The mother in me

melissa-and-doug-cinnamon-sugar-mother-and-baby-teddy-bear-sIn the short period of time before Theresa May was appointed the new British prime minister there was some absurd commentary about how “representative” she can ever be of her people because she’s never had children.

Of course, as well as being deeply offensive to every woman and man, such a point of view is also particularly narrow-minded because just because someone doesn’t have children, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t want, or try to have, them (which is the case for May and her husband).

Such a ridiculous proposition got me thinking about me (yet again) and the fact that I do not have children. Does that mean I don’t know how to “mother” a child or show love, care and affection towards them?

As I’ve written about before I am the proud aunty of many nephews and nieces (not all of whom are blood relations). While I live across the Tasman from all of the younger progeny of our clan I have tried to have a positive impact on their lives and will continue to do so as some of them now move into adulthood and lives of their own.

Lately I’ve been picking up my five-year-old godson from school one afternoon a week. Hanging out at a primary school waiting excitedly for the bell to ring as well as now having a booster seat in my Fiat are two things I don’t think I’ll ever get bored with.

Seeing his happy face (along with the loud statement “Aunty Nicola!!” and a big joyous hug, which he may have been coached to provide me with) fills me with a happiness that I still can’t quite believe is real. I don’t even mind that we seem to have created a “game” which involves him spilling as many biscuit and cracker crumbs as possible in the back of my car on the way home.

I was telling a friend about this newish ritual the other night and he commented:  “He must think you’re the coolest godmother”, which was a statement, naturally, that I agreed with most earnestly.

But it also made me truly appreciate the opportunity I’ve had to play a role, no matter how small, in the lives of these children and to love and care for them – even though they are not mine and I am not their mother.

Recently one of my “nieces”, who is now 12, asked for help with an English assignment so I told her one of my stories from many years ago when I was a broke backpacker and accidentally killed a green tree frog – as you do.

She turned that tale into a creation of her own and through her well-crafted words I got to see for the first time how she, in turn, sees me – this “aunty” who is best friends with her mum and dad, and who has been around since the day she was born.  In part, she wrote:

“Over the years I became a journalist and a writer and sometimes write children’s books for my nephew and get inspiration by my hilarious talks with my best friend and her daughters.

“But you know what this taught me? That life is short and it could be taken away suddenly. So we have to live it like there’s no tomorrow, because there might not be.”

I do hope her perception of me is more about living in the moment, rather than me being a risk-taking, slightly anxious lunatic (although I have been known to be both once in a while, just not around the kids).

During my 43 years I’ve been blessed with a number of strong female role models. Apart from my own mother, the biggest female influence on me has been my step-mother, who came into my life when I was just eight years old.

Her bravery in taking on my dad for starters, as well as three kids under 12, still astounds me, especially considering we were spoiled little shits who really liked eating sausages and she was from a vegetarian family with a strong spiritual streak.

Slowly, and no doubt painfully, over time we all became the happy recipients of her positivity, her amazing vegetarian spreads of so many “weird” plants, nuts, flavours and textures (when school friends would ask “what’s that?” when they’d come over for lunch or dinner, we’d just say “you don’t want to know”), her patience and most of all her extraordinary kindness.

Today, I know that I am a better woman and an all-round better human being for having her in my life. In fact, almost every night, when I sit down to eat my own amazing vegetarian spread of so many weird and wonderful plants, nuts and seeds for dinner, the evidence of her positive influence is literally right there in front of me. She continues to nourish my body and soul many years after we last lived under the same roof. My role model for being a role model was her, so I can only hope I do half as good a job as she did and continues to do so today.

While there’s no doubt the role of step-mother (or father) is different to the role I currently have with the children in my life, I hope that in the years or decades to come that my influence on them will in some small way be helpful. That they’ll call me when they need to chat about girls or boys or perhaps they’ll even come to stay now and then to keep an old lady company (in her New York apartment after she becomes a horribly successful screenwriter).

You see, just because I never became a mother, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have the care, love and compassion of a mother inside of me. And what a privilege it is to get to tap into those emotions from time to time – even if there’s an ever-growing pile of crumbs left in my car as evidence of it happening.

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