this (maternal) life
I walk along the street between my house and the supermarket. My youngest child is strapped to my chest in a baby carrier, because she will grizzle if put in the stroller. My eldest child wobbles ahead on his red bike. He fails to look as he crosses a driveway, and I berate him, adrenalin rushing through me as I imagine the worst. But no one is backing out of this particular driveway at this particular moment.
Then my middle child decides to stop and inspect the daisies growing alongside the path. I urge her on, but she refuses to move — she wants to pick all the daisies that she can see; there are hundreds between here and the supermarket.
While I walk back to grab her arm, half my attention follows the red bike, which is nearing the corner of a busy road. I yell out to my fouryear-old to stop and wait.
My middle child drops to the ground, anguished by the prospect of walking on. Her tights are now streaked with mud and grass stains and tears plaster her hair to her face. But I offer her a biscuit and she agrees to come along in peace.
We set off again and my mind wanders. I think about my career and when I will return to it; whether the world is passing me by as I corral my children and bargain with biscuits.
I notice an elderly woman stepping out from behind her front gate. She has been watching us and for a moment I am embarrassed by my child-wrangling. She touches my arm. “These are the best years of your life,” she says, nodding at my children.
There is melancholy in her voice and her eyes are watery. It is far from the first time I have heard these words. But each time, the words give me pause.
Yet the sentiment is easy to doubt. What about my childhood years, now a haze of care- free summers and Sunday roasts? Or my teenage years when I had my first exhilarating taste of romance? Or the independence of my university days?
And how can you look past the years of travelling and exploring Europe? And what about the year I met my husband, when we shared dinners, parties and walks at dusk, and considered all the what-ifs of a life together?
But, in my heart, I feel that these women who stop me in the street, in the park or in the shops are right. They see me struggling along with my children and recognise a truth about the many moments of exceptional beauty involved in nurturing a little human being.
I am fortunate that these women remind me that while these days might be my hardest, they may well be the best of my life.
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