking things off the tray, and putting their empty glasses back. I couldn’t get to my table and I couldn’t remember what everyone had ordered or I’d forgotten to order myself a drink; if I could just put the tray on the table and get everyone to be quiet and still for a minute, then it would be OK.
I’m sure I was not alone in this. Last year I wrote a rather harassed blog post about the millions of pressures we are made to feel at this time of the year, from the stocking fillers to the PTA list on the fridge. Although now I’d rather have an Elf on the Shelf. December is full of harassed (usually) women fretting about pastry and crying in car parks.
With Fred’s cancer diagnosis, the tray came crashing to the floor. The room emptied and there were no more drinks.
And now I only have this to carry and there’s nowhere to put it down. But it is so, so heavy. It is not even a metaphor, it is a physical weight that makes everything compress and everything hurt. There is no way for me to feed it, or fix it, or think it into submission – only grip tightly and wait for the doctors and scientists to do their thing.
I ask him if he was worried or frightened about his treatment and he says no. He says there is no point in worrying as I worry enough for everyone, as I always have. And that is all that I can do – to carry this for him too.
I miss the noise, and the to do lists, now blood counts, medications and hospital appointments have replaced them. The Christmas decorations are up, the movies are on the planner, but nobody has quite worked out what to do.
It’s a lonely place to be, but I am not alone. There are countless parents like us, trying to hold, and there is untold strength in numbers. My husband and I hold each other up as much as we can without toppling each other over and we are surrounded by people who quietly sweep the broken glass from around our feet.
Although nobody can bear the weight for us, we will always be grateful to the people who bring strength and solace to our door. There are people who quietly listen, even when there is nothing to say, and the wisest of women who bring nourishing things to eat, calming scents and countless other things to ease our aching minds and limbs. And biscuits – lots of biscuits.
And so we celebrate a Christmas filled with gratitude and love – hopeful that next Christmas will be brighter and lighter. In the meantime, all we can do is stand beside him and carry the coats.