Dave and I were chatting in the car the other week, and because of something (witty and profound, I daresay) that I had said, he said, “what’s it going to be like when we’re proper parents?” And I knew exactly what he meant. Okay, technically, we’re parents right now, but proper ones? No. That’s in a few years’ time when we’ve got a couple of screaming brats in the back of the car, facing a two-day car journey to somewhere a bit too hot in Europe where we’ll probably be staying in a tent. Y’know, for comfort. That’s a proper parent. We, on the other hand, only have a small, whingy toddler to contend with – that, and the merest whiff of a second child to consider. That’s not proper, that’s just playing.
But I am a mother. And I was thinking about this very peculiar truth and how I find it very difficult to assume as a label. I was thinking about it partly because now that I’m pregnant again I’ve had a number of appointments with midwives, who have all been utterly lovely, but some of whom, instead of using the word “you” – for instance, “how have you been feeling?” – use the word “mum”.
“How has mum been feeling?”
So I reply: “Oh! Very well, I think – I spoke to her a few days ago and she’d just got back from… Ah. You mean me. You’re just talking about me as if I’m not here, and I’m just a role rather than a person. Fine. Gotcha. I’m doing okay, as it happens – varicose veins look revolting, but otherwise can’t complain.”
To compound to this weirdness is the dawning horror that I am what is known as a “Mummy blogger”. Worse still, considering this internet thing is truly an international phenomena, in some arenas I might in fact be known as a “Mommy blogger”. I mean, it’s just hideous, isn’t it? Everything about it makes me want to run for the hills and start writing about car engines instead. But, surprisingly, my knowledge of car engines is, in fact, slightly inferior to my knowledge about child-rearing, so that scuppered that plan.
The Mother thing is all wrapped up in this “Mummy” thing, I think. But I really don’t feel like either label applies to me. Peculiarly enough (in the context of the above) I can’t wait for Teddy to start calling me Mummy. And not only that, but I refer to myself as Mummy in front of him, and Dave refers to me as Mummy (when he’s talking to Teddy, not at any other time, we’re not that odd) and that’s all fine. But I can’t get my head round anyone else outside of our titchy family referring to me as such – or even me saying it out loud outside of our house. For instance, when I phone up the nursery, and introduce myself as “Ted’s mum” I feel that I’m suddenly, automatically two things: 1) very much older than I feel, and 2) very much more motherly than I am.
It’s odd how labels can do that to a person, isn’t it? Mummy and (yeuch) Mommy don’t feel like words that apply to me at all. Everyone else can be mummies, that’s fine and not weird – but not me, ooh the horror, the horror. So what’s so bloody wrong with it? Why do I feel like I’m pretending to be one?
When I was growing up, I remember my mum having a bit of a wrangle with the bank because she wanted her soon-to-be-issued new card to have a name on it without a prefix*. In 2014 this sounds like a pretty normal request, but in 1980-something-or-other it wasn’t. They wanted Miss or Mrs or – and this would have been very modish at the time – Ms. My mother wanted none of these things. Why did she need to have a prefix when men didn’t? My mother has an obviously female first name, so there was no need for anything to specify gender on her bank card. Besides, it was HER bank card and HER bank account, so surely it was up to her to decide what she wanted to be called on it?
As a small aside yes, my mother is a feminist. As we all should be. Got that? So I’m sure a lot of her discussions with the bank – ooh, I think it was Midland Bank: that dates me, doesn’t it? – as well as being grounded in common sense, were also forged from a background of the struggles of (have I got this right?) the second wave of feminism in the 70s. And how impressive is that? Makes you proud to be a daughter of such a woman, right?
(Um, no. It does NOW – absolutely, very much so. But at the time I was mortified, but I have to say I’m pretty mortified now, saying that I was mortified then. Please bear in mind that I was a fledgling teenager and, therefore, also a berk.)
What my mum was doing, on the phone to Midland, was very brave and very important. These days – not so much. I did it myself a few years back, and prepared myself for a right old ding-dong with the bank, and they just said, “Of course, Esther, no problem.”
But what I’m getting at here is that back in the 80s, my mum had a problem with a label, and rightfully so. And right now I have a problem with another label, and I should just bloody well accept it. It’s not derogatory, or reductive, or in any way anti-female: it merely describes one of the things that I am. But the more I think about the first label I was banging on about and how it makes me feel awkward and weird, the more I think about the label my mum was banging on about and how much more important that was. Because at some point between that phone call to Midland Bank and last year, all of those brilliant, hard-won ideals she ingrained in me simply puffed out of my ears without a second thought, and I went and got married, and became not only a Mrs, but a Mrs Someone Else. I mean, sod the Mummy thing, I just threw away my identity completely.
And a year on, it still feels alien to me. Mrs, New Name – all of it. Was I a complete idiot to re-identify myself so completely? I should have been cresting the third wave of feminism, surely – but ended up sinking back into patriarchal happy families.
Perhaps, then, the reason that I find it difficult to see myself as a Mum is that it’s another feminine role – like Wife – and I willingly rolled over backwards and accepted one of those labels, so I feel like I should resist this one. But I can’t! The fact remains, I AM a mother. What I choose to call myself is up to me, but in the meantime I’m stuck with it. I gave up my opportunity to keep my name, that was entirely my decision, but I can’t do anything about being called a Mother – because that’s what I am.
Perhaps it’s to do with my age. I had Teddy relatively late in life, and was never the most ‘maternal’ of people (whatever that might mean) before I had him – I didn’t coo over babies, and never really thought I’d like to have my own until I was at least in my mid-30s. And then Teddy came along when I was 39, and this next one will be here within seconds of my 41st birthday. And it’s quite late in the day to change your view of yourself from “Esther” to “Mum”.
Perhaps it’s to do with not having a job. I have worked, on and off, for the same company since I was 23. My job, and my company, felt like part of me, and it was a body blow to be made redundant. And for the last two months I’ve had very little work – it’s been an extended, fairly torturous, maternity leave, with still no glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. The only thing looming large on my horizon is another baby; another big fat reason to be a Mummy and not to be Senior Editor or Operations Director or Something Else with a Work Phone Number and a Work Email and Things To Do between 9am and 5pm.
But perhaps it’s just me being an eejit.
I like having the same name as Teddy, and that’s why I did the name-change thing in the first place. And the reason that I like having the same name as Teddy is because, goddamit, I sort of enjoy, occasionally, when he’s looking cute and behaving beautifully, being his mother. Even when he’s being a little sod who won’t eat his supper because it looks marginally different to the supper he had yesterday. I do like it. I just need to get used to it. Mrs. Mummy.
Oh cripes, yes, and Wife. Wife. Do you know how that makes me feel? Like I should be called Goody Trickett, and grow herbs in the garden to pound into tinctures to cure common ailments. But that’s another story.
*There is a good chance that, seeing as this was about 30 years ago, facts might have become a little blurred. If they have, I shall update you once my mum has corrected me on the finer points of banking in the 80s. Now there’s a tantalising prospect.