'What's it like being a mother?'

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

"What's it like being a mum?" my seven-year-old son asked me the other day.

Before I answered, I scrambled around inside my brain, trying to find a way to fit all those feelings into words, wondering where I should start.

Being a mum is packing the kids' lunches and water bottles and making sure they have clean uniforms and that there's enough food for breakfast and getting them to school in the morning (even though they can't find their shoes and they don't want to brush their teeth and they need to find that picture they drew last week), and then discovering, when you drop your little one off at kindergarten, that she took her water bottle out of her bag without you seeing and left it on the kitchen bench, and being told by her, with foot stamping and an angry face, that you're a bad mama.

Being a mum is having your son ask question after question, till the words swim in your head like drunk fish, and you ask for a minute's peace, just a second to breathe between all those words, and a moment later having him ask, "Is it okay if I tell you I love you?" and feeling a smile erupt in your heart so deep, it shatters all your frustration.

Being a mum is finally falling asleep only to be woken by a child when you're in the depth of slumber, right in the thick of it, and wrenching yourself out of bed, only to repeat the process at random intervals, week after week, but then waking to sleepy smushed faces and warm morning cuddles and realising, through the haze of exhaustion, just how fierce your love is for these small people.

Being a mum is feeling rushed, super rushed, all over the place and overwhelmed, then being dragged outside to play when you really need to make dinner, and erupting into laughter and soaking in silliness and being transported into the world of your kids and realising just how beautiful the clouds are when you all lie down on the grass, puffing, heads together, looking up at the sky.

Being a mum is repeating yourself, saying the same words but using emphasis on different ones for your own amusement: "Get dressed NOW please," "Get dressed now PLEASE" then watching your kids look through you like you're speaking Taiwanese, like you're air, like you're not a real person anymore and when the repetition drags you under and the grind of it all wears you down, blunts you down to a nub, you start to wonder where you went and when – if ever – you'll return.

Being a mum is swinging between emotions and thoughts and activities, and feeling good about yourself, and feeling bad, and looking around and seeing everyone else kind of floundering around in a similar way, and realising all of these feelings, all of them, are so hard to explain because it really is wonderful at times, and awful, and stressful and oh so joyful.

Being a mum is realising that all the parenting clichés - which were once so far out of your reach, tucked high up in an unused cupboard - are now tumbling down on top of you like the mountain of washing that's growing in your laundry, and as you roll around in these clichés and rub them against your skin you finally understand that they're all so true.

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Because parenting is hard work.

And it does go so quickly.

And it really is a love like no other.

And you can't understand it till you're in it.

And even though at times you can't find even a glimpse of a moment to yourself in all the chaos, it is so worth it.

And, above anything else, you wouldn't want it any other way.

But I didn't say any of that to my son when he asked what it's like to be a mum. It's too much; too hard to distil down.

I will try over the years to explain it better, but in that moment, looking into his big brown eyes, I told him this truth instead: "It's the best."