When Amelia was sick, I hung by her hospital bedside. I lay on the narrow couch in her room and got up every hour, more, to feel her brow, kiss her cheek, stroke her hair from her face, feverish, then cool, then feverish. I did that for four nights and some nights I snatched only an hour or two. Some nights, persuaded I ought to go home to bed, I’d wake at 2am, lie awake and fretful, then slide from the sheets, pull on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, pick up the car keys and my phone and slip quietly out into the sultry darkness to drive to hospital. I drove too fast on empty roads lit only by a sagging moon and would barrel onto the wards to the surprise of night staff who only expected me at breakfast time. I would enter her room and feel such enormous relief to see her peaceful and free of fever and sleeping painlessly.
You unravel a little with not enough sleep and then I could feel my voice rising hysterically as I fretted to the nurses that the meds weren’t doing their thing hastily enough, or when her veins closed up, inflamed, and staff would have to prod for a new passage for the IV and bruises would bloom. I spent too much time, my haggard complexion jaundiced in the light of my cell phone late at night, or in the mean wee hours of morning, as I consulted with Dr Google. I enraged Amelia’s physician in the way histrionic mothers in hospitals can.
Which embarrassed my husband who lost patience with me eventually, for my arguments didn’t make sense anymore. ‘You are a great mother’, he said, sternly, ‘but sometimes you are Too Much’.
My eyes welled hot tears behind sunglasses and I tilted my chin defiantly and didn’t say a word.
It has taken days for me to have the head space to go back to this; sometimes you are Too Much.
This is what I do. Mother. It’s what I have done for 25 years. Fashion and nurture and sculpture and grow small people. It has taken precedence over every single other thing in my life. Everything else has had to wait when there has been a maternal crisis to tend to. And that’s not a good thing – I know that: to forget to eat, to sleep, to clean your teeth whilst you fret and try to fix your child. You can’t do any job well on coffee and nerves.
But, days later, well fed, well rested, caffeine free, I go back to these words and pick them apart.
Had I done other things – had I combined a proper job with Mothering – would I, then, have been granted a healthier perspective? Is my all consuming parenting the result of the fact it is the single significant job I have? Or are all mothers at risk of becoming Too Much when their children are unwell, afraid, unhappy?
Is mothering a discipline we can meter out sensibly, rationally, or is it something more primal?
Amelia left this morning. This morning, just; we were 25 minutes into the day. We spent our evening on our shared double bed – which I had insisted upon so that I could throw out an arm in my midnight sleepiness and place a palm upon her brow even as she recovered to check for fever – playing Rummy. She always beats me. I had strapped her foot. Lectured on which meds to take when during her 13 hour flight to London. I could hear the rumble of her taxi down the sandy road to the house, see its headlights cast a glow against the windows. And a familiar weight settled in my chest.
Time to go, I said.
Cheerfully she parcelled up chargers and phone and Kindle and stray bits of clothing to bung into a suitcase fit to burst and she hugged me and she told me she loved me and I stood in my pajamas and bare feet in the dark and I waved and I did not cry until I was back inside. Alone and small in that huge double bed with nobody’s brow to check for coolness.
And it is only then that I know I am not Too Much. For when I have to, when I know they are safe, well, happy, my children, I drop my arms from around them, I open my hand and force a wave goodbye.
And I kiss my fingertips and I blow.
And I let go.