At the airport, on my way back from my trip last week, I saw a woman like myself with a toddler in tow coming to join the immigration queue. The man behind me allowed her to move forward and so I naturally allowed her to go ahead of me. (I always give women with young children the chance to skip ahead on a long queue, I hope you do too?). Anyway, her son was so cute and he looked a little like Jay and so I called him cute and then we got to talking. He was also close to Jay’s age 3 so we had quite a bit in common despite the fact that she was South African. I showed her the boys’ picture on my phone’s wallpaper and then she exclaimed that I looked so good that she couldn’t tell that I had given birth to a human being. (My words). What she said was more like;
Lady: Wow, you don’t look like a mum at all.
Me: Well, I am. (Smiling) (I am usually not sure if I should take this as a compliment or feel offended that my children’s existence go unacknowledged by virtue of the way I look).
Lady: Wow! I am still wondering how I will manage to do another one.
Me: Well, let me say it helps to have someone you love enough to do this for again.
Lady: Yessss! Absolutely. You really need that support.
Me: Yup. My work takes me away enough as it is.
Lady: Oh, is that so? But how do you cope? Being away from them?
Me: Very well actually. It’s good to be away sometimes so we all miss each other a little. (I smile)
Lady: Well, I have never been away from him. (she gestures to her little one). I only went out by myself on Mother’s day and it was so different for me.
Me: Aww, that’s sweet. But you know you should do it more often. It’s good for you both. At least I know mine don’t take me for granted (I joked)
Lady: Ah yes, they do that eh? He does it all the time to me. Always takes me for granted. But then it’s okay, this is my job eh? He is my own job.
Because it was her turn at the immigration desk, I will probably never know if she meant to imply that I wasn’t “doing my job” as a mother for leaving my kids or keeping a job. So I didn’t get the chance to tell her that I am very happy that the term “full-time mum” is gradually being phased out and replaced with “stay-at-home” mum. That, in itself, is an acknowledgement that there are no part-time mums; only mums who choose to work from outside the home and those who work by staying in the home. I would have told her that I also do not subscribe to the use of the term “working mums” referring to mothers in paid employment. To say this is to imply that the mum who stays home, does not work. This is a gross understatement of their valuable contribution to the well-being of the children and the home. Should we calculate what she saves the family by cleaning (maid and laundry service), nursing (nanny/child care service), cooking (chef’s salary), teaching (tutor service) and of course the invaluable role of nurturer?
I would have told the lady that Motherhood is not a job, it’s who you are. You don’t stop being a mother because you are away from your child or out of sight. You don’t stop being a mother because your kids are off at school or because you are chairing a meeting half-way across the world. You didn’t apply for motherhood and you don’t get paid for it. You can’t put it on your CV as work experience (at least not in this part of the world). It can’t even be equated with volunteer work because that eventually returns value in terms of experience. It is not a job because there are no off days, designated work hours, leave or transfer. That’s why you immediately suspend whatever you are doing, no matter how important, the moment you get that call from you children’s class teachers. You are constantly responsible for your children’s welfare whether you are there or not and your paid employment is an integral part of this too.
Motherhood is who you are. You can’t take it off and put it back on like medical scrubs or an engineer’s hat. And you certainly can’t resign or retire from it. You are a mum until you die and you don’t have to have pushed a child out to be called one either. If you love, nurture and care for another, you are a mother.
I am a mum. It’s not what I do, it’s who I am.