Since becoming a parent, there are a few things I’ve had to wave goodbye to: my size 8 jeans and late night tequila parties come immediately to mind (motherhood has made the hips more robust but weakened the constitution dramatically). Also, I’ve had to give up my fantasy of perfect family life. No matter that the fantasy was based primarily on a montage of mother-child photos from margarine ads. It was deeply held and painful to part with. But real children are nothing like the margarine children, and I am clearly no model mother. For example:
Fantasy 1: The smaller child must dress up as an alien for school. Her costume, hand-made by me, is adorable and convincingly alien. She earns recognition from her peers, her self-esteem is boosted and she knows she is loved and prioritized in our house.
Reality: I forget all about the costume until the day before dress-up. We’re busy that afternoon, so by the time I think about it again it’s 22h00 and I’m too exhausted to hand-make anything except a glass of wine.
The next morning the child runs into school, late, with a badly cut out alien mask. There’s black felt pen smudged everywhere and, in an attempt at antennae, I’ve tied some little water balloons over the ears. The result looks more like Kali the Goddess of Destruction than an alien. This is entirely in keeping with the smaller child’s character, but it’s not what the school asked for.
Fantasy 2: On winter afternoons we come home from school to a pot of vegetable soup, before going back outside for a forest walk. We collect dead leaves and twigs to make a collage because we’re creative, in touch with the world around us and we walk 10,000 steps a day.
Reality: The smaller child refuses to eat my vegetable soup because it has vegetables in it. The bigger child starts motivating strongly to watch a DVD.
“No,” I insist. “We’re going for a walk.”
After some shouting the bigger one gives in but the smaller one does not. I have to catch her and force her into her boots, gloves and scarf. She threatens to tell the police that I’m making her go outside “in the freeze”.
I finally get them both outside and march them up to the forest, where we collect handfuls of dead foliage. Back home they fling off their jackets and glue some sticks to a piece of paper. It takes about three minutes and they’re clearly just doing it to humour me.
They watch Tangled while I wipe up puddles of glue and pick bits of crushed leaf out of their gloves.
Fantasy 3: I’m a caring and thoughtful home chef, who always dishes up something healthy but appealing to the youthful palate. I gently shape their table manners as we make conversation and bond deeply over good food.
Reality: I’m a short order cook who stands at the stove while the children shout instructions from the dining room: “More cheese!”; “I’m taking out everything that’s a vegetable”; “I’m really thirsty.” Then they pour a cupful of tomato sauce on everything, without tasting it first. The entire dinner conversation consists of my husband endlessly repeating his mealtime mantras: “Don’t talk with your mouth full”, “You’re going to knock that over” and “Eat nicely.’’
After dinner I clean up a sea of tomato sauce and juice. I make a quiche out of the pile of rejected vegetables and feed it to my husband the next day.
He thinks it’s delicious.
It may not be the dream … but it’ll do.
Robyn Goss is a South African writer, recently moved to Switzerland. You can read her blogs at www.robyngoss.com