Mum’s an Onion


Two thousand kilometers is quite a school run. And it gives you too much time to anticipate goodbyes. Once I hated them for my smallson’s tears. He’s big now. Now I dread them for my own.

Which I hide behind sunglasses and forced smiles.

You can’t cry when you say bye to your nearlyeighteenyearold son.

Because you are supposed to be Letting Go.

Especially as he begins his last ever year at school, for God’s sake.

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy wrote Valentine, a metaphor of love and marriage and onion rings. Read it. It’s clever and beautiful and it made me think that the onion analogy extends to life as wife and mother …

Motherhood’s an onion.
I’ve built by layers,
Several skins.
Of myself
Since I began.
Wife. Lover.
Friend. Mother.
And what do you do?
Oh. I’m a writer.
Another skin.
(That one’s a bit paperflaky).
My son’s birth,
A long, long night.
(A long time ago.)
I howled.
Where’s the F****** epidural?

I cried
His arrival made my eyes water.
Oniontears and obscenities
A mewling, cross baby boy
Lay at my side and scowled
At the intrusion
On his peaceful watery world.
And then I wept.
Pleased to meet you.
Another child. And a third.

More tears. More skins.
More of myself.
And less to go around.
Sometimes you cry because life is good.
And sometimes you do because it’s not.
Wife. Lover.
Friend. Mother.
That’s a lot of
Reasons to make your eyes
Sting and well seawatersaltedgreen.
Especially when your son,
Who fixed his hourold
Wiseoldman stare on you

So that you cried,
Smiles, dry eyed and says,
See ya Mum, Stay Cool.
Rip the layers from a round
Whitefleshed redskinnedonion and

See if you don’t weep.




And two thousand kilometers from the western reaches of Tanzania to the far flung eastern corridor of nextdoor Kenya and back again gives you alot  time to stare out of the window and watch a dessicating world go by.


A waxwhite sky stretches
To touch fingertips with an
Ashen Africa.
She’s dying.
That’s what they say.
On the news.
Drought stricken.
Lifeless leaves hang limp
From trees.
An imperceptible sigh.
Death’s rattle.
I can’t hear her breathing.
I can only hear a thirsty earth
Suckle greedy
So that rivers sink.
And all we’re left with is hot sand.
Which escapes on a hotter breathed,
Tightchested, wheezing wind
As dust.
A shroud.
Ashes to ashes.



19 Responses to “Mum’s an Onion”

  1. Kit Says:

    Onion tears are catching – I can feel those pervasive juices stinging my eyes too reading your beautiful poem.

  2. gaelikaa Says:

    I’m contemplating sending my daughter ‘home’ to Ireland as my mother and sisters would like her to stay with them and go to school there. She would like to go too – she wants to know the world beyond India. I am dreading the thoughts of it…..

  3. lulu campbell Says:

    What a wonderful poem – those raw layers….Lx

  4. Iota Says:

    My son once asked me if the rings of an onion told you how old it was, like the rings of a tree.

  5. R. Sherman Says:

    Dare I say, that some of those tears affect us Dads, too? Except for epidural part, so much rings true.


  6. jo Says:

    Love the idea that onions are like people.
    You can peel away the layers as you get to know them.

  7. gaelikaa Says:

    I’ve named my latest post after your blog because it was a perfect name for what I was trying to convey. I hope you don’t mind.

  8. Grannymar Says:

    I like the onion image, with each new layer bringing further discovery!

  9. rummuser Says:

    Fatherhood is no different and being a man, crying is even more not acceptable behaviour. My son, an only child, is now 38 years old and I am 66. I still cry. I have let him go, but emotionally, the bonds will never go away. I do not think that it is bad to cry.

  10. AnyEdge Says:

    What an ruthlessly beautiful photo at the bottom. Did you take it? And where do I go to get there?

  11. Iota Says:

    I’ve tagged you – I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s about writing. But feel free to ignore.

  12. Iota Says:

    I’ve noticed that the original meme had a couple of questions suitable for journalists and serious writers, which had got lost by the time the meme got to me. So you might want to pick it up from the original:

  13. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Kit; generous praise.

    aahh. Gaelikaa. Tough stuff. And tough to love motherhood at times. But our job is to give them roots. and wings. Good luck.

    thank you lulu. I love your ‘raw layers’. Raw is right, isnt’ it?

  14. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    oh iota. i love that. in which case my onion has lots and lots of layers and rings … (those dots again!)

    Mr S and rummuser: i feel i owe you an apology. No. Onion tears aren’t just for mums. but i think it’s nice there are dads out there brave enough to remind us of that. thank you

    gaelikaa: course i don’t mind.

    Thanks Grannymar – layers and layers and layers. which one can separate much easier on an onion …

  15. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Jo. but you do don’t you: peel away layers. some are easier to do that to, to get to know quickly. others are more resistent. and usually all the more worth it in the end.

    thank you Anyedge. yes i did take it. how to get there:for me a very long car journey, two days, for you, i think, trains, planes AND automobiles!

  16. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you very much iota … i’ll get cracking. x

  17. rosiero Says:

    A lovely poem. I empathise. I’m about to lose my daughter in a few weeks to university. She leaves for adulthood and new friends and new beginnings.

  18. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you rosiero. i will be thinking of you. and good luck to your daughter. she’ll be home. all birds that are allowed to fly come home. x

  19. RivkA (Coffee and Chemo) Says:

    Just popped by.

    I like the onion analogy…

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