A Gift From My Daughter
Will I Ever Be More Than Mum?
My youngest daughter is an empath, she’s kind, thoughtful and clever, but she recently bought me the kind of present which made me wonder if she knows me at all.
Fourteen years into my parenting role, I believe I’ve earned my ‘useful’ stripes. I’ve graduated from kissing scuffed knees to talking through friendship issues and driving my girls to theatre classes. I’ve put in the hours, the thought and almost feel like I’m coming through the other side.
The kids seem to be considerate, sentient beings, but still, I appear to have failed to teach them one important fact — that I am a person in my own right.
This was demonstrated when my ten-year-old went on a school trip and was away for three nights. She returned and proudly presented us all with spoils, gifts which she’d lovingly chosen with us in mind.
She gave her father salted caramel fudge, her sister a bag full of her favourite sweets. She rummaged in the bottom of her rucksack for my present, and held aloft, wait for it…a pan flute.
A pan flute is a musical instrument made from incrementally larger closed pipes, which are blown into to make a folksy sound. Yes ‘folksy’. Apparently, I was given this prize because I am the only member of the family who doesn’t play a musical instrument, so this could be my gateway.
It is true, all other family members do play instruments, so why, when I have two guitars, eight bass guitars, one piano, a mouth organ and a couple of twanging ukuleles at my disposal, would I choose to blow into a bamboo stalk to create one of the only styles of music which makes me want to jam needles in my ears?
This leads me to the crux of my concern — do my children know me at all? If not, why not?
It’s the disparity between what my kids know of their Dad and what they know of me that throws things into sharp focus. He does love a salted caramel sweet. He also loves classic cars, motorbikes, basses (yes, all eight are his) Evel Kneivel, poker and beard grooming products. Over the years both of our girls have chosen gift cards and presents depicting a firm grounding in his particular obsessions.
In contrast, I have been bought kitchen utensils (I could write a number of articles on how much I hate cooking), scented candles (I don’t do strong smells or naked flames) and now a pan flute. Am I so vapid, so lacking in personality that my likes and dislikes are an unknown quantity? Or, are they irrelevant because I am simply here to serve?
To a large degree, I think their lack of regard for me as an individual is my fault, but I don’t think I’m alone in the errors I’ve made. I sold my Drama School when my eldest was a year old because the manager I appointed didn’t work out (or do any work at all). I was then a stay at home mum for many years.
I don’t think it was staying at home that did for me, it was the lack of confidence that came along with being out of the workplace, not being financially independent for the first time, and only ever being referred to as so-and-so’s Mummy. Any spare time I had was spent sleeping or clearing up plastic detritus in a perpetual Groundhog Day.
Yes, poor me, bleugh, bleugh, bleugh. But whilst I was fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know my kids, I lost something of myself, and these patterns are difficult to get out of.
If I had forgotten who I was, how were the children meant to know?
As the girls became more independent, so did I. I started to write, read more, expanded my social circles in the areas where I feel most myself. I go to the theatre, life-drawing, gigs and their Dad and I even managed a 6-night trip to Vegas. (Still his dream, not mine…) But I feel more like me than I have done in years. So why don’t my children know who that is?
I suppose, since it’s been a re-learning curve for me, it must be a learning process for them too.
Books are such a huge part of my life, but they’re also a part of their everyday schooling, so I can’t expect them to be as excited about new titles as I am. And, to be fair, I’d be pretty appalled if they had the same passion for artisan gin as I do.
They’re learning to love guitar-based inde music, and they can spot a sparkly top from sixty paces, so at least we’re getting somewhere in the ‘knowing Mum’ stakes. Their Dad and his hobbies have been a constant, unchanging element of their lives, because, in my limited experience, men’s lives can survive the throes of early parenting pretty much intact.
Mums are a different story — but, with any luck, we all get to a point in the plot where our characterisation is complete, and I feel I am just about getting there now.
So, I’ll carry on writing, reading, drawing, drinking fancy gin and, hopefully, next time they go away they’ll buy me stationary or, better still, a damned good book.
And if not, it doesn’t matter because, those kids, they’re the best gift of all.