Some months ago, I went to a Mother’s Day morning tea at Second Offspring’s school. When we arrived, we were ushered into the classroom where the children sat in a line, barely containing their excitement at seeing their mothers and grandmothers in their classroom!
They had been practising a song for weeks, which they then sang to us, in that endearingly off-tune way that five- and six-year-olds have, and then they brought us a card each, and we were to sit while they served us morning tea, which they had made in class together (I figured my immune system would probably be able to handle the inevitable preschool-germs associated with eating food that they’ve made—or I’ve already had those germs—either way, you just need to close your eyes and eat).
Afterwards, we spent some time looking around their classroom, and enjoyed some different activities with our children. At the end, each of us was given a page with a hand-drawn picture by the child, along with their answers to some standard questions about their mother. Second Offspring’s answers were, for the most part, suprisingly accurate:
My mum is 38 years old
She has black hair (it’s dark brown, but, well, why split hairs?!)
She likes to drink cold fresh water (Haha, what?! Apart from tea, it is what I like to drink most, I suppose)
She likes to eat a lot of pumpkin soup (I do like pumpkin soup, I guess. And when I make it, I make a huge pot and freeze it)
I like it when we play Plants vs Zombies together (I like that too)
She looks after me by giving me work to do
Hmm. The last answer, out of all of them, was by far the most interesting. I look after her by giving her work to do? Not by feeding her and or making sure she has clean clothes to wear, or by comforting her when she’s upset, or collecting her from school everyday? Not by listening to her thoughts and ideas, or asking her about her day?
As much as I find myself able to identify with my Offspring, because I remember very clearly what it was like to be a child, there is still a generation gap. My experience is not their experience, and it’s not just the age difference. The world has changed. That’s always the case with every parent and every child. Still, I’m amazed at what I think they see, and what they really see. Sometimes I realise that I have to temper my cynicism because they are still so young, and they believe in magic and Santa and the Tooth Fairy.
Second Offspring is particularly perceptive. She picks up on people’s emotions. She knows when there is ‘something wrong’. The other day we were at the park, and I heard a parent say to her, ‘Where are your parents?’ and I thought, ‘Uh-oh.’ My fears were unfounded, of course. This is Second Offspring. If she’s going to be mean to somebody, it’s unlikely to be someone she just met. It turned out that the other parent wanted to exchange phone numbers, as Second Offspring and her daughter had been enjoying their time together so much, she wanted to arrange another day to play. She said that her child often found it hard to make friends due to a disability.
And that’s Second Offspring all over. She doesn’t care about ability or disability. She cares about fun, and play. And she will modify her play to suit the scenario. She picks up on what’s different, and just adapts to it.
Of course, she talks nonstop, always thinks she knows best, is incredibly outspoken, and tries to take control of every situation, too. Nobody’s perfect!
Initially, I felt sad when I read that she thinks I look after her by giving her work to do. It made me wonder if I put too much responsibility on her shoulders. I do try not to—she’s only six—and I’m very aware that as oldest daughter, there is a cultural precedent of taking on the role of other-mother to her siblings. But then I thought about something which had happened recently. The Handsome Sidekick and I had been woken several times during the night by Third and Fourth Offspring, and it was a Saturday morning. I had been up at five, had given them a snack, and then gone back to bed for a few minutes, in an attempt to get just enough rest to feel human. When we woke, it was after seven, and I could hear cupboard doors being opened and closed. I hurried out to the kitchen, and there stood Second Offspring. She had made Weetbix for everyone, including herself. Poured the milk, drizzled honey on top. There was milk on the floor and the countertop, and weetbix crumbs all over the table and chairs. But she was proud of herself. She had been helping Mummy.
Second Offspring observes the home in which she lives and she sees busy parents trying to juggle working and childcare. She sees me baking and cooking and constantly lamenting the amount of washing up. She sees that there is work to be done. And she sees her role there, in helping. As much as I resist, knowing I don’t want to turn her childhood into an adulthood too early, having her help is, in her eyes, something worthwhile. Something she enjoys. So I am slowly letting her help, because it’s a way for her to be near me. Whether she realises it or not, it’s not me ‘looking after her’. It’s her, showing me that she loves me. It’s her, looking after me.
And knowing Second Offspring, if she’s ever sick of helping, she’ll absolutely let me know.