Today I have been a Mama for 18 years. That’s technically not true; I only became “Mama” around 6 and a half years ago when my youngest son decided that’s what he was going to call me, the older children followed his lead. Previous to that, I’m not sure what my title was but my job was the same.
I have three children- an 18 year old son, 15 year old daughter and a 7 year old son. The children are generally happy save for their own individual neuroses; they are intelligent and good-humoured, curious, energetic, polite, creative, sociable in their own unique way and very loving.
My parenting style is eclectic though at times, probably best described as “haphazard” I kind of make it up as I go along. Cereal (branded or generic) is a legitimate dinner at least once a week, baby wipes are an excellent substitute for a bath every other night, ketchup is a vegetable. 3 hours a day on the internet is “learning”, swearing is ok if it is grammatically correct and used appropriately. Discussion at the dinner table is actively encouraged even if it is about world hunger or decomposition- which as anyone with a 7 year-old son will know; it often is. Bedtimes can be fluid if I’m not craving peace; curfews are negotiable if the text messaged request is funny enough. Later-on drugs can be experimented with as long as they’re not chemical or addictive, getting drunk is ok as long as you stay safe and don’t get “fall down, piss yourself drunk”. A screwdriver is a legitimate toy, breaking things is “science”, woodlice are pets. Food colouring is for icing, mashed potatoes and baths. Beds are for sharing, books are important but can be annotated if desired, magnifying glasses are essential as are torches. School is crucial and should be approached with enthusiasm and the courage to question, further or higher education is optional. Individuality is cherished, love is unconditional.
In return for my eclectic parenting style I have 3 rather wonderful children, all popular with peers, all healthy, all able to come to me when necessary as far as I know- as far as any mother can know I suspect, after all you don’t know what they don’t tell you. I know I’m not an ogre- the 18 year old is able to discuss his sexuality with me, the 15 year old trusts me with her secrets and friends, the 7 year old still thinks I am a walking encyclopaedia even though I have led him to believe that the answer to many questions is “magic” (accompanied by appropriate hand-gestures and “woo” noises).
I’d be lying if I said my mental health hadn’t affected my children, particularly over the last year or so. They have had to go through things and witness things no child should ever have to be subjected to. The one thing I know I will never forgive the mental health system for is the effect their mistakes and negligence had on my children. I obviously feel guilty about my own contribution to what the children suffered but I know I couldn’t help it. I also know I repeatedly asked those who should have helped me to help- it’s not my fault they didn’t.
Even outwith times of crisis and given that the illness I have, dissociative identity disorder (DID) doesn’t just suddenly appear in adulthood but has been present in some way throughout my life, my mental health has affected my children and my relationships with them from the start.
Today, July 20th 2012, I can only remember one of the ‘starts’, I currently have no access to memories of my children prior to 2005, it’s as though I wasn’t there.
I wasn’t there.
I have a metaphorical book of facts; I can tell you birthweights, the ages at which developmental milestones were met and have the odd anecdote but beyond that- nothing. I have many photographs of the children, sometimes they can help access a memory of a time, place or event but it is to my eternal sadness that there are very few, if any photographs of me and the children. I’m terrified of having my photograph taken, in the few photos that do catch me, I look terrified. I have no proof that I was ever there and in the absence of feeling like I was there, this is difficult. The children don’t have DID, they do have memories and they often share them. Their accounts of me are usually positive so I take comfort from that. I also know that whilst I may not be able to access my memories of the children- they are there and I’m hopeful that, in time, they will become my memories too.
There’s no doubt that my mental health has had many negative impacts throughout the children’s lives but I’d argue the positives from having multiple Mama’s outweigh the negatives.
I am able to share my children’s interests- everything from the 18 year-old’s love of trains and foreign languages, to the 15 year-old’s love of reddit and shoes, to the 7 year-old’s love of Lego and Spiderman.
I am a very accepting person, anything goes. I have a moral compass that spins freely. Nothing my children do is unacceptable, certain situations may need a careful approach; some extra thought but nothing phases me. I’m slightly challenged by the 18 year-old’s support for Scottish nationalism (with a capital N) but there really is no-one better for him to discuss it with and I’m optimistic I can convince him otherwise but equally happy if I can’t. I frequently annoy the 15 year-old with my general ‘enthusiasm’ for things but she knows that it can be used to her advantage- be this in shoe or pancake form. The 7 year-old can vomit on demand at the dinner table should I stray from his desired diet of processed beaks and feet wrapped in batter, served with bastardised potato shaped into smiley faces, animals or letters but he knows I love those smiley faces, animals and letters as much as he does. I don’t stress over the little things, meeting the 5-a-day requirement in this house often includes the consumption of “imagination salad”.
Thanks to my amazing powers of dissociation I am excellent in a crisis, should you back-flip into the corner of a table and sever a blood vessel there is no-one better to accompany you to A&E. I am a calm, reassuring presence even when faced with spurting blood and general distress.
I am fiercely protective of the children and attentive to their physical, emotional and environmental needs. This means I am happy to demand a same-day GP appointment in the face of cross-examination and insistence that such a thing is impossible from the receptionist. I am quick to challenge a school “behaviour policy” that uses shame to try and elicit compliance and should the children desire a mural on their bedroom wall or fairy lights in the kitchen than that’s ok too.
I am a good Mama.
So why today am I sitting here, worrying?
I’m worrying because tonight I have promised to take the now 18 year-old out for his first legal pint- out, to a pub. I don’t need to tell you just how challenging this is, I briefly began to consider all the known triggers and stopped when I got to double figures. I daren’t even think about the ones I don’t know about. I’m confident that I will appear well, it may be the quickest pint ever but I’m sure it’s something my son will remember forever and I’m honoured he chose me to share this moment with him. I’m pretty certain that the situation will be so stressful I’ll have no memory of it at all and I don’t doubt that it will cause some internal distress, but I’m going to do it- that’s what Mama’s do.
I’m worrying because on the 3rd of August my youngest son will return to my care full-time, having spent the last 9 months or so living with his father. I have stayed in contact with him throughout this period and it was always my intention to have him home when I felt well enough. The choice to wait until I was well enough wasn’t mine to make so he’s coming home a little earlier than I would’ve liked, I am in no doubt that this is the right thing to do. I accept it will be challenging and I accept that my progress, which to-date has been consistent and rapid will probably slow as I try to combine therapeutic work with caring full-time for two children again.
I’m worrying because although I know I’m a good Mama, I’ve lost a lot of confidence in my skills, I share the role with several others. They all have something to bring and all have contributed in some way to the amazing creatures the children have become. I don’t expect it to be easy but I know, in time, I will get that confidence back. In spite of everything I have three securely attached, integrated little people to love and call my own.
Well I say little people- the 18 year-old is 6ft 2 with size 17 feet, I can only hypothesise that his father was a giant or a clown- perhaps a giant clown? I have no idea and I suspect, given my track record with men that some things are best left dissociated.