In How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran writes the following of her two daughters:
I used to fear their deaths – The car! The dog! The sea! The germ! – until I realised it need never be a problem: on the trolley, on the way to the mortuary, I would put my hands into their ribs and take their hearts and swallow them, and give birth to them again, so that they never, ever end. I’ll do anything for those girls.
I read this and thought ‘crikey, that’s a bit hardcore. And also messy. Not to mention very unlikely to work anyhow. Still, if I did consider it worth a try, I’d use a scalpel rather than my bare hands. I bet they’d have one lying around.’
Don’t get me wrong. If my kids died, I’d be devastated. I wouldn’t be me ever again, and I don’t want to make light of this happening to anyone else. It’s just, I haven’t come up with a suitably full-on metaphor for this and I’m starting to think this makes me a worse mum.
It’s one of the hidden requirements of motherhood. Love, patience and a serious line in warrior metaphors. I am Mummy, hear me roar (but not in a cross way because we’re late for school and your underpants are still on your head. In a fierce, protective, “don’t mess with us” way. You are my son and hence I’m Grant Mitchell and Simba rolled into one).
It’s not just the metaphors (I am presuming that heart thing is a metaphor). It’s also the ostentatious claims, such “no man gets in the way of me and my kids, or I’d bloody well kill him”. Usually uttered when no man is in fact in the way of you and your kids. Once said man appears you tend to reach the usual messily human compromise, with everyone feeling suitably undervalued but no such killing ensuing.
Then there’s “I’d lay down my life for them”. Which is probably true, but you can say it safe in the knowledge that such an either/or situation is unlikely to arise. Should a psycho murderer enter your house, you’re probably all going to die anyhow. And yes, if your child fell onto a railway track, you probably would jump down after them, but only because there’d be no time to think. You couldn’t just stand there explaining to the horrified commuters “look, if I go too, we’ll probably both die and then who’d look after my other children and my partner, who incidentally will probably dump me anyhow for leaving our child to die alone, so actually, fuck it, I’ll jump… damn, too late”.
It’s not just the metaphors and the grandiose claims. There are also the animal similes. “With those kids I’m like a tigress / lioness / something really fucking fierce but not a mama grizzly cos that now means something else”. I don’t know a lot about animal behaviour. I imagine mummy animals are quite defensive of their offspring, for a while at least, unless said offspring happens to be a bit crap and runtish. Nonetheless, I’ve a feeling (gathered from half-hearted viewings of animal documentaries) that said defensiveness doesn’t last forever. As soon as a new cub comes along, marginally older cub is history. I don’t believe that’s a good role model for any of us.
I guess my real problem is that all this feels a bit self-aggrandising, a form of “one-upmumship”, if you will (which you probably won’t, but I was quite pleased with that). “Me, I’d tear the eyes out of any fucker who came near to my child.” “You’d only do that? I’d eat the eyes and the reproductive organs raw, then roast the rest of them with garlic and herbs on a spit.” “You’d only do that? I’d…” etc. etc. Anyhow, there’s no point going through all this. Caitlin Moran’s already won. But to be honest, if I told anyone that should my children die, I’d eat their hearts, they wouldn’t see me as wondermum. They’d think I’d turned into an exaggerated version of the baddie in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”. All told, the safest thing, probably, is just to say “I love them”.