The MOMentum of Motherhood

I talk to Mum on Skype. Only the connection goes, it wobbles, drops from an encouraging five green bars to a shrunken two amber ones and I hear mum say, ‘Oh! I’ve lost you’. So we text box then. I don’t know if Mum knows I can still hear her even if she can’t me. I don’t know if she knows I can still hear Depression heavy on her voice; diminishing her. Everything is smaller when Mum’s consumed by Depression: her messages are abbreviated; her concentration span compromised; her conversation condensed to absolute essentials (if I’m lucky); even – especially – her voice. It’s much smaller. And the few words battle to escape from a too dry mouth which I know won’t be lipsticked.

Mum says the episode is dragging. ‘I know it will come right, but I just wish it would bloody well hurry up’, she types. She sounds exhausted. (For of course I can hear her even if she can’t me). And I am not surprised; Depression is a very, very heavy weight. Depression doesn’t just make you feel as if you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Depression puts it there and then – for added miserable meassure – sits squarely atop it.



My tenuous connection to the outside world goes completely then. When the wind whips up and the rain comes down. We thought it had gone, the rain.  Indeed so confident where we that the Rains were over we took what remained of the (courtesy of the UN) blue tarpaulin off our roof (the little that was left clinging tenaciously to disintegrating tiles after six months of sunshine and storms, the little that had not fragmented and been picked up by a passing breeze only to be dropped moments later on the lawn). We ought to have known better. My grandmother never took the washing off the line if she wanted the rain to come. Some peculiar reverse psychology at play depending on whether you wanted the rain or not.

I don’t know how much rain fell. I just know how much fell inside the house (a basin full in my bedroom, enough to soak most of the sitting room, sufficient to seep out beneath the French doors and saturate the verandah). We packed up the rain gauge last week. Took it inside, dusted it off and stored it away until next Rains. Tatu who works with me must puzzle at our eccentricities. We measure the rain. Whatever for, so long as it falls, surely that’s enough. The first time it was employed, in an early season storm, she raced outside to snatch it in. I explained to blank expressions. She is left in little doubt as to my madness. I measure the rain; I plant our acre of garden with inedible grass mostly and I collect a plethora of dust gathering seeds pods and wild grasses and bits of drift wood which I scatter about the house.

‘About two inches I reckon’, Husband announced knowledgeably this morning as I paddled my way to make tea (shame he didn’t know enough to leave the tarp in place a few more days) .

And, because that’s the way things work in the Outpost, the powers that be have turned the water on today. After weeks and weeks of nothing, water is gushing into an already almost full tank.

I shall have a deep, deep bath tonight.


It’s a funny thing. Motherhood. And the momentum into which it sweeps you up, so swiftly. One moment you’re not a mum, the next you are: a mewling infant slid swaddled into your arms, a tag about his wrist and a cross face looking up into your own astonished one. And the next, for such is the speed with which it all seems to happen, you’re doing his very last school run.



My school runs have never been especially ordinary or suburban; the closest they got to that was an hour and a half round trip from the farm, through town to drop the kids off at a day school where mothers gossiped in the car park. The first I ever did – before we went semi-suburban –  was across savannah knotted with the thread and tread of Masai cattle and dotted with rocky kopjes; we saw a cheetah and two cubs once, sitting on an anthill. That took the sting out of seven hours.

But lately, in the last three years, my school runs have been strung out even longer; it takes me 12 hours to drive west to where my son is at school now. I can abbreviate it with a six hour drive north so that he can take a 75 minute flight west. Which is what we did at the weekend.  And we dropped him off at the airport and waved him through security and I said to Husband, ‘it doesn’t get any easier does it, saying goodbye to them?’.



And all the six hour way home I thought about that, about that last school run for my son for he will be done in two weeks, and I watched Africa unfurl outside my window, an ethnic alternative to the Bayeux Tapesty, telling her story and depicting with such precise clarity microcosms of life: not the celebration of a conquest, rather one of ordinariness and endurance and colour and community.



I saw totos bathing in transient water holes, for they will be gone in a month, swimming pools reduced to dust bowls, their goats drank at the edge and the children splashed and laughed, small dark bodies slippery seal glossed as they hung onto their water containers as floats. Later they’d reluctantly pile out, dry in the sun, fill their mtungis, and herd their livestock home to mothers impatient for having to wait for the requisite to wash and cook. I watched men gathered beneath the sprawling shade of trees, engaged in a baraza, smoking, arguing, wondering when the rain would end (perhaps we ought to have stopped to consult them and saved ourselves a sodden rising?); I watched goats, Africa’s resilient garbage collectors, grazing in rubbish dumps; I watched women doing a weekly wash in a diminishing river, wrung-out clothes vivid against the taupe and grey of rocks upon which they had been spread to dry.  And we stopped for a coke (Adds Life which is what you need on a gruelling six hour-long drive) beneath a Baobab we have dubbed as Ours simply because it’s where we always stop when our school run takes this particular route and I watched the pink headed, lilac torso’d monitors nod maniacally on rocks as they sought their hearts’ desires.



And I watched all the way home, as we drove through villages strung as bright beads on an eternal grey ribbon, and I watched as the tar gave way to the final 100 miles of dirt and I thought life goes on, doesn’t it? It changes shape and size and colour, but it carries on.


7 Responses to “The MOMentum of Motherhood”

  1. nuttycow Says:

    Great photos RM. Especially love the colour of the murum against the sky.

    I don’t think it gets any easier. I still remember my mother crying when I left for boarding school and then again, holding back the tears when I went to University. In fact, thinking about it, there’s still a wobbly lip when I leave after holidays (as infrequent as they are nowadays!)

    But in a strange way, it’s lovely. Despite the fact you’re going through agony, we (the children) are secretly charmed that we’re still so loved.

  2. Mud Says:

    Nutty’s right. We are always children to our mothers and they mothers to us. Even when the children end up mothering the mothers.

  3. R. Sherman Says:

    Loved the photos.

    I must show this entry to my wife who complains about the lowly 20 minute drive she takes on the six lane paved interstate highway to get our kids to school.

    BTW, continued prayers for your mom.

  4. nappyvalleygirl Says:

    You make me feel so guilty – my school run is 5 minutes and next year I won’t even have to take Littleboy1, he’ll go on the school bus which stops just up the road.

    But I guess it must be an unforgettable experience, both for you and the children. More memorable than a quick trip in the car. And it looks and sounds incredibly beautiful.

    Sorry to hear about your Mum, I hope it starts to lift soon.

  5. Kit Says:

    I love the Bayeux tapestry image – endurance and people, stretching through the years.
    I remember school runs to boarding school in England when I was the child, the bottled up tears and imagining none felt by the stoic parents. Now I know that wasn’t true. And the grey outskirts of Swindon were far less picturesque than african landscape.

  6. doglover Says:

    Where was Tatu when you needed her to bring the rain gauge in after the tarpaulin had gone!

    About that roof. Why don’t you ring three builders to give you estimates for repairing it? Oh, I forgot, you’re in Africa, aren’t you. Always sounds like hell to me …

    Love your writings. They make a change from watching TV with my feet up and listening to the birds outside in this English springtime.

    But I bet you aren’t envious!

  7. Addy Says:

    Another very wistful post. Your school runs knock ours into a cocked hat. And yes, life does go on, but in a very different way. Sorry about your mum too. You must get so worried being so distant from her. Kay and I use Skype a lot to stay in touch and it is far from perfect reception!

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