‘All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy.’ – Oscar Wilde
It was fairly unsurprising to me that bringing a small person into the world made me more of a mum-type. Small people demand a particular kind of attention, and lead to experiences that tend to be had by primary carers; a quick search of hashtags like #mumlife or the less gender-specific #parenting will give you a rapid insight into what those experiences might be. A lot of them have to do with being woken up, interrogated by tiny inquisitors, physically abused and covered in sick, all before 7am. If you can achieve six impossible things before breakfast, you’re probably doing it with a child in one hand, the child being the reason these things are impossible in the first place.
The slightly more surprising thing is how much I’m turning into my own mother. Now, my mum would be the first to admit that she’s done a fine job of raising an independent woman who has always trodden her own path, which in many instances has looked startlingly dissimilar to hers. My mum is a scientist by training; I’m as artsy as they come. My mum married youngish; I left it fashionably late. My Welsh is as terrible as my mum’s Hindi is poor. I can’t knit or play the piano, but I can manage complex budgets while literally standing on my head. You get the picture. We’re different people, and that’s as it’s meant to be. At least, we used to be. Now I’m a mum, I’m kind of my mum.
It starts with little phrases I hear myself using, that were never part of my vocabulary before. There are the general all-purpose words that you never have reason to use before you have a baby or toddler: not just the practical terms, like “colic” and “teething”, but words like “fractious” and “cranky” and “oh my god why won’t you go to sleep?” Then there are the inherited phrases, the nonsensical ones familiar from your youth that you never thought would come out of your own mouth but here they are: “You’ll turn into a carrot/baked bean/breadstick/raisin if you eat any more carrots/baked beans/breadsticks/raisins”; “If the wind changes your face will stick like that”; [to myself] “We need to get the wear out of this jacket/cardigan/onesie/summer dress before the weather changes and she grows another six feet and we can NEVER WEAR THE [whatever it is] EVER AGAIN #tragedy”. None of these made any sense to me as a child, and if I’m completely honest they make no sense to me as an adult either, but it’s all in the maternal DNA or something (please ask my mother for details, she’s the scientist).
It won’t be long, I’m sure, before I’m lying to Scarlett about the effects of swallowed chewing gum (my mum swore to me that it would wrap itself around your heart, which is not only impossible in itself but also seriously warped my understanding of human anatomy for a few years), or asking her if she would jump off a bridge if everyone else did, or – lordy, I will feel so bad the day this happens – answering the fiftieth “why?” with “because I said so”. I’ve worked with under-5s for over a decade, I know how persistent the little buggers can be. I think when we become mothers, we all turn into each other’s mothers, because personal models are a strong and persistent thing and hey, what else are you going to do?
But you know, maybe it’s not such a bad thing. After all, my mum’s mothering worked out alright. I didn’t turn into a HobNob, I got the wear out of a succession of summer dresses and winter boots, my face remains mobile and I never suffered a chewing gum-related tragedy. So I think these are good traditions to pass on. I think we’ll be OK.
Do all women become like their mothers? Does no man become like his? What weird phrases from your childhood do you find falling out of your mouth on a daily basis? Answers on the back of a fractious toddler, or in the comments below.