Recently, my seven year old son leaned forward from the back of the car, brandishing his 'swear' finger at me. A torrent of admonishments were on the tip of my tongue, until I realised that he wasn't flicking me the proverbial 'bird', rather glued to the end of his middle digit was a gloopy, green gunk that he gleefully informed me was 'A huge bogey, Mummy!'. Quite how he pulled so much from one tiny nostril I fail to fathom. I had no tissue. Unlike my Mum, I don't perpetually have a supply stuck up my sleeve and so knowing the options were that he would eat it or wipe it, I pulled it off his finger and flicked it across the car park.
Not for the first time since having my eldest child eight years ago, have I found myself doing, saying and thinking things that I would've sworn I would never. I find I do, say and think things that pre-children it never even occurred to me would occur, so had no view on whether they were 'me' or not. I have thought, am I the sort of person who could survive on a desert island; how would I cope in a war zone; what would I do if I won the lottery; if I could only eat one cheese for life which one.... I have mused on all of these big questions and conundrums and many more. But I have never dwelt on the preferable bogey disposal option - of someone else's bogey.
I knew once I gave birth there would be nappies to change and sick to wipe up and the mustard coloured, up the back, bum explosions have been cleaned up and dispatched efficiently and effectively. I have sat next to a puking toddler intent on using my lap as a sick bucket. I have scrubbed unidentifiable orange stuff off baby grows and had both wee and poo up my nails as I scrubbed carpets during the potty training days (more accurately weeks and months). But I expected all of that. I had joined the National Childbirth Trust. I'd read books. I knew what being a Mum involved.
No I didn't. Ante-natal classes give you information in the way that a Lonely Planet guide tells you about destinations. But, no words can completely capture that feeling of standing by the Star ferry in Kowloon watching the light display on Hong Kong Island, or your first glimpse of Venice as you sail into the City, or the glorious natural wonder of any mountain. So too no one can ever really explain what being a parent is like. As labour pains started with my first child I gripped my Mum's hand and seethed, 'why didn't you tell me', but of course she had, but how could I really understand?
Since having children I have picked meat out of their little teeth in a restaurant. I can say hand on heart I would not do that for another human being. I have used a hand-held breast pump, feeling like a Jersey cow, as a bus load of people parked at the stop stared at me through my living room window and I simply stared back.
There are many things that I had thought of and had an opinion on that I now deal with in a way that sometimes surprises me. I was adamant my children would be fed only organic, watch very little television, I would never tell them to eat all on their plate and I was determined to explain and consult. I confess the fully-organic diet didn't last. However, I am passionate about good-food and provide them with a varied, healthy diet but it is peppered with the occasional Happy Meal and Harribo. They watch TV, but have learnt so much from 'Operation Ouch!', 'Horrible Histories' and Steve Backshall, not from me did they learn about dogs for diabetics or the Welsh Not. I nag them to clear their plates, sometimes, because I hate to see food wasted and I don't always explain and consult because sometimes, 'No' or 'Stop' has to suffice and to the whine, 'but it's not fair' I have echoed my own Mum with, 'well, life's not fair.'
But there is also the sheer, unadulterated, unexpected, gleeful joy of being a parent that I may have guessed at but again, didn't fully understand. Recently, at my children's behest, I lay down and rolled down a hillside in Devon and laughed so hard that my sides hurt from that, not just the bumpy, uneven ground. Going swimming isn't just about relaxing or doing lengths, but transforms into a shrieking, splashy spectacular. Baking becomes an explosion of hundreds and thousands and sparkly sugar and happy, butter-cream smeared faces and a firm belief on my part that fairy cakes rule over the ubiquitous cup cake, any day. I get to revisit books from my child-hood and see them with fresh joy through young, innocent eyes and I sing songs with actions instead of dance moves.
During the labour of my first child, there were complications and a team was on standby. I felt a pain and fear that was alien and still indescribable. But that moment when she wriggled out like an angry eel and was placed in my arms, I felt like a lioness. I could've roared. As my children grow, there will be times no doubt when I will roar, at them. I will roar about behaviour, language, friends, boy and girlfriends, doing homework and curfews. But I will also roar in their defence. Literally and metaphorically I will make all of the noise I need to in order that they can have the best life possible. Because through them and because of them, I have learnt of my capacity for love and of an unexpected strength that has been the greatest, 'I never knew and didn't understand' moment I could've ever or never have imagined.