Motherhood is all-encompassing. Five years ago, it washed over me like a tide, dragging me under and pinning me down on the ocean floor as I fought for air to fill my lungs while powerful waves broke over me. Every so often, I summon the strength to swim up to the surface and catch my breath, I fill my lungs with the oxygen I once took for granted but which now feels special as though my very being depends on it, only to be dragged back down to the sandy floor as the next wave crashes over my head. It is exhausting, to tread water in a stormy sea, gulping huge breaths of air into my lungs and not knowing when I might be able to breathe again, so consumed by my battle with and against the ocean that all sense of who I am is lost.
Motherhood is relentless. Even when my bones ache from exhaustion and my brain is filled with nothing more than a dense fog of tiredness, I still rise in the night without hesitation to take care of my children. They come first, their hunger or nightmares or clammy limbs reaching out for a cuddle always take precedence over my desperate need for sleep. I cannot sleep, I have accepted that, not yet, maybe in a few years, but for now, the tiredness is as much a part of me as my left arm. It is always there and, as a result, I have stopped noticing it a lot of the time, but sometimes, as I stare into the bathroom mirror and look at the pink eyes staring back at me, and the dark circles under them and the age lines creeping out at the corners, it comes rushing back to me so powerfully that I fear I will keel over and be unable to get up.
Motherhood is chaotic. It is the desperate juggling act of trying to look after the basic needs of my family whilst also finding the time to write, to invoice, to do admin, to wash laundry and pair socks and cook dinners and shop so that the cupboards aren't bare. It is the endless chore of picking up toys, of cleaning teeth, of remembering birthdays, of making sure everybody is eating well. It is the constant worry that I'm not doing enough, of trying to improve, to be better, to mother in a way that will protect them in the future, it is the late night ordering of parenting books from Amazon and knowing that they will sit gathering dust beside my bed until I finally find the time and energy to read them and, by that point, that it could be too late, that I may already have done everything wrong.
Motherhood is like a kettle boiling, that shrill whistle sounding loudly in my ear while I try to gather my thoughts and think about what to do next, my insides hot whilst frustration bubbles beneath the surface. Motherhood is getting things wrong and making mistakes and wishing I had been better. It is sitting down in the evenings and letting the day wash over me, thinking about where I went wrong and what I should have done instead, it is the never-ending conversation with Laurie about who we are as parents and who we want to be. It is knowing that finding the time for that conversation isn't always easy but that it is always important, that if we stop thinking about it, if we fall into habit and parent without analysis, then we aren't doing it right. There is always room for improvement, there are always apologies to be made and bonds to be strengthened, even when there isn't time because life is in the way.
Motherhood is me. It is always there, even when my children are not. Become a mother rewired my brain and changed the way I see the world. It changed everything. It made the world smaller, it made my fears bigger and it threw my ribcage open and exposed my heart to the elements where it seems in constant danger of getting hurt. It is beautiful and powerful and vaster than any skyscraper. And, sometimes, it's nice to get away from it all. Sometimes, it's nice to escape from motherhood, just for a little bit. I need to walk away from real life, to throw myself back into the past, to meet friends and drink wine and talk about politics and forget about motherhood and all that it entails. That little break, that night away to a different city with different conversations and busy streets and new foods to try, gives me the chance to swim to the surface and take a big gulp of fresh air and remind myself who I am. I am a mother and that is the biggest part of my identity now while my children are little, but I'm also lots of other things and, when the waves break around me instead of over my head, it's nice to remember those things, to breathe them in and hold my breath, letting them rush through my veins, before I am dragged back under again.