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Motherhood not for the fainthearted



At about 23:00, on a date I don’t remember, my 11-year-old son walked into my bedroom saying, “Mom, mom!” He was bleeding profusely. He’d had nose bleeds before, but as I was half asleep and panicked, I dragged him into the bathroom to stop the bleeding. As he was standing over the basin holding ice to his nose – our preferred technique at the time – I started to feel woozy. It was the last thing I remembered until I heard, “Did you faint?” It was my husband. I had passed out at the sight of blood while sitting on the edge of the bathtub and knocked myself unconscious on the way down. Message to moms: don’t faint in the bathroom.

It was hardly my proudest moment as a mother and caregiver, but at least when I came round, my son’s nose had stopped bleeding. I had a “shiner” over my eye that led many people to question the state of my marriage, but I was thinking about the state of my motherhood.

The joy and responsibility of being a mother comes with endless anecdotes. It’s why they say being a grandparent is a reward for not killing your own children. Not that I’m there yet. But there’s always hope.

I’m the mother of two men, 18 and almost 21 years old, but still a “mommy”. Nowhere is this more evident than when my 18-year-old son, now at the University of the Witwatersrand and studying something scientific, told me he had a project due the next day making a model of DNA. Of course, he hadn’t started it, and he had none of the elements to craft it. All of the craft shops – in fact, any shop – were closed at that hour. Recalling the many previous times I had been in this position – anything from having to build a mini town to crafting a model of a Shabbat table; recreating a mountain; or building a model of planet earth and its many ocean currents – I wondered, “Will this ever end?”

It brought me back to all the times my kids have come to me, usually around 21:00, telling me that they have to go to school in dress up the next day – as an astronaut; a king; a rockstar; a Mexican Mariachi player. It’s at times like this that you want to tell them, “Tough luck. Go as you are, in your school uniform.” But you don’t, because then they’ll stand out in a crowd of Mariachi players. And they’ll be sad. So, you spend the next five hours scouring the house for something that represents their idea of a good costume which they’ll actually be prepared to wear. Warning: this gets tougher in the teenage years.

I used to ask my late mom in exasperation, “When will they grow up?” She would reply, “They grow up too fast! Enjoy them now.” Motherhood is a unique balancing act between thinking, “So sweet!” and “I’m about to kill them!” It was the same mother, by the way, who said, “Your children are so cute when they’re little, you could eat them; but when they’re teenagers, you wish you had.”

I have a friend who told me that as far as her 15-year-old son is concerned, she’s just a conduit for buying yoghurt at the supermarket. It brings me to another pain point: feeding – especially when it comes to boys. Motherhood is about going to the supermarket – a lot – and even if you don’t have to cook all those meals yourself, you have to arrange for them to be cooked. Then they tell you they’re vegetarian – but occasionally eat fish. I should have guessed at the age of three months, while filling many plastic containers with formula, that I had fussy eaters.

I found an ancient chart in one of their rooms the other day which rewards kids for doing things like cleaning their room and doing their homework. As an early adopter, I bought it while they were still toddlers, and wrote another column relevant at the time: “Toilet”. On rediscovering it, I marvelled at the fact that they did, indeed, go to the toilet on their own, even if one of them still insists on brushing his teeth in the car on the way to university.

As a mother, sometimes I feel like a sensei – a teacher, with boundless love for my pupils. Often, it’s like being a human resources officer, a private secretary, a marketing professional, even the chief executive of a company – though you can’t fire your employees! But the greatest reward is seeing the unique individuals they grow up to be and knowing that although I had something to do with it, their essence is a mystery and wonder that has nothing to do with me. It’s a huge blessing.

  • Julie Leibowitz is the sub-editor of the SA Jewish Report.

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