Thursday, January 7, 2010

from the archives: loving your children - the day of the apple

"Mum, can you cut up my apple?"
"Eat it whole, sweetie. With 4 children, I don't have time to cut up apples!"

"Mum, I want an apple. Can you cut it up?"
"No, honey, I'm too busy to cut up apples. I've got 4 children."

"Mu-um, I'm hungry. Can you cut up an apple, please?"
"No! I've got 4 children! I don't have time to cut up apples!!!"

And so it went on. Until one day, my sister-in-law made a very helpful observation: "You say that a lot." "I do? I guess you're right, I do say it quite a lot." "Yes, you say it all the time." "Oh."

That was the day I started cutting up apples.

That was the day I decided, since having 4 children was my (and my husband's) idea, not my children's - and since one of my jobs is to cheerfully serve them, and I don't want them to think they're a burden, not a blessing - and since I want them to eat healthy food like apples, and they're more likely to eat apples if I cut them up - well, for all kinds of reasons, now I come to think about it - I'd better start cutting up apples.

I couldn't count the number of apples I've cut up since then. Red apples. Green apples. Bruised apples. Clean apples. (I'm getting a little Dr. Seuss here.) Apples, apples, apples. Apples with their sides cut off (bit of wastage there). Apples in their 4 neat quarters (perfecting my technique). Apples with their seeds scooped out (and into the compost bin). Tried one of those apple slicers (didn't really work). At least 2 a day, often 4; at least 3, often more. Oranges, bananas, kiwi fruit, whole platters full of fruit, and an awful lot of carrots and capsicums. But mostly apples.

Apples aren't really the issue here. You may or may not cut up apples. Kids don't need their apples cut up: that's just a symbol. Far more importantly, the day I started cutting up apples was the day I tried to stop saying, in answer to all kinds of reasonable requests, "I can't. I'm too busy. I've got 4 children." Not quite, "I'm too busy running around after you lot!" (I'd never say a thing like that, would I. Would I??). But nearly.

Which is a long-winded way of explaining why, when I read chapter 3 of Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal, on loving your children, I realised that in some ways I don't fit her experience of mothers. I find "tender love", "loving affection", and "enjoying your children", the easy part of bringing up kids. "That's wonderful, sweetie!", "Come and have a cuddle!", "Let's read a story", come easily to me.

Like so many of our most deeply-held attitudes, I learnt this from my parents. When my mother talks about what it was like having young children, she always says, "It was a lot of fun." And that's how I remember it. She really, really enjoyed having children, and she let us see it. She was warm in her affection, tender in her love, and enthusiastic in her play, and my father was, too. I am incredibly grateful about that, because not all my friends learned that attitude from their parents, and they have to battle for it every day.

(Actually, now I come to think of it, I don't think my children would ever have thought of cut-up-apples if it wasn't for the fact that Grandma always cut them up, so I have that to thank her for, too. Thanks, Mum.)

But sacrificial service? I'm not so good at that (and no, that's not my mother's fault, she was good at service, hence the cut-up apples). I've learnt, slowly, the satisfaction that can be found at the end of hours chopping veges and stirring pots. I've learnt, with practice, about the blessings which come through nappy-drudgery, and mopping-drudgery, and taxi-service-drudgery. I've learnt, finally, when my children ask for something, to put down what I'm doing, and to help them cheerfully and patiently (there's often a little *sigh* I'm still working on).

I've learnt that motherhood demands two kinds of love: self-denying, sacrificial service, and joyful, tender affection. Sometimes, you need both salt and sugar in the apple pie to make it taste good.

images are from stock.xchng

1 comment:

Alison said...

That's a lovely post Jean. Good to reflect on getting the balance right.