Monday, 16 March 2009


Slowly, it is dawning on me what this business of being a mother is all about.

Standing on the outside looking in I could see it was about responsibility and love, hard work and fun. But I thought that it started and ended between the mother and their child/children.

No, no, no. During the last months of pregnancy at work a colleague, who has three children one of whom is taller than her (and so she was really qualified to talk) told me that I was joining the International Club of Motherhood.

Ahh that’s nice, I thought, without really thinking about it. I was too terrified of everything ahead of me to think about any of it.

I also, internally grimaced a bit, in the way I read two female writers grimacing in a newspaper recently, about the smugness of mothers, and doubted I would be part of any kind of club.

But I am beginning to understand now, that for starters, it is not a choice. Once you have crossed the line, you’re in, whether you like it or not.

I first observed this change in my international status while pushing Snooks around the streets in his pram, where I noticed the frequency with which I was asked for directions had gone up. I have always been a stopee – on my first and only trip to Dublin years ago, I practically ran guided tours for lost Americans. It must be the Irish Eyes – but now there seemed to be a shift in the type of request and the person making it. I noticed people stopped me without hesitation, assuming my good will and knowledge. They were a bit more polite than they used to be. I thought for a minute they might call me ‘mum’.

Perhaps it comes from me. I am less fearful about the unknowns wandering the streets than I used to be. I assume they can’t do much to me that would hurt, or be more public and exposed than childbirth. In the back of my mind is always the thought “I pushed this child into the world with my stomach muscles without the aid of medicine. What can you do to me?”

I took my mother-of–the-world status to a new level during the snowfall last month when I ordered a gang of teenagers to ‘Hold your fire!’ as I tried to cross a road they had brought to a standstill by hurling bricks of snow at the passing cars. The biggest of the boys repeated my words to his troops with such reverence that I struggled to keep a straight face and resist the urge to give him a hug.

This week I heard a direct appeal to the ICM, one which I would not have noticed before. It came during Comic Relief Red Nose Day when three of the female television presenters whose job was to get the detached, sceptical, skint watching nation to donate money, put themselves in the place of the mothers they had met on fact-finding trips to Africa who were losing their children to malaria and AIDS.

I might have doubted their sincerity in the past, wondering why, just because they had a child, they seemed to be so moved by someone else’s tragedy.

But when Davina McCall told all mothers to do something to help these children, just at that moment, I felt that call.

It was not the same sense of social responsibility or even personal loss which has lain behind donations I have made to particular charities in the past. I just felt compelled to help.

However, it may be that an appeal to fathers or brothers or aunties would have had exactly the same effect and I have simply been got by a skilful manipulative ploy for a good cause.

So while the tearful Engineer willingly went and found the credit card while I dialled the donations number, I have the feeling my television watching may be monitored carefully in future in these financially difficult times.

Membership of the ICM could be a costly business.

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