I’ve been helping my daughter with her revision this week. Well, when I say helping, I mean that I have mostly been letting her get on with it, with occasional reminders to actually do some, rather than spending all her time reading and watching youtube or whatsapping her chums (with whom she is going shopping tomorrow). She has some more exams coming up next week and apparently she wants to do well (well enough not to throw herself under the bed in despair, anyway).
Today’s help mostly consisted of a chat over the dinner table about biology. She doesn’t like biology. I am not sure why. She says it’s not to do with the spelling; it seems more to do with her resentment over the study of the female reproductive system (why don’t we learn about boys bodies, why does it all have to be about girls and I don’t intend having children anyway ergh ergh) and the number of different hormones that have similar names but vastly dissimilar jobs. Funnily enough, she, and the nearly-19yo who hung around chatting after lunch, seemed to be quite interested in the whole reproductive thing – especially the bit about how although we are mammals and our bodies may be ready and wanting to reproduce, us humans do have some control over when and who with and we have done for considerable numbers of generations.
I mean, I guess there’s a limit to how honest you want to be with your own children about the reality of child-bearing and child-rearing. I mean, you don’t want them to feel guilty or anything, after all, their appearance in my life was a matter of choice for me, and, really, honestly, if those of us who have children told those who don’t the truth of the matter, I can’t see that anyone would have another baby ever again. All that huffing and puffing and all those sleepless nights and you don’t even get a smile for the first six weeks; and that’s before we get to assisted conception, miscarriage, prematurity, things being not-quite-right with baby and a looooong way before we get to childhood illnesses and accidents and things that change the course of where you thought you were heading (not Italy).
It’s a difficult balance to keep, is sharing this kind of knowledge. I was never one for reading the baby magazines; I had (still have actually, I don’t like moving books along) a Dorling Kindersley guide to having a baby (before and after) which I devoured in my late twenties in my quest to have all the knowledge. I’d bought a number of DK books to prop up my classroom, so I knew the brand, I liked the photos; I was obsessed with (scared of) the birth itself; anything else I glazed over. Sleepless nights, nappies, vomit, yes, yes, we all know about those, don’t we? I suppose it’s no surprise that when S turned up, extra chromosome in tow and I underwent a huge readjustment in everything, I felt a bit cheated. Why did nobody tell anyone about this stuff, I raged? Why was everything so glossy and clean and easy looking when motherhood and babies were anything but? Why was everyone bringing up the next formula 1 racing driver/olympic swimmer/champion or champions when we clearly weren’t? Why wasn’t anyone being honest? Was it all a big fat lie because otherwise none of us would ever take a reproductive chance?
Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, I don’t know. The leaflet I was given when S was born certainly pulled no punches. There was a whole array of things I was going to have to get used to – things I didn’t want to have to think about, things that frightened me. But here’s the thing. That was the day when I realised that these big, scary things like heart defects and language/communication problems, thyroids and funny teeth, they were all, in the end, things that didn’t matter (apart from the terrible haircuts and brown cardies – they will continue to matter because STANDARDS.) I remember the moment, as clear as if it was yesterday, the moment when I decided that I didn’t care. There he was, in his little Tupperware cot, hair fluffy and disappearing into his newborn Babygro (blue); whatever happened, whoever he turned out to be (so long as he wasn’t some sort of master criminal), I would still love him. Because this is the thing they DO tell you (and if they don’t tell you I will have Words). Eventually, you will love your child. Eventually, things will settle down, and all the things become bridges you will cross – or not – when – if – the time comes. And love, your love, will be the thing that carries you over. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different.