by Fiona Goggin
I spend too much money. I buy overly large cushions and fleece-lined throws. Moisturiser that goes on like velvet and smells like Turkish Delight. My hair smells of bergamot and lavender. It soothes me.
I have a horror of children in skinny jeans, small boys in full morning suits at weddings and babies with their ears pierced. The digging and the squeezing and the dragging of fabric and metal on skin softer and limbs squishier than mine. I wear my baggy dungarees and trainers like a uniform now.
My body has housed two children. My daughter tells me I am soft like sausages. I take the compliment. The flesh around my middle has grown puffier; like over-proofed dough, it is collapsing. I am collapsing.
I check the fit of my children’s shoes obsessively. I’m on first-name terms with the woman in Clarks. I buy soft romper suits in organic cotton and my daughters refuse to wear them. They want the pink scratchy lace of highly flammable princess dresses. I remember hot tears and a sore face on a dry, cracked-pavement day. My mother pulling a shiny party dress over my head while I squirmed to avoid its touch. Our house is a constant battle-ground between who I wasn’t and who my daughters are.
The streets that snake round my house are full of the mothers who came before me. When we venture outside, they catch me at my worst moments. Pushing an empty pushchair, holding onto a screaming, wriggling toddler while pleading with the four-year-old to please hold onto the pram. “Enjoy it while it lasts,” they tell me.
On rare excursions alone, I am invisible and can sink into the background unnoticed. On a train I hear two older women discussing a young mother sitting further down the carriage, looking at her phone while her little boy sits happily in his pushchair, watching something on an iPad. “We didn’t have all those distractions in our day,” says Carol. “We had to entertain our children.” “I used to get up at five in the morning,” says Jan. “Get everything done before the kids got up.” “I used to get up at four,” says Carol. I half-expect a third woman to pipe up, “Well, I never went to bed at all.”
They’re probably about the same age as my mum. Their children are probably about the same age as me. And we had children’s TV back then. I remember being sat in front of Rainbow or Button Moon eating a cheese and pickle sandwich while my mum got on with some jobs. I remember sitting on my knees through three hours of children’s television on a Saturday morning. I wonder whether that’s to blame for the poor state of my knees now. I don’t know what I’ll remember the most about these early years with my children but I suspect it will have something to do with my aching knees, for I am on them all the damn time. Playing, cleaning, searching for small figures that have ended up lost in the scattered debris of abandoned toys under the sofa.
“My daughter tells me I am soft like sausages. I take the compliment.”
Our parents were never expected to play with us in the way we are expected to play with our children. Now we are expected to be full-time entertainers, as well as going out to work and doing all of the cooking and the cleaning and the fetching, but don’t for one moment leave your child unsupervised. Involve them in the household chores: teach them their colours while you’re emptying the laundry basket, buy special safety knives for little hands so they can help you cut up the courgettes. You can have it all but just don’t expect to sleep.
My left hip burns with pain. I can’t bend over any more. I mention this to older women and they just nod and tell me they were never the same after they had their children. I worry what my body will feel like at sixty. I have an x-ray taken of my hip and they say it’s just wear and tear, just my age. I am only thirty-six. I limp after I’ve been sitting down for too long. I wonder whether a man would have been given the same diagnosis. I wonder whether they would have dismissed me so easily had my notes not read, “history of anxiety and depression.”
There have been mornings where I’ve stayed in bed longer than I should have done. I’ll say I don’t feel too well, that I have a headache. I just need to rest. Let my body recover. To stretch out in a bed without a small person digging their feet into my eyes. Just twenty minutes on my own to find an angle I can position my head at where my neck does not ache. I suspect I am arthritic.
At night I rock the toddler to sleep, swaying on the balls of my feet, easing out the pain in my hip, watching the outside world through the gap in the curtains. I see slithers of light and flashes of colour from the passing cars and I am happy to be stepping into my slippers rather than heading out into the cold grey night.
Sometimes I wish I could go back and start all over again. A clean slate, as fresh and blank as a newborn. I wouldn’t have stolen my sister’s shoes to wear as a teenager – squeezing my toes into trainers two sizes too small so that my feet didn’t look so big. I would have listened to my teachers when they told me not to slouch, I would have stood up straight and not have been embarrassed by my height. Now, when it rains my feet ache like a pensioner’s in a bad sitcom. I never thought there would be a time when I would get so excited by a cushioned heel. There are so many things I would have done differently. But there are so many things I would have done exactly the same.
Dough-like as I am, my daughters use me as their pillow and there is no better feeling than small squishy arms wrapped around your neck, little biscuit-breathed mouths whispering nonsense in your ear. My youngest daughter was born too early. She was born under hot white lights and a doctor’s deepening frown lines. But she is here with us now. I will take the kicks to the face in the nights, the rocking to sleep, the carrying of her everywhere while pushing the empty pram. I wouldn’t change a thing about that.
I housed two daughters and I suppose that in a way, I will always be home to them. I will always offer them comfort, no matter how uncomfortable that is for me. But this house’s shell is crumbling. It needs a lot of work. I think a renovation is in order, to strengthen the foundations, to oil the creaks. I want this house to be standing for a long time to come. I always want to be the place they come home to.