I live for my kids. I’m probably one of the most maternal people you’ll ever (e) meet but people don’t always assume that of me- (perhaps unless they meet me and, ‘witness the warmth’ (!): kind words bestowed upon me at a recent book signing)- as such is the assumption that ambition must come at the expense of maternal instinct. It doesn’t.
I’m more ambitious than I was pre-kids because my children are NOW my raison d’etre and driving force. It is also become of them, I work smarter not harder so we get as much time as possible together. They keep me in check.
On reflection, I’ve always been maternal.
I was a child who loved to look after other children, whether it was my own sibling, younger cousins or the kids in the craiche at my mum’s exercise class attended most Saturdays. I always gravitated towards children, and they to me.
I write about it in more detail in my book Mumboss but I’ve never met a kid who didn’t like me (ha). True story.
Take uni. The kids in the Kennington neighbourhood I lived in, as a post-grad student would rush back from school and wait patiently for me outside our terraced house, bounding towards me on my return, filling me in on their day or asking me to kick a football with them. As the queues of my mini fandom grew, I was renamed The Pied Piper by my housemates who found it utterly hilarious that the local kids would knock on our door, asking if I would like to ‘come out and play’! Maybe I’ve always been a big kid, a Peter Pan style 19 year old and children simply tapped into that energy.
There are have been some remarkable moments with children over the years.
I remember being sat on the tiniest plane imaginable on a domestic flight in South Africa, literally shaking with worry when a toddler in the seat ahead of me, turned around without prompting ,to offer me his hand.
Then, there was the time a young girl I’d never met before ran towards me on a quiet street in East London, arms wide open as she tried to hug me. My medical-student-now-doctor friend who was with me at the time, joked that my large features must have made her think I was some kind of ‘Big Baby’!
These memories read like scenes from a movie and I want to share another.
Visiting a former boyfriend at uni in Cardiff at 16, indirectly led to me saving a young girl’s life. Wandering from a pub, a young girl whose parents I later discovered, were so drunk, they hadn’t notice her leave, ran towards a busy road. On noticing her the second before she embarked into the traffic, I swooped her up in my arms, eventually finding the pub, and returning her to her family.
A similar thing happened in a car park in North Wales a few years back too, when a small child hurtled straight towards me, dodging moving cars in a car park. Looking up to find his parents, I spotted a mother, screaming that she’d lost her child, running down the hill towards us.
I’ve always been a mother.
As a director, pre-children, I defined myself as the mum of the set: the guardian to my cast and crew. I was there to lead the ship and my vision, but to also nurture everyone involved. It was the same as an English and Media teacher before them. I wanted everyone to feel emotionally and physically safe.
We were a team who learned from one another, and grew together because of it. Similar to parenting, then.
I was chatting to a friend yesterday about the relationship we have with our children and how it varies from one child to the next and this conversation was in fact the catalyst to me writing this post.
I love my sons equally, of course I do, but my relationship differs between each boy.
Oliver is 9 in January. I was pregnant with him at 28, turning 29 when he was born, and in many ways, despite him being a much-wanted baby, I felt too young to become a mum back then (I realise 29 isn’t that young but emotionally I’m not sure I was ready, not by a long shot. I didn’t know myself that well, let alone how to parent someone else. Self-discovery was only in its infancy in my 20s. Somehow, we navigated the choppy waters and found dry land and with it grew together.
When I chat to friends who had babies in their late 30s and early 40s, most seem to have taken to first-time motherhood more easily. Several said that the years of yearning for a baby and seeing others, and many others over the years go through the ups and the downs of motherhood, meant they felt more prepared for what was to come. They weren’t scared to ask for help. They knew themselves more deeply. Age and experience had given them the context and perspective required at 4am when your baby won’t sleep which is so often lacking in your 20s. They trusted who they were and what they had to offer. They were more financially secure and equally had people to call on, a village of fellow parents and friends for support and advice who normalised the chaos.
I, on the other hand, was the first of my friends to have a baby and spent most of his first year, feeling lost and alone.
I suffered a traumatic birth and still mourn the year I lost with my beautiful son as my mental health spiralled. I spent so much of that bleak time in survival mode, a black cloud hanging heavily above my head, making even short trips to the local shops feel like an Everest-like mission for me.
Oliver never knew of the struggle, how could he? He was just a baby when his mum felt broken, but over the years, we’ve touched on that time briefly, I conscious he might one day read about me sharing my troubles online. ‘Mummy was sad at the start but grew stronger with help’ sheds light on the importance of speaking up about mental health and naturalises anxiety and depression in an age-appropriate way. Most importantly, Oliver knows how loved he was and is. Through the adversity, we’ve developed a special bond. Oliver is my closest friend, my confidante. We were both babies when he was born to be honest. And we’ve both grown up, side by side.
In contrast to Oliver’s crash c-section (and it really was a CRASH), I experienced a calm elective with Xander and had the opportunity to re-live the birth experience I’d hoped for, the first time-round, with him.
That, combined with the fact parenting second time round was without the first-time parental pressures, as much guilt, and greater confidence, made for a very happy first year for us and beyond.
And here we are.
Almost 9 years in, as a mother, a lifetime being maternal, and you know what, I feel like I’m a good mum. A fun mum. A loving, strong mum.
I make up stories with my kids (Ninja Mama might one day find it’s way onto your book shelves and into your hearts), we have both quantity and quality time, strolling by the river near our home, feeding the ducks, naming the swans, playing Guess Who and Hungry Hippos, watching YouTube videos of Fun House from back in the day (when you could win a cassette player!!!), or our mutual fave Dan TDM, and baking dairy free treats on a weekend we eat en masse and never freeze despite saying we will.
I do, of course, make mistakes, mountains of them: I either turn up too late or too early to school, I plaster Lady Danger lippie on their cheeks when I kiss them, I dance in public when I hear R ‘n’ B because I never get to party anymore and I swear far too much when driving- but I’m hand on heart trying my f******* best, and that’s what matters (!) (and the kids now refer to my road rage as ‘Swear School’ so silver linings and all that- I think).
The most important thing is, both of my boys are my best friends. I’m an ASSERTIVE best friend to them of course as they require guidance but I’m honest, lead by example and wrap them in unconditional love.
Yes, they answer back at times and can drive me bonkers but boy, do they make me proud. They showed me strength I never knew they possessed when we lost my auntie Zak, and again when I had a big thyroid op. I always thought being strong was my job, but their love, understanding and courage has helped me through the darkest of times. Those two bring the light.
Xander, 5, is undoubtedly my baby. I admittedly babyfy him on a daily basis and know that while, I mustn’t smother him so much (I cradle him like a baby), he relishes the baby role and loves the attention and love I give him.
He regularly asks me to home school him and took years to settle into nursery (he only stopped crying 6 months before he left in fact) and if he could, he would choose to spend all day, every day with me which warms the cockles and makes me want him to live with me until he’s 30. OK, 35.
I too adore his love, his kisses, the way he strokes my hair, and tells me I look beautiful. I’m utterly obsessed with my little boy.
Affectionate, kind and caring, those puppy dog eyes always make me melt, and I take full advantage of him wanting ALL of the kisses and cuddles before the surly tween and teen years hit and I might find that I’m no longer the fun mum I thought I was!
Oliver, 8, is a sweet old soul, mature beyond his years/born wise as they say (just as I was as a child according to my Mum) I give him a little more space than Xander and independence too. While he’s not as tactile as his sibling at 8 1/2 (he’s far too cool to be initiating kisses these days), he still craves my love and attention albeit in a quieter way, so I work harder to read the silences, the gaps, to know when and what he needs from me, trying hard not to smother him while ensuring he feels listened to and loved.
We’ve found a new groove this summer, Oliver and I, and the more solo attention he receives from me, the easier he is around his brother. There’s less competition and more love between them. It’s reinforced their relationship and their blooming bond has been beautiful to witness.
…It’s not easy ‘parenting as you go’, as we all are but writing posts like this reminds me of quite how far we’ve all come.
First photo taken in Windsor with the ‘Vicki bag’, my collab with KeriKit. Preorder the bag.