Monday, March 06, 2017

I had a very happy childhood. In many ways it was a very traditional one. My sisters and I are all quite close in age and I have very fond memories of shared bedrooms, playing in the garden and an overwhelming sense of love. I am very lucky to still have grandparents and when I sat down to write this post, I realised (probably for the first time) what a huge role my grandmothers have played in my decision to become a mother.

My paternal grandmother has always been considered the matriarch of my father’s family. Growing up, her home was the love nucleus. All family gatherings happened there. She would spend the days leading up to Christmas preparing for the absolute feast we all enjoy on Christmas day. The day would arrive and we’d all sit down and tuck into a meal that always felt like it was prepared with every scrap of love she could muster. After lunch my aunts and my mom would flock to the kitchen to help with the dishes. The men in the family would sit around the table rubbing their bellies and watching the kids. At this stage of my story my feminist self is weeping a little, but at the time I remember feeling that this was all completely natural. No one objected, no one complained, this was the way it was done and everyone loved it. The kitchen was filled with sounds of laughter and jokes and the lounge held the hum of sports talk and complaints about work. The kitchen always seemed to be the happier place.

Our weekends were filled with camps, cousins, braais and brunches. While my parents were not without their worries, these were never apparent to my sisters and I. There was freedom in my childhood. Freedom to play, freedom to explore, freedom to exist in any way that felt harmonious to me. Our home was never short on love. While my father was not the more affectionate of my two parents, he had his ways of showing love. My sisters and I would climb into my parent’s bed and my dad would fart on us. So gross but I remember those moments with a  smile because this was his way. We were in a constant state of competition to see who could get more attention from my dad. In the end it was always pretty equally doled out. My mom often got the short end of the stick, as I have come to realise moms often do. She was the one ushering us into the bathroom for bath time, calling us away from play to eat, scolding (and occasionally whacking) us when we were naughty. She said no often, again, something I now know moms do more often than dads.

My maternal grandmother, Paddy, is one of the strongest women I know. There is a place in my heart that is hers alone. It is a place filled with so much love but also a strong, unwavering respect that I have yet to feel for another person. You see, my grandfather, Nick, died when my mom was 7 years old. He had a heart attack in his sleep. As the sole breadwinner of the family, his death started a new chapter for my grandmother: One where she became a young, single parent to 3 little girls. A life she did not expect and definitely did not choose. Thrust into a world of financial worries, she had to work 3 different jobs in order to make ends meet. By day she worked as tea lady in an office in the CBD and in the evenings she did ironing and on the weekends she cleaned. She managed to put her girls through school and pay off her bond. Years later my mom’s oldest sister Cassie died in a terrible car accident. She was absolutely amazing. My sisters and I were all very close to her and her death changed our family irrevocably. No parent should ever have to bury their child and after the life my granny had lead thus far, Cassie’s death made me question everything I knew to be true. Instead of retreating from life, my granny marched on. Getting more involved with her church, going on outings with her friends, it was as if the death of her child forced her to live more, enjoy more. Her difficult life meant she was a woman with little patience, but even so, she was never short on love. She is kind, honest and so true to herself. I sometimes sit and chat to her and I often feel amazed at how easy it is to connect with her. She has a sense of empathy that feels so outdated in the world we live in today.

Both my parents worked so the hours after school were often spent at one of my grandmother’s homes. Each granny had a different approach. While I had no cousins on my mother’s side of the family, there were 4 on my father’s side. Often one or all of my cousins would also be at my paternal grans house after school. For this reason my gran would always ensure a smooth sense of order was upheld: snack, homework, tv or outside play until your parents came to collect you. Things were a little different at my maternal gran’s house. Firstly because we were the only ones there, secondly because she was always cooking. Whether she was baking biscuits, frying up French toast or making pancakes, there was always a reason to hang around her kitchen. So we’d arrive at Paddy’s, she’d ask us if we had homework, we’d lie and say no and then we’d just follow her around all afternoon. Asking questions, scratching in her room (which always felt like the most amazing treasure trove) and eating, pretty much non-stop.

These two women created the foundation that my self esteem, my love of family, my sense of worth and my understanding of what it means to be a woman was built on.

Now I am grown with children of my own. Living in a world where becoming a mother is often seen as choosing the lesser of two lives. A world where the decision not to have children is celebrated with such vigor. A world where mothers are constantly shamed for their bodies, their choices, their mistakes… And then I think of my two grans… Two women who embody everything that motherhood means to me, and I know that without their love, I would never have known - with such absolute certainty - that I wanted to be a mother.

When I was 19 I met Regan and I thought we’d fall in love and get married and have a little baby girl and I’d name her Plum Human and life would be so grand. That didn’t happen. But I realised that this mindset stemmed from a need I had in my heart to start my own family. Growing up surrounded by this ridiculous amount of love was amazing. My heart needed a way to share it, to pay it forward I guess. To me, that way was with children. Eventually, years later, Regan and I did fall madly in love and we did have a little girl, we didn’t name her Plum, but rather, Sophie. And from the very first second I saw her, I knew that I was meant to be a mother. It’s the calling my heart cries for loudest.

Now I find myself sitting here on my bed, watching Gracie sleep, wondering what Sophie’s doing at school, considering what to make for supper and also if I should bake Sophie’s birthday cake myself this year… All the while constantly aware of how absolutely privileged I am to be able to say that yes, my happy childhood is the reason I wanted children, but having two phenomenal grannies is how I knew I wanted to be a MOTHER. 

** Just to clarify, my mom is amazing and while reading this you may be thinking that she was maybe not the wonderful person I know her to be, that’s simply not true. I wrote this post to acknowledge the role my grandmothers played in my decision to become a mother. The best part about having my girls is watching my mom become the kind of grandmother that they can one day look up to.

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