March 22nd 2020. Mother’s Day. The last day I truly feel like a real mum. The last day I hug my daughter with unconscious unawareness. For, despite the knowledge that a pandemic is fast approaching and that lockdown is imminent, how can I possibly envisage that, a year on, so much of my life that I take for granted will be changed beyond recognition?
‘See you soon,’ I say waving her off with what now seems negligent nonchalance. The next day we are ‘ordered’ to stay at home and my mothering career takes a very different turn. Sure, my oldest two are adults, but that’s when the rewards of parenthood finally kick in. Entertaining evenings around the dinner table, with catering finally outsourced to the younger generation. Trips abroad conveniently classed as a ‘must’ rather than a ‘luxury’ in order to be able to see the middle child, who’s moved his life to tourist-friendly Amsterdam. Sightseeing combined with interesting adult conversation. The realisation that you actually enjoy your children’s company now that you no longer have to pretend to like S Club 7 or Pikachu.
Then suddenly these feasts are snatched away. And all you are left with is a few crumbs. The chance to see Darling Daughter’s face from behind a pane of glass. Hurried walks in wintry weather. Eating soggy sandwiches together but at a distance. How are you to know what’s really going on inside her head? Yes, you can see that something’s up. But without that girls’ night-in, watching rom-coms with a confessional glass of wine or two, the truth is less likely to out, and mum’s magic, cure-all hug is out of bounds.
As for my Lost Boy, he’s changed from Pokémon to poker face. Everything is always ‘fine’. Is that pallid complexion and serious expression a result of his mother’s imagination or simply poor lighting? But why then, when Skype interrogations get too close for comfort, does the internet connection always seem to break? How I miss those walks along the Dutch canals or companionable drives in the Peaks when, with no direct eye contact, all manner of secrets unfold…
And yes, I have my youngest. I can still be a hands-on mother to him. But truth be told, Grunting Teen is at that age when he’d much prefer me to be hands-off. He needs his siblings to distract me whilst he gets up to no good behind my back. He needs silent disapproval for his street-cred rather than overt smothering for his mum’s neediness. No wonder he’s been begging for a pet all this time!
So, Mother’s Day 2021 comes and goes, and with it, the carefully chosen card and bouquet of flowers from Darling Daughter, the badly wrapped, last-minute box of chocolates from Grunting Teen and the hastily written, sister-reminded WhatsApp message from the Lost Boy.
It may not be exactly what I had in mind but somehow this year’s celebration has more poignancy for me. The fact that my children recognise my efforts in the mothering department makes me realise that, even despite government-imposed distancing, our bonds are still there. We are all doing our best.
Indeed, we are the lucky ones. For all things pass. And an end is now in sight. Unlike those whose mothers have been lost to them through illness, tragedy or political power-mongering, we live to celebrate another Mother’s Day next year. If nothing else, the pandemic has made us appreciate the bonds of family. For there is no price tag on the love we feel for our nearest and dearest. And no joy greater than when we are finally reunited. And I can be a real mum once more.