‘You enjoy being a mother don’t you?’ the Engineer said the other day.
At the time I was feeding Snooks a medley of vegetables disguised as cheese sauce with pasta and singing my own praises for my cunning ingenuity.
‘Well in the same way you enjoy being an Engineer,’ I said. He does actually enjoy being an Engineer so this wasn’t quite as snippy as it sounds. But I wanted to make it clear that I did not enjoy it like I enjoy receiving a back massage or roses or jewellery, or eating chocolate cake or lying on a sunny beach. I wanted to keep alive in his mind the fact that motherhood is Awfully Hard Work.
But then I began to think about it and realised that I never do - think, that is, about whether I am enjoying what I do. I am so bent on getting it right, whether it be studying, a job, a relationship, a holiday, that I rarely stop to consider whether I am enjoying it or not.
Looking back, had I asked myself this question once or twice before, it all could have been very different. But that’s another story.
So after some consideration I am duty bound to admit that the Engineer was right. I do enjoy it.
It seems strange as I am superbly ill-prepared for it, having had no younger siblings to practise on and no parental role model to follow. I say this with great respect for my dear departed Aged Ps. They were cool and clever and witty and they loved us, without a doubt. But um, parents, not so much.
And having denounced parenting books (sticks and stones) and rejected the popular clockwork routine - three square meals a day and bath-time and bed before dad gets home – I am having to wing it, making it up as I go along, stitching together the scraps of parental wisdom I have gathered from friends and family along the way.
It makes for an interesting cocktail. Good old-fashioned common sense stored somewhere on the hard drive - my mother bathing her newborn first grandchild in the washing-up bowl, using it as a boat in a bathfull of bubbly water so the babe had the floating bubbly sensation without the itchy skin and risk of drowning – mixed with the ultimate accessory of on-trend attachment parenting: a designer sling picked up at the London Sling Show after a mumfriend passed on her expertise on the benefits of ‘babywearing’ and the plain wrongness of the Baby Bjorn carrier.
Stir in the simple good taste of my childless gay friends who to a man/woman have demonstrated a savoir faire about children I long to possess, and have furnished us with the clothes and books for Snooks I like to have on show when people come round, and there you pretty much have it.
But I digress. You see. I am doing it again. Do I enjoy it?
I do. I like being needed, even though the demand can be excessive at times. I like being useful. After a lifetime of mental exercise, learning and regurgitating facts for other people to read and forget, I feel immensely useful, inventing a cheese sauce, which has cauliflower and sweetcorn imperceptibly blended into it.
I like being active. Despite the ‘still breastfeeding’ extra weight, my physical stamina is close to what it was in the days of seven netball practices a week with a rally thrown in on a freezing Saturday morning.
I like teaching and feel the thrill of satisfaction when Snooks puts the right shape into the right hole, or shouts ‘Burr!’ when we reach the page where teddy comes into the story.
I like walking hand in hand with him – he can toddle a good distance with a steadying hand – venturing forward together into the unknown, he the discoverer and I the protector and guide.
My sister once remarked that her youngest daughter, then two, was ‘very good company’. I did not understand then how one so young could be company at all, let alone good company.
Last week brought splashes of sunshine to London and Snooks and I made the most of it, enjoying a number of picnics a deux, which has the double bonus of encompassing a go on the swings for Snooks and no clearing up the lunchtime debris for me.
He and I have a dialogue, all-be-it rather one-sided, which brings forth observations about our food, about the weather, about the pigeons, the aeroplanes, the trains … our life, in that moment.
What's not to enjoy?