“She would happily gouge out her own kidney with a spoon if I needed it,” said a friend of mine in the playground. She was talking about her mother. I know how she feels. A mother’s love knows no bounds, is at times almost overwhelming and this week, more than most, I’ve had reason to reflect upon it.
Remembrance day was spent on a Year 4 school trip to the Imperial War Museum where we stopped in still and silent contemplation at eleven o’clock to hear a lone bugler play. Gently, I tucked my arm around Youngest as he sat next to me on the bench feeling his fragile little frame leaning against me. The very thought of war, its pity and its pain, causing harm to one of my own sons…
I will always remember reading Birdsong in the days immediately after Middle One was born, twelve years ago this week. We were still living almost entirely in the bedroom, cocooned away together from the world in those precious first few days. I would breastfeed and read at the same time: milk flowing out as the words flowed in.
I fed him for hours on end to ensure that bond between us - or so I hoped - and as I did so, I read and read. That particular book broke my heart: all those young men, boys still many of them, wrenched away from their own mothers, dying, muddy and alone, in agony. In the heightened emotional state of new motherhood I gripped my boy baby to me with tears of rage and fear: no one would ever hurt my child, not this one, not any of them. But of course, from time to time, little things do hurt them, at least emotionally, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
There is no world war (thank God) and nothing vaguely approaching the scale of a war for us, but the sad truth is that no mother can protect her child from little pains in life, what Shakespeare memorably calls the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ These will always find their mark and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Eldest, miserable at school because he’s separated from his friends by the new GCSE timetabling; Middle One anxious about yet another test; Youngest upset because he’s demoted back down to the bottom swimming group at school and, “all the girls laugh at me.” I haven’t the power to avert these petty struggles and injustices, little things that will inevitably allay them from time to time but will quickly heal. Still, they loom large in a mother’s mind at four o’clock in the morning when she lies awake staring at the ceiling.
Someone once told me that a mother is only ever as happy as her least happy child. It’s so true.