On the surface there's lip gloss and clothes that match. There's smiles and a schedule and small talk. There's control, evenness and sometimes a hint of calm.
Look deeper though and you might catch a glimpse of something else.
A raised voice, a cross word, a frowning forehead. You might see a wistful gaze into the past or a dreamed-of future. You might see a head held in two hands, eyes closed, while a deep sigh is released.
I've been wondering recently why, as mothers, we don't talk about the frantic treading water and the almost crazed paddling that goes on beneath the surface. I've been wondering why we don't talk about the chaotic struggle to keep up with the treadmill that is remembering the book bag, sorting the laundry, getting enough fresh food into daily diets, making it to work on time, remembering to buy more nappies. I've been wondering why we don't sometimes just cry a little and say, it's too hard.
Why do we feel like we have to hold it all together? We're doing more than just remembering the tennis racket on Wednesdays and getting the shopping in so we can make enough lasagna to stock the freezer with. We're doing more than filling out nursery forms and buying birthday cards and answering urgent emails. Why? Are we doing all of this, for everyone, because we feel we must? And are we doing all of this, for everyone, because we don't want to let on that if we stop we might fall apart?
I don't think I did this constant outward glossing over the cracks before having children. I don't think holding it all together was such a struggle or even something I tried to do. Perhaps the stress fractures weren't there in the way that they are now, perhaps I didn't mind them being so visible back then. Perhaps, without dependents, there were fewer waves in the water, I wasn't constantly swimming against the tide, and just staying afloat wasn't such an exhausting feat.
Since Milin and Jasmin though, it has become somehow more important that the mask doesn't slip.
I would like to pretend I don't care about pressure, that the myth of the perfect mother never got under my skin. But if you idly tried to scrape the polished surface I've built, you'd see it comes away easily. Underneath is a ready-to-crumble, not-quite-held-together frazzled mess.
While we're trying to keep our heads above water, while we're fixing things, pretending we're on top of things, kissing it all better... we're also just people. Mothers who don't sleep, lovers who don't agree, women who don't have all the answers.
Perhaps we're not racing around on the treadmill for others. Perhaps we're doing all this, being all this, wanting all this - so our children see that mummy can do it. I don't give a damn about the perfect mother or what I look like to the world who seeks her out. What I want is for my children to see one day that mummy managed. And she hardly broke at all.
Kiran Chug blogs on motherhood at Mummy Says